Jakob Edelstein

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Tzadik Jakob Edelstein
Jacob Edelstein.jpg
Began4 December 1941
EndedJanuary 1943
SuccessorPaul Eppstein [de]
Personal details
Birth nameJakob Edelstein
Born25 July 1903
Horodenka, Galicia
Died20 June 1944
Auschwitz concentration camp
ResidencePrague I, Waldhauserova 12
ParentsMotl and Mattil Edelstein
SpouseMiriam Edelstein nee Olinerova
ChildrenAriah Edelstein
SignatureJakob Edelstein's signature

Jakob Edelstein (AKA Yacov, Yaakov, Jakub Edelstein or Edlstein), (Horodenka (Galicia), 25 July 1903 – 20 June 1944 Auschwitz) was a Czechoslovak Zionist, social democrat and the first Jewish Elder in the Theresienstadt ghetto

Life and work[edit]

Captured Hechalutz fighters during Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Death Block 11

Jakob Edelstein was born into a devout Ashkenazi family in Horodenka at that time in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, nowadays in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Ukraine. His parents were Motl and Mattil Edelstein, he had a sister called Dora.[1][2]

During World War I The family fled Horodenka in 1915 to Brno in Moravia[3] to avoid the Russian army, that organised a pogrom against the Jewish people of the town, nine Jews were hung in the main street of Horodenka.[4] When his family returned after the war to Horodenka, Jakob stayed in Brno to finish his studies at a business school. After his graduation he left Brno for Teplitz in northern Bohemia to work as a traveling salesman.[3]

Edelstein became a fierce member of the Poale Zion movement and an activist in the Social Democrat Party. In 1927 he left the Party and was for two years only active in the Přátelé přírody, a (social democrat movement of nature friends).[1]

From 1926 Edelstein was involved in the Hechalutz (the pioneer), a Zionist youth organisation and in World War II a resistance movement, later he worked at their head office. Edelstein joined in 1929 the Histadrut, an organisation of trade unions for and later in Israel.[1]

Jakob Edelstein married in 1931 and left Teplitz with his bride Miriam for Prague to work for the Palästina-Amt (Palestine Office of the Zionist movement). Beginning 1933 he acted as head of that office, he remained in this position until the office was closed right before the outbreak of the War.[3]

In 1937 he was for several months very active for the Keren Hayesod (a fund raising organisation) in Jerusalem.[1]

Before the war Edelstein and his family had the opportunity and the documents for immigration to Eretz Israel, they planned to get to Kibbutz Givat Haim, but Edelstein chose to stay in Czechoslovakia and with his community.

World War II[edit]

On 15 March 1939, the day of the German annexation of the remaining of Czechoslovakia territory, the Nazi's establish the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Edelstein called for the Zionist leaders to head the Jewish community, he became the liaison between the Jewish community and the SS to deal with the Jewish emigration.[5] For this purpose Edelstein travelled, with permission of the Gestapo, between 1939 and 1941 abroad a.o. to Bratislava, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, Genoa.[2]

Edelstein and his substitute Otto Zucker visited in 1938 England and the British Mandate for Palestine to help facilitate the evacuation of Jewish refugees, but they constrained his wife to stay in Czechoslovakia thereby forcing him to return home. Even during the war in 1940 Edelstein went to Trieste in order to evacuate Czechoslovak Jews.[1] In March 1941 he and his associate Richard Friedmann were commanded by the SS to instruct the chairmen of the Jewish Council in Amsterdam, Abraham Asscher and David Cohen to establish an administrative apparatus between the counsel and the "Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Amsterdam" (the only one in Western Europe), like the Central Office in Prague.[6]

On 18 October 1939 Edelstein, Friedmann and an other thousand Jewish men were, due to the so-called Nisko-und-Lublin-Plan, deported from Ostrava to Nisko in the Lublin reservation, a concentration camp in the General Government. After the Nisko Plan was dissolved, for pragmatic reasons, Edelstein returned to Prague in November 1939.

On 4 December 1941, by order of the head of the "Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Prague" SS-Sturmbannführer (major) Hans Günther, Edelstein and his family were deported to Theresienstadt. They were among transport Stab, č.

The camp commandant SS-Obersturmführer Siegfried Seidl designated him as the first Judenältester (Jewish Elder) of the Jewish Council of Elders in the ghetto.[2]

Edelstein and his associates were determined to prevent further deportations to the East by organizing a self-sustaining, productive community that the Germans would find indispensable to their war effort."Jüdische Arbeit zur Rettung jüdischen Lebens" (Jewish work to save Jewish lives), was the idea behind Edelsteins policy.[2][7]

In January 1943 Edelstein was replaced as Judenältester by Paul Eppstein [de] and became his first substitute.

At a count in the ghetto on 9 November 1943 a difference of 55 Jews between the registered and the actual number of inmates appeared. Edelstein was accused of aiding the escape of inmates and was arrested on November 11, 1943.[2][8]

On 15 December 1943, Edelstein was deported to the Auschwitz I concentration camp, where he was kept isolated in Block 11 for half a year. He was deported on Transport Dr. His wife, his son, and his mother in law were sent to the Theresienstadt family camp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Biib. The family was reunited on 20 June 1944. Jakob Edelstein had to watch the murder of first his mother in law then his wife Miriam and his twelve-year-old son Ariel before he was shot to death in the crematorium of the gas chamber.[2][8]

In June 1947, on the three-year yahrzeit of Yacov Edelstein's death in Auschwitz, Max Brod wrote: "And so a Jewish hero left this world, a man who up to the end did everything he possibly could and never gave up.[8]


  • Israel Gutman: Enzyklopädie des Holocaust - Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden, Piper Verlag, München/Zürich 1998, 3 Bände, ISBN 3-492-22700-7
  • Hans Günther Adler: Theresienstadt: das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft 1941-1945 Nachwort Jeremy Adler. Wallstein, Göttingen, 986 pages, 2005 ISBN 978-3-89244-694-1
  • Bondy, Ruth. Elder of the Jews": Jakob Edelstein of Theresienstadt, translated from the Hebrew 1989, ISBN 0-8021-1007-X


  1. ^ a b c d e "Sefer Horodenka, translator Harvey Buchalter". Yizkor Book Project. "Former Residents of Horodenka and Vicinity in Israel and the USA.". 1963. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Jürgen Winkel (January 2007). "Edelstein, Dr. Jakub". Theresienstadt 1941-1945 Ein Nachschlagewerk (in German). Kulturverein Schwarzer Hahn e.V. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Frankl, Michal (5 August 2010). "Edelstein, Jakob". YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  4. ^ Dr. N. M. Gelber. "The History of the Jews of Horodenka". Jewishness. Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York, NY. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  5. ^ Dr. Margalit Shlain. "Ghetto Leadership". Beit Theresienstadt. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  6. ^ Jürgen Winkel (January 2007). "Friedmann, Richard". Theresienstadt 1941-1945 Ein Nachschlagewerk (in German). Kulturverein Schwarzer Hahn e.V. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  7. ^ "Holocaust Encyclopedia". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  8. ^ a b c Max Brod (1947). "The Heroes of Theresienstadt". Yizkor Book Project. "Former Residents of Horodenka and Vicinity in Israel and the USA.". Retrieved 8 December 2011.

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