Abba Kovner and ‘the Other Six Million’

KovnerEverybody (well, almost everybody) knows that the Nazis and their accomplices killed six million Jews. But few know that the Jews almost killed six million Germans in September 1945 – right after the end of World War II. And two months before the Nazi leaders were to be tried for exactly the same crime.

The idea was as simple as it was horrible: to poison water supplies of four major German cities, including Nuremberg – the ‘Nazi cradle’ – with enough toxic substance to kill six million Germans. An eye for an eye. The other three cities to be attacked were Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich.

The simple thought that thousands and thousands of Allied troops (who earlier that year saved European Jews from complete annihilation) were stationed in these cities apparently did not bother the conspirators at the slightest.

This ‘brilliant’ idea belonged to a certain Abba Kovner – somewhat of a legend of Jewish wartime armed resistance. A poet, writer and Jewish political activist, he put together and became a leader of one of the few Jewish guerilla groups that actively fought the Nazis.

From September 1943 until the arrival of the Soviet army in July 1944, Kovner commanded a guerilla force called the Avengers (“Nokmim”) in the forests near Vilnius (Lithuania) and engaged in sabotage and guerrilla attacks against the Germans and their local collaborators.

At the end of the war, Kovner became obsessed with the idea of avenging the deaths of all Jews murdered by the Nazis according to the Old Testament principle “an eye for an eye”. For this purpose, he formed a secret organization he called Nakam (revenge), also known as Dam Yisrael Noter (“the blood of Israel avenges”, with the acronym DIN meaning “judgement”).

Its primary plan was to kill exactly six million Germans (one for each Jewish victim of the Holocaust) by poisoning the water supplies of Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, and Nuremberg. In pursuit of this plan, Nakam members were infiltrated into water and sewage plants in these cities, while Kovner went to Palestine in search of a sufficient quantities of a suitable poison.

According to Kovner’s own account, Chaim Weizmann (later the first president of an independent Israel) approved the idea and put Kovner in touch with the scientist Ernst Bergmann, who gave the job of preparing poison to Ephraim Katzir (later president of Israel) and his brother Aharon.

After sufficient quantities of poison were manufactured, the substance was concealed in the cargo of condensed milk cans and put on the British ship bound for Germany.

However, the revenge did not happen. Apparently, Jewish leaders in Palestine who knew of this plan got (rightfully) horrified by the inevitable consequences of the plan and tipped off the British military police. Kovner was arrested on board the ship but at the last moment managed to throw the whole deadly cargo overboard, leaving the British with no hard evidence. The British reluctantly had to let him go.

Jewish leaders (specifically David Ben-Gurion, then head of the Jewish Agency and later Israel’s first prime minister) got terrified not because they cared about the lives of German civilians. They didn’t.

They were scared to death because they knew for a fact that Judeophobia in Europe and elsewhere was so rampant that the terrorist act (let’s call a spade a spade) of such magnitude committed by the Jews would have meant a certain death sentence for the latter. For all of them. Worldwide.

All major nations would have quickly and efficiently finished what the Nazis had started. Abba Kovner and his co-conspirators, blinded by the idea of revenge (the deadly sin of hatred) simply did not understand it. And were obviously unaware of the saying “Before embarking on a journey of revenge first dig two graves” (traditionally attributed to Confucius).

Nakim still managed to commit one (unsuccessful) act of revenge – on a much smaller scale. In April 1946, members of Nakam broke into a bakery used to supply bread for the Langwasser internment camp near Nuremberg, where many German POWs (mostly Waffen SS who had nothing to do whatsoever with the Holocaust) were being held.

Nakam members attempted to coat all bread loaves with arsenic but were disturbed and fled before finishing their work. More than 2,200 of the German POWs fell ill and 207 were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.

Interestingly enough, Abba Kovner is considered a hero in Israel to this day. Apparently, no one there is bothered by the fact that this character was a madman with a mentality of a mass murderer. Which made him no different than Himmler or Heydrich. The only difference was that he failed (through no fault of his own) and they succeeded.

This incident also proves that the idea of killing millions of innocent civilians as a reprisal for crimes committed by a few thousand is still very much alive and well. And that the Nazis by no means had a monopoly on such unspeakably horrible ideas.