Alfred Nossig (1864-1943)
By Arnold Klien
Alfred Nossig, does the name ring any bells? Probably not; he is a character from our forgotten history, yet who at his time was a popular and well known figure.
Born in Lvov in 1864, Alfred Nossig, a Jew, was a brilliant intellectual, a creative mind and a tireless worker for social good. In 1880, at the age of 16, he and several friends became impassioned Polish nationals preaching the need for Jews to abandon their religion and become Poles by changing their speech, life patterns and by professing loyalty to the Polish government and its cause. It took him some ten years to realize that most Poles did not want the Jews to become Poles. With this realization, he changed his line of social preaching and switched to the Zionist cause and shortly emerged as a leader of the Zionist youth in Galicia.
He was a student of law and natural sciences at Lvov University, a graduate in philosophy at Zurich University and a student of medicine at Vienna University. His intellectual achievements and political activities were so great that he was written up in the Yevreiskaya Entsiklopediya of 1913. He had obtained a doctorate and was known also as a playwright, poet, philosophical writer, political economist, sociologist, and as an artist. Included in his many works was an article on Spinoza's ethics, four studies dealing with statistical aspects of Jewish history, seven titles on Zionist subjects and even sculptures on Biblical themes.
In 1903 he organized in Berlin the Society for Jewish Statistical Studies and in 1906 he founded the Society for Encouraging Jewish Art. Continuing with this, he founded two non Zionist territorial solutions for the Jewish problem: in 1908 he started the General Jewish Colonization Organization in Berlin and late in 1911 he founded the Orient Colonization Company in London both with the concept of giving the Jews their own lands, but not in Palestine.
Dr. Nossig attended the ninth Zionist Congress in 1909 where the president of the Zionist organization warned the delegates to separate themselves from him and his ideas. His was looked upon as an unauthorized Jewish adventurer. It seems that his capacity for doing what he believed in as opposed to the main stream opinion, set him apart from the more traditional Zionists who saw him as a threat.
After the Young Turk Revolution of 1908-9, Nossig travelled to Constantinople with a plan for settling g Jews both in Palestine and Mesopotamia, an area from eastern Turkey, present-day Iraq, to the Gulf; the Euphrates and a large part of northern Syria. This was to be under the auspices of his General Jewish Colonization Organization which was headquartered in Berlin. The British became convinced that Nossig was a German agent scheming to form an alliance for the purpose of creating a pro-German state. The British believed that he and his organizations were working to undermine the British Imperial position in the Arab world.
After World War I, Nossig became engaged in pacifist activities and in 1928 he founded a Jewish branch of the Peace Federation of the Religions. As Nazism began emerging victorious in Germany he returned to Poland. At the age of seventy six, he was found inside the Warsaw ghetto working as an intelligence gatherer for the Gestapo. Whether he volunteered or was coerced is not clear, but there is no doubt that he was under the employ of the Germans.
On February 22, 1943 he was killed by members of the Jewish Underground after being tipped off by the Polish underground of his Gestapo connection. According to those who executed him, a Gestapo identity card issued in 1933 was found on him. Other sources say it was an Abwehr identity card for the German high-command service for espionage, counterintelligence, and sabotage during World War II. Dr. Nossig had prepared a six page document on the Jewish resistance movement including a chart describing the system of underground passages and bunkers in the ghetto and was reading it to pass on to the Gestapo.
It is extremely strange that a man so gifted and given to Jewish causes, a man of such great and varied intellectual abilities should be found amongst those who sought to destroy the very people that he himself had laboured to 'redeem'. Yet exactly such is the case of Dr. Alfred Nossig.
Perhaps we can make some appraisement of his poor choices in spite of his tremendous intellectual abilities. He seems to have definite ideas but could not seem to work with others of dissimilar thoughts even for the good of the general. His reference values was not rooted in Jewish ideas, but secular and non Jewish, and that seemed to separate him from other Jews. Instead of seeing himself as a Jew, he viewed himself as a superior being and alliance with the Germans was only an extension of his superior self image.
What is the bottom line that we can learn from this? Perhaps that Jewish leaders need Jewish values. It is certainly not enough to have mental abilities and zeal, because with out Jewish identity, a leader can turn into an enemy.
from the May 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine