Mosheh Merin (right), the head of the Judenrat in the Sosnowiec ghetto, with Khayim Mordkhe Rumkowski, head of the Judenrat in the Łódź ghetto, during Merin’s visit to Łódź, ca. 1942. Photograph by Maliniak. (YIVO)

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Merin, Mosheh

(1906–1943), Jewish council leader in Sosnowiec during World War II. A businessman active in local politics, Mosheh Merin became a Zionist representative on the Sosnowiec Jewish community council in January 1939. When the Germans occupied the city on 4 September of that year, he presented himself as the council’s representative, although he was not officially its chair. That same month, however, he was appointed head of the Sosnowiec Jewish council.

In January 1940, after East Upper Silesia was annexed to the Reich, Merin was appointed Leiter (leader) of the Zentrale der Jüdische Ältestenräte Ostoberschlesien (Central Office of Jewish Councils of Elders in East Upper Silesia), responsible for some 45 Jewish communities of approximately 100,000 Jews. A talented organizer who had the confidence of the German occupiers, he knew how to take advantage of special conditions in the region, which permitted Jewish participation—albeit under duress—in the German war economy. He also benefited from the fact that no closed ghettos were established in the region until 1943.

At the peak of his power in spring 1942, Merin controlled dozens of Judenräte, which together operated 28 public kitchens, 13 food stations for children, a hospital, 19 medical clinics, 13 dental clinics, 3 farms, and a police force. He successfully mobilized the best resources of local Jewish communities to run these institutions, and there were no outbreaks of disease or famine under his administration. Nevertheless, because of his close contacts with the Germans, some Jewish leaders treated him with suspicion, and a minority (including members of the Bund) declined to join the Judenrat.

During the first wave of deportations from Sosnowiec and Będzin to Auschwitz in May–August 1942, Merin advocated trying to save part of the community by sacrificing the rest. Accordingly, he and his men actively cooperated in organizing and implementing deportations, publishing lists of Jews designated for “resettlement,” locating and assembling prospective deportees, and guarding victims until their deportation. After the first wave of deportations, Merin became a target of public anger, but most local Jews nevertheless considered his policy effective.

In spring 1943 there were still 48,000 Jews in East Upper Silesia who had recently been concentrated in 10 ghettos. In addition, some 15,000 young Jews from the region lived in nearby labor camps. Most of the Jews were organized in large workshops and in light industry, especially textiles. Consequently, many possessed documents that were supposed to protect them from deportation.

Around this time an armed He-Ḥaluts underground was established, and a small, unarmed Communist underground became active. There were several clashes between Merin and this underground, and he betrayed 10 activists to the Gestapo. All were executed. In response, the underground planned to assassinate Merin. On 21 June 1943, however, he and some of his senior aides were suddenly deported to Auschwitz. The deportation may have been connected with a rescue attempt taking place in the region at the time, using South American passports; more likely, however, the Germans had decided on the final extermination of the region’s Jews. During the first week of August 1943, the last Jews of the region were deported to Auschwitz.

Suggested Reading

David Liwer, ‘Ir ha-metim (Tel Aviv, 1946); Avihu Ronen, “The Jews of Zaglembie during the Holocaust, 1939–1943” (Ph.D. diss., Tel Aviv University, 1989); Pawel Wiederman, Plowa Bastia (Munich, 1948).



Translated from Hebrew by David Louvish