Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Smokie Simon, 97

From Greer Fay Cashman's column:

■ SOUTH AFRICANS in Israel rejoiced this week with Smoky Simon and his family as the former Mahalnik celebrated his 97th birthday.

Machal is a Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz le’aretz (Volunteers from Abroad).

The Mahalniks were mostly ex-service personnel who had fought with the Allied Forces against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II, and later 4,800 of them, including 832 from South Africa, took it upon themselves to fight with and for the nascent State of Israel in the War of Independence.

In January 1941, Simon, whose first name is actually Harold, volunteered to join the South African Air Force and fight the Nazis.

He was trained as a navigator bombardier and served in both the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force in different theaters of war for a total of five years. In May 1948, together with his wife Myra, he volunteered to fight here in the War of Independence. Myra Simon was trained and flew as a meteorologist in the South African Air Force in World War II, and during the War of Independence served in the Israel Air Force as an instructor in meteorology.

The couple was blessed with two sons and two daughters. Their sons Saul and Dan each served as fighter pilots in the IAF. In June 1948, Smoky Simon was appointed the IAF’s Chief of Air Operations. In 1968, Simon was elected chairman of World Mahal, and a couple of years back, he launched Mahal’s final operation, which was to help expand and increase the facilities of the Michael Levin Center for Lone Soldiers in Tel Aviv, so that Mahalniks who went back to their home countries can have a place to relax and reminisce when they visit Israel, in addition to meeting the soldiers of today.

After he completed his service in the Israel Air Force, Simon and his wife returned to South Africa, but not for long. In 1962 they came on aliya with their four children, and Simon and a partner founded an insurance and pension brokerage company which some years later they sold to Migdal Insurance. Simon is closely affiliated with the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. He needed very little persuasion from Harry Zvi Hurwitz, who conceived the idea of such a center, to become one of its founding members and donors.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ZZW's Stefan Wladyslaw's New Gravestone in Warasaw's Jewish Cemetery

Stefan Wladyslaw was a member of the Revisionist ZZW militia fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto against the Nazis.

Yesterday was the ceremony of the unveiling of a new gravestone marker at his burial site which is also the symbolic grave of all the soldiers of the Jewish Military Union, members of Betar and the Revisionist Movement who were not allowed to join the rest of the left-wing figthing groups.  It took place at the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw at Okopowa Street yesterday.  Prominent on the new marker is the name of Pawel Frenkel, the ZZW commander.

Pictures I received via Moshe Arens and Wojciech PluciƄski, the latter of the Komitet Hadar there in Poland:

Stefan's importance is that on May 17, 1942, disguised as an Aryan, he crossed over from the ghetto and sent a telegram to Hillel Tzur, an Irgun emissary to the Irgun cells organizing in Poland, who had returned to Netanya in Mandate Palestine only in September 1939.  It was hoped that the telegram would, however innocuously worded it was because of the Nazi censor, would alert Jews outside as to the terrible reality.

The telegram indeed was sent from the Red Cross offices although part of it indeed was crossed out on May 17, 1942.  It actually reachyed Tzur on August 31, 1942 but its cryptic message was not understood.

On February 4, 1943, Stefan was again outside the ghetto attempting to purchase weapons for the ZZW.

Upon finishing his task, he began his return but was accosted by German soldiers.

He pulled out his own pistol and engaged the Nazis in battle, killing two before being killed.

His comrades recovered his body and buried him in the Jewish cemetery.  The original tombstone noting his ZZW membership and his nom de gurre, Nesher (Eagle):

Please read Moshe Arens' "Flags Over the Ghetto".

Friday, April 8, 2016

Correcting a Misleading Assertion

This Letter-to-the-Editor was sent to the UK's Jewish Chronicle:

In Lawrence Joffee's review ("The Rise of the Israeli Right", March 31) of Colin Shindler's most recent book, we read that on June 20, 1948, Menachem Begin "defied the state of Israel's month-old provisional government by smuggling forbidden weapons aboard a requisitioned ship, the Altalena". That assertion is misleading.
The arms ship Altalena had docked near Moshav Kfar Vitkin in accordance with the agreement with Israel's Defence Ministry officials. The government was informed of the ship's existence on June 1 whereas the Hagana had been contacted about the ship while it was in France months earlier.
On June 15, Begin and members of his staff met with government representatives and reported the ship's imminent arrival.  As even Wikipedia notes, David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary entry for June 16: "Yisrael [Galili] and Skolnik [Levi Eshkol] met yesterday with Begin. Tomorrow or the next day their ship is due to arrive…I believe we should not endanger Tel Aviv port. They should not be sent back. They should be disembarked at an unknown shore."  At a second meeting, the Mapai-dominated Kfar Vitkin moshav was selected.
At the beach, the IDF demanded a different distribution of the weapons and ammunition than that had been originally agreed upon which was 20% would go to Irgun units enlisted in the IDF.  Seeking to settle that issue, Begin refused to submit to the 10-minute ultimatum handed to him and, given the lack of communication facilities, ordered the ship, which had been fired upon resulting in the deaths of both Irgun members and IDF soldiers, to sail to Tel Aviv. There, on June 22, it was fired upon and eventually shelled and abandoned.
The real question for historians is why did Ben-Gurion defy his own agreement.

It was published in this week's edition (no online link available) and so I do not know if, or how much, it was edited.

However, I had to send this letter of complaint:

I understand my letter appeared today in The JC.
I have not as yet seen it but I received this note from a friend:
Have just read your letter to the JC. Surely the subeditor's heading for the letter: "Begin's action is still begging an explanation" is completely wrong? Your final para makes clear it is Ben Gurion's actions which require explanation. (I think the sub ed got carried away with his attempted pun of Begin and begging.) You should ask for a correction! 
If my correspondent is right, I do think a correction is warranted, something along the lines of:
"In a letter published last week by Yisrael Medad on the Altalena Affair, the heading gave a misleading impression that Medad considered Menachem Begin's actions as "begging an explanation" whereas, as his letter makes clear, David Ben-Gurion's actions still require an explanation."
Thank you.


The letter:


Monday, April 4, 2016

Nazi Terminology

A proposed law currently making its way through the pipelines of the Israeli legislature, which would forbid use of the word "Nazi" and the terminology or images of the Third Reich for anything other than historical or educational purposes, not only contradicts the principles of free speech, but also runs against hallowed tradition in Israeli politics, right back to the days of David Ben-Gurion.

Israel's first prime minister was in the habit of using such terminology when referring to his chief ideological rival, leader of the Revisionist Movement Zeev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky – long before the foundation of the state and even before the Holocaust. In 1933, with conflict between the two wings of the Zionist movement at its height, Ben-Gurion repeatedly compared Jabotinsky to Hitler in print and in speeches, including one where he called him "Vladimir Hitler."

Ben-Gurion reserved the comparison also for Jabotinsky's successor, Menachem Begin. In 1963, in a letter to author Chaim Guri, Ben Gurion wrote that "Begin is a distinct Hitlerist type" and predicted that if he would ever come to power "he will replace the army and police headquarters with his goons, and rule as Hitler did in Germany."
Begin for his part called Ben-Gurion a Nazi once during the heated Knesset debate over the government's decision in 1951 to accept reparations from the Germans for the Holocaust. As prime minister, Begin kept the Nazi imagery for the Arabs, likening his decision to go after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Beirut to attacking "Hitler in his bunker" and saying in cabinet that "the alternative (to launching the Lebanon War) is Auschwitz."