Moshe Merin (1906-1943) was the chairman of the Jewish Council (Judenrat) in Upper Silesia, Poland, an area that included the town of Będzin. As a council member in charge of the internal affairs of the ghettos, Merin believed that working closely with the Nazis would help the Jewish community to survive. However, the Judenrat, with the help of the Jewish ghetto police, assisted the Nazis in rounding up the Jews of Będzin and liquidating the ghetto.
Moshe Merin (also known as Moses, Moishe, or Mojżesz Merin) remains a controversial figure: although he complied with Nazi demands, he also used his influence to keep Jews in his jurisdiction out of closed ghettos for a longer time and to provide relatively better living conditions (food, shelter, medical assistance).
Moshe used his great skill as an orator to convince others within the Jewish community to follow orders instead of challenging authority. At the same time, Merin’s administration was marked by corruption. He gave all top Judenrat positions to those he knew would follow his orders. He also used his influence to gain special privileges such as permission to travel and better food. The photo of Moshe Merin’s daughter Roza, for example, shows her in relatively good clothing and in good health.
Bribes were accepted from Jews desperate to avoid deportation. Believing that armed resistance could put the entire ghetto at risk, Merin and his Council turned in several Jews active in the resistance movement. Merin’s increasing power gave him what some called a “Messiah complex.” He began to think that he could save some Jews by sending others to certain death. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Merin himself was eventually deported to Auschwitz in 1943. He was murdered there with most of the remaining ghetto population.
Prior to the war, Merin was known through his hometown of Sosnowiec as a card player and a gambler. He was active in the Zionist movement, but he showed no interest in community leadership until the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. At that point, he declared himself the leader of the Jewish community. In 1940, he was appointed chairman of the Judenrat of the Sosnowiec/Będzin district. His brother Chaim Merin was put in charge of some responsibilities in Będzin, while Haim Molchadsky became the head of the Będzin Jewish Council.
Mary Fulbrook, A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 2012)