Israel upon Danube. Episode 1


 “With the approval of our great comrade Stalin, I came to you to propose giving Austria to the Jews so that they can build their state there.”


Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin


On the evening of February 10, 1945, exhausted by the negotiations, Winston Churchill retired to the apartments at his disposal in the Vorontsov Palace, a sumptuous vestige of Tsarist splendor. Although the Luftwaffe is no longer able to venture as far as Crimea, conference security imposed a blackout in and around Yalta. Never was the Black Sea so aptly named. But Churchill is in no mood to pull aside the heavy curtain that hides the window to admire the landscape, for he is already thinking of the one that will descend on Europe if he and Roosevelt give in to Stalin’s demands. He looks around and can’t help praising the extreme thoughtfulness of the Father of Peoples, who has had photos of the marriage of Grand Duchess Maria Alexdrovna to Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Duke of Edinburgh and son of Queen Victoria, hung in the salon. In an ultimate diplomatic gesture, his Russian hosts have even managed to unearth a photo taken in Windsor Gardens, showing this lady of the Romanov line bowing to her mother-in-law, Queen of England and Empress of India. Beauty was not part of the scene, to say the least, and the Prime Minister, appalled by so much ugliness, sighed as he thought of his country’s former splendor. He approaches the telephone, even though he knows that his hosts have bugged the place and tapped his line. On the other hand, they had the good taste to place a rare Fine Napoleon brandy on his table. He can’t resist the idea to request London from the switchboard in order to get news from the front. While waiting for the call, he pours himself a glass of this exceptional beverage, stolen in France by a German officer who had pledged to open it to celebrate the Reich’s victory, but had the misfortune to be transferred to the Eastern Front, where he had the bad idea of trying to relieve himself at minus twenty degrees within sight of a female Soviet sniper—apparently unmoved by his attributes—on the outskirts of Krakow in January 1945. The Prime Minister examines the bottle. The French label reads “Cuvée 1918, année de la victoire” [1918 vintage. Year of the Victory]. In a fit of blissful optimism, the late Teuton even added a second statement: “To drink to the Führer’s health after we occupy the Kremlin.” Alas, the fate of the war decided otherwise, and Marshal Zhukov finally got his hands on the precious beverage. This muzhik’s flunky, who didn’t speak the language of Molière and had rustic tastes in spirits, had the good idea of offering the bottle to Stalin, who promptly sent it to Churchill.

The news arriving from London apparently delighted the Soviet agents in charge of the wiretapping table, who thus dispensed with the need to fry the line. Despite the RAF and the U.S. Air Force pounding the Rhineland, the Allies cannot hope to cross the Rhine for several weeks. General Montgomery’s British Army Group due to go on the offensive on February 8 to march on Cologne, but the Germans had blown up a dam, causing a flood that prevented any further progress. The Allies will have to wait for the water level to drop, which will take at least two weeks. Meanwhile, the Red Army is advancing on two fronts. The Napoleon brandy given by Stalin and the Havana cigars brought by boat with Franklin Delano Roosevelt are of little comfort. No sooner has the Old Lion hung up and slumped into an armchair than there’s a knock on the door. A British diplomat asks permission to introduce a high-ranking Soviet dignitary who wishes to speak immediately with His Gracious Majesty’s Prime Minister.

—Why on earth are you bothering me?” exclaims Churchill. I’ve already told Molotov what I think…

—Sir, this isn’t about Molotov, but about the most powerful man in the Kremlin after Stalin… No one less than Lavrenti Beria!

—Why the hell would Stalin send me the head of his political police? This satrap wouldn’t dare imagine he could apply his methods to me!

—As far as I understand, Sir Winston, Beria has no grudge against you… And if I may say so, according to our intelligence, he’s not the brute you’d imagine. It’s true that his men practice torture with consummate skill, but he also knows how to be kind, even cuddly, to the deserving little Communists of the Komsomol… Beria is certainly the most refined of the leaders gravitating around Stalin.

—What a performance! Molotov conducts his diplomacy with the subtlety of a bear, knowing only the balance of power. But it is not he nor even their “Vojd” who draws Europe’s borders. It is Zhukov. The dividing line will depend on how far his troops advance… And while he’s speeding ahead, Monty can’t even cross the Siegfried Line! Send in Mr. Beria into the private lounge. At this point, we have nothing left to lose.

Churchill takes a drink and a refill, and heads for the lounge, glass in hand and cigar screwed to his mouth.

Beria enters, looking surprisingly good-natured.

—You can’t imagine how honored I am to be received by the Prime Minister of His Gracious Majesty King George VI.

—Let’s not be too dramatic, retorts Churchill… This isn’t Downing Street, it’s your house! I don’t suppose you’ve come here for the sole pleasure of taunting the man you hold at your mercy, the man who stood up to Hitler while your comrade Molotov was feasting with Ribbentrop! What new snake would you have me swallow?

—I think you’re being very unkind, Sir Winston… And yet my only aim is to defend the best interests of the British Empire…

—Are you joking? Come on…

—Mister Prime Minister, a dozen days ago, our valiant Red Army discovered an abominable site: the Auschwitz camp in Poland, where the Nazis carried out the mass extermination of Jews. We also discovered other appalling sites, in Ukraine and in all the regions where Hitler believed he had a lasting foothold… Millions of Jews were murdered. Many of those still in their hands will not survive.

—I didn’t know that you were interested in Jews anywhere other than in the cellars of the Lubyanka, Mr. Beria… I’ve even been told that you don’t treat them too kindly!

—There are already tens of thousands of survivors in the territories we control, and there will be plenty of them too when you enter Germany…

—Oh, I know we’ll have to deal with dreadful chaos. We won’t be able to feed a starving Europe with American chewing gum and chocolate.

—I’m talking about the Jewish refugees, Sir Winston… You know what land those we liberated from the camps want to head for? In a few months’ time, every craft you can think of will be loaded with Jews setting sail for Palestine! How will you be able to repel them? You are the prisoner of the promise made to them by a British minister you once knew well!

—Are you talking about Lord Balfour? Do you really believe that we can accommodate all the surviving Jews in Palestine? We already have far too many! The Arabs would immediately rise up…

—That’s what I thought, says Beria tersely. You’ve promised too many things to too many people, and you don’t know what to do with these Jews. I don’t blame you. We did create a Jewish Republic for them, but apparently, these ungrateful people prefer the Middle East to the Far East!

—But it seems to me, Churchill objects, that this place, Birobidjan, if I’m not mistaken, is hardly welcoming.

—Oh, you British have colonized far more hostile lands. And Palestine, with its deserts, swamps and Dead Sea, is no Garden of Eden either, if I may say so. I think Zionism needs to be brought back to its land of origin…

—I’m not quite sure what you mean, Mr. Beria. Do you want to cede part of Russia or Poland to the Jews? It’s true that most Zionist leaders in Palestine come from your country, having contracted a certain allergy to Cossacks…

—Of course, many Zionists come from here. But Zionism as an idea comes from Vienna. It was an Austrian journalist, Theodor Herzl, who launched it. That’s why, with the agreement of our great comrade Stalin, I’ve come to propose that we give Austria to the Jews so that they can build their state.

—But, Churchill exclaims, what are you going to do with the Austrians?

—That hardly matters, sneers Beria… The German population has the healthy habit of fleeing as soon as we arrive. We’ll have emptied Prussia, Eastern Pomerania, and Silesia before long. I don’t think the Czechs will put up with Sudeten Germans for long. The Austrian Nazis will go to Germany like all the others… on whatever piece of territory we’re willing to leave to those German dogs. Hitler is an Austrian, you’re not going to pity his kind… You suffered enough yourself during the Blitz! !

—I can’t see myself explaining to Weizmann and Ben Gurion that I’m kicking them out of Palestine to ship them along the Danube!

—Come on, Sir Winston… The Jews have always adored Vienna to the point of bringing Viennese architects to Tel Aviv. They all dream of returning to the banks of the Danube! Twenty years ago, it was still the dreamland of Jewish artists, musicians, writers, scholars, and intellectuals. The true homeland of Zionism!

—Emperor Franz Joseph was the first European monarch to confer the title of baron on a Jew, Salomon Mayer von Rothschild… Did you inform Roosevelt of this project?

—I wanted you to be the first to know… And in order to convince the President of the United States, we think we should first approach the Jews living in his country. We can circulate the idea between New York and Hollywood, and they’ll soon begin to think it comes from them… And when we come up with the project, they’ll approve it, and the President will have to go along with them.

Churchill hesitates. He is convinced that Stalin’s intention is to bring Austria into his sphere of influence. But in return, the United Kingdom would be relieved of that stupid Balfour promise! Churchill accepts the Beria plan, and the two men agree to delay discussing it with Roosevelt.

As expected, the Soviet services spread the idea among Jewish immigrants in the United States. It wasn’t long before a Brooklyn Yiddish daily was calling for the return of the Jews to Theodor Herzl’s homeland. A few days later, an eminent psychoanalyst, the aptly named Dr. Wiener, publishes an erudite study on the Viennese unconscious in Jewishness. He refers, of course, to Sigmund Freud’s Austro-Jewish ancestry and demonstrates that the Berggasse [Mount Driveway] where the distinguished neurologist lived corresponds, etymologically speaking, to the new Zion. And Wiener explains that, while there are many mountains in Austria, Berggasse means THE Mount Driveway. From there, it’s only a short step to deduce that this place clearly symbolizes the Mount Zion invoked in Jewish prayers, a step that this obscure academic all the more blithely takes in view of the fact that the NKVD is well aware of his little “quirks.”

An Orthodox rabbi from New York, Rabbi Shmuel Hamellech, a descendant of a Hasidic dynasty from Brody in Austrian Galicia, in turn, launches the idea of a return to the roots. Citing the example of the prophet Jeremiah who, after the Babylonian exile, called on the Jews to return not to Jerusalem, but to Egypt on the banks of the Nile, Rav Shmuel pledges to rebuild a synagogue on the Danube. True, once again Soviet spies, masters of the art of the Kompromat, had worked their magic, filming the holy man chowing down on a double cheeseburger in the company of a scantily clad Broadway stripper.

The idea also gains a foothold in Hollywood, where it is championed by Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder. It reaches exiled musicians, tired of working for the RKO orchestra when they’re not living on paltry fees in Chicago slums or Miami hotels. Former Viennese living in the U.S. soon form a circle around Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler, and tour universities lecturing on the great era of Jewish thought in Imperial Vienna.

As the movement takes off in the United States, Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenbourg publishes a series of articles in the Izvestia tracing the golden age of progressive Jewish thought in Vienna at the turn of the century. It concludes with a heartfelt appeal to the Soviet soldiers whom Marshal Konev led to the Danube: “Valiant soldiers of the Soviet Army, liberate Vienna from the Nazis, return the city to those who made its splendor.”


In the aftermath of the Third Reich’s surrender, the Allies face three problems: the fate of the thousands of Jewish refugees wandering through a shattered Europe, the status of Austria annexed by Germany in ’38, and the presence of Jews in British Mandate Palestine. The day after the surrender of Nazi Germany, on May 10, the victorious generals—Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Zhukov—draw up a protocol nullifying the Anschluss and authorizing the Soviet army to expel civilians who had compromised with the Nazi regime, i.e., the near-totality of the population. A second provision makes former Austria a priority reception zone for victims of Nazism, to be managed jointly by the Jewish Agency and the Joint Committee under the supervision of an inter-allied commission.

Indescribable chaos soon prevails on the banks of the River Danube, making Stalin put the refugee question on the agenda of the inter-allied conference which opens in Potsdam on July 17, 1945.

Churchill’s electoral defeat undermines the secret plan conceived in Yalta with Beria to direct the Jewish refugees swarming Europe to Vienna, before organizing the transfer of the Yshuv. Due to the speed of his ouster, the Old Lion had no time to inform his successor, the Labour leader Clement Atlee.

—British voters are worse than us! exclaims Stalin during a small council with Beria and Molotov. They eliminate a leader in a single day, without giving him time to settle current affairs or confess his crimes in writing!

Nevertheless, Molotov officially puts forward the idea of settling the Jews on the banks of the Danube at a meeting of foreign ministers, in accordance with the secret agreements:

—Our Supreme Guide, Marshal Joseph Stalin, asked me to pass on a proposal to the Allies. The idea is to satisfy Jewish demands by granting them a homeland in the center of Europe. The opportunity is unique. The majority of the Austrian people have been guilty of complicity with Nazi criminals. Hitler, as you know, was himself Austrian, as were many of the murderers who formed the Waffen SS. By overwhelmingly approving the Anschluss in 1938, the Austrian people ceased to exist as such; they themselves accepted the dissolution of their country, which became a mere province of Hitler’s Reich. Under these conditions, its presence on Austrian soil no longer enjoys any legitimacy.

—I don’t quite understand what you’re getting at, remarks Georges Bidault, representing the French government. You want to expel millions of Austrians and put Jews in their place?

—There are no more Austrians, Molotov insists. Let me remind you that they decided to become Germans through the plebiscite of 1938. So they can settle in Germany. We’ve already started to drive out all the Germans living along the Baltic and in western Poland. What we have achieved in East Prussia and Silesia is also underway in Austria. These Nazi dogs don’t even wait to be expelled, they flee before our troops. Jewish survivors for their part flee to Vienna. What’s needed now is to regularize the situation.

—But, objects Ernest Bevin, the new head of the Foreign Office, there is already a Jewish National Home in Palestine!

—Do you really want all the Jewish refugees from Europe to move to Palestine? asks Molotov, By approving the creation of a Jewish state on the Danube, you are at the same time annulling the Balfour Declaration!

Bevin diplomatically reserves his answer, but Molotov has already won the day. While outlining the plan to settle the Jews in Austria, British Prime Minister Clement Atlee receives a note from MI5 informing him of the agreement reached between Churchill and Beria at Yalta. Seeing this as a golden opportunity to end the Palestinian imbroglio, he quickly endorses the Molotov plan. U.S. President Harry Truman, for his part, is particularly concerned that Austria—like Poland and Hungary—may fall into the hands of the USSR. He consults American Jewish circles and commissions an urgent study of the state of mind of European Judaism. Despite warnings from the powerful head of the FBI, Edgar Hoover (who had an annoying tendency to see a Communist behind every Jew), President Truman concurs with American analysts who believe that such a state would never agree to be subservient to the Russians.

Truman, therefore, addresses Stalin directly: “Austria will be Jewish, but independent. Soviet troops will have to evacuate the territory as the Jews settle in.” Stalin immediately reassures the U.S. President: “We have enough Jews at home to not import new ones. Let them fend for themselves! Our glorious Red Army, which has victoriously entered Vienna, is currently carrying out its last task, namely the transfer of the German population. This should be a smooth affair, as we have a great deal of experience in the area of mass tourism. After that, our men will have earned the right to return to their homes.”

After laborious negotiations on the distribution of Austrian “returnees” among Germany’s four occupation zones, an agreement is finally reached. England takes charge of transporting the Jews from Palestine to Austria, France is responsible for transport across Europe, the USSR “evacuates” the Austrians, and the USA sets up a relief fund to help create the Jewish Danube State.

All that remains to be done now is to convince the Zionist leaders, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that time is running out.


Will the Yshuv Zionist leaders agree to trade the Land of Milk and Honey for the Land of Wiener Schnitzel and Apple Strudel? What the heck is Henry Kissinger looking for at the Histadrut headquarters? How will SS Kurt Waldheim win back his virginity with Tito’s help?

Find out in our next episode!

Guy Konopnicki

Guy Konopnicki is a journalist and writer. Among his numerous books, one may quote the one he wrote with Brice Couturier, “Réflexions sur la question goy” [Reflections on the Gentile Question] (Lieu Commun Ed., 1988) and “La faute des Juifs – Réponse à ceux qui nous écrivent tant” [The Jews’ Fault—Reply to those who write to us so much] (Balland Ed., 2002). 


Contact the author

    Support us!

    You can help us

    With the support of:

    Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.