SHMUEL KATZ PERSONAL MEMOIRS, part 1
I came to Jerusalem for the first time on a winter’s morning in January 1936.
I had come from Johannesburg to open the office of Michael Haskel, the South African honorary consul, where I was to serve as secretary.
My first three months in Palestine proved to be the last nervous months of peace.
In their wake came successive phases of bloodshed and war and political cataclysm that were to last nearly thirteen years.
On the morning of Sunday, 19 April 1936, I traveled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv by the interurban taxi service … we were stopped by a Jewish policeman. Near him was a motor-car with its windows shattered. He told us that Jewish cars had been stoned by Arabs on the road and several passengers were injured. We were not to continue without a police escort. A line of vehicles formed meantime. The police car took the lead and in mortifying dependence, we all followed into the town.
Seventeen Jews were stabbed to death that day.
No police appeared – except patrols which prevented Jews from going into Jaffa.
(see ARAB MASSACRES / RIOTS theme)
Haskel telephoned one of the leaders of “Haganah B” – the nonconformist splinter of the semi-clandestine Haganah (the “official” self-defense organization of the Palestine Jewish community) – and explained his predicament (to get back to Jerusalem that day).
Very shortly they sent a car driven by a member of the organization, Aryeh Ben Eliezer, to take us to Jerusalem. A young Jewish journalist from Cairo, Marie Gattegno, also in a hurry to return to the capital, prevailed upon Haskel to let her accompany us. Haskel had a Smith and Wesson revolver which I placed on the seat next to us. He and I were equally doubtful of my capacity as a marksman in an emergency, for I had never fired a revolver in anger in my life. The sight of the weapon no doubt had a reassuring effect on Miss Gattegno.
This was my first experience, often to be repeated, of the cool nerveless quality of the Jewish drivers which reached heights of great courage in the years that followed.
* * *
The association between me and Haskel was founded in a common discipleship to Jabotinsky.
I was precocious fifteen year old studying at the University when I was invited to a lecture at a private gathering of the Betar Youth Organization.
Jabotinsky was one of the great orators of the age, capable of holding vast audiences spellbound for hours.
What gripped me in the intimate context of a lecture in a conference room was the irrefutable logic of his words, the restraint with which he conveyed their searing content.
I was awakened to the realities of the revolution and the tragedy unfolding side by side in the history of my people.
The tragedy which he foretold became a dire reality little more than a decade later when nearly one-third of all the Jews in the world were destroyed by the Germans.
The revolution he was preaching was to reach its climax less than twenty years later by the ending of British rule in Palestine and the re-emergence, after nineteen centuries, of Jewish national independence.
IF YOU ACCEPTED HIS PREMISES – YOU KNEW THE JEWS WERE BATTLING AGAINST TERRIBLE ODDS, AND IT WAS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT, MOST VITAL AND URGENT DUTY TO DEVOTE YOURSELF TO THE TASKS OF THINKING, WORKING, PREACHING AND PREPARING TO FIGHT IF NECESSARY, FOR THE ONLY HONORABLE AND PRACTICAL SOLUTION: THE JEWISH STATE.
I accepted his premises.
For the next six years I became a dedicated soldier in the cause, speaking, writing, organizing, at first briefly in the Betar Youth Organization, later in the Zionist Revisionist Party. My studies were neglected. My University career came to an ignominious end that first year. I decided to go out and earn my living.
I met Haskel soon afterwards. His explosive youthfulness bridged the gap in age between us – he was in his middle fifties – and we became good friends. It was not long before I became his political secretary. When in 1935 he decided to take up his consular duties in Jerusalem, I was his natural choice.
Thus my impatient ambition to settle in Palestine was satisfied.
It thus fell to me to manage the office and indeed, to fulfill all of Haskel’s consular functions. I issued visas and passports – apparently to the satisfaction of Pretoria – and I sent reports to the Union Government on the unfolding political situation, now dominated by the so-called “Arab Revolt” which broke out that April.
* * *
After only forty-eight hours in Jerusalem I discovered that I was at the very heart and center of Haganah B. The office in which I was loaned a room by Haskel’s friend, Peretz Comfeld, was transformed in the evenings into the headquarters of the organization, of which Comfeld was one of the civilian leaders.
* * *
This was not my first experience of a clandestine organization.
Two years earlier I had helped form a secret self-defense body in South Africa.
An anti-semitic organization, the Greyshirts, modeled of the German Nazis and inspired by their rise to power in Germany in 1933, had launched a widespread and vociferous propaganda throughout the country.
Its leaders delivered violent diatribes against the Jews at packed public meetings which culminated in the Hitler salute and in calls for ostracism and violence.
Then came the beginnings of violence.
Jewish public gatherings in Johannesburg were disturbed and broken up.
Some of us saw visions of a second Germany in South Africa. We decided it was feckless for able bodied young men to sit by and watch the process unfold.
We decided to ensure the inviolability of Jewish public gatherings. We set up a number of groups who were given physical training and exercise in the use of small arms. The members were handpicked and all were sworn to absolute secrecy – as much to prevent interference by the official representatives of the Jewish community, the Board of Deputies, as from natural precautions against action by the authorities.
The prime mover in the movement was Israel Dunsky (the national Secretary of the Zionist Youth Council – of which I was a member).
Our organization established its unobtrusive outposts at all Jewish public meetings in Johannesburg and the neighbourhood.
Several times it went into action, forcibly preventing Greyshirts from breaking them up.
Then the members attended a number of Greyshirt meetings in force. There, at the first call to violence against the Jews, they responded by demonstration on the spot its double-edged consequences: the meetings were broken up and the inciters driven ignominiously from the platform.
There was no doubt now in anybody’s mind that beating up Jews would be at least a costly operation.
The movement to violence was halted. The physical threat to Jewish security never again assumed serious proportions. About the time I left for Palestine Dunsky quietly wound up the organization.
* * *
I maintained a tenuous contact with Haganah B. I did not enroll. I had to take the decision, not without agony, to do nothing that might embarrass Haskel with the Union Government, and to maintain a friendly aloofness towards the clandestine movement.
The negotiations which opened tentatively in the autumn of 1936 came to a head in the spring of 1937. One day, at Comfeld’s request, I sent a cable through Haskel to Jabotinsky then on his second visit to South Africa. It contained the recommendation of the Haganah B leaders to accept the terms of the Haganah A for unification. I thus became the channel of communication with Jabotinsky.
* * *
One evening in May 1937, as I was about to leave my office, Eri Jabotinsky who was head of the Palestine Betar Organization, made a hasty entrance.
He had just arrived from the north with Dr. Shimshon Yunitchman and two other colleagues for consultations with the new Jerusalem officers of the Irgun.
They wished to remain incognito, and Eri had decided that the best way for them to keep out of sight was to spend the night in my office. They all bedded down on the floor.
I came to the office early next morning. My guests were on the point of leaving, but in the corridor, talking to my secretary David Koenig (himself a member of the Irgun), was a squarely-built granite-faced man, a few years my senior.
Koenig said to him: “This is Katz.”
He held out his hand. “My name is David. I think we ought to meet for a talk.”
This was my first meeting with David Raziel, now become the Jerusalem commander, and a member of the new national command, of the Irgun Zvai Leumi.
I did not plan any operations with Raziel.
He never invited my advice on operations of the Irgun; nor was I particularly qualified to give any.
In the months that he remained in Jerusalem a close friendship did spring up between us.
After our first talk about the Irgun and its policy, meetings between us followed naturally.
He became a frequent visitor at the Pension Shalvah were I lived. He worked hard and long hours. Late at night, when there was nobody about, he would come to the pension and, for an hour or two, relax over a plate of sandwiches and a bottle of beer (ordered in advance, or, as I must now confess, raided from the kitchen).
*For all his acceptance of Jabotinsky’s leadership, he did not believe that ultimately political action alone would achieve Jewish Statehood.
That, he was convinced, would not be attained except after an armed struggle – with the British.
He would have preferred to build up the Irgun over a longer period in preparation for that inevitable clash.
Having to forge the Irgun into an instrument of retaliation against the Arabs was distasteful to him.
Raziel believed the policy of self-restraint would lead to disaster.
I did not share his certainty about the inevitability of an armed clash with the British.
I argued that a largely conceived campaign of action against the Arabs would not only put an end to the revolt or force the British to stop it , but would provoke a new calculation of policy in London.
Coordinated with the political offensive preached by Jabotinsky, it would demonstrate to the British the desirability, in their interest, of a compact with the Jews; a firmly based Jewish State as an ally to Britain in the Eastern Mediterranean.
This was of course orthodox Revisionism.
What I did not realize was that it had already become academic; that the interlocking policies of Whitehall Zionicide and Weizmannist fatalism had progressed too far.
My relations with Raziel developed naturally without need of definition.
Materially I helped in two ways. I secured from Haskel a monthly contribution for the Irgun, and I provided Raziel with an office. It was impossible for him to use his room for the purpose. His other ‘pied a terre’ was at the home of Mrs. Spitzer, the headmistress of a large private school for girls in the Geulah quarter, whose daughter Shoshana was to become his wife. There he often took his midday meal, and the school was used in the evenings as an Irgun training centre.
* * *
THE ARLOSOROFF CASE
Haskel – who had provided most of rthe funds for the defendce of Stavsky and Rosenblatt- acquiesced only reluctantly in my desire to make my own inquiry into the Arosoloff case. He expressed fears for my personal safety.
I did not make much progress. Through my inquiries however I came into the orbit of the Palestine Revisionists. Soon I had established a close relationship with the party’s ruling triumvirate: Dr. Arey Latman, Dr. David Bukspan and Dr. Benyamin Lubotsky.
* * *
THE “CIVILIAN GROUP”
Having gone so far in my ‘double life’ I suggested to Raziel that I might as well also join the ranks.
He did not like the idea, but finally offered a compromise. A number of older men, most of them Revisionists, unable for various reasons to join the Irgun as regular members, had been pressing to be “employed,” and a so-called “civilian group” was being established.
The leading spirit was Eliel Freiman, the manger of the Banco di Roma, who also managed the Generali Building. He placed a room in the building at the disposal of the group, and there in the summer nights a dozen of us gathered to learn the intricacies of small arms.
I was the youngest of the group. The others – all professional or business men – were in their thirties or forties.
The oldest member was Dr. Landau, a short, rotund physician from Danzig, with a rollicking sense of humour and a hearty infectious laugh, who enlivened the dry atmosphere of the lectures with witty personal comment. His son was to preside twenty-four years later, as a member of the Supreme Court of the State of Israel, at the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
The lectures were given by one Yasha Armarnik.
For practical training, revolver-shooting with a silencer, we were taken by Raziel himself – either in the Spitzer School or in the hills beyond Tel Arza on the northwestern outskirts of the city.
* * *
“THE ELEVENTH HOUR” PUBLICATON
Haskel wrote asking me to send a weekly article to the journal. From the second number onwards I contributed an anonymous weekly commentary on events called “On the Spot in Palestine.”
Later I wrote additional articles, as the spirit moved me, under my old pseudonym “Ben Elkanah” or a new one “Justin Priestly.”
In May 1937 I received a letter from (Jabotinsky):
“I hope you will forgive (me) if I make a confession: that I have been trying to suggest to Mr. Haskel that it would be a great thing for all of us if you come for a year to Joburg. It seems that we have proved able to lay here a foundation for a strong N.Z.O. movement, and I am sure that this provides you with a field and a range of action you could achieve wonders with. Especially the “11th Hour” needs you. I have been reading your reports and articles and must very earnestly congratulate you on the perfect clarity, the forcible simplicity, the “Sachlichkeit” with which you present the most complicated situations. I think you are much more than a journalist; but you also are born journalist and a very good one.
Think it over and, when you write to Mr.H. about (it), drop me a line.”
(*NOTE: This writing quality has been proven illustriously in six decades since of editorials and historical biographies written by Shmuel Katz – even in his nineties.)
My contributions to the “Eleventh Hour” (and, as it became later, “The Jewish Herald”) were a secret I kept at the time from all but Koenig.
Jabotinsky’s invitation I declined. When he suggested, through Haskel, that we discuss it personally in Egypt where he would be stopping on his way back to Europe – I agreed only too readily. It was an excellent opportunity to meet him again.
* * *
WITH JABOTINSKY IN EGYPT, 1937:
I traveled by train to Egypt together with Dr. Altman and Joseph Katznelson.
Katznelson, a scintillating mind, sharp-tongued, golden-hearted, was one of the most popular of the militant wing of the Revisionist Party – the pioneers of the idea of making life in Palestine uncomfortable for the British – of which the leader had been Abba Achimeir.
The group – called Brit Habinyonium – had long disintegrated.
Achimeir, accused of complicity in the Arlosoroff murder and kept in gaol for over a year, was still hounded by the British and devoted himself to publicistic attacks on Mapai and its squalid role in the trial.
Katznelson, an ebullient personality who could not bear inactivity, had become active in the Altman regime in the party.
Throughout the long journey to Kantara (where we crossed the Canal by ferry and re-entrained for Cairo) Katznelson and Altman kept up a steady stream of jokes and anecdotes, most of them highly spiced, some of them, to my chagrin, “tellable only in Russian.”
My interest wandered from the lively exchanges in our compartment to the tall figure of an Englishman, stranding in the corridor, ostensibly looking out of the window. His back was pressed against the paneling, his ear set as close a physically possible to the glass partition of our compartment. He and his companion, who together occupied the next compartment, took turns at this highly unrewarding task.
It was natural that they should be going to Egypt with us, and that they should be paying special attention to Dr. Altman, the leader of the party, and to Katznelson, a known rebellious spirit.
Though Katznelson had a strong, penetrating voice, they could hardly, over the clatter of the train, have heard much of what he was saying in any language. I certainly never detected even a twitch of amusement on their profiles. They persevered at intervals all day.
I remained in Cairo to meet Jabotinsky and advise him to continue on the plane to Alexandria.
His plane duly landed on the Nile. He was much relieved at being spared Cairo’s July heat. He had a quick cup of tea at the buffet and rejoined the plane.
I arrived in Alexandria well after the public reception.
I had my talk with Jabotinsky … he accepted my plea that even if my role in Palestine was undefined, I occupied a vantage point which had greater potential value (than being located in South Africa).
He wistfully admitted that “anybody who argues for staying in the country has an unanswerable moral claim.”
He asked me what I thought of ‘havlage’. I told him I was convinced it was disastrous, that retaliation was essential.
He was silent.
I did not know then of the heart searching ordeal he was going through over the moral problem of indiscriminate retaliation.
As I was on the point of leaving, he asked me whether … I would act as his secretary during his stay in Egypt?
He expected that the Peel Commission Report would be published in the coming days – and he would have to spend some time marshalling a reply.
I was only too happy to agree. For the next five days I enjoyed the status of Jabotinsky’s private secretary.
(see REFLECTIONS ON JABOTINSKY theme / Poland / Warsaw)
* * *
It is not easy to reconstruct the pattern of my own life at that time, nor to describe the emotional dilemma which pursued me.
During the day I attended strictly to the affairs of the office.
Outside of office hours in addition to my now more voluminous contributions to the Jewish Herald I was increasingly involved in various chores which descended on me both from the Revisionist Party and the Irgun.
I felt that in the circumstances the strain of leading a double life was superfluous.
Haskel disagreed with my thesis (for closing the office in Jerusalem), insisting that Pretoria’s interest in the office was unabated.
Raziel now moved to underground Headquarters in Tel Aviv. My night journeys to Tel Aviv became more frequent.
When the curfew brought public transport to a complete standstill … and I had no car … my problem was solved by Jack Simon.
He never once asked me questions on what precisely I was doing. He simply made himself available whenever I needed his help.
Four or five evenings a month I would meet him by arranged chance in the street and we would drive off to Tel Aviv. We usually returned in the early hours of the morning.
Making him travel on the deserted night highway so popular with the Arab bands without being free to reveal the journey’s purpose made me most uncomfortable.
Once it happened that Raziel, wanting to reach Jerusalem urgently, joined us on the journey back. The laws of conspiracy had to be maintained and Simon, even though (for his own protection as well) not allowed into the game, loyally observed the rules.
It was Simon also who took me across the border on most of my journeys to Lebanon and Syria.
The consular endorsement in my passport enabled me to secure visas without difficulty and gave me some protection from interrogation at the frontier.
Thus I established a regular and uncomplicated channel, beyond the British censors’ area of vision, of Irgun and Revisionist communication with Europe.
* * *
A new seed had been sown (in Ben-Yosef’s hanging).
I know it was sown in me.
Until I heard the news early that Monday morning that Ben-Yosef was dead I was convinced that the British would reprieve him.
When it came I was filled with a rage I had never known.
I knew then that the belief, which I had cherished and defended against the arguments of Raziel and others, that a more militant Zionism could yet effect a change of heart in the British, was a delusion.
They had determined on a policy which spelt doom to our hopes and would go to extreme lengths to carry it through.
Their rule in Palestine was in unalterable conflict with the striving for Jewish independence.
We would have to prise them out of Palestine.
I was not the only one to whom the 29th of June was a turning point.
In many, many thousands of hearts the last strands with Britain were cut.
I decided that I would not continue with what had become an unbearable duality.
* * *
(After the incident with Lubotsky) I was left in a state of much anxiety.
Certainly my ‘image’ as a comparatively passive sympathizer with the Revisionist point of view had been smudged.
The ice felt very thin under my feet.
One afternoon a week later Simon told me:
“Since two o’clock today two new numbers have been added to the list of telephones tapped. One is Morkos (an Arab official at the Italian Consulate). The other is yours.”
Determined now to bring my dual existence to an end, I wrote to Haskel in urgent terms asking him to come to Palestine.
He replied that he was having great difficulties in his business and could not leave South Africa.
Instead, he wrote, it would do me good to take a vacation in South Africa.
I agreed to go to him.
I made preparations for an absence of three months. I was sure that I could now persuade Haskel to resign from his post.
Between formal resignation and consummation I would return to Jerusalem to wind up the affairs of the office.
At its closure my right to remain in the country would lapse. Being inside the country, however, I would find a way of remaining “illegally.”
I fixed the date of my return for the end of December 1938 and the formal winding-up of the office for the end of January 1939.
* * *
(Due to hospitalization of Haskel in London) he sent an emphatic request that I stay on in Johannesburg until his return.
I was immobilized. December came and went.
I visited Pretoria once: to announce that the office had been closed (by the efficiency of Koenig).
I handed in my passport with it prophylactic endorsements.
My re-entry into Palestine had become a problem.
When Haskel returned, fully recovered after the long sea-trip, he seemed pleased with the effect of his illness on my plans.
“The British would put you away in acre,” he said jocularly.
“How do you know?” I asked.
Jabotinsky had given him the information.
Somebody from Palestine had mentioned it to him.
A new informant had been planted in the C.I.D. in Jerusalem.
One of his first reports revealed that my file there had recently expanded considerably.
Somebody – I guessed it was Detective Simmonds – had let his imagination run riot.
If the British authorities believed the nonsensical reports in the file they must have wondered that in my absence there had been a considerable reduction in Irgun activity.
Haskel had other news.
“Jabotinsky,” he said, “wants you to come to London to start a weekly paper and to edit it. He asked me to tell you that you can fill a greater need there than in Palestine. He believes that we are in for an even more difficult time with Britain and a paper regularly talking our language in London is essential. The only other person he would entrust with the task is Abrahams, and Abrahams is busy in the Political Department.”
I received the idea with mixed feelings. The prospect of working in Jabotinsky’s orbit, and that at a moment pregnant with political possibilities, thrilled me.
But now I was bursting with the conviction that the real heat of the battle would be in Palestine.
There was an element of exile in going anywhere else.
Moreover the idea for a re-organization in London had so far come to nothing.
Haskel however used this on me as an additional argument to accept Jabotinsky’s proposal.
“In London,” he said, “you will be able to press your views. Jabotinsky does not agree with them, but they are in the air. It’s right that you should have your say with Jabotinsky; and he is always prepared to listen.”
* * *
When I did receive the official invitation to come and launch a weekly paper in London, I was asked, on account of budget difficulties, to wait till August.
Fate continued to weave its own timetable.
I met Doris Kaplan, fell in love, proposed marriage, was accepted. We fixed a date in October, then had to postpone to December.
Meantime, on 1 September, Hitler invaded Poland, on the 3rd Britain and France declared war. A week later South Africa was also at war.
After our marriage there were more delays. We left South Africa only towards the end of February, arrived in London in March, 1940.
In those months the world we new had shuddered into distortion; and the frame in which we lived and worked and planned had disintegrated.
Its shreds and taters were flapping in the winds of war.
* * *
I was amply employed throughout the year speaking and writing.
Jabotinsky’s visits to South Africa in 1937 and 1938 had resulted in a considerable accretion of strength and influence to the New Zionist Organization, and an intensity of activity unequalled before or since in the Zionist Movement in the country.
A fierce pace was maintained by Nahum Levin who, with his wife Herzliah, had given shape and cohesion to the response achieved by Jabotinsky.
I joined the editorial board of the Jewish Herald, wrote leaders and innumerable articles, mostly pseudonymous.
I still felt greater sense of achievement in translating the articles which began arriving almost every week from Jabotinsky.
I cherish them to this day, perhaps because they were almost the last he was to write. Or maybe it is part of the nostalgia for being twenty-four years old.
Yet I believe nobody reading them today could remain unshaken by the picture they paint of the personality of that omen-laden year, by their scorching evocation of the cold blight spreading and deepening among the Jews of Eastern Europe, by their agonizing vision of an impending doom.
* * *
With the outbreak of Hitler’s war … Jabotinsky headed a delegation to the United States to (advocate for a Jewish Army) … Money which had been promised him in Europe would now not be available … there was and awkward silence about the plans for a newspaper in London.
Jabotinsky outlined (to me) … There may also arise a contingency when we might have to ask you whether you would not join us temporarily in America: I do not consider it unlikely, for a combination of journalistic talent, perfect English, knowledge of Palestine and a Zohari soul is not easily found.
S.Y. Jacobi, Jabotinsky’s closest lieutenant and a close friend of Haskel, had died suddenly under the pressures of rescue work in Eastern Europe, giving rise to new and sharper concern for the future of the Movement’s leadership and of the London headquarters in particular.
Haskel cabled Jabotinsky pressing upon him the necessity for creating in London “ a reliable working body.”
Jabotinsky replied “… Samuel Katz press and propaganda, Benari organization, etcetera. Levin and Katz appointed also members political committee. Please cable acceptance.”
This cable, as had a passage in his October letter, irritated me. Why should I be deemed less capable than others of enduring discomfort? Haskel soothed my ruffled feathers: he assured me that Jabotinsky was not thinking of me at all. He was worried about my wife whom he saw as being dragged from the comforts of South Africa to London drudgeries and maybe dangers.
However, she was as set now as I had become on going to save the world in London.
(read THE LADY IS A TERRORIST by Doris Katz)
We cabled acceptance.
Three weeks later we sailed from Cape Town for England.
* * *
I had assistance with The Jewish Standard in London. My wife worked in the office and began learning the elements of periodical journalism.
The technical staff was a sixteen-year-old boy named Albert Shapiro. With intelligence and devotion he did a man’s job.
Also Abrahams (one of the brilliant political brains of the Zionist Movement), possessor of an after scintillating power of expression, contributed the main political article for many weeks.
Samuel Landman, the oldest of our colleagues, brought us a brilliant Diplomatic Correspondence - A.M. Gerothwohl, a Professor of History at the University of Wales.
I shared with Abrahams the writing of the leading articles, provided the weekly shorter comments, and contributed an occasional book review.
I tried not to neglect my other duties.
I established a regular service of information to the now attenuated world movement.
With the help of Herzliah Levin, who had become the secretary of the office, I was able to accomplish this in a day and a half each week.
Some time in those first weeks I read the proofs of the book Jabotinsky had completed on the eve of his departure: The Jewish War Front.
Jabotinsky wrote me at intervals, giving advice and encouragement.
To my request for articles for The Standard his reply was disturbing.
“The Standard,” he wrote on 31st May, “is good and getting even better. I am sorry and feel ashamed for being so useless but just now my writing hand is withered; it has often happened before, and when this mood is upon me there’s nothing doing.”
In the political campaign there appeared to be progress. Jabotinsky’s public speeches evoked considerable enthusiasm, even when he forcefully predicted America’s entry into the war.
* * *
AFTER JABOTINSKY’S DEATH: THE NEW ZIONIST ORGANIZATION:
We continued with our work.
Those were the months of the blitz – the concentrated German air attack on London.
The Jewish Standard, sentence to death from New York, meeting its budget sheer miracle, weathered the German bombing as well.
The area in which our printers we situated received its share (of the bombings).
One morning in September, walking form the Aldgate Underground Station, I found house after house in the street of the printers reduced to rubble. The only sign of life was an anxiously persistent telephone, ringing somewhere under a mountain of bricks in the middle of the road. The swathe of destruction stopped suddenly fifty yards from the printers.
At first the workers would take shelter every time the air-raid sirens wailed. Later they took the raids in their stride. For the rest, except when on fireguard duty, or when we fought a fire in the next-door block of flats, we slept in our beds, peacefully or less peacefully according to the proximity of the German bombers. Every night one of us would go to the office to keep guard in its draughty rooms.
There was not lacking even in those months a rash of anti-semitism.
The black market was widely considered a mainly Jewish phenomenon, and no amount of published rebuttals was able to change this.
When my wife, who lacked the facial characteristics usually attributed to Jews in England, bought our meager chocolate ration at a nearby confectioner’s, the shopkeeper offered her an extra, illegal, piece. “Better you had it, dearie,” she said, “than those Jews.”
In the first days of crowded air-raid shelters there developed a shelter anti-semitism – loudly voiced complaints that “the Jews grabbed the seats,” or all the best places or all the places, in the shelter.
The Government in those months forced on us a campaign against their “enemy aliens” policy.
They had in the pre-war years admitted as substantial number of refugees from Germany and Austria. Now, under the threat of German invasion and for fear of a repetition of the experience of the Low Countries, where many innocent looking German visitors proved to be spies or plain-clothes soldiers, they hastily decided on drastic precautions.
The refugees were accorded the forbidding title “enemy aliens,” were interned wholesale, and sent off to the Isle.
In The Jewish Standard, in common with The Jewish Chronicle, we maintained a constant attack on the British government.
There was later on indeed some relaxation of these panicky measures.
Many “enemy aliens” were released and permitted to serve in unarmed Pioneer battalions.
Still many others spent dreary years in internment.
Yet we developed an affection and an admiration for the British people.
For the first three nights of the blitz there were no anti-aircraft defenses in London. The noise of planes and the crump of German bombs was the only sound heard throughout the night. Some of our neighbours seemed to be losing their nerve.
On the fourth night, 10 September, the Government brought in mobile anti-aircraft guns which provided a welcome, even if not yet very effective, counterpoint in the night’s noises.
Thence onward the manifest courage and good humour of the British never deserted them.
The threat of German invasion which, until well into the autumn, all believed imminent, engendered somberness but never any fear.
The British are not a politically conscious nor a well informed people; they are certainly not a demonstrative people. That summer and autumn their love and understanding of freedom broke though in deep and spontaneous accents. The ordeal and the challenge, the sense of togetherness in danger, in effort, in deprival and in suffering, evoked an atmosphere tense, exhilarating and contagious.
The inspiration Churchill breathed into them in the dark weeks after Dunkirk is history. Yet the “finest hour” of which he spoke would not have struck had there not been the spark of greatness in the people. Living with the British in those months was like being transported into some ancient heroic age.
And we envied them, for being so naturally masters of their fate.
The campaign in the Jewish Standard against the wholesale internment of aliens gained us new friends. Independent minded Members of Parliament … began to have second thoughts. One of them was a retired senior naval officer who … suggested we have a talk about the aliens.
Through him I gained my first near view of that dispassionate contempt which characterized a widespread British attitude to Jews: the image of a somewhat mysterious being, slightly unsavoury, who from time to time got himself into trouble and had to be given asylum, or pity, or Britain’s motherly protection.
My encounter with him remained in my mind for a long time.
All I observed and learnt in the years that followed convinced me that neither our sworn friends, like the Wedgwoods and the Pattersons, like Clement Davies and David Adams (staunch supporters of New Zionist demands), nor indeed our sworn enemies, like Oswald Mosley or William Joyce, were representative of the British people, but precisely the normally good-hearted naval officer who went through life with the belief that Jews generally were greater or lesser bounders, somewhat beyond the pale, who deserved at least a part of their trials and tribulations.
There was by contrast nothing about our problems that we could tell Eduard Benes, whom we visited, Abrahams and I, that autumn.
(see EDUARD BENES bio-sketch)
* * *
Our work proceeded along three main themes:
*the demand for a Jewish Army;
*the demand for a planned post-war evacuation of the Jews of Europe;
*and, internally, the striving to establish a supreme Jewish National Council which, now that a democratically elected Congress was not practicable, should be set up by the existing Organizations.
This meant, of course, primarily, a coming together between us and the Jewish Agency.
(see JEWISH AGENCY theme – CALL FOR A NATIONAL JEWISH COUNCIL)
* * *
EMERGENCY CONFERENCE IN JOHANNESBURG,1941:
On 31st May, 1941, I boarded a P. & O. liner for Cape Town. My brief for South Africa was simple.
I was to explain the development of events inside the Organization to our South African colleagues, and try to achieve an emergency Conference in Johannesburg.
With Ben Horin there in the name of the delegation in America, we should invite the Palestine Organization, and the Betar and the Irgun, to send representatives.
I was also to exploit my time in South Africa to propagate the Jewish Army idea and to press wherever possible for the establishment of a united Jewish national authority.
On board ship I met a padre … introduced to me as “very interested” (in the Jewish situation).
(see DARK CLOUDS theme – THE PADRE)
In my main mission (in South Africa) I failed utterly.
Not even an emergency conference was ever held to establish a rational leadership for the Movement.
My disillusionment and unhappiness, ripe enough in London, were now all but overwhelming.
Altman’s and Ben Horin’s refusal to co-operate, the pretensions of the group in America, the complacency of the South Africans only too keen to live at peace with everybody, all together ensured chaos and paralysis in the Movement.
In the dislocated and distracted war-torn world there was not even any way of rebelling against this situation.
As I arrived ... to speak at a public meeting, Rafael Kotlovitz, the young Betar leader, told me, as a matter of interest, of a report in a London newspaper that a Palestinian volunteer called Captain David Raziel had been killed in action during the pro-German revolt in Iraq.
(see DAVID RAZIEL bio-sketch)
Since my arrival in London I had had no reliable information at all on the events in the underground.
Now in South Africa the only message I had was in a note from Jerusalem, written in veiled language and subscribed by a name I did not recognize.’
The C.I.D., it said, still had their eye on me and maybe it was not safe for me to come to the proposed conference in Palestine.
It was only later, gradually, over the years, and finally when I returned to Palestine, that I gathered the strands of the story of the storm that had swept the Irgun from the day the world war broke out.
I made plans to return to London and, on 28th November, sailed on my return voyage.
When I left (South Africa) for London, (my) parting (with Haskel) was sad and nearly wordless.
* * *
In fifty-three days of voyage … the face of the war had changed utterly.
Japan and America entered the fray.
The German advance in Russia was halted at the very gates of Moscow.
The very week I sailed from Halifax the main German submarine offensive was transferred to North American waters.
In London … Levin, wearied by Abrahams’ deviousness, had already resigned.
Abrahams … received me with considerable coolness.
I found no reason to delay my own resignation.
So, in ruins, ended the venture in service on which I had soberly embarked two years earlier.
Ten days after my return, the editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency telephoned me for reactions to the news that Michael Haskel was dead.
The previous evening, during a heavy rainstorm, he had walked, preoccupied, out of his apartment in to the street.
Confused by the blinding rain and the glare of headlights, he had been knocked down by a motor-car.
He had not recovered consciousness.