Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Power of a Word (or Two): How a Mistake in the Pope's Telegram Aroused Hopes in Israel, 1964

The holdings of the ISA contain millions of documents, mostly consisting of the written word. These documents show how important  wording can be, and how much can hang on the exact word or phrase. This is even more true in diplomatic documents, where weeks are sometimes spent on refining a formula. Diplomatic telegrams are usually succinct, and every word counts. Here is an example of a small change in a telegram which caused a major diplomatic commotion. It was sent after the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in January 1964, the first visit by a reigning pope. At that time, before the Six Day War, many of the Christian Holy Places were in Jordan, and the Pope visited both Jordan and Israel.

We covered this subject recently in our exhibition at the Foreign Ministry, "The Revealed and the Concealed". Although defined as a private visit, the Israeli authorities hoped that it would bring about an improvement in Israel's difficult relations with the Vatican, which had not recognized the state. In addition, like many other countries, the Vatican did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital (see more posts about the status of Jerusalem here and here).

 President Shazar welcoming Pope Paul VI at Megiddo, 5 January 1964.
On his right is  Prime Miister Levi Eshkol.
Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office  
At first it seemed that their hopes had been realized. The pope met with Israel's president, Zalman Shazar, at Megiddo on his arrival from Jordan, and at the Mandlebaum Gate crossing into East Jerusalem. The Israeli ambassador in Rome, Maurice Fischer, summed up the visit as a great success. Although the Jordanians had protested against Shazar's mention in his speeches of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the Vatican had brushed off these complaints. On his way back to Rome Pope Paul sent Shazar a telegram of thanks through the control tower at Lod Airport, which began with the words: "To his Excellency the President of Israel, Mr. Zalman Shazar, Jerusalem." There was great excitement over this formula, which seemed to show that the Vatican recognized Israel, and Jerusalem as its capital. The fact that the telegram was signed "Pope Pius 6" instead of Pope Paul did not set off any alarm bells in Israel. Shazar's aides were delighted and sent a copy of the telegram to all the media.

But the satisfaction in Jerusalem did not last long. By the following day it became clear that the text of the telegram was incorrect. It was the staff at the control tower and not the Pope's aides who had written the address. In a telegram to Fischer, the deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry explained the mistake and added the correct version as supplied by the Vatican. Here the opening sentence was addressed to "his Excellency the President, Mr. Zalman Shazar, Tel Aviv." Fischer proposed to protest to the Vatican officials that the president was insulted that the Vatican had chosen his capital for him, but on reflection thought better of this cynical remark.

Fischer's correspondence with the Foreign Ministry is in File MFA 217/13 and can be seen on our Hebrew blog. The writer of the post there, who was a child at the time, vividly remembers the excitement of the Pope's visit and the elation surrounding the telegram, soon to be followed by disappointment – all because of two words.

 The Vatican finally recognized Israel in 1993. In February 2014 Pope Francis visited Israel on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul's historic visit. Below you can see a video clip about Pope Paul's journey posted by the Vatican.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

More Tales from the Vienna Woods: Villa Moeller, Part 2

After we published the post on Villa Moeller last week,  Mr. Yoel Sher, the Israeli ambassador in Vienna from 1995 to 1998, sent us a short article with more details about the history of the house,  also describing his experiences of living and working in this unusual building. Below we bring you some extracts from the article, translated into English. 

The story goes that Adolf Loos, the architect who built Villa Moeller, lived with Hans Moeller and his family for three months in order to learn about them and their preferences, and planned the house accordingly. They would have been very happy there if it were not for the Germans, who annexed Austria in 1938. The Moeller family, whose relatives had already founded the ATA factory in 1934, decided to immigrate to Palestine.

During the war the commander of the Gestapo in Vienna lived in the house. After the war it was returned to Moeller, but he was so angry about the demand to pay city taxes for all the years of occupation and war, that he no longer wanted it. He gave it to the state to serve as a home for Israel's representatives in Vienna, at first at consular level.  In 1955 the four occupying powers decided to leave and signed an agreement by which Austria became independent again, on condition that it remained neutral between East and West. Israel recognized Austria and sent an ambassador to Vienna.
,Ambassador Sher presents his credentials in a snowstorm in Vienna, December 1995
  accompanied by the Austrian head of protocol. Photograph: Yoel Sher, private collection
Israel's representatives in Vienna continue to live and work in the house even though it is not very convenient. Since it was built by Loos, it is a listed historic building, and not even a nail can be knocked into the wall without permission from the department of preservation of the Vienna municipality. The small dining room, for example, cannot be enlarged to make it suitable for official entertaining.

Hans Moeller was an amateur cello player and liked to invite people to musical evenings in his home. Loos planned a raised dining room which served as a stage, with stairs without a railing down to the living room. Many ladies have sprained or broken their legs trying to walk down the stairs in high heels. 

As well as the straight lines of the exterior, Loos' style included built in furniture which is fixed to the walls, such as sofas which cannot be moved or replaced. Not very practical!

 . View of the dining room, Villa Moeller
Photograph: Wikiarchitectura

The house is in a suburb off the main road, and busloads of architectural students from all over the world come to see and photograph it. They would very much like to see inside, and it's a pity the embassy can't let them in and charge admission fees. Some ambassadors have tried to persuade the Vienna municipality to turn it into an architectural museum and to give the embassy a more suitable home. In the face of municipal bureaucracy and delays, the three years of their posting come to an end and they pass on the responsibility to the new ambassador …. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Villa Moeller in Vienna: Solving a Historical Puzzle

Sometimes our work in the ISA doesn't concern national issues or peace treaties, but it is no less fascinating for that. Many requests to us for documents relate to land ownership and property transfers, which are of great importance to the people concerned. Here we tell how long forgotten files helped to solve a historical puzzle about a house owned by the state of Israel in Vienna.

At the beginning of October we were approached by Ms. Talya Lador-Fresher, who was about to take up her post as Israel's ambassador to Austria. She wanted information about the early years of Israel's relations with Austria, established on consular level in 1949 while the country was still under Allied occupation. For some reason she was particularly interested in the residence of the Israeli representative in Vienna. When we met, she explained that she had heard in the ministry that the house was given to the state by Hans Moeller, who owned it before it was confiscated by the Nazis.  Moeller belonged to a family of Jewish industrialists from Bohemia which founded the famous ATA textile firm near Haifa. He tried to get the building returned after the war, but the municipality of Vienna demanded a large sum in unpaid back taxes….In frustration, he decided to give the house to the state and let the Foreign Ministry deal with it. Talya was looking for proof of the story.

Hans Moeller in his office at ATA,  1962. Photograph:Wikipedia
One of the people who told her about the building was the ex-ambassador to Vienna, Mr. Yoel Sher, who used to work at the ISA. He told us that he had tried to find evidence here whether the Israeli government actually paid the taxes, but without success. This was another question we wanted to answer. 

Villa Moeller in Vienna. Photograph: Wikipedia
A quick check on the Internet revealed that the house, known as Villa Moeller, is well known in the history of architecture. It was designed by the important Modernist architect Adolf Loos in 1928, according to his theory of Raumplan. Loos said in 1930: "My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). I do not design floor plans, facades, sections. I design spaces. For me, there is no ground floor, first floor, etc. ... For me, there are only contiguous, continual spaces, rooms, anterooms, terraces, etc. Storeys merge and spaces relate to each other." The exterior, a white cubic façade, displays Loos' theory in his 1908 essay, "Ornament and Crime", in which he criticized decorated surfaces. He wanted to distinguish between the outside, where the view could be seen by the public eye, and the inside, the private spaces of those who lived there. In contrast to the simple exterior, the interior was decorated with comfortable furniture and marble and wood surfaces.
The interior of Villa Moeller today. Photograph: Talya Lador-Fresher
 From our experts on the Archives catalogue and on Foreign Ministry documents we learned that every embassy or legation abroad has a file on legal matters. Sure enough, in a file marked "State property abroad: Vienna"(MFA 1836/17) we found a note from December 1950 stating that the house was given to the state by Hans Moeller, the owner (at that time manager) of the ATA firm. The state had paid 45,000 schillings, a good deal of money at that time, to clear outstanding debts. So it seems that the back taxes were paid! According to another document, from September 1954,  the villa consists of 13 living rooms, with bathrooms, store rooms and balconies. The file also includes a copy of the Austrian land register. 

The house was in a poor state and needed extensive refitting. The first Israeli consul in Vienna was Dr. Kurt Daniel Lewin and, according to his successor, Arye Eshel, he saw his appointment as temporary and did little to deal with the problem. On his arrival , Eshel wrote a long letter to the Foreign Ministry (File MFA 2515/4) describing the situation. In his words, the building was a "magnificent shell with an interior which resembled a room in a  kibbutz hut". The large garden was a field of thistles, and the staff quarters had been occupied since 1945 by the family of a Viennese Communist  persecuted by the Nazis. Eshel warned that even after renovation upkeep of the house would be very expensive, and added wistfully that a furnished 4 room apartment would cost no more than 2,000 schillings per month, especially as the "future of the country and the city are lost in the mist." Despite the austerity in force in Israel in 1950, the Ministry decided on the renovations.
 The garden of Villa Moeller today. Photograph: Talya Lador-Fresher
Post war Vienna, which was divided into Soviet and Western zones, was a centre of espionage and intrigue. Alongside the more mundane subjects of restitution of Jewish property and commercial relations with Austria, the Israeli consulate also dealt with ties with Eastern Europe and efforts to help Jews from these countries get to Israel, sometimes using smugglers and black marketeers  reminiscent of  the characters in the famous film The Third Man, which was recently re-released.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Revealed and the Concealed: A Joint Exhibition with the Foreign Ministry

Today the Israeli Association for Diplomacy will award this year's Prize for Israeli Diplomacy to Mr. Shimon Peres, Israel's former president. To mark the occasion, the Israel State Archives is taking part in a joint exhibition called "The Revealed and the Concealed". The aim is to show the diplomatic activity "behind the scenes" of some of the big moments in Zionist and Israeli history. It starts with Theodore Herzl, who founded the Zionist movement but was an unsuccessful diplomat, and ends with more recent achievements of the Foreign Ministry, such as Israel's association with the OECD in 2010. It includes a selection of historical documents, mostly from our holdings, together with photographs, caricatures and other  visual material.

Today is also the anniversary of the dramatic vote on 29 November 1947, when the UN General Assembly decided to partition Palestine and to set up a Jewish and an Arab state.  The vote was close, and the representatives of the Jewish Agency  made tremendous efforts to mobilize every possible friend to influence the wavering UN member states. Here we present two documents on this subject which didn't make it into the exhibition.

Below Chaim Weizmann, who was ousted from the presidency of the World Zionist Organization in 1946 but still enjoyed great  prestige in the US, appeals to President Harry Truman to intervene 
personally to influence countries which planned to abstain. 
Telegram courtesy of Yad Chaim Weizmann, the Weizmann Archives, Rehovot

Among the countries mentioned was Ethiopia, whose emperor, Haile Selassie, had lived in Jerusalem after being
deposed by the Italians. Here we show a cable to Haile Selaissie from Lorna Wingate, the widow of Major Orde Wingate, a great friend of the Zionist movement, appealing in the name of her husband for Ethiopia's support. Wingate, a brilliant and innovative leader of special forces, led the Gideon Force of British, Sudanese and Ethiopian troops, including some members of the Haganah who had served with him in Palestine. Wingate helped to restore the Emperor to his throne in 1941, but was later killed in Burma. The cable is in File MFA 2206/9. 

.Orde Wingate (right) with Hailie Selassie and another officer in Ethiopia. Wikimedia

Lorna Wingate's appeal went unanswered and Ethiopia abstained in the vote on 29 November. But a majority of 33 nations voted in favour of the partition resolution, with 13 against and 10 abstentions. In December 1947, Moshe Shertok, the head of the Political Department of the Agency who had led the struggle at the UN, gave warm praise to the members of his team, who had worked together in harmony and with total devotion to the cause. "I saw many delegations of states [at Lake Success]" said Shertok, "large states and small, large delegations of large states which included several important members, experienced statesmen with a whole staff of advisers, with huge offices……I am sure not only that our delegation was not inferior to theirs, but that no other people had such a group of workers. "

The decision on 29 November paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel on 15 May 1948. Shertok became the foreign minister and changed his name to Sharett, and many of his staff became the nucleus of Israel's Foreign Ministry. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Jubilee of the Israel Museum, 1965-2015

This week, the Israel State Archives and the Israel Museum released a joint publication (in Hebrew) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the museum, which was opened on May 11, 1965. The museum is Israel's national museum and holds one of the largest collections of art and archaeology in the world.

The publication includes 39 documents (three in English--4, 18, 26; one in French--18; the rest in Hebrew), and tells the story of the building of the museum with assistance from the U.S. government. (This was why it was called "the Israel Museum" rather than "the Jerusalem museum"; the U.S. opposed Israel's extension of its rule to Jerusalem.) The publication also describes the decision to build in the Neve Sha'anan neighborhood in Jerusalem, the process of building, and the inauguration of the museum.

In the first year after opening, the museum saw more than 570,000 visitors, out of a population of 2.5 million, in 1965.

The publication includes photographs, architectural plans, a model of the building built by architects Alfred Mansfeld and Dora Gad, and movie clips.

Here are some photographs from the opening of the museum, courtesy of the government press office's national photo collection:
P.M. Levy Eshkol speaking at the opening ceremony of the Israel National Museum in Jerusalem (David Ben Gurion can be seen seated in the center, on the right side of Eshkol) / Moshe Pridan 

Chairman of the acting board of governors of the Israel Museum Mr. Teddy Kollek speaking at the opening ceremony of the museum in Jerusalem / Moshe Pridan 
Mrs. Rachel Shazar, President Shazar's wife, cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the Israel National Museum in Jerusalem. To her right, Mr. Teddy Kollek and Mr. Propes. / Moshe Pridan
Baron and Baroness (R) Edmond de Rothschild looking at a 5,000-year-old ornamental copper object from the Chaleolitic period found during the excavations of the Bar Kochba caves in the Judean desert / Moshe Pridan
Deputy Defense Minister Peres and his wife visiting the Israel National Museum after the opening ceremony / Moshe Pridan 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The 40th Anniversary of the UN Resolution Equating Zionism with Racism

Today, November 10, 2015, is the 40th anniversary of one of the United Nations' lowest points: United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism. The resolution was one of the many efforts (and one of the successful ones) of the Arab world and the Eastern bloc to isolate Israel and have her expelled from international organizations such as the United Nations.

The resolution is also remembered for the powerful speech after the vote by Chaim Herzog (the Israeli Ambassador to the UN and later Israel's 6th president), equating it with the Kristallnacht pogrom – exactly 37 years before – and his famous act of tearing up the resolution.

Here a short movie clip on Herzog's speech:
And here is the text of the speech.

Three years ago, we published a post on the resolution, Israel's efforts to block it, and the country's reaction after it was passed.

In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 4686 "revoking" resolution 3379 and virtually annulling it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Yitzhak Navon, Israel's Fifth President 1921-2015

Yitzhak Navon, who was president of Israel between 1978 and 1983, passed away on Saturday and was buried in Jerusalem today. He had a long and varied career, starting as a junior diplomat in Montevideo, in Israel's first representation in Latin America, and later in Argentina. He served as the secretary of Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, and then as the secretary of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
Yitzhak Navon with Israel's minister to Uruguay, Yaacov Zur,  and Mrs. Zur in Montevideo, October 1948.Photograph:  Hugo Mendelsohn, Goverment Press Office 

Yitzhak Navon and David Ben-Gurion reading the Bible, April 1956.
Photograph: Government Press Office

In 1963 Navon, then head of the Culture Unit in the Ministry of Education, headed the campaign to eradicate adult illiteracy in Israel, about which we wrote here.

Afterwards he followed Ben-Gurion into the Rafi party which later merged with the Labour Alignment. He became a Knesset member in 1965 and later served as deputy speaker of the Knesset. During his term as president the peace treaty with Egypt was signed, and he made an official visit to Egypt. During his stay, President Navon visited among other places, Sadat's birthplace at the village of Mit Abul Kum. In Cairo, at his request he addressed the members of the ruling National Democratic Party, as President Sadat had addressed the Knesset in Jerusalem.

President Navon and President Sadat in Mit Abul Kom, 29/10/1980
Photograph:Yaacov Saar, Government Press Office, 

 In his speech he expressed disappointment at the pace of the normalization process. "In times of war, we need a Supreme Command for War . In times of peace, we need a Supreme Command for Peace", to be made up of writers, teachers, scientists and psychologists to deepen and implant the hold of peace among the peoples of the two nations. President Navon  also spoke of the shared roots and aspirations of Jews and Muslims and of his grandfather who left Morocco for the Holy Land after a dream of the prophet Elijah, 

Navon ,who grew up in a distinguished Sepahrdi family in Jerusalem, spoke fluent Arabic which he had learned from his neighbours. He also wrote two popular musical plays in Ladino. He refused to serve a second term as president and returned to politics, serving as minister of education between 1984 and 1990.

Letter from a Jewish child in Australia to President Navon
Israel State Archives