Murmelstein, Benjamin

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MURMELSTEIN, BENJAMIN (1905–1989), rabbi, scholar, and public figure of the Holocaust period. Born in Galicia, Murmelstein studied at the Juedisch-Theologische Lehranstalt, Vienna, where he became a lecturer in 1930. From 1923 he served as rabbi of the Vienna Jewish community. He was associated with S. Krauss in preparing the supplementary volume, published in 1936, to *A. Kohut's famous talmudic dictionary, Arukh ha-Shalem, and Murmelstein published a popular Geschichte der Juden and annotated selections from Josephus (both in 1938). When the Nazis occupied Austria in 1938, Murmelstein became a member of the *Judenrat appointed by them. In this capacity he wielded power, which he was accused of having used arbitrarily. Later he was deported to *Theresienstadt concentration camp; he was made deputy Judenaeltester (head of the Jewish council) in January 1943 and succeeded P. Epstein as chief Judenaeltester in December 1943, after Epstein was murdered by the Nazis. As Judenaeltester – an officer whose exact and tragic powers and responsibilities are difficult to assess – Murmelstein was both hated and feared; he was described as a complex character, gifted, ambitious, cynical, and calculating. When the camp was liberated in May 1945, Murmelstein remained and held himself at the disposal of the Czech authorities. He was arrested in June and remained in custody until December 1946, when the public prosecutor withdrew the indictment because "he had been able to disprove all accusations." Murmelstein settled in Rome, where he worked first at the Papal Biblical Institute and later as a commercial agent, taking no part in Jewish communal life. He published an account of events in Terezin-Ghetto Modello di Eichmann (1961) and in several newspaper articles (in Neue Zuercher Zeitung (Dec. 17, 1963), 3; Hamburg Die Welt (Jan. 14, 1964)).


H.G. Adler, Theresienstadt (Ger., 19602), introd. and index; Z. Lederer, Ghetto Theresienstadt (Eng., 1953), 166–7.