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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 49 - Operation Fire Sausage (Genocide Week)

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Sam's Episode Notes: Nakam and the Jewish partisan plot for a mass poisoning of the SS.

Today I've got a strange story of intrigue, revenge... And a genocide that very, bery nearly happened... But didn't.

It's 1945. The war in Europe is over – at least on paper. Millions of displaced and decimated populations are slowly trying to rebuild their live. But the fallout from the war is only just beginning. Tens of thousands of SS officers and senior nazi officials are being rounded up and imprisoned, as cases begin to be put together to try the worst offenders.

Now, it's probably not much of a stretch to say there were plenty of people out there who wanted revenge against the Nazis, but most of the Jewish population of Europe were more focussed with just trying to get on with things and work out what to do next; whether to move back to their home countries, emigrate to the US, or move to what was then British Palestine.

But some were determined to go old school or even biblical – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And one of these groups was Nakam, meaning revenge in Hebrew, though they always called themselves Dam Yisrael Noter or "the blood of Israel avenges", with the acronym DIN.

The group was founded by Abba Kovner, a poet and partisan who had escaped the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania and fought as a soviet guerilla during the war, as well as running a network which helped European Jews escape to Palestine. He spent the months following the fall of the nazis visiting concentration camp sites and speaking to survivors and pretty quickly realised that, in his mind, the war wasn't over. Europe could, he thought, easily fall into another holocaust, and the only way to avoid it was to prove that the Jewish people were a force to be reckoned with and wouldn't hesitate to fight back. How to do that? Kill every active nazi, and six million German civilians to boot. An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Nakam was formed of about 50 members who Abba knew could be relied on in a pinch. All were holocaust survivors and most had fought in the Soviet-aligned partisan groups in Eastern Europe.

And they came up with Plan A, and plan B. Plan A was the mass poisoning of German water supplies. Plan B was the specific poisoning of the SS and nazi high command.

Plan A was obviously the first plan, clue is in the name. And the first target was going to be the symbolic home of the nazis, Nuremberg. Abba Kovner headed for Palestine in July 1945, in order to try and get hold of enough poison to kill of an entire city.

He was under the cover of a British soldier of the Jewish Brigade on leave. By this point, the British were worried about the influx of Jewish refugees to Palestine and had largely put a stop to it, although people smuggling was rife. The Jewish Brigade was a British army unit formed of men already living in Palestine during the war, and so could return home largely at will.

Meanwhile, another of the group, Willek Schwerzreich, managed to get himself a job as an engineer at the Nurmberg municipal water supply company. Whilst there, he found plans for the supply and identified the valves and inlets where poison would need to be added for the best effect.

It turns out, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, that finding enough poison to kill a population, especially a civilian one, is pretty tricky. The Jewish underground movement in Palestine either couldn't or wouldn't supply it, and it was only after months of traipsing around that he managed to get hold of some sympathetic chemists at the Hebrew University, who gave him a duffel bag filled of the necessary chemicals.

In December 1945, he headed for Egypt in order to return to Europe, but the British were suspicious of him and arrested him – not on suspicion of plotting acts of terrorism, but because they thought he was a member of the Jewish resistance network in Palestine. In a panic, he threw most of the poison and cash he'd managed to get hold of over the side of the ship. Ironically, the British couldn't have been more wrong – Haganah, the main Jewish paramilitary group in Palestine, weren't fans of the poisoning plot at all and had, it's believed, deliberately made Abba's life more difficult.

He was eventually released after two months in a British prison and then quit Nakam, knowing he was likely to be tracked from now on. Plan A had failed on a bit of a fluke, despite Nakam actually having agents in several German water companies by this point. They were absolutely ready to go – they just didn't have the poison. The cells were disbanded and faded into the night.

Plan B, on the other hand, went ahead and very nearly worked. At the group's Paris headquarters, a man called Yitzhak Ratner began to work on a special formulation of poison that could be added to the bread mix used to feed prisoners at the Langwasser internment camp near Nuremberg – home to between 12,000 and 15,000 former SS and senior Nazis.

Again, they infiltrated the bakery that baked the prison's entire supply, moving what poisons they could in hidden within their coats and hiding it in holes in the wall and floor. Smuggling anything in or out of the bakery was tricky, there were strict searches in place to stop the theft of food, but they managed to sneak in around 18 kilos of poison, enough to kill 60,000 people.

They'd come up with a special mix of glue and arsenic, which was odourless, flavourless, and very effective – at least among the stray cats Ratner had experimented on. Unfortunately, it didn't mix well with the bread as it was a little gloopy, and so had to be painted on to the loaf.

But they had a problem – the American guards eat the bread too, and what Nakam did not want to do, slightly ironically given they'd have happily let them drink the tap water, was kill foreigners. So they did what they were very good at doing, and placed a few of their agents in the prison as clerks and cleaners. And they pretty quickly worked out that on Sundays, the US soldiers were given a special treat. Rather than the traditional icky German black bread with nutrition and flavour, they were given good old American white bread. The far superior sugar-filled monstrosity of their homeland. Presumably with some awful orange cheese as well.

Anyway, the date of the attack was set for Saturday April 13th 1946. Unfortunately, that day the bakery workers decided to strike, so half of the poisoners couldn't get in to the building. The three that did managed to paint 3000 loaves with the arsenic mix – far less than they'd hoped but still pretty good going.

Sure enough, the next day, over 2,200 German prisoners were poisoned, with over 200 of them being hospitalised. It's not known if anyone actually died, some estimates say no-one, some estimates say around 400 prisoners were killed in the attack. We'll probably never know – nor will we really know why more weren't killed given how much poison they had. The two most likely options are either that they painted it on too thick, or the Germans took one bite of the bread and thought 'hang about, this tastes awfully arsenic-y'.

After the attack, Nakam broke up. Most members considered that they'd given it a go and gotten at least some revenge, so it was time to move on. A few die-hards persevered with plotting attacks but with funds drying up most ended up turning to crime to survive and ended up in prison.

In the year 1999, however, a criminal case was opened up in Germany against Leipke Distel and Joseph Harmatz, two of the original group members, after they appeared in a docmentary on the poisoning. In the documentary, Distel insisted Nakam's actions were moral and that the Jews "had a right to revenge against the Germans".

The case was dropped in 2000 due to the “unusual circumstances” surrounding it.

Tom's notes:

Genocides week

I’ve been looking at genocides and mass violence in the Jewish Bible, or Tanach, and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. They are both very similar. Incidentally, people may have heard of the Torah and believe it to be the Jewish ‘bible’. It is only the first of 3 parts of the Jewish Bible.

· Of course if we are talking about the Jewish and Christian bibles, many of the stories will be found in the Quran too, because Islam is last of the major Abrahamic religions and the Koran is influenced greatly by the Christian and Jewish Bibles. Judaism is actually around 1000 years old than Islam and Christianity is sort of in the middle.

· There are other smaller religions still practiced that are deemed Abrahamic; the Yazidis were not particularly well liked by ISIS. Rastafarians are Abrahamic.

· What do we mean by Abrahamic?

o Abraham is a major and very early figure in the religious books of these religions. Importantly, they are recognise him as a such.

o Here are some important facts about Abraham

§ He received the covenant of circumcision from Yahweh, the Old Testament God.

· Basically, you cut off your foreskin, and those of the blokes you know, and I’ll keep you in my good books.

o Bit weird

§ He had a son, Isaac, when he was 100 years old

· Mick Jagger, 73, with 2 kids already in their 40s

· Ronnie Wood, 69.

· If you start them up, if you start them up they’ll never stop

o You make an old man cry!!! You make an old man cry!!! Get out your cot, don’t give me that glare, my backs too fucked to pick you up out of there…

§ He asked God to hold off killing everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah, despite them all being big bum botherers

· God told him to find 10 good people and he’d think about being nice, when they tried, the people of Sodom tried to bum them.

· Incidentally, this is our first divine genocide because God killed them all with fire and brimstone.

§ Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to God when God asked him too. But alas, it was just a prank! God just wanted to see if he would.


· Moses is told by god to go to Egypt and command the Hebrews to leave to Canaan, the Pharoah doesn’t play along so after 10 plagues as foreplay, God kills all the firstborn or Egypt.

· The Golden Calf

o So, Moses is busy collecting the 10 commandments right, he’s away for a while, 40 days and 40 nights in fact, and when he returns, he finds that the bloody Israelites have only gone and started worshipping a golden cow statue.

§ God is livid, Moses is too, they’re quite the pair. Moses goes to the neighbouring tribe of Levi, in their snug fitting, bottom hugging denim pants and tapered denim jackets, mmmmm, double denim. These chaps didn’t worship the cow so…

§ "Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said: 'Whosoever is on the LORD's side, let him come unto me.' And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them: 'Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel: Put ye every man his sword upon his thigh, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.' And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men."

§ Just a little bit of genocide there for you.

· Moses goes on to kill the Amorites, after defeating their king Sihon, quote, they "smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him remaining; and they possessed his land."

· What about the Midianites?

o "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves"

· Here’s a bonus story about Moses that I think you’ll like

o watching the Battle of Rephidim against the Amalekites and he begins to realise that every time is arm is raised, his side start winning, so he keeps it up until his arm gets really tired, then some of his aides hold it up for him

§ Maybe the Israelites were just incapable of showing initiative?

§ I find it slightly ironic that a major figure in Jewish history won a battle by doing a sigheil repeatedly.

§ Omniscient God’s sniggering to himself; they’re not going to get the irony of this for at least a few thousand years!

§ It doesn’t say anything about goose-stepping in the bible

Moses dies, Joshua takes charge of the Israelites

· When he leads the Israelites to conquest over the city of Jericho in Canaan, he makes sure that every person, ox, sheep and donkey is killed

o What did the animals do wrong!? It’s not like they’re trying to weaken the position of the Canaanites, because they’ve all been killed.

· By this point, the Israelites have the Ark of the Covenant; the one the Nazis got a hold of that is now in a warehouse in the US.

o You’ll never guess what, at Beth-shemesh, some people had the audacity to look at it!

§ 50,000 dead at the hands of god.

Saul comes along not long after Joshua (presumably not Saul Goodman)

· If you were hoping for a change in leadership style, sorry!

· "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass"

· This is the Saul whose daughter marries David of Goliath fame. Saul asked for a dowry of 1000 foreskins, he gets 2000.

So, the Old Testament, and hence Jewish God, a strong influence of Islam, is a total bastard. Here’s a nice quote from A.A. Milne, the creator or Winnie the Pooh.

• “The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counterattractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.”

• Incidentally, what is Eeyor’s favourite thing to play with? Poo

o What does Tigger enjoy jumping around with? Poo

o What does Christopher Robbin like to cuddle? Poo

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