SHMUEL KATZ PERSONAL MEMOIRS, part 2
Both we and Levine were unemployed, without a source of income.
We were owed substantial sums by the Organization for accumulated unpaid salaries – one of the explanations of the miracle by which the Jewish Standard had been maintained.
It was a long time before these were paid.
For several months our state was most precarious.
I had no connections for employment with the British daily newspapers.
I had one “connection” with an Agency – Jack Simon was still the United Press correspondent in Jerusalem.
I wrote to him.
In July 1942 he was drowned accidentally at Jaffa.
I wrote free-lance articles. A few were accepted and published.
I decided to respond to the Government’s appeals for industrial workers. To my surprise … I had passed all tests … then my leg trouble recurred. My career as a manual worker came to an end.
Joseph Segall – who in 1940 had acted as intermediary between us and Weizmann – mentioned my name to the Daily Express.
In February 1943 I started work in the Daily Express library.
* * *
I worked on the Daily Express until summer of 1945.
I learnt, indeed exerted myself to learn, all I could about the techniques of a high-powered newspaper.
Yet ultimately the serious value of my stay on the paper lay elsewhere.
I broadened considerably my knowledge of the everyday Englishman.
Living among people at their daily work, sharing with them at close quarters the highly-charged emotional experiences of the war, being most of the time at one with them, becoming aware of their individual interests, troubles and reactions, one gradually sensed the subtle composite pattern of a people.
I learnt to know the qualities of this microcosm of the people, their common kindness, their shared foibles, their uniform prejudices, their vigilant wariness of the intrusion of authority into their private lives, the cloak of conscious difference over their easy extrovert patriotism.
I discovered how sensitive many an Englishman was to a foreigner, any foreigner, and the subtle anatomy of the particular phobia he reserved for Jews.
I learnt that the thinking Englishman was strangely sensitive about this phobia.
He was relieved, his peace of mind was restored, when he discovered an unpleasant character who was a Jew, and he was surprised at the suggestion that the proportion of unpleasant Jews was perhaps lower than the world average.
* * *
I had resigned myself to remaining in England till the war ended. There was no apparent way for me to return to Palestine, and I did not forget that I still had a “live” file in the Jerusalem C.I.D.
My impatience however grew when the news came early in 1944 of the ending of the truce by the Irgun in Palestine, followed by reports of a vigorous campaign of violence against the Mandatory Administration.
In the late summer of 1944 an opportunity for returning seemed to present itself.
Rome had fallen, the Allied armies had invaded France, Paris was liberated.
The final defeat of Germany was now only a matter of time.
A friend told me that Gershon Agronsky, the editor of the Palestine Post on a visit to London, was looking for sub-editors for his paper. I had met Agronsky in Jerusalem several times. He knew and disliked my political leanings.
I telephoned him. There was not time for him to see me: he was returning to Palestine the very next morning. He suggested I write to him. I did.
The result was a cable in October offering me a position on the Palestine Post.
There were inexplicable delays in the granting of an Exit Permit, though I had obtained adequate recommendations.
Finally the Passport Office informed me that the Exit Permit would be granted only when the Palestine Authorities gave me a visa.
This had to be applied for by my prospective employer. On 14 November I cabled Agronsky to approach the Palestine Government.
A week later he cabled regretfully withdrawing his offer because of the “prevailing conditions” in the country.
A political hurricane had indeed struck Palestine … Agronsky receiving my telegram precisely at this point, and considering my antecedents, his decision was understandable.
I swallowed my disappointment.
I tried twice that winter to obtain an appointment as a foreign correspondent which might bring me to Palestine, but was unsuccessful.
* * *
My conversations with Altman (visiting London post WWII) developed into heated arguments when I learnt that his mission was in no way related to the underground struggle.
***The Irgun and the Lehi were pursuing the common aim of driving the British out of the country so as to make the Jewish State possible.
How came the New Zionist Organization still to function legally, in apparently voluntary disconnection and dissociation from the struggle?
“Unless” I argued “there is an understanding between the party and one or both of the underground movements that the party’s legality is essential to the struggle, unless the party itself has a rational sense of contribution to the struggle, it surely has no raison d’etre.
“Unless you are pursuing a very deep game of deception towards the British Administration, the fact that they are taking no action against you means that you are not dangerous to them.
“That is a serious failing.
“As you are not in hiding, nor in gaol, nor in exile, nor pulling the wool over the eyes of the British Government, I believe the party is bankrupt.”
Altman argued that the party’s legality was useful. Efforts at persuading the British could not be abandoned. His contacts with the British authorities made it possible to put to them a point of view different from that of the Jewish Agency and in keeping with traditional Revisionism: that a Jewish State was in the British interest.
We agreed to differ.
Before the end of his stay he put a proposal to me which opened the way to my return to Palestine.
Altman was now prepared to organize an emergency consultative conference in London to establish a temporary world leadership for the Movement.
He believed that the New Zionist Organization should return to the World Zionist Organization.
I believed that in Palestine the Organization should go underground, that its branches abroad should campaign for the evacuation of Palestine by Britain, explain the inevitability of resistance until evacuation was consummated, and raise money to finance the revolt.
The gap between me and Altman was considerable.
Yet if I did not take over the Jewish Standard it might collapse.
In the Standard, I would be free to pursue a policy closer to my outlook.
In Palestine, I argued with myself, I would be able to try to influence the Movement to go underground.
At worst, I argued with myself, I would suffer for six months in order to ensure my return to Palestine.
We agreed to disagree on principle.
I accepted his proposal (of editorship of the Jewish Standard and membership in the temporary World Executive until a regular world conference could be called).
* * *
Late in 1945 there came to London a colourful, somewhat boisterous reinforcement of Jewish opposition to British policy.
Johan J. Smertenko set up an office of the American League for a Free Palestine, the popular organization set up by the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation.
When we met soon after his arrival he asked me, as a “veteran Londoner” to help him in establishing his office, and proposed that we cooperate in political activity.
I agreed without hesitation, and thus brought down on my head the wrath of some of the local Revisionists.
They were no less strongly opposed to the ideology of the Hebrew Committee than were the handful of Revisionists in America or indeed than the official Zionists themselves.
The Hebrew Committee was opposed by a wide range of Jews whom they might easily have won to their support.
**They did not content themselves with a straightforward political programme – of striving for Jewish independence and supporting Jewish resistance against the British authorities in Palestine.
*They preached a historical, sociological ideology.
*They announced the division of the Jewish people into two categories.
One consisted of the “Hebrews.” These were the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and all others who embraced the Hebrew nation and regarded themselves as repatriants from Palestine.
The other category consisted of the “Jews,” who were Jewish by religion or birth but did not wish to go to Palestine or otherwise to embrace Hebrew nationalism. These, happy were they were, were yet expected, and the Hebrew Committee urged them, to help their Hebrew brothers attain their independence.
Shorn if its meretricious ideological covering the Hebrew-Jew theory was no more than a shrewd appraisal of the workings of the mind of the “emancipated” American Jew.
***The American Zionists proved the truth of it in the years that followed the establishment of the Jewish State.
The “Hebrew-Jew” ideology of 1945-48 is, certainly was until recently, part of the defensive equipment of many an American Zionist eager to assert the harmony in his soul as he digs his roots deeper into the soil of the United States.
The Jewish intellectuals who gave their support to the Hebrew Committee were no doubt allergic to the Zionist Organization.
Would they have refrained equally from helping the Hebrew Committee if Bergson had not given them absolution?
Was the Hebrew-Jew ideology an indispensable release from the fear of smudging their American identity?
I always found this hard to believe.
It was clear to me (and was confirmed later in conversations with some of the “Jews”) that Bergson and his colleagues succeeded in recruiting them because of the political cause they represented and because of their own unadulterated “Hebrewism,” which contrasted strongly with the equivocation and subservience that leaders like Stephen Wise had make synonymous with official Zionism.
***THE AMERICAN INTELLECTUAL – JEWISH AND NON-JEWISH – EMERGED FROM THE WAR WITH A SENSE OF SHOCK AND EVEN GUILT AT THE PASSIVITY AND INCAPACITY OF THEIR WORLD TO PREVENT OR MITIGATE OR EASE THE RAVAGES OF THE BARBARISM THE NAZIS HAD LOOSED IN EUROPE.
The instinct to help the Jewish remnant that survived was natural.
The logic of resistance to Britain in Palestine was t them self-evident; and their identification with the resistance followed naturally.
I disliked the Hebrew Committee’s ideological aberration from the beginning and bewailed the unnecessary antagonisms, widespread and fierce, which it aroused. To our immediate tasks in London my likes and dislikes were irrelevant. I was filled with admiration for what the Bergson group had achieved in America. We had a common objective. It would be ridiculous to refuse cooperation.
Smertenko, himself a University teacher of history, was one of Jabotinsky’s earliest disciples in the United States.
I was acquainted with his trenchant pen. A man of great intellectual force, his power of expression and explosive manner enveloped his mission in Britain with a vigour that was salutary.
* * *
To further our campaign against the new development of British policy I met several of the delegates to the first session of the United Nations Organization in London that spring.
The Mexican and the Polish delegates were, as I remember, especially well informed and sympathetic.
All was ineffective.
There was not a single Government, even of those whose interests lay athwart those of Britain, prepared to make an issue of Transjordan.
At least one of these conversations helped broaden my own education. An interview was arranged for me with a leading member of the United States delegation, the veteran chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, Tom Connolly.
The meeting took place at his office in the conference building at 12:30 p.m. As he opened the door to me, I was startled to see precisely what fiction and cinema had taught me to expect a Southern Senator to look like: the white mane, the ruddy cheeks. He shook me warmly by the hand and clapped me on the shoulder.
“What can I do for you,” he said.
I felt completely at ease. I gave him as full an outline as I could of the Jewish claim on the whole of Palestine, of the loss in 1920, through international intrigue, of the northern strip (now in Lebanon) which President Wilson had described as vital to Palestine viability, and of the gradual alienation by Britain of the territory across the Jordan.
Connolly listened intently. At times he doodled on a scribbler, at times he put on, then took off, his spectacles. He did not interrupt me. I spoke for fifteen or twenty minutes, towards the end with some vehemence.
I finished. Connolly straightened up in his seat, looked at me for a moment, then abruptly at his watch.
“Ah, I’m afraid I have to go off to a luncheon appointment” he said, “That was very interesting, Sam,” “Very interesting.”
We both rose. He came round the desk, shook me warmly by the hand. He clapped me on the shoulder.
“Thanks for coming to see me, Sam” he said. “I’ll do what I can for Egypt.”
* * *
Abrahams returned to office in March 1946. Altman kept his promise and secured for me one of the immigration permits reserved for Britain. I booked a passage for my wife and myself, and applied for a visa. The British Passport Office normally issued a visa for Palestine automatically to anybody holding an immigration permit.
In my case a strange silence emanated from the Passport Office.
Day after day went by, the visa was not granted.
I called at the Passport Office. An embarrassed official told me that they were awaiting a reply from the Colonial Office.
This was most improper. The distribution of what permits were granted was traditionally in the hands of the Jewish Agency and the Colonial Office had not before been known to interfere.
Riebenfeld went to the Jewish Agency Political Department to apprise them of what might be a new restriction. What the Jewish Agency did I do not know. The Visa was granted within forty-eight hours – two days before our boat sailed.
The incident, which suggested a lingering interest in me on the part of the Palestine authorities, lent piquancy to my reading programme on board ship. I studied the Palestine Emergency Regulations.
(see BRITISH OPPRESSION – PALESTINE EMERGENCY REGULATIONS)
The British had by any civilized political standard or legal system long forfeited the right to rule Palestine.
Their presence, buttressed by eighty thousand soldiers, was merely that of a ruthless regime of Occupation maintaining itself by brute force.
Quite apart from the implications of Jewish restoration and its betrayal by Britain, it was a moral imperative to overthrow such a regime.
As we drew near to our destination, I was struck by the thought that within a few days or weeks I would, by merely rejoining the Irgun, be liable to be hanged. As I believed I would not be discovered, I did not give much time to such speculation.
I was happier than I had been for a long time.
Not only was I coming home but I was to have a chance once again of fighting the good fight.
* * *
My renewed fears of possible difficulties at the Palestine frontier, aroused by the incident with the Colonial Office in London, were not realized. We came through the Immigration barrier at Kantara without so much as a personal question.
I made no move to establish contact with the Irgun: I could not be sure that I was not under observation.
As it turned out, I was unexpectedly soon favoured with reasonable reassurance that my 1938 file in the C.I.D. was no longer “live.”
Jerusalem filled me with a self-pitying nostalgia.
The very physical surroundings in which I worked were a daily reminder of the collapse of the world of my youth: the office of the revisionist Party where I took over a desk was in the Generali Building.
I looked around for living quarters.
Aryeh Possek, who worked in the office, had an immediate suggestion. He was friendly with a British official in the Light Industries Department named Messer who, about to go on long leave to England, was anxious to sublet his home for the four months of his expected absence.
It was a little detached house in the heart of Katamon, a suburb where there were few Jews and many British officials and police officers.
Among Messer’s near neighbours were Mr. Webster, the Government Treasurer and Mr. Giles, head of the C.I.D. The adjoining apartment houses were occupied exclusively by British policemen and their families. As a tenant in one of the rooms of his house he had a young British Army captain.
I did not know to what extent and in what way I would be counterworking this select company, but I was attracted by the prospect of quietly doing so under their noses.
It was a full week before he informed us that we could move in. The date of his own departure was postponed at the last moment, and we lived together for some days.
In the congenial atmosphere that subsisted in the house – Mr. and Mrs. Messer being a pleasant, sociable couple – he explained to me one evening why he had delayed consummating the arrangement between us.
He had thought it necessary to inquire at the C.I.D. if there was nay objection to my coming to live in this Imperial neighbourhood.
The C.I.D. had given me a “clean bill.”
Apart from my being an active Revisionist, they told him, there was nothing known against me. I might, it seemed, be militantly talkative, but toothless. The implications were interesting.
It was a fortnight before the line of communication to the Irgun was opened.
Attending a meeting in Tel Aviv, I was told by Yucon Rubin, who had succeeded Ismac Remba as editor of the Revisionist daily Hamashkif, that “the boys” wanted to see me.
He gave me a time, a place and a password.
The next morning I walked, as casually as I could, into the Tamar Café. There, his face concealed by an outspread copy of Haaretz, my contact was waiting for me.
He was Israel Epstein, a gently intellectual who, in between a variety of propaganda and liason duties for the High Command of the Irgun, taught at a primary school.
From him I had my first comprehensive briefing on the salient events of the preceding years; and the answers to the questions which had long troubled me on the relations between the Irgun and the Revisionist Party, and with the Lehi.
We left the café casually and strolled beyond the Habimah theatre. Sitting on a bench in the boulevard was a dark girl of about nineteen, relaxing in the shade.
Epstein stopped and spoke to her. Then turning to me he said abruptly “Ruhama will take you to the Commander. Lehitraot.”
Ruhama and I walked unhurriedly for ten minutes towards the outskirts of the built-up area. There is a building flanked by trees, on the edge of the open fields, she rang the bell of a ground-floor flat. The name on the door was “Oppenheimer.”
The door was opened by a woman manifestly preoccupied with her household chores. She led us into a little room furnished by a table, two chairs, a bookcase and a couch.
At the table, his back to the unseasonably shuttered window, was Menachem Begin, peacefully writing an article for the next issue of the underground “Herut” newspaper.
I waited a while till he had finished.
Ruhama took the sheets, together with a number of messages to be delivered to the Chief of Staff, put them in a small brief-bag and went away, a care-free college student going home to lunch. Mrs. Oppenheimer went back to her housework.
We settled down to a quiet chat. Occasionally a bee buzzed outside the window.
* * *
The struggle in unity had been in progress seven months when I sat with Begin for the first time in the underground office in the flat of “Mr. and Mrs. Oppenheimer.”
*He wore now a bushy moustache and beard, and the natural pallor of his face had been deepened by the two years and more he had spent indoors, venturing forth only by night.
There was no other visible change in his appearance since my meeting with him in Warsaw eight years earlier.
(read WHITE NIGHTS about Begin’s imprisonment during this time in Siberia)
*Perhaps this was one of the reasons why the British never succeeded in establishing even a starting-point in their hunt for him: they decided that he had had his features altered by a plastic operation.
His enforced way of life also predicated many hours of solitude.
*It made possible concentrated thought, and played its part in achieving the finely balanced assessments and decisions which characterized his handling of affairs in the presumed darkness of the underground.
We talked mainly of Britain.
I had the advantage of my closer and more personal knowledge, and indeed of my efforts at assessment on the spot in London.
I soon discovered that except for the detail which I was able to add, his own picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the power with which we had to contend was deep and comprehensive.
I found only that he was less optimistic than I on the possible duration of the struggle.
My calculation was a simple one: if the full force of the united onslaught was maintained for six months more Britain’s growing economic difficulties in the winter would force her to cut her oversea commitments and, under the pressure of public opinion in Britain itself (let alone other pressures), to bow to the inevitable withdrawal from Palestine.
Begin, sobered by bitter experience, was dubious about my first premise: he was much less certain of his allies than I was.
The Haganah had indeed a few days earlier executed their sharpest stroke, the countrywide blowing up of bridges, a major operation which could not but bring home to Britain the grave possibilities of an all–out war.
*Begin, knowing the internal stresses in the Haganah, was nevertheless uneasy.
We achieved an easy rapport, and that day I reenlisted for service.
I was committed to the Revisionist Party until its World conference, due to be held in the autumn or winter.
Until then I would be available for any specific duties that might arise and specifically would help in the preparation of propaganda in English.
* * *
IRGUN MISSION TO EUROPE, 1946:
I had soon decided that it would be a waste of effort to try to convert the Revisionist Party to the belief that it could be true to itself only by fading into the underground.
Many of its members were active in the Irgun or the Lehi, some of them using the party as a cover; its newspaper Hamashkif was occasionally redeemed from colourlessness by editor Rubin’s ingenious handling of explosive news reports and by the incursions of Dr. Yohanan Bader into brilliant satire; but the dominant spirit and attitude of the party was that of the leadership.
For a number of reasons Dr. Altman pressed me to go personally to Europe and, first from Paris and then in Basle, make the final financial and organizational arrangements for the conference.
Apart from my displeasure at being removed from the Palestine scene, I did not relish a task for which I had no experience and none of the local knowledge that seemed to be necessary.
I had however made a compact, and allowed my objections to be overborne.
I agreed to leave for Europe early in October, 1946.
I was at once given a mission for the Irgun.
Essentially I was required to deliver a number of messages from the Irgun High Command to two of its representatives, Elhanan (Dr. Shmuel Ariel), the Irgun representative in France and Pesach (Eli Tavin), the responsible office for Europe, who would be coming to Paris from Rome.
After delivery of the messages I was to maintain contact with Pesach.
Avraham made a note of my size of shoe.
On the eve of my departure Avraham, consulting his hieroglyphic diary, read out a number of instructions, on a variety of subjects, which I was to deliver to Pesach.
I noted them down in my address book, converting each message into a private code of my own, which I deciphered the next day in the place.
He spent half an hour teaching the code I was to use in correspondence, if the need arose.
He then presented me with a handsome pair of shoes, which I was to wear until I reached Paris, and there hand them over to Pesach.
The only discomfort I suffered while passing through the British customs and political inspection at Lydda airport was from Avraham’s choice in footwear.
The shoes were very, very tight and I wondered whether the involuntary scowl they invoked might not puzzle the officials into suspicion.
Nobody paid any particular attention to me.
I spent my first two days in Paris in a mortifying search for a hotel room.
My arrival coincided with the opening of the first Motor Exhibition after the War.
It was muhc more than a commercial occasion. In a France still suffering from acute shortages, rationed in fuel and electricity, in food and in clothes, where women, albeit with great and deceptive ingenuity, were fashioning curtain material into frocks, the Motor Exhibition was a glittering portent of restored prosperity and splendour. Visitors flocked to Paris from all over France and Europe; and the revival of American tourism was well under way.
The Mont Tabor Hotel near the Tuileries Gardens became my headquarters in Paris.
Pesach arrived a day or two later, and it was from him in the many hours we spent together that I was able to fill detail into the general picture I had been given in Tel Aviv of the growing ramifications of the Irugn in Europe.
For him in turn I had brought, in the thin sheets of paper embedded in sole of my shoe, important intelligence.
(see bio-sketch on DR. SHMUEL ARIEL)
(see bio-sketch on ELI TAVIN)
After the Conference opening I took only a formal part in its proceedings, and quietly brought my active association with the Revisionist Party to a close.
* * *
BASLE, SWITZERLAND – ZIONIST CONGRESS, 1946:
(see EUROPEAN FRONT theme – ZIONIST CONGRESS, BASLE, 1946)
I discovered that my suspicions of the hall porter (at my hotel in Basle) were ill-founded. He was not a Swiss police-agent. He was an informer for the French customs authorities.
I was to return to Paris on 24 December.
I packed early, paid my hotel bill and went to pay a last minute visit to Hecht, who had fallen ill and was lying in the Bethesda Hospital some distance out of the town. I spent more time there than I had intended. I had just time to pick up my luggage at the hotel and to run to the railway station across the road.
I had passed through the Swiss Customs and had reached the French Customs officer when I saw that he was looking over my shoulder.
I turned to see.
My hotel porter was at the door overly gesturing in our direction.
The officer did not even open my luggage. He motioned me confidently into a small room at the back of the hall. There I was thoroughly searched.
There was little secrecy about the object of the search: gold.
The irregular and even illicit comings-and-goings in my room had convinced the hall porter that I was engaged in some deep villainy.
What could it be? Obviously smuggling.
What would a South African be smuggling? Obviously gold.
The two French officers, having found no gold in my luggage, or in my pockets or in the lining of my clothes, or glued to my skin, had yet been so thoroughly assured of my guilt that they went on to cross-examine me at repetitious length about my movements and my business.
Their disbelief was not diminished by the absence of evidence, and their frustration was pathetic.
However, they were not entirely denied satisfaction.
I had declared three hundred francs that I carried in my wallet. In my haste I had forgotten that there were thirty francs in coin in my waistcoat pocket.
This they confiscated with angry relish, and sent me on my way in voluble asseveration of their leniency in not consigning me forthwith to prison.
* * *
When I came to Begin … in Tel Aviv he was still nourishing the faint hope that the Epstein of whose death the newspapers had carried in brief report was not Israel.
By some error his name had been given as Zeev.
Begin’s grief was fierce and deep.
Epstein had been his close friend for many years, had served with him in the Polish Betar, had been at his side in every crisis, in Palestine sharing his thoughts, his sorrows and his hopes.
It was with no light heart that he had decided to send him to Europe.
Now he was doubly bereft.
Private griefs however could not be indulged.
Nineteen days after my return to Tel Aviv I was on my way to Europe again, now as the seventh member of the active High Command of the Irgun.
* * *
ORGANIZATION IN EUROPE 1947:
*Begin sought a new compromise, and having now also to close the gap created by Epstein’s death, he evolved the idea of a collective “Representation of the Irgun” with its seat in Paris.
In his list he included representatives of the Revisionists, Betar, and the Hebrew Committee of National Liberation.
*By giving this body auxiliary functions, including the collection of funds, he hoped to ensure for the Irgun a free hand in recruiting, training and the execution of operations.
To achieve its establishment, and to set our wheels turning in Europe more smoothly, he asked me to return to Europe at once.
My own feelings were not friendly to the scheme.
I did not believe that the Irgun, with its supreme and urgent purpose, should accommodate itself to other interests.
I feared moreover that this semi-civilian body would engage in endless debates.
Yet Begin’s view, strongly supported by Avraham, was that because we had to hurry, the elimination of friction with our friends, even if their real power was small, might after all be the best means – at the cost of some wastage of words – ensuring smooth development of our plans.
The personal implications of leaving Palestine again were not pleasant.
Gratified as I was at being now a member of the body commanding the Irgun, I was the more disappointed at not being enabled to take my place in Palestine itself at a moment of impending climax.
In the circumstances however a direct link between the High Command and Europe was essential and urgent.
This time, forewarned by experience I made sure that the shoes with which Avraham provided me should fit, I presented a reasonably cheerful mien to the officials at Lydda airport.
I knew moreover what to expect.
Our Intelligence Service had obtained from one of its agents at Lydda a copy of the list of “suspicious characters” compiled by the C.I.D. for its officers at the airport.
It contained three categories: A, B and C.
The A’s ere to be questioned about the purpose of their journey, and a report on their movements was to be sent to C.I.D. Headquarters.
The B’s were to be searched as well as questioned.
The C’s were to be arrested on sight.
My name was discovered among the A’s, in the comparatively harmless company of members of the Jewish Agency and the Editor of the Palestine Post, Gershon Agronsky.
In case I might nevertheless be searched I prepared a file of material to underline the innocuousness of (my business and) carried this with me.
It consisted of carbon copies of letters I had ostensibly written to a number of British and French publishers.
In all of them I announced my intention to visit them in order to discuss grandiose plans for distributing their books in Palestine.
For good measure I added to the file the copy of a friendly letter to Joel Pincus (a leading Revisionist in South Africa) in which, after apprising him of these projected business plans, I wrote a fiercely critical description of the British regime.
The originals I destroyed.
The Immigration Officer did indeed ask me about the purpose of my journey. He received my brief reply without comment or further question.
On the Egyptian plane to Cairo, where I was to board an Air France service for Paris the next day, I wrote the many messages and instructions I had committed to memory or coded into my address book.
At the Almaza airport (the official taking my) passport, examined it at length, compared what was written there with some document he held on his lap and went away with it.
He returned with a second official. Along conversation in Arabic ensured, and each of them subjected me to a lengthy stare.
Clearly my name and perhaps my appearance had some counterpart in their black list. Innocent of any misdemeanor that could interest the Egyptian authorities, I was acutely conscious of the tribulations I might endure at their notoriously xenophobic hands as the victim of mistake identity.
That they did not say anything to me only increased my discomfiture. Unable to speak their language, I practiced a studied silent nonchalance.
For ten minutes or more their low voiced discussion went on. From their gestures I deduced a difference of opinion. Then they went away and came back with a third official, by his dress and swagger senior to them both.
He too examined my features at length, bent down to peer below the table level at something I could not see, then looked hard and fiercely at me again. Through his stare I saw myself spending weeks and months in a noisome Egyptian prison. I pictured to myself the Egyptian police questioning me about the notes I had made of my plans in Paris and London.
I inspired their British colleagues checking the authenticity of my file of fictitious correspondence.
The senior official straightened himself up form his scrutiny of the underside of the table. He said something sharply to his subordinates and went away without another glance at me.
My original examiner stamped my passport with vigor. Hew was transparently angry at the stupidity of his superior in letting whoever I was supposed to be slip through his fingers.
In my relief I bore with equanimity the somewhat misdirected indignant looks and (glares) of my fellow passengers. They had been kept waiting in the airport bus for twenty-five minutes.
In the spirit to the times I kicked my heels for three uneasy days in Cairo before my planed arrived.
Paris welcomed me with a pleasant surprise.
Eliahu Lankin, a member of Begin’s original High Command, had arrived there four days earlier after an incredible odyssey of escape from the British internment camp in East Africa.
(see bio-sketch on ELIAHU LANKIN)