Grapevine: A murder that remains a mystery

The assassination of Polish consul in J'lem Witold Hulanicki and head of Polish Press Agency in J'lem Stefan Arnold continues to provoke the curiosity of Israelis.

By
December 13, 2011 22:09
Ron Prosor and his son Lior

Ron Prosor and his son Lior 131. (photo credit: Courtesy of the Foreign Ministry)

■ ONE WOULD think that with all the wars, crimes and scandals in which Israel has been engulfed over the past six-plus decades that a double unsolved murder that took place in 1948 would not excite too much attention in December 2011.

But the assassination in February, 1948 of Polish consul in Jerusalem Witold Hulanicki and head of the Polish Press Agency in Jerusalem Stefan Arnold continues to provoke the curiosity of Israelis old enough to remember the incident as well as of scholars of Polish, Soviet, British and Israeli political history. While the assassination is known to have been carried out by Lehi, few people, if any, know the identity of the gunman, though it is presumed that he received his orders from Yehoshua Zettler, who was then the commander of Lehi. What remains a mystery is the identity of the person who gave Zettler the order or who supplied him with false information.

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What remained an even bigger mystery for a long time was why Hulanicki, who was a good friend of Lehi founder Avraham Stern, would be abducted and killed by Lehi of all groups. In later years, Lehi leaders admitted that it had all been a tragic mistake. Israel Council on Foreign Relations Executive Director Laurence Weinbaum first came across the Hulanicki story some 25 years ago when he was doing his doctorate at Warsaw University.

At that time he thought that a terrible wrong had been done to a friend of Zionism and the Jewish people and that this wrong had to be addressed. Weinbaum, who also edits The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, was electrified when he learned that Truman Institute Research Fellows husband and wife team Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez had taken up the case and happily published their research in the IJFA. But he wanted to go beyond that.

He discovered through Ginor and Remez that Hulanicki’s daughter Barbara, who had supplied them with documented evidence that corroborated some of their findings, had never returned to Israel after she was forced as a child to leave the country. The bereaved family had gone to London where Barbara grew up to establish the famed Biba fashion empire. She had never visited her father's grave on Mount Zion and Weinbaum thought she deserved closure. He approached the Polish Embassy to see if they could help in facilitating Barbara’s “homecoming.”

Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak- Miszewska said that she would try.

The upshot was that Barbara Hulanicki, who had spent much of her childhood in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, was present with her son Witold, named for the grandfather he never knew, at the lecture delivered this week at Agnon House by Ginor and Remez in her father’s memory.

The event was extremely well-attended by both foreign and local journalists, some of them plying the researchers with many questions afterwards. Also present was Yair Stern, who was born after his father, Avraham Stern, was killed by British Mandate authorities. Yair Stern said that his mother had told him about his father’s friendship with Hulanicki, but it was not until a few years ago that he learned that Hulanicki had been murdered.

When he asked the Lehi leaders, who were still alive at the time, why such a tragedy had happened in view of the warm friendship between Hulanicki and his father, he was told that it had been a terrible mistake. Now there is no-one left to tell him who pulled the trigger and why. For Barbara Hulanicki, the fact that her father was murdered was a traumatic enough experience. To learn that it was a mistake was even more painful.

If someone were to hypnotize a researcher by the name of Renatia Robinson, part of the mystery might be solved. During research that she was doing some years ago, a man in a book shop told her that he could put her in touch with Lehi people who could tell her who pulled the trigger on the Polish consul. Once approval from Zettler was obtained, she met the assassin, who told her that he would kill her if she ever revealed his name. He frightened her to such an extent that she is no longer able to remember his name, even though he is dead and can no longer harm her. “But if I saw it,” she said, “I would recognize it.”

■ “HE SPEAKS Hebrew better than we do,” exclaimed Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov in astonishment. He was referring to Japan’s ambassador designate Hideo Sato who will this morning be one of five new ambassadors to present their credentials to President Shimon Peres.

Sato last week hosted a reception in honor of Emperor Akihito’s 78th birthday, which will actually be on December 23.

The eloquent Sato, speaking flawless and accentless Hebrew and English, astounded his guests with his command of both languages and switched seamlessly from one to the other paragraph by paragraph as he explained that the Imperial House of Japan is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world.

Sato also referred to the $300 billion worth of damage caused by the horrendous earthquake that struck his country earlier this year causing 15,840 deaths, 3,529 people unaccounted for and 300,000 people losing their homes.

There are new daily challenges and the nuclear danger is not over said Sato, who thanked Israel for sending an emergency medical team and showing solidarity and support. Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and Israel, Sato noted. The two countries have accumulated many bilateral achievements, but much more remains to be done, he said.

Miseszhnikov, who represented the government, lauded Japan’s resilience in the face of disaster and said “Japan is an inspiration to us all.” Miseszhnikov expressed appreciation for Japan’s ongoing contribution to the promotion of peace and stability in the region, and its help in building the civil and economic capabilities of the Palestinian Authority, specifically within the framework of the “Peace Corridor” project in Jericho.

During the singing of the anthems, both Sato and Mitsuhiko Shinomiya, the counselor at the Japanese Embassy, sang Hatikva. This is Sato’s fourth stint in Israel, but Shinomiya has been at the embassy for 18 continuous years. When it was pointed out to him that in gematria (the system assigning numerical values to words and phrases), 18 is equivalent to hai, which means life, Shinomiya had an additional meaning for hai. In Japanese it means “yes.”

Also among the guests were former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his wife Aliza. Given the way that ambassadors were lining up to introduce themselves to Olmert at Sato’s reception, one might think that he was still in office. Everyone wanted to shake his hand and to talk to him and his wife. The diplomatic turnout also included Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Rada, who has not been seen at many such receptions in recent months.

■ MISEZHNIKOV IS one of the most frequently seen ministers at diplomatic receptions. Even though he was not representing the government per se, he was also present at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv where Kazakhstan Ambassador Galim Orazbakov was hosting a reception in honor of the 20th anniversary of his country’s independence. The Israeli government was represented by Religious Affairs Minister Yakov Margi, but National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and other ministers also attended.

Former minister Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer was one of several individuals to be awarded a medal from the government of Kazakhstan for their efforts in promoting relations between Israel and Kazakhstan, which will next year be marked by numerous 20th anniversary celebrations in both countries. Among the other honorees were MK Fania Kirschenbaum and Kazakhstan Honorary Consul Daniel Luxemburg.

Margi read his speech in Hebrew and an English language translation was subsequently read by Shlomo Morgan of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department.

When Kirschenbaum received her medal, she said there was no need for a translator and dashed of a couple of sentences in Hebrew and Russian. Orazbakov emphasized that in the short period since Kazakhstan became a sovereign, secular and democratic state, it has become economically strong “and a true member of the world community.” To date, it has established diplomatic relations with 139 countries and has attracted more than $130 billion in foreign investments. Per capita income has exceeded $9,000, and according to indicators Kazakhstan is among the 50 most competitive states in the world.

Kazakhstan, which seeks and actively promotes peace in the world, on gaining independence closed down one of the largest nuclear weapons test sites, near Semipalatinsk, and voluntarily renounced the world’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal.

In this way Kazakhstan made an invaluable contribution to the nuclear disarmament process.

Kazakhstan convened the annual Conference on Interaction and Confidence- Building Measures in Asia. Today 29 countries, representing almost half of the world’s population, participate in its work. Presidency in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010 and in the Organization of Islamic cooperation in 2011 are among Kazakhstan’s most significant achievements.

Margi, who has been to Kazakhstan, could testify not only to its political and economic achievements but also to its religious tolerance and the leading role that it plays in interfaith dialogue and understanding. He mentioned the high regard in which President Peres holds Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whom he has met several times and has invited to visit Israel. Margi also noted that immediately after establishing diplomatic ties with Kazakhstan in 1992, Israel opened an embassy in the former capital of Almati and has since moved it to the new capital, Astana. For its part, Kazakhstan was the first Central Asian country to in 1996 appoint an ambassador to Israel.

■ WHO SAID there are no free lunches? Judging by the turnout at the Kenyan 48th Independence Day luncheon hosted at Herod’s hotel in Tel Aviv by Kenya’s Ambassador Lt.-Gen. (Rtd.) Agostino S.K. Njoroge and his wife Margaret, there were an awful lot of people enjoying a free lunch at the expense of businessman Shlomo Grofman of Faire Fund (First Israeli American Real Estate Fund), who sponsored the event. In expressing appreciation to people who made the event possible, Njoroge also mentioned David Fattal, the part-owner of Herod’s who last Thursday inaugurated yet another hotel in his Leonardo stable, this time in Rehovot. As far as is known, this is Rehovot's first hotel, which may account for the fact that Rehovot Mayor Rahamim Maloul dubbed Fattal “King David.” The mezuza was affixed by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in the presence of leaders of Israel’s business community and tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov, who is the darling of the hotel industry for all that he is doing to encourage the building of new hotels and investment in existing hotels.

But back to the Kenyan celebration at Herod’s Tel Aviv: All the food islands were covered with cloths resembling the Kenyan flag, and there was also a cake that was frosted in the red, green and black stripes of the flag. The trunks of orange trees in the center of the long dining room were festooned in red, green and black satin. Transportation and Road Safety Minister Israel Katz tore himself away from important Knesset sessions in order to come to Tel Aviv to congratulate Kenya on its special day, but did not stay long enough to make a speech because he had to hurry back to Jerusalem for a vote. The very fact that he took time out to make the two-directional rush journey is indicative of the esteem in which Kenya is held by Israel.

When any of the ambassadors of African countries host evening receptions to mark their national days, both the men and the women come in traditional attire. This time the men wore business suits and only a few of the women came in the strikingly patterned colored outfits that demonstrate national pride. Even fewer wore the magnificent headdresses that add a sense of nobility to their appearance.

Referring to the “common heritage” of Kenya and Israel, Njoroge said that both had been subjected to British colonial rule and that “independence was hardwon and not granted.” In paying tribute to the freedom fighters of the two countries, he said that regardless of whether they were Hagana or Mau Mau, both wanted to have a homeland of their own, to live freely and to determine their own future without interference. The ambassador extolled the virtues of his country both from a tourist and a business perspective, and urged Israelis to visit and invest. He was also happy about the high-profile exchange visits between the two countries, noting in particular the recent visit by Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga to Israel and the upcoming visit to Africa by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. ”Africa is the continent of future economic engagement and Kenya is the gateway,” he said.

■ LIKE FATHER, like son – well, almost.Lior Prosor is not a diplomat like his dad or his grandfather, who was also a career diplomat, but the eldest of the three sons of Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, has certainly spoken out on Israel’s behalf.

At his farewell upon leaving London, Prosor, who is widely considered to have one of the best envoys that Israel sent to the Court of St. James, sang Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way.” He’s still doing it his way in the Big Apple and beyond.

Father and son joined forces as a diplomatic duo when both were key speakers at the first double-digit celebration of the StandWithUs organization, in which both have been active for years. The ambassador launched the organization’s activities in London, and during Operation Cast Lead Lior was a member of two delegations that worked to restore Israel's good image. Standing on stage before some 1,000 people at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles this week, Prosor, gazing with fatherly affection at Lior, said: “When I look at my son this evening, I am proud of the next generation and know that they are well prepared for the journey ahead. I have been in the business of Israeli diplomacy for more than 25 years and I can say to every one of you tonight that this work has never been more important.”

■ ISRAEL’S POPULATION growth is among the highest in the world. Much of it comes from immigration, but in certain sectors of the population there is a relatively high birthrate. In both the haredi and the Arab sector there is a tendency to marry young, which to some extent accounts for increasingly large families in that people in both sectors are often grandparents before they reach age 50.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s population, which currently stands at around 7.8 million, will more than double by 2059. It could reach 20 m., but is more likely to hover around 16 m. A high birthrate will not be the only factor affecting Israel’s demography.

Although it is unlikely that there will be mass immigration from the United States, which has the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel, no-one knows what changes may take place in America between now and 2059 that could prompt Jews to pack up and leave. The most salient factor other than birthrate is longevity. People in Israel are living much longer than they used to and are also remaining active for much longer than before. This is most obvious in the entertainment industry where there are many septuagenarians, but also quite a few octogenarians such as Miriam Zohar, Hannah Meron, Orna Porat, Leah Koenig and Shmuel Atzmon, to name a few

■ FORMER PEACE Corps volunteer Elana Rozenman, who in Israel is active in a number of interfaith projects and organizations including TRUST, of which she is the Israel representative, was told by veteran interfaith activist Esther Golan that TRUST had been operating for 10 years and that there ought to be some kind of celebration. Rozenman who hails from the United States, put the idea to the people in charge of the American Center in Jerusalem. They were enthusiastic and provided their premises for this week’s tri-lingual celebration with the participation of Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Christian women whose veterans have formed a warm sisterhood.

Rozenman said that she had expected about 30 people but more than 60 turned up. On display was a healing quilt made some years ago by Jewish, Muslim and Christian women in Jerusalem, plus other quilts made by people who had been inspired by the healing quilt. A piece of fabric that may become the background for yet another quilt was placed on the table by Libby Bergstein, who initiated the first quilt. She invited the women to draw peace pictures and symbols and write peace messages.The bus-load of Druse women who had come from the north of the country immediately got to work, followed by the others.

The peace messages were written in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Armenian, though there were also women present whose mother tongue was German.

Among the participants from abroad was Greta Holtz, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near East Affairs in Washington, who made a brief speech in Arabic that was greatly appreciated by the Muslim and Druse women, who didn't mind the heavy American accent.

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