Israel upon Danube. Episode 5

Victory under the sun of Austerlitz


Tanks of the Israeli army


After Stalin’s speech and the arrests in Prague and Moscow, the Jewish government in Vienna puts its armed forces on high alert. Abba Eban, the government’s delegate to the Allies, tirelessly travels to Western capitals to obtain arms and military equipment. France is the first to respond to the appeal. It supplies Renault R35 tanks to form an armored force commanded by Moshe Dayan. But the United States remain reluctant until the end of Harry Truman’s term of office. At the time, there is an antisemitic lobby in Washington led by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, his brother Allen, director of the CIA, Senator McCarthy and Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, who sees a Communist behind every Hollywood Jew. Groucho Marx nevertheless sends a formal notice to the USSR ambassador in which he criticizes Moscow for using the Marx trademark without the authorization of Marx Brother’s Ltd. Fortunately, General Eisenhower, who commands the American forces in Europe, turns a blind eye to the sale of surplus military equipment loaded onto trains supposedly carrying chewing gum, Coca-Cola and cigarettes. These convoys from Germany arrive in Graz and Linz, where the army has set up assembly lines that produce jeeps, GMC trucks and artillery pieces.

The Jewish State itself produces light weapons and has developed a radar system whose performances surprise American and Soviet spies. Shimon Peres, whom Ben Gurion put in charge of armaments, even succeeds in building up a river fleet, so serious was he about the threats from Austrian terrorist organizations who promised to throw the Jews into the Danube.

In October 1951, Abba Eban goes to Strasbourg to meet a great friend of the Jewish State, General Pierre Kœnig, former head of the French forces in Germany, who had become the RPF deputy for the Bas-Rhin. The Vienna newspapers carry a front-page photo of the Minister Plenipotentiary embracing the hero of Bir Hakeim, but are puzzled by the route he takes to reach the Austrian capital.

Abba Eban leaves Strasbourg by train and takes 48 hours to reach Vienna. Although Deutsche Bahn is struggling to reorganize the rail network, the head of Jewish diplomacy spends more than 12 hours at Frankfurt am Main station. He then stops again, for four hours, in Munich. Although the head of Jewish diplomacy’s office points out the random nature of certain station connections, some people are wondering about any meetings he may have had in these cities. Has he made contact with the government of the young Federal Republic of Germany?

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moshe Sharett, goes to the Hofburg where he has a stormy meeting with Ben Gurion. He had not been informed of Abba Eban’s mission to Germany.

—You’ve never been the same, David, since you seat on Metternich’s chair! Moshe Sharett shouts at the Prime Minister.

The former office of the Austrian Chancellor has in fact become that of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Israel, while the President of the State has been assigned the private flats of Kaiser Franz-Joseph.

—Metternich negotiated with Napoleon, Ben Gurion coldly retorts. He turned the alliances around twice, so that Austria, which did not have a single soldier at Waterloo, dictated its law to Europe in 1815…

And the Old Man rejects Moshe Sharett’s resignation on the spot.

Abba Eban, summoned by Herut to explain himself before the Knesset, gives a very ambiguous response. He swears that he had never met Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, let alone his chief of staff, Hans Globke, who once used his experience as a lawyer to draft the racial laws of the Third Reich. However, Adenauer and Globke are not the only leaders of the FRG, and it is rumored that Abba Eban did not stay at Frankfurt station for 12 hours at a stretch. A mysterious witness saw him get into a large Mercedes, which could well have taken him to Bonn in less than two hours on the newly rehabilitated motorway.

The minister then gives a cryptic reply to the Knesset—”If we don’t turn towards the West now, we will soon have to turn towards the East to say Kaddish”.

No details are given of Abba Eban’s schedule in Frankfurt and Munich. We can only learn that Deutsche Bahn provided him with a luxurious lounge car, where he received several visitors. The French officers who accompanied him from Strasbourg were joined by senior American officers. Several civilians also boarded, but it was difficult to identify them. It is true that in business suits, Germans are inconspicuous, which explains their immoderate taste for uniforms. Without Hugo Boss, the Nazis would never have succeeded.

Nevertheless, signs of a thaw in relations with West Germany begin to appear after Abba Eban’s trip. Spare parts arrive for the many German vehicles immobilized in Austria. Despite the absence of formal agreements with German manufacturers, the government facilitates the establishment of dealerships for American-owned car manufacturers such as Opel-General Motors and Ford-Germany. Protests are heard, as no one can ignore the fact that Ford and GM have invested substantial capital in Germany between 1933 and 1941, thus contributing to the mechanization of the Wehrmacht. But the army and the population of the Jewish Republic need motorized vehicles so badly!

The Republic of the Jewish People also acquires a military air force, whose pilots are trained in France. It seems that Abba Eban met the aircraft designer Marcel Bloch-Dassault who, although he has converted to Catholicism, is no less marked by his own history and that of his family and, of course, by his deportation to the Buchenwald camp. The Jewish State’s air defense forces, therefore, receive Dassault fighter-bombers. They also recover, by devious means, a dozen second-hand B17s from U.S. bases in Germany. The Jewish state air force is authorized to fly over the American and French-occupied zones of Germany during its training flights, despite protests from the refugees in Tyrol.

In Moscow, the trial of the Anti-Fascist Committee of Jews of the USSR ends on 12 May 1952 with 17 death sentences immediately carried out. This tragic event will go down in history as the “Night of the Murdered Poets.” In addition to the writers David Bergelson, Peretz Markish, Itzik Fefer and Leib Kvitko, the Red Army Chief Medical Officer Boris Shimeliovich and the former Deputy Foreign Minister Solomon Lossowski are also shot. General Aaron Katz, director of the Joseph Stalin Military Academy, narrowly saves his neck thanks to the intervention of Marshal Zhukov himself.

Stalin also has Jewish doctors arrested, whom he accuses of plotting his assassination after poisoning his dauphin Andrei Zhdanov, who died in 1949 from the floods of vodka he had been drinking since he was a child.

The trial of former Czechoslovak communist ministers and leaders ends on 27 November 1952 with 11 hangings, including those of Rudolf Slansky and Vlado Clementis.

The Pravda sets the tone for the world communist press, according to which the Jewish government in Vienna, together with its local accomplices, is preparing to reconquer Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and has not given up on its plans to take over Galicia and Bukovina, which have been part of the USSR since 1945. The same organs in command echo Stalin’s words accusing the Jews of preparing the advent of an Austro-Hebrew empire in the heart of Europe.

The Little Father of Peoples goes so far as to issue an official ultimatum to Vienna on 27 November 1952, the day the Prague ‘Zionists’ are condemned. If Israel does not renounce the Anschluss of the former imperial provinces, the Soviet Union will provide fraternal aid to the peoples attacked by the Zionists. Every word is carefully weighed. The name Israel, the German word Anschluss…

The government in Vienna replies that it does not have to give up purely imaginary annexations.

A high-powered bomb explodes on the Graben, crowded on Shabbat. The toll is heavy— 30 dead and around a hundred injured. There are other attacks. An individual machine-guns passers-by at the foot of the Prater Ferris wheel. The man is shot dead, but a woman and her two children are killed. The terrorist is identified—he is a Hungarian who has undoubtedly been manipulated by the Soviet services, despite or because of his past involvement in the Waffen SS.

The security services are informed of the presence of explosives under the stage of the Vienna Opera on the day of the premiere of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The device, defused at the last minute, could have caused considerable damage, as the entire cultural and political elite of the Jewish state was attending the performance that evening. Attacks multiply across the country.

The Danube flotilla opens fire on a barge loaded with explosives, unintentionally causing an oil barge to sink.

Czechoslovak President Klement Gottwald immediately accuses the Jewish state of poisoning the waters of the Danube. Rude Pravo, the organ of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, claims that a mysterious epidemic is raging in Prague and that many children are infected. The Danube, however, avoids the city of Prague, which is built on the Vltava, a tributary of the Elbe.

Czechoslovak gunboats form a blockade on the Danube near Bratislava, prohibiting vessels flying the blue-white flag from sailing. This blockade has only symbolic value, as trade between the Republic of the Jewish People and the countries downstream is extremely limited.

Several border incidents pit Czechoslovak and Hungarian soldiers against the Jewish Republic’s defense forces. Tito takes advantage of the situation to strafe the Bar Lev line. In retaliation, the Jewish state’s air force destroys Yugoslav army cantonments in northern Slovenia. A few shells accidentally land on an Austrian refugee camp on the outskirts of Klagenfurt. Only a dozen or so people are killed, but the blunder sparks a wave of protests in what is then known as “the free world.”

At the end of February 1953, the Hungarian and Czechoslovak armies cross the border to march on Vienna. The Jewish State immediately recalls all its reservists. Moshe Dayan’s tanks repel the attackers without much difficulty. The Hungarian and Czechoslovak soldiers surrender en masse, as those who flee are arrested by special units of the Soviet Army and immediately shot for desertion. The troops of the Jewish State go so far as to seize the cities of Bratislava and Brno.

—It’s the revenge of the Golem, sighs a Czech general surrounded by Israeli tanks.

When he sees the Star of David on the turret of the armored monsters, how can this cultured Praguer not think of the creature designed by Rav Loew to protect the city’s Jews? Unlike the Golem, however, the tanks cannot escape their master. Nothing can stop them, at least until the Soviet army goes into full-scale action. To avoid any direct contact, the government in Vienna orders its generals to stop at Austria’s former borders. But when Dayan receives the message, he has already reached the Pratzen plateau.

The Soviet general staff, fearing to be trapped like the soldiers of Tsar Alexander I and Marshal Kutuzov had been in the 19th century while fighting Napoleon, hurriedly evacuate the castle at Austerlitz where they had set up their quarters.

That evening, in the camp, the Jewish army radio station broadcast the concerto that Beethoven had dedicated to the same Emperor Napoleon the First.

In Moscow, Lavrenti Beria convenes an emergency meeting of the Defense Council, with Nikita Khrushchev, Georgi Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov, the Defense Minister, and Marshal Zhukov. The mood is gloomy.

—The Yugoslavs are capable of marching on Prague, where they will be greeted by a jubilant crowd, says Beria. The Czech soldiers are deserting in droves and we don’t have enough troops on the ground.

—They can occupy Moravia and Bohemia, objects Khrushchev, but the Slovaks and the Hungarians hate the Jews. Not to mention the Poles! If they advance, we’ve got them. They’ll be surrounded.

—I’m afraid, replies Beria, that the Hungarians and the Poles hate us to the point of forgetting their ancestral hatred of the Jews. Dayan will not encounter any resistance worthy of the name before reaching the borders of the USSR.

Zhukov and Voroshilov remain silent, exchanging knowing glances. They expect to be held responsible for any military setbacks.

We can’t take any decisions without Comrade Stalin here, says Molotov. I think he’ll give himself time to think before joining us.

—You are right, Comrade Molotov, replies Beria. But you know that we must never disturb our Guide when he retires to his dacha to think.

Beria immediately adjourns the meeting, without taking any decision other than to remain silent.

The world is holding its breath. The Jewish War threatens to engulf Europe. The new President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, sends a telegram to Stalin asking him to immediately stop the attacks on the Republic of the Jewish People. As the three Western allies in Germany are bound by the North Atlantic Treaty since 1949, NATO forces are put on alert in the corresponding zones of occupation.

At the United Nations Security Council, the USSR demands a firm condemnation of the Zionist aggressions but is met with a veto by the United States, France, and Great Britain.

However, Stalin refrains from replying to Eisenhower’s telegram. According to American intelligence services, he is not in the Kremlin and no one has seen him for several days.

The CIA comes up with several hypotheses. Has Stalin retreated to Kouibytchev, as in 1941, to prepare a counter-offensive? The rout of his allies in the face of Dayan’s few tanks highlighted the weakness of the Soviet defense system.

On 4 March, the Jewish State’s defense forces completely repel the invaders and occupy the security zone along the Czechoslovak and Hungarian borders. Ben Gurion sends a message to Prague, Budapest, and Moscow—proposing a ceasefire and the opening of peace negotiations— which goes unanswered.

For his part, Klement Gottwald desperately tries to reach the Kremlin, not knowing what to make of the enemy’s proposal. The USSR ambassadors in Prague and Budapest have received no instructions to pass on to the governments of their sister countries.

The world is plunged into anguish. Is Stalin preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Vienna?

Although skeptical about the risks of a nuclear war, Dwight Eisenhower takes up residence in the military command room of the White House. American radars in Europe and Turkey do not detect any abnormal movements at Soviet air bases—the Yaks and MiGs are only carrying out routine training and airspace surveillance missions.

On 5 March, the silence observed for several days by the Kremlin is finally explained—Stalin is dead!

As soon as the news of Stalin’s death reaches Vienna, Ben Gurion convenes a Defense Council with the main ministers and military chiefs. He opens the meeting with a brief review of the situation.

—We can expect the worst and the best. If the Russians blame us for Stalin’s death, which would be in line with the White Coats plot, we can expect bloody reprisals. But they may also propose a cessation of fighting in mourning…

—On close reading of the official statement from the Central Committee of the CPSU, Golda Meir observes, I can find no reference to a possible assassination. And with good reason—Dr. Vinogradov and Stalin’s other Jewish doctors are in prison. The text clearly states that Stalin died of a heart attack. What’s more, I understand that the leaders are too busy settling the succession to the Leader to embark on a risky military operation.

—Golda is undoubtedly right, but we must remain cautious. The best way to show our goodwill would be to pay tribute to Stalin for his outstanding role in the war against Nazi Germany. Let us salute the victor of Stalingrad and Berlin without making the slightest allusion to the current situation. Naturally, we are maintaining the mobilization of our armed forces, but at the same time, we are proclaiming a unilateral ceasefire to respect the mourning of the Communists.

—The firing has already stopped, there’s not a single Red soldier left within range, says Dayan. What more can we do?

—We can make a public gesture, replies Rabin, free the prisoners… But the Czechs already sympathize with our soldiers who are guarding them and even more with the canteen girls… And all the prisoners are throwing themselves on the food because they’re starving at home!

—Releasing the prisoners seems premature to me, says Golda. We need to make a gesture that costs nothing, without removing a single tank from the borders.

—The best thing, says Ben Gurion, smiling, would be to commemorate Stalin’s mourning. Let’s fly our flags at half-mast, clearly visible on the other side of the border. Later today I will give a speech to the Knesset and the members will observe a minute’s silence.

—We’re not going to say Kaddish for the murderer of Jewish writers, protests Josef Burg!

—Why not? retorts Golda.

The Cabinet adopts Ben Gurion’s proposal. To set an example, the flags of the Hofburg, the Reichstag/Knesset and the Vienna Town Hall are solemnly lowered to half-mast. The order is given to the armies to fly the flag at half-mast. An incident occurs in the Graz fortress, where prisoners of war are being held. Far from being affected by the death of the dictator, the inmates celebrate joyfully. Booing greets the lowering of the flags to half-mast. The commandant of the fortress has no choice but to close the canteen and force his residents to fast as a sign of mourning.

Before the extraordinary session of the Knesset, the members of the government set about convincing the opponents to avoid any uproar during the tribute to Stalin. Josef Burg takes charge of Menachem Begin, whom he knows to be sensitive to arguments drawn from the Torah. He reminds him that the Lord had forbidden the angels to rejoice at the death of the Egyptian warriors who had been swallowed up trying to cross the Red Sea and that King David had mourned Saul after fighting him. It proves much more difficult to obtain the silence of the Bund deputies who are less receptive to biblical exegesis and who, above all, have great difficulty forgiving Stalin for having ordered the execution of Ehrlich and Alter.

Ben Gurion takes the floor to salute the man who had presided over the destiny of the Soviet Union throughout the war against Nazi Germany. He recalls the agreements that had led to the rebirth of the Jewish nation on the banks of the Danube. “The people of Israel will never forget that, from Stalingrad to Berlin, the armies of which Marshal Stalin was supreme leader crushed the foul beast that exterminated six million Jews,” the Prime Minister says. He concludes by paraphrasing the first Soviet decree—”Israel declares peace to all the peoples of the USSR and its allies. The cannons are silenced today to salute the memory of Stalin.”

The deputies rise to observe a minute’s silence. Only the representatives of the Bund remain seated while observing the silence.

The new masters of the Kremlin show signs of easing up. Sharing power with Malenkov and Khrushchev, Beria orders the release of the “Doctors.” Molotov’s Jewish wife, Polina Jemchoujina, whom Stalin had exiled to Kazakhstan four years earlier, reappears in Moscow. Molotov, who had been forced to divorce her on the orders of the Little Father of Peoples, hastens to take her back as his wife.

Golda Meir sends the couple a message of congratulations containing a thinly veiled call for negotiations.

Polina Jemchoujina sends Golda Meir a message of thanks posted from the Bohemian spa town of Karlovy Vary, where she is resting.

Golda immediately drives to the former Carlsbad in a Cadillac bearing the number plate of the American forces in Germany. Her driver and her two bodyguards have American diplomatic passports, but work for the Mossad. The car takes a diversion to avoid crossing the front lines and pass through the Iron Curtain at the checkpoint used by U.S. officers to meet their Soviet counterparts in the GDR. The Soviet soldiers are ordered to let them through. Two Red Army vehicles escort Golda to Karlovy Vary. She is stunned to discover that it is not Polina but Molotov himself who is waiting for her in a private room of the Grand Hotel.

The Foreign minister is unusually friendly. Officially, he has gone to Czechoslovakia to attend the funeral of President Gottwald, who was unable to overcome his immense grief at Stalin’s death and collapsed on his return from Moscow. Molotov then joined his wife, who is really soaking up the waters in Karlovy Vary.

The negotiations go extremely quickly.

—As the USSR has never officially declared war on the Republic of Israel, Molotov declares from the outset, we cannot sign a peace treaty. On the other hand, we are withdrawing today our regiments stationed near your borders, which will henceforth be guarded exclusively by Czechoslovak and Hungarian forces.

—This is acceptable to us, on condition that UN observers can verify the withdrawal of your troops.

—This is a reasonable request. We will examine it this very evening, as soon as I return to Moscow.

—Under these conditions, if you have nothing to add, I must also have the agreement validated by my government.

—That’s all there is to it, replies Molotov. Please convey my thanks to the Prime Minister for the tribute he has paid to our beloved Father of Peoples.

The war is over. Molotov does not dare call for the withdrawal of the Jewish armies from the border security zone. He does not even concern himself with the fate of the Hungarian and Czechoslovak prisoners. Golda returns to Vienna. That same evening, an official telegram from the Soviet government confirms the terms of the Karlovy Vary agreement.

Moshe Dayan informs the government of the request made by a significant number of Czech prisoners, who claim Jewish origin in order to remain in the country. They say they are prepared to work in a factory or even a mine rather than be sent back to Prague. Several hundred Czech nationals also mass in the border area and beg the Jewish soldiers to let them pass. According to the Mossad, there are also an abnormal number of Poles on trains bound for Brno.

—All Jews are welcome in their own land, replies Ben Gurion! After the checking of their identities, they will be taken care of by the Jewish Agency.

—Even the prisoners? asks Dayan.

—Once released, they’re Jews like any others, replies Golda. We’ll send the non-Jewish soldiers home and welcome our brothers with dignity.

The many Goldsteins, Kramers, and Kaplans held as Czech prisoners of war are admitted to Jewish territory, as is the cohort of civilians who turn up in whole families at the border. In addition, several hundred Abramowicz, Warchawski, Kalisher, and others arrive by train from Poland. The border guards are quickly overwhelmed, as it is so difficult to check the authenticity of the Jewish origins of would-be immigrants. The religious authorities are worried about a possible influx of impostors, because the attraction of the Jewish State is such that, after having assiduously practiced the art of pogrom for a thousand years, all Poles are now ready to convert in order to be admitted to the land of Israel.

This exodus does not last long. The Polish Government immediately stops issuing passports to Jews. In Czechoslovakia, after a few days of uncertainty due to the rout of the army and the withdrawal of the Soviets, the police resume control of the roads leading to the border.

For the Jewish State, the outcome of the war is excellent. It won a military victory, recovering in the process the individual weapons surrendered by prisoners or abandoned by fugitives. Around fifty tanks in working order were captured. But above all, the breach opened up in the Iron Curtain for a few days revealed the power of attraction of the Jewish State on the Danube.


Will the Jewish state succeed in transforming its military victory into a diplomatic success? How did Adenauer manage to make presentable the senior civil servants of the FRG who had particularly distinguished themselves under the Nazi regime? Under what circumstances will the Château de Lunéville in Meurthe-et-Moselle achieve its short-lived glory?

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).

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