Israel Upon Danube – Episode 6

Le passé, ennemi de l’avenir


David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer


Où l’on voit comment un débat enflamme la République du Peuple juif à propos de ses relations avec la République fédérale d’Allemagne


The 1953 war ended in military victory, but no treaty recognizes the Jewish state’s occupation of the security strip along the borders with Hungary and Czechoslovakia. A continuous line of barbed wire separates the two Communist countries from the Republic of the Jewish People. Gunboats still block the Danube, prohibiting all river access to Bratislava. Czechoslovakia and Hungary no longer issue visas to nationals of the Republic of the Jewish People. Silence envelops Prague’s old Jewish quarter, and there are no more pilgrims at the Maharal’s grave or flowers in front of Kafka’s house.

The Republic of Israel finds itself surrounded by the closed borders of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. A military zone separates it from Tyrol. There are still road, rail, and river crossings with Germany, but the Jewish state refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Bonn. Essential goods are transported under the control of the American army. However, the noria of trains and trucks that cross the border into West Germany every day to deliver to the Jewish state does not exclusively carry products from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, or even American companies based in Germany. What’s more, these trains and trucks don’t leave empty. In fact, there is indeed trade and commerce between the two neighboring countries, which means that some citizens of the Jewish state regularly cross the border to do business with Germans. And one has to admit that the people concerned also include high-ranking civil servants who travel discreetly. . .

It is vital to break the taboo of mutual recognition between the FRG and the Republic of the Jewish People. In January 1954, Ha’aretz publishes a column sent from West Berlin by a young SPD executive named Willy Brandt. Under the title “Why I came back to Germany,” this socialist, who had chosen exile in 1933 to fight the Third Reich, calls for the construction of a new, humanist, and democratic Germany. The very fact of publishing an article by a German, albeit a social democrat and clearly an anti-Nazi, causes an uproar in Vienna. The paper receives a flood of protest letters, and many camp survivors cancel their subscriptions. Several demonstrations take place in front of the newspaper’s headquarters. Herut activists, with their innate sense of nuance, chant slogans such as “There are no innocent Germans!” and “Ha’aretz = Sturmer.” Communists and various far-left movements gather under the newspaper’s windows, shouting “No new Anschluss!” and “Brandt, Adenauer, same Nazis!”

According to a rumor circulating in Vienna cafés, Willy Brandt’s column has been sent to Ha’aretz as a result of contacts between the party he belongs to, the SPD [German Socialist Party], and Mapai. It is also rumored in generally well-informed circles that the ruling Israeli Labor Party has established contacts not only with the SPD, then in opposition, but also with the Bonn government.

The changes that follow Stalin’s death in the USSR have no effect on the borders of the Jewish state. Although officially neutral, the Republic of Israel finds itself at the forefront of the Cold War. Nevertheless, the government does not fail to protest to the three powers occupying Western Germany when the Bundeswehr is created on November 12, 1955. Ten years after the destruction of the Wehrmacht, the Jews cannot accept the rebirth of a German army stationed on its borders. A huge crowd gathers on the Ring, to say NO to German militarism. The leaflet calling for the demonstration shows a photo of General Hans Speidel, commander of the Bundeswehr, with Adolf Hitler. The same photo appears in Communist newspapers around the world.

A year later, on November 4, 1956, the Red Army closes in on Hungary, bloodily suppressing the Budapest uprising. For the Jewish state, the danger comes from its borders with the Communist bloc. The armed forces are put on alert and reservists are called up. The blue Danube of Vienna turns red in Budapest. Too busy shooting 4,000 Hungarians, Soviet soldiers do not approach the border, but MiGs fly over the territory of the Republic of Israel. The Pravda publishes aerial photos of a column of armored vehicles from the Jewish State Defense Forces en route to the Hungarian border. The photo captions revive accusations of German-Zionist warmongering and the antiphon of Jewish domination of former Habsburg possessions.

Once again, a mysterious journey by Abba Eban fuels the rumors. Having become the Republic of Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, this diplomat has failed to find a seat on a direct flight home from New York after attending the General Assembly, where he once again demonstrated his oratorical talents. Instead, he boarded Panam’s Super-Constellation DC6 from New York to Cologne. El Al’s planes make three rotations a week between New York and Vienna, are rarely full to the brim, and consider diplomats as priority passengers. What’s more, Abba Eban took his time, for 48 hours elapsed between the DC8 landing in Cologne and the arrival in Vienna of a small US military plane carrying the diplomat.

Several deputies, not all of them from the opposition benches, call for Abba Eban to be heard by a Knesset committee. Much to the surprise of the Right, the majority vote in favor of the hearing, which takes place in February 1957.

Not only does Abba Eban acknowledge that he went to Bonn with the government’s agreement, but, for the first time, David Ben Gurion advocates the establishment of diplomatic relations with Germany. He talks of direct contacts with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

Menachem Begin protests violently, calling Abba Eban a court Jew in the service of German princes and comparing Ben Gurion to the president of the Warsaw Judenrat. Furious, he immediately leaves the Knesset, followed by all the Herut deputies.

But the process is irreversible. German money has come at the right time for the inhabitants of the Republic of the Jewish People, who until then have lived modestly on the fruits of their labor.

Long and painful negotiations are needed to normalize relations between the Republic of the Jewish People and the Federal Republic of Germany. The criminal past of Nazi Germany is not the sole obstacle. Indeed, the FRG is not the only country to whitewash some of its leaders. In France, the recycling of Pétainists began long before the liberation, i.e., in Algiers and even in London. Not to mention the historical compromises of the USSR, still represented in international negotiations by Molotov, the same Molotov who once forged with his counterpart Ribbentrop the alliance between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

The Federal Republic of Germany has come up with a daring method of freeing itself from its past. All it takes is for the most compromised Nazis to join the Résistance, retroactively. Ten years after the war, almost all Bundeswehr generals and senior officers, led by Hans Speidel, are said to have participated in the plot of July 20, 1944. Faced with such an array of conspirators, it’s hard to understand how the attack could have failed. The Allied soldiers who fell in Normandy, in the Ardennes, and on the Rhine were unaware that they were taking fire from innocent Germans eager to get rid of Hitler! The fiction of German resistance suits everyone. The Nazis who escaped the Nuremberg trials are therefore all to be found in Latin America if they haven’t taken up residence in the Tyrol. The Jewish government in Vienna send a Mossad team to Paraguay and Argentina in search of the fugitives. It also infiltrates spies in Innsbruck and Klagenfurt.

The present is more complex than the past. The Jewish state demands the complete demilitarization of the Tyrol pocket and reserves the right to intervene to disable the terrorists. In fact, the Tyrol is hemmed in between the American bases in Germany and Italy, on the one hand, and the Jewish defense forces of the former Austria on the other. The Bundestag passes a law granting German nationality to those who leave the displaced persons camps to join West Germany. The law defines the status of “German-speaking refugees from the Danube region,” a periphrase that in fact refers to Austrians, as the term is now banned from the official vocabulary of the Federal Republic. Actually, Austria only existed for twenty years, from the defeat of 1918 to the Anschluss. The new school textbooks thus establish the FRG as the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, whose capital was never Vienna, but Frankfurt am Main, where sat the Sejm, i.e., the body responsible for electing the Kaiser.

Danube Germans wishing to leave the Tyrol can become citizens of the FRG, so long as they renounce all claims to their property in the former Austria. In exchange, they receive social housing, loans, and business start-up assistance. Germany’s tremendous growth does the rest: all you have to do is cross the border to find a steady job.

Tyrol’s population is shrinking and seems destined for slow extinction, as young people leave in droves. To speed up the process, the Jewish Defense Forces carry out a few targeted but spectacular operations. Several leaders of armed organizations are shot dead and their homes are destroyed. A bombing raid targets a depot of explosives in the heart of Innsbruck, deliberately destroying the district.

In protest, the Autonomous Front of the Austrian Tyrol organizes a procession in front of the Judenstein church in Rinn, the site of an antisemitic cult dedicated since 1671 to an alleged victim of ritual murder: the child Anderln von Rinn. The demonstration degenerates, with groups of very young people throwing stones at the security forces.

The Jewish Defense Forces retaliate by storming Rinn and razing the village church where the child’s remains lie. Integrated into the military zone and immediately fortified, the Rinn sector enables the control of Innsbruck and, above all, cut the town off from the Italian border. The military deployment definitively separates the Austrian refugees in Tyrol from those in Carinthia.

On the other hand, the Jewish state’s military operation is roundly condemned by the new master of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, and by the Yugoslav president, Joseph Broz Tito. The two enemy brothers in the communist family begin a process of reconciliation, with the result that the Jewish Republic finds itself surrounded by hostile neighbors, with Yugoslavia’s borders extending into those of the Warsaw Pact countries. Certainly, Khrushchev’s protest against the destruction of the Rinn church does not lack piquancy, and no doubt goes straight to the heart of Cardinal Mindszenty, who is a recluse in the US embassy in Budapest since the massacre of insurgents in 1956. In these circumstances, the normalization of relations with Federal Germany becomes vital for the Jewish state.

While diplomats busy themselves behind the scenes, Konrad Adenauer multiplies his gestures of appeasement. He signs a decree severely punishing the sale of arms and military equipment to refugees in Tyrol. The German federal justice system takes legal action against former SS officers who have taken refuge in Tyrol and Carinthia. Two individuals, in particular, are targeted: SS Obersturmführer Alois Brunner, who was spotted in Klagenfurt where he provides military training for FATA commandos, and Kurt Waldheim, Front spokesman and former Waffen SS officer. The sensational press never ceases to report the presence of infamous missing persons. In France, Paris Match publishes photos of a man who looks like Martin Bormann, claiming that he is hiding in the Innsbruck refugee camp. On a more serious note, the Spiegel reveals that Tito has discreetly released former Muslim officers from the SS Legion in Bosnia, as well as Ustasha military leaders from Croatia, who are said to be supervising FATA commandos.

In the streets of Vienna, crowded with Mercedes, Volkswagens, BMWs, Opels and Ford Taunuses, the détente with West Germany is increasingly apparent. Without rancor, many Jews are showing a pronounced taste for German automobiles. The paradox is that the Nazis, for their part, had set their sights on the Traction, much appreciated by the Gestapo, who couldn’t have been unaware of what they owed to André Citroën, that “little Yid from the Quai de Javel” who enraged Louis Renault.

Before being formalized at a political level, the rapprochement between the FRG and the Republic of the Jewish People must be expressed through culture. For centuries, Jews and Germans have shared a passion for music.

The prestigious Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is officially invited to perform in Bonn, Beethoven’s birthplace, where Lorin Maazel conducts the Pastoral Symphony. As for young pianist Daniel Barenboim, he embarks on a concert tour of West Berlin, Cologne, Bonn and Munich.

The Vienna Philharmonic signs a contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The Salzburg Festival-Kyriat Amadeus grants live broadcasting rights to Germany’s brand-new second television channel ZDF. As we all know, this private cultural channel was created at the behest of Konrad Adenauer.

Of course, the Knesset has to reckon with a few protests from Herut deputies. In France, the philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch publishes an open letter to David Ben Gurion to protest against the cultural choices of the Jewish State, which outrageously promote German music.

The controversy grows in Vienna when Ha’aretz opportunely publishes an investigation into the Jewish musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic, whom Wilhelm Furtwängler managed to protect under Nazism. Deutsche Grammophon has just released Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, recorded under the baton of Furtwängler, who already had the dubious honor of performing it in April 1942 for the Führer’s birthday. The two-disc 33 rpm album tops the charts at all Vienna record shops. A number of prominent figures on the right, as well as on the left, become concerned by this craze for German music. Menachem Begin challenges the government in the Knesset, accusing it of re-establishing the old dominant culture of the Germanic empires instead of promoting the thousand-year-old culture of the Jewish people: “Our ancestors listened to King David’s lyre, they sang the Canticle of Canticles, we are desecrating their memory by submitting to the baton of Adolf Hitler’s favorite conductor. Fortunately, Mr. Furtwängler is no longer with us, otherwise, you’d be able to invite him to Vienna.”

In response to Begin, two surviving musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic travel to Judenplatz to present their testimony to the Yad Vashem Institute, seeking to have Furtwängler declared Righteous Among the Nations. The President of the Institute, Ben Zion, a former Minister of Education, refuses to receive them. “At this rate,” he declares, “we’ll soon be whitewashing Siegfried Seidl, SS commandant of Terezin, who allowed Jewish musicians to play in the camp orchestra! The aforementioned Seidl belonged to the inner circle of Austrians in the high SS hierarchy. After the war, he was arrested, tried, and executed in Vienna in 1947, a few months before the proclamation of the Republic of the Jewish People.

The controversy surrounding the relationship between Jews and German culture deeply divides intellectuals. Ashkenazim, led by Max Brod, claims the Judeo-German heritage of Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss, as well as that of the myriad of great German-language Jewish writers, from Heinrich Heine to Franz Kafka, including Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig, Alfred Doblin, Lion Feuchtwanger, and many others. The founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, also falls into this category. Opposition to German culture emanates from many intellectual circles, ranging from the extreme left, which claims the heritage of Yiddish literature, to the nationalist right, which considers the Hebrew language to be the sole expression of Jewish thought.

Decision-makers can’t wait for Jews to agree on their cultural heritage.

David Ben Gurion, who has just handed over the post of Prime Minister to Levi Eshkol to regain his freedom of movement, meets Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in New York on March 16, 1960. Two days later, under fierce attack from Menachem Begin, Eshkol gets the Knesset to approve the meeting in principle. The right-wing leader is a hardliner, but by the end of the debate, his political realism has prevailed over his moral principles, and the right abstains so that only the Communists remain opposed to dialogue with the German Chancellor.

Once the Ben Gurion-Adenauer meeting has been approved by the Knesset, the Vienna government officially opens negotiations with Bonn. This does not go without a fuss, with the right and extreme left taking turns to express their hostility to Germany. However, pragmatism prevails over the terrible memory of the Shoah.

An event comes just in time to help public opinion make a clear distinction between Nazi Germany, forever unforgivable, and the liberal and therefore approachable regime in Bonn. The Mossad, which has definitively identified Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires, captures this SS and put him, drugged and disguised as a steward, on an El Al flight to Vienna. Although born in Prussia, Eichmann had spent his youth in Austria, so Bonn is careful not to make the slightest remark.

The Jewish government in Vienna is simultaneously preparing for the Eichmann trial and the drafting of the treaty of mutual recognition between the FRG and the Republic of the Jewish People.

The two delegations begin to agree on the venue for negotiation and signature. The representatives of the Republic of the Jewish People cannot officially reside in Germany for several weeks without risking wounding the survivors and giving grist to the opponents of the treaty. German diplomats, mainly from the Rhineland, are reluctant to settle in the former capital of the Habsburgs, a dynasty from which they emancipated themselves thanks to Bonaparte’s France. Switzerland is initially considered, but a dispute arises between the Jews and the Helvetic Confederation, which serves as a rear base for Austrian nationalists from the Tyrol. Bern protested when the Jewish army was deployed between Innsbruck and the Swiss border to control the crossing points between the two countries. Konrad Adenauer, who became close to General de Gaulle after the latter’s return to power in June 1958, suggests that France be approached. However, it is necessary to find a city that is neutral in the eyes of both parties.

Jews remember the failure of the Evian Conference in 1938 when the democracies refused to welcome the victims of the Third Reich. The Germans, for their part, still consider that their misfortunes began at Versailles. The Quai d’Orsay sets out to find a city acceptable to both sides, within easy reach of Bonn and Vienna. Despite the transport and accommodation facilities offered by the cities of Metz and Strasbourg, the three departments annexed by Germany both in 1870 and in 1940 are ruled out. A deputy head of office at the Quai d’Orsay suggests the Château de Lunéville in Meurthe-et-Moselle. The memory of the brave Stanislas—the deposed King of Poland who lived within these walls—doesn’t bother anyone. The location even augurs well for the diplomats of the Republic of the Jewish People, since it was a deputy from the Bailliage of Lunéville, l’Abbé Grégoire, who pushed through the emancipation of the Jews of France at the start of the Revolution. The château is hastily fitted out in preparation for months of negotiations. At the same time, André Malraux releases funds to restore the Lunéville synagogue and reinstate the inscription engraved on its pediment when it was inaugurated in 1786: “To the God of Israel, with the permission of the King of France.”

The Lunéville Accords, which are signed in 1963 under the portrait of l’Abbé Grégoire, give France the feeling of having played a historic role without receiving the slightest recognition. In truth, General de Gaulle telephoned his friends Adenauer and Ben Gurion to invite both delegations to Lunéville. However, the negotiations take place behind closed doors, without French participation. Apart from the gendarmes in charge of security, the only French people present are the chef and the chambermaids. Jews and Germans reconcile on French soil, but France is reduced to the role of steward. De Gaulle inevitably takes umbrage. According to an indiscretion reported by Minute, he told Georges Pompidou: “France risks ending up where you started, in the service of the Rothschilds!” The Élysée press office categorically denies the far-right weekly’s allegations, and the Renseignements Généraux [internal security police] leak a note about the heavy past of certain Minute journalists, who had once worn Milice uniforms when they weren’t in the Waffen SS.

The French Government is quick to hail the historic agreement as soon as it is signed, and the TV news headlines “A great success for French diplomacy” on the injunction of Alain Peyrefitte, the French Minister of Information. Moscow describes the agreement as a pact of aggression against the peoples of Central Europe, and L’Humanité, the organ of the French Communist Party, who never mince their words, writes: “As twenty years ago, the French government has chosen to hand over the Jews to the Germans.”

The preamble to the treaty recalls Germany’s guilt but makes no mention of forgiveness. The FRG recognizes the sovereignty of the Jewish people over the entire territory of the First Republic of Austria, including Tyrol and Carinthia. Bonn agrees to pay considerable sums to the Jewish Republic but makes it clear that this is not a question of reparations, as the crime against humanity is by definition irremediable and imprescriptible. The movement of people and goods between the two countries is strictly controlled. No German national may claim former land or commercial property on the territory of the Republic of the Jewish People, nor demand repayment or interest on sums deposited before 1945 in an Austrian bank. The entry of Germans into the territory of the Jewish Republic is limited to tourist visits, cultural exchanges, and business trips. Any German born before 1930, and therefore aged 15 or over in 1945, must apply for a visa to enter the Jewish Republic. The authorities in Vienna reserve the right to refuse a visa, and even to question any German national suspected of having personally contributed to the “Final Solution.”

The clause is purely formal, insofar as, with the exception of Nazi Party officials and SS officers, the Jewish State’s services do not have the means to check every German’s past.

By mutual agreement, the two governments decide to sign the treaty without ceremony or pomp. Simultaneous ratification by both parliaments will suffice. In Bonn, the Bundestag gives its unanimous approval, with only a few members of the Bavarian CSU choosing not to attend the vote. In Vienna, following a stormy debate in the Knesset, as is customary in this assembly, ratification is approved by a very large majority, thanks to the support of part of the right and the abstention of the Herut. Only the three Communists and the two Bund deputies vote against it.

Adolf Eichmann’s trial opens in Vienna, the day after the agreement is ratified. This timing is obviously no coincidence.

The economic fallout quickly erases any resentment. Germany not only opens its market to the Jewish state’s businesses, it also provides investment and shares in the benefits of the Marshall Plan. International agreements bar the Republic of the Jewish People from becoming the seventh signatory of the Treaty of Rome, but the Benelux countries and France validate the commercial aspect of the Lunéville agreements, facilitating the circulation of the Jewish State’s capital and goods throughout the European Economic Community. De Gaulle, however, urges Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to sign a Franco-German pact before finalizing his agreement with the Jewish state. The Élysée Treaty, signed in January 1963, symbolically places the Bonn-Vienna agreement in the wake of the Franco-German axis. At a press conference, however, the President of the French Republic let his bitterness show: “After having regained the means to restore its former splendor, this small, elite people should not show itself to be self-confident and domineering.”

De Gaulle, who had met Nikita Khrushchev in Paris and Moscow, is determined to preserve East-West peace. A Jewish state open to the West and closed to the East would risk reigniting the Cold War, or even triggering armed conflict in the heart of Europe.

Unsurprisingly, the USSR and Yugoslavia don’t take kindly to the Jewish-German rapprochement. The Pravda, which still uses the name “Israel” to denounce the evil of the Zionist state, writes: “Until now, Israel’s imperialist policy has been inspired by the history of the Habsburgs. The agreement with the revanchists in Bonn now puts it in line with the Third Reich and the Anschluss.”

In addition to this editorial, the same Pravda publishes a statement by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet: “The USSR, which sacrificed twenty million of its sons to liberate Europe from Nazism and allow Jews to settle on the banks of the Danube, warns the Zionist leaders. The armed forces of the Warsaw Pact will retaliate against any attempt at aggression against the peoples of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia.”

USSR Foreign Minister Anastase Mikoyan travels to Belgrade to meet Tito. According to Mossad, Soviet services have established contacts with FATA in Tyrol and Carinthia. The signing of the German-Jewish treaty is followed by a wave of attacks, including a bomb explosion in a Vienna market that kills one person and injures a dozen. A catastrophe of even greater proportions is narrowly averted: the El Al security service intercepts an explosive device concealed in a suitcase checked in at Orly on the Paris-Vienna flight.

Peace with the Danube’s upstream neighbor increases the risk of war downstream. The Warsaw Pact deploys an impressive fleet of river gunboats between Vienna and Bratislava. Reinforcements pour in on all land borders.

Will the Jewish State succeed in subduing the FATA terrorists in Innsbruck? How did the resounding victory of the Six Day War lead to a wave of anti-Semitism in the USSR and the crushing of the Prague Spring? Were the Zionists right, in retrospect, to leave Palestine and settle on the banks of the Danube?
You’ll find out when you read the final episode of our series!

Guy Konopnicki

Guy Konopnicki is a journalist and writer. Among his many books, he is the author, with Brice Couturier, of ‘Réflexions sur la question goy’ (Lieu Commun, 1988) and ‘La faute des Juifs – Réponse à ceux qui nous écrivent tant’ (Balland, 2002).



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