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The Nokmim (Hebrew: הנוקמים), also referred to as The Avengers or the Jewish Avengers, were a Jewish partisan militia, formed by Abba Kovner and his lieutenants Vitka Kempner and Rozka Korczak from the surviving remnants of the United Partisan Organization (Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye), which operated in Lithuania under Soviet command.
After World War II, elements of the Nokmim combined with veterans of the Jewish brigade in British Palestine to form a new organization called Nakam (נקם, "Revenge"), a group of assassins that targeted Nazi war criminals with the aim of avenging the Holocaust. The name comes from the phrase (Dam Yehudi Nakam–"Jewish Blood Will Be Avenged"; the acronym DIN means "judgement"). founded by Abba Kovner in 1945.
The 'Nakam' Group
The most extremist group was the Nakam ("vengeance") Group. They numbered around 60 Jews who were former Partisans as well as other Jews who survived the Holocaust. The group arrived in Germany after the war in order to conduct more complicated and fatal vengeance operations. Their ultimate purpose was to execute an operation that would cause a broad international response that would be a warning to anyone who might consider trying to harm Jews again, as the Nazis had. Notables among the Hanakam group were Abba Kovner, Yitzhak Avidav, and Bezalel Michaeli.
According to an Observer interview with Lithuanian-born Joseph Harmatz, Kovner obtained a poison from Ephraim and Aharon Katzir. Harmatz also claims that later Israeli President Chaim Weizmann approved of the plan. The poison was claimed to be used on 3,000 loaves of bread for former SS guards in an American prisoner of war camp, "Stalag 13", but he was concealing their bigger plan of poisoning the water supplies of Munich, Berlin, Weimar, Nuremberg and Hamburg. The Nakam group intended to kill 6 million Germans – as many as the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. According to Harmatz, they would have taken care to exempt American residential areas from the area, so as to murder only Germans as far as possible. It was alleged that the Katzir brothers supplied Harmatz with the poison and that the Haganah gave Kovner false documents of a supposedly Jewish Brigade soldier, and he boarded a ship in Port of Haifa. When the ship approached Toulon in France, the British discovered that Kovner's papers were forged. His accomplices managed to throw the poison overboard. Kovner was sent to an Egyptian jail. According to Joseph Harmatz, leader of Nakam after Kovner's arrest, they were betrayed. Although uncertain, he suspects the Zionists sabotaged out of fear that such a crime would diminish support for a Jewish state.
As a result of the failure of the mass poisoning plan, it was decided to move to Plan B. Under the command of Kovner's deputy, Yitzhak Avidav, the Hanakam group poisoned hundreds of loaves of bread that were designated for the S.S. prisoners. On 14 April 1946, Nakam painted with diluted arsenic some 3,000 loaves of bread for the 15,000 German POWs from the Langwasser internment camp near Nuremberg (Stalag 13). The camp was under US authority. On 23 April 1946, the New York Times reported that 2,283 German prisoners of war had fallen ill from poisoning, with 207 hospitalized and "seriously ill". According to Harmatz, 300 to 400 Germans died. He said this "was nothing compared with what we really wanted to do." However, a 2016 report by the Associated Press revealed that the operation ultimately caused no known deaths, despite documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Archives and Records Administration stating that the amount of arsenic found in the bakery was enough to kill approximately 60,000 persons. It is speculated that the plotters in their haste spread the poison too thinly.
The public prosecutor's office within the higher regional court at Nuremberg stopped the preliminary investigation of attempted murder in May 2000 against two Nakam activists, who professed to have involvement in the incident. The public prosecutor's office cited statute of limitations laws (In German: Verjährung) "due to unusual circumstances" as reasoning for the suspension of the investigation.
The Avengers in culture
- The most detailed document of the Avengers appears in Michael Bar-Zohar's book The Avengers, which was published in 1969.
- Hanoch Bartov's 1969 novel Growing up Pains details the moral crisis of the Jewish Brigade veterans, who arrived in Germany after World War II ended, mulling over their desire, on one hand, to avenge over the murder of Jews, and on the other hand, how their conscience would not let them harm innocent people. Bartov describes how on the eve of their arrival in Germany, the Jewish Brigade's soldiers were warned that "The blood feud means a feud by all [of the Jewish People] any irresponsible act might hinder all", and how their conscience got the better of them, and the soldiers as individuals were unwilling and unable to avenge individually.
- John le Carré's autobiographical 2016 book The Pigeon Tunnel includes a chapter recounting when le Carré met broadcaster Michael Elkins. Elkins provides enough details about the Avengers' actions that le Carré comes to assume that Elkins was involved.
- Sam Bourne's The Final Reckoning (ISBN 978-000-726649-4)
- Mexican author Pedro Angel Palou's La Amante del Ghetto (The Ghetto's Lover) (ISBN 978-607-07-1810-6)
In 2009, the song presenting story about the Avengers, called "Six Million Germans (Nakam)", appeared on the album of Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird – "Partisans & Parasites".
- A documentary TV film was produced by Channel 1 named "Those who do not forget" directed by Yarin Kimor. The film was shown on Israeli Television in 2014. The film tells the story of the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, with one aim: Revenge against the Nazis.
- Freedland, Jonathan (July 26, 2008). "Revenge". The Guardian.
- Davis, Douglas (March 27, 1998). "Survivor reveals 1945 plan to kill 6 million Germans". Jweekly.
- Associated Press (31 August 2016). "Jewish avengers unapologetic for targeting Nazis after WWII". Fox News. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- "Gericht. Jüdischer Giftanschlag auf Nürnberger Nazi-Lager verjährt. Tausende Laib Brot mit Arsen bestrichen. Richter erkannten das persönliche Schicksal der Täter als Schuld mildernd an" (in German), WAZ, 2000-05-09
- Tom Segev: The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust. 2000, ISBN 0-8050-6660-8
- Jim G. Tobias, Peter Zinke: Jüdische Rache an NS-Tätern . Konkret Literaturverlag 2000, ISBN 3-89458-194-8
- Imré Kovacs, Frédéric Ploquin: Le Vengeur – À la poursuite des criminels nazis, Fayard 2006, ISBN 2-213-62504-2
- Elkins, Michael (1971). Forged in Fury. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-02162-2.
- Sack, John (1993). An Eye for an Eye: The Untold Story of Jewish Revenge Against Germans in 1945. New York, NY: BasicBooks. ISBN 978-0-465-04214-2.
- Wiesel, Elie (1995). Memoirs: All Rivers Run to the Sea. Knopf. ISBN 0-8052-1028-8.
- Butler, Rupert (1983). Legions of Death: The Nazi Enslavement of Eastern Europe. London: Hamlyn.
- Beckman, Morris (1998). The Jewish Brigade. Da Capo Press. ISBN 1-885119-56-9.
- Cohen, Rich (2000). The Avengers: A Jewish War Story. New York, NY: Knopf. ISBN 0375405461.