Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Nazi Collaborator with a Jewish Heart: The Strange Saga of Jaac Van Harten

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Nazi Collaborator with a Jewish Heart: The Strange Saga of Jaac Van Harten

Article excerpt

The literature on the Holocaust abounds with accounts of individual Jews' collaboration with the Nazis. Their motives varied: for many the primary motive was survival--the desperate effort to save themselves and possibly their families from the draconic anti-Jewish measures. Others decided to deal with the Nazis--the people who wielded absolute power--in order to save not only themselves and their loved ones but also as many other Jews as possible. Still others were ready to collaborate primarily for opportunistic reasons--the desire to advance their physical and material interests. A few in this latter category played it safe by maintaining contact with some Jewish leaders. In fact, toward the end of the war, presumably in search of alibis, they actually cooperated with Zionist agents engaged in laying the foundations of the future Jewish state, including the illegal transfer of survivors to British-controlled Palestine.

One of the most bizarre accounts of Jewish collaboration in this latter category came to the fore in 2000. It involves the story of Jaac van Harten, a German Jew, who emigrated to Palestine in 1947 and lived in Savyon, a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv, until his death in 1973. A, well-to-do businessman, he was hailed throughout his life in Israel as a genuine hero--a man who generously supported the Zionist underground movement and saved many Jewish lives during the Nazi era.

This idyllic portrayal was shattered in a series of exposes published in 2000 in Israel and elsewhere.l To the chagrin of his family and many friends, van Harten was identified as a collaborator, who, among other things, was in the employ of the Abwehr, the Nazi intelligence service, and played a significant role in the Nazis' wartime scheme to undermine the British economy through the production and wholesale distribution of counterfeit British currency. He was shown to have been more than just a successful wholesale peddler of counter feit banknotes. In possession of a Gestapo-supplied passport, van Harten also played a questionable role as a bogus "Plenipotentiary of the International Red Cross." A Budapest resident between September 1940 and late December 1944, van Harten apparently played this role with such conviction that he acquired the absolute confidence of the top leadership of the Hungarian pro-Nazi Arrow Cross (Nyilas) party and government. By 1944, the Nyilas leaders were most probably also aware of van Harten's dealings with SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer (later SS-Standartenfuhrer) Kurt A. Becher, Heinrich Himmler's personal economic representative in Hungary. A few weeks before the Soviet conquest of Western Hungary early in 1945, Hungarian Foreign Minister Gabor Kemeny, acting in the name of Ferenc Szfilasi, the head of the Nazi-type Hungarist puppet state, entrusted van Harten, the IRC "official" then in Merano, with the protection, in Germany, of the wealth and treasures of the Hungarian nation, including the Royal Crown and the Coronation Cloak.

Van Harten's background was first revealed when he was interrogated by the Swiss police in Lausanne on July 11, 1940. The Swiss authorities, which were already aware of his association with the Gestapo, (2) ascertained that the "Dutchman" Jaac van Harten, who then lived near Montreux, was in fact a German Jew named Jakob (a.k.a. Yaacov, Jaques-Jules, Julian) Levy, who was born in Gleiwitz, Silesia, in 1901. He grew up in Breslau (Wroclaw) and, following in his father's footsteps, became a competent jeweler and arts connoisseur. In 1937, according to his account, he established a business of his own in Berlin, only to be ordered out of the city a year later in the wake of the Nazis' anti-Jewish drive. In early September 1938, he, with his wife and stepson (3) entered Switzerland in possession of a Gestapo-supplied Dutch passport bearing the name Jaac van Harten. Identified by the Swiss authorities as a Nazi agent, van Harten and his family were expelled from Switzerland and ended up in Budapest in September 1940. …

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