December 29, 1998
William R. Perl
BY Stephen G. Esrati
Dr. William R. (Willy) Perl, 92,
one of the giants of the Jabotinsky movement, died
last week at his home in Beltsville, Md., Perl, a
lawyer in Vienna and a longtime member of Betar,
was involved in the attempt to evacuate the Jews of
Europe by sending them down the Danube in the most
awful of ships.
The effort began in Palestine when Eri
Jabotinsky and David Raziel, commander
of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, sent young Yitshaq
Ben-Ami to Europe to set it up. It led to
meetings with and help from Adolf Eichmann.
According to Ben-Ami, not only did the
Zionist movement oppose the effort, but Dr. Leo
Baeck, the chief rabbi of Berlin, telegraphed
the Zionist organization in Vienna to oppose their
activities. Also opposing the effort was Norman
Bentwich, who represented the Jewish Agency.
Bentwich lectured the Irgun people while he was
accompanied by a man wearing a Nazi lapel pin.
"Those of you involved in illegal immigration
must stop," Bentwish demanded.
"You are committing a major crime." Irgunist
Paul Haller answered Bentwich: "Yes, well,
we happened to go out on the street and saw Jews
being chased like rats, and we jumped to the rash
conclusion that perhaps someone ought to do
something." According to the account of Ben-Ami,
Bentwich replied: "Your crimes are threefold:
first, you have no chance to bring these people
safely to Palestine; second, Palestine cannot
absorb them; third, you are officially acquiescing
to the expulsion of the Jews." "And you're a
murderer," Perl replied. The Irgunists then walked
out of the meeting.
Eventually, after the Nazis had taken over most
of Europe, Perl set up his own exodus, rescuing
40,000 Jews in 62 voyages to Palestine, despite the
White Paper, despite the Royal Navy, despite the
Jewish Agency's insistence on being able to select
which Jews could come to Palestine to assure the
Labor party there of a majority.
According to the obituary in the New York
Times on Tuesday, Dec. 29, "After Hitler
had taken over Austria, he [Perl] was
summoned by Adolf Eichmann,
then a lieutenant in the SS, who stuck a pistol in
his back, demanding to know the whereabouts of a
Dr. Perl did not give Eichmann any information
but instead interested him in a plan to remove Jews
from Vienna through sailings to Palestine." The
Times said Eichmann ultimately rejected the
proposal, but, in fact, Eichmann did provide
Ben-Ami and his men with some ships on the theory
that it was Eichmann's job to rid Vienna of Jews.
Perl, too had to make selections
for his rescue ships, but his were based on health
and stamina for the terrible voyage, not on
affiliation to Mapai. He told Ralph Blumenthal
of The New York Times in 1990 that the
most painful part of his work had been selecting
the healthiest evacuees for the scarce shipboard
space. He said he was still haunted by the image of
a sick Hungarian woman and her family whom he had
barred from a transport. "I convicted them to
death," he said.
Perl was arrested in Greece in 1940. He always
charged that the British were behind it. He was put
on a train for Berlin on which he cut his wrists
and was taken off as he had intended. Eventually,
he escaped via Portugal to the United States.
After that, his rescue operation carried out few
missions; it ceased entirely in August 1944.
Perl enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army soon
after Pearl Harbor. He became a lieutenant colonel
in military intelligence with the U.S. prosecutors
at the war crime trials in Nuremberg.
Perl was the chief interrogator of the SS men who
were accused of killing
72 American prisoners during the Battle of the
Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.)
succeeded in reopening the case during Senate
hearings about whether Perl and other
"Thirty-Niners" (McCarthy's derisive term for
German Jews) had railroaded the SS men by beating
The Senate committee upheld the sentences, but
all the Nazis escaped the noose because of the
intervention of Gen. Lucius Clay, the
American military governor of Germany.
True to his Jabotinsky-family past, Perl joined
the Jewish Defense League of Rabbi Meir
In 1976 he was convicted in U.S. District Court
in Baltimore of conspiring to shoot out the windows
in the apartments of two Soviet embassy officials
in Hyattsville, Md., to protest against the Soviet
policy on Jews. The conviction was overturned on
Perl's own version of his rescue attempts were
outlined in his book, "The
Four-Front War: From the Holocaust to the Promised
Land." The enemies he named were
- the Nazis,
- the British, and
- the Jewish establishment.
He charged in "The
Holocaust Conspiracy: An International Policy of
Genocide," that the nations of the world
conspired to let the Nazis kill off the Jews.
Stephen G. Esrati: email@example.com
PO Box 20130 Shaker Heights, OH 44120 (216)
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