Holocaust Survivor and Member of the “Jewish Avengers” Dies Aged 91

Joseph Harmatz, a Holocaust survivor who led a daring attempt to get revenge against their Nazi captors, passed away at the age of 91. Ronel Harmatz, his son, confirmed his death on Monday.

Harmatz was one of the Jewish “Avengers” that carried out a mass poisoning of former SS officers in an American POW camp. The attack, in 1946, sickened 2200 Germans, but did not cause any known deaths. The message was clear, though. No longer would Jews fail to retaliate when attacked.

Harmatz was born in Lithuania and lost the majority of his family in the Holocaust. Shortly before his death, he was still unapologetic for his actions or for the actions of Nakam, his group which was named with the Hebrew word for “vengeance.”

“We didn’t understand why it shouldn’t be paid back,” he said.

Despite a desire for vengeance, most survivors of the Holocaust were too weak or devastated to make the attempt. But Nakam was made up of 50 or so people who had already served in the resistance. They were unwilling to allow the crimes of the Nazis to go without punishment. They were compelled to get even the smallest revenge.

Members of the group went undercover to get jobs in a bakery that provided baked goods for the Stalag 13 POW camp at Langwasser, not far from Nuremberg. They bided their time, waiting for an opportunity to strike a blow against the former Nazis.

On April 13, 1946, their chance arrived. Three members of the group coated 3,000 loaves of bread with arsenic and divided each loaf into four portions. The plan was to kill 12,000 former SS troops. Harmatz oversaw the operation from a distance, ABC News reported.

Harmatz had a simple goal.

“Kill the Germans,” he said.

When asked how many, he replied, “As many as possible.”

Recently, the US military declassified documents showing that the amount of arsenic used should have been enough to kill tens of thousands of people. It is a mystery as to how no one died from Nakam’s plot.

After the war, Harmatz immigrated to Israel and went by the name of Julek. He worked for the Jewish Agency and became director general of World ORT, the Jewish educational organization.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE