Edelstein, Jacob

(d. 1944)
   Czech Zionist leader. The fate of Edelstein illustrates the agonizing issue of collaboration that faced Jewish leaders under the Nazi regime in Europe. Born in Galicia, he became a Zionist socialist leader in Czechoslovakia and director of the Palestine office of the Jewish Agency in Prague. With the German occupation of Moravia and Bohemia in 1939, he encouraged the idea of a Jewish labour camp at Theresienstadt. He believed that it was better to serve the economic needs of their German masters in Czechoslovakia than to be deported eastward to almost certain death.
   In December 1941, he was appointed Judenaeltester (Jewish elder) of the Theresienstadt ghetto and tried courageously to protect its inmates, at the risk of Gestapo displeasure. In 1943 he was arrested for falsifying the lists in order to help some of the Jews escape and was shot in Auschwitz, after having been forced to see his wife and young son killed.
   Some of the survivors of Theresienstadt were critical of his role and accused him of collaboration. Others saw him as a martyr who had done what he could for his people. The school in Bergen-Belsen was named in his memory by the liberated inmates.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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