The succa and the swastika

The succa and the swasti

Succot, 1936. The newly appointed German consul-general to Jerusalem, Herr Walter Doehl, stood at his office window hung with an extravagantly tasseled swastika banner, and gazed with curiosity at the sight of clusters of bearded Jews, all draped in prayer shawls and resplendent in the styles and furs of late-medieval Poland, entering and exiting a ramshackle foliage-thatched booth on the other side of the Street of the Prophets where his legation was situated, each clutching what seemed to him to be a lemon and a palm frond. "It's one of their festivals - Tabernacles," explained the man by his side, in an almost unintelligible guttural German. "They're coming from their synagogues for schnapps. And they wave those things around when they pray for rain." The man was Ludwig Buchalter, chief of the Nazi Party in the German Colony - a pastoral, red-tiled roofed Jerusalem neighborhood, built by the messianic Templers and studded with monumental stone buildings, statuesque pine trees and picturesque alleyways. Though he had never set foot in Germany in his life, Buchalter looked every bit a Bavarian burgher. The skull of his moon-shaped face was shaved, and beneath his bulbous nose drooped a Hindenburg mustache. He was wearing a short, leather-buttoned, olive-green jacket with rounded lapels, to which a swastika badge was pinned. That day, he was also sporting a Nazi armband. In making this first call on the new German consul-general he wanted to show off his impeccable National Socialist credentials with their subliminal message that he, Herr Buchalter, was largely responsible for Herr Doehl's appointment to Jerusalem. For months he had been exhorting the Foreign Ministry in Berlin to get rid of the incumbent, a Dr. Heinrich Wolff, because "he is married to a woman of Semitic origin." No wonder he was so thrilled at finally being able converse with a fellow Nazi in authority concerning the party's goings-on in the German Colony. And how proud he was to be standing there in that opulent room, with its brass chandelier that hung low from the domed, lofty ceiling, bringing out the shine in the waxed black-and-white tiled floor, and the brilliant hues of the ceremonial Nazi flag draped on the desk next to the silver-framed portrait of a smiling Adolf Hitler shaking hands with an adoring Walter Doehl. In fact, Buchalter was so elated that when he took his leave he executed a cracking click of the heels, a perfectly rigid straight-armed salute and a fervently loud "Heil Hitler," almost colliding as he swung about with the next caller - a Dr. Werner Senator. Senator was a bespectacled intellectual in his early 40s, with the benevolent look of one whose life's work was social welfare. Himself of German origin, he fittingly headed the Jewish Agency's Central Bureau for the Settlement of German Jews, a task that required many dealings with the Nazis. This he found understandably unpalatable, but he rationalized that Moses had had no scruples in dealing with Pharaoh when negotiating the Exodus, so why should he not negotiate with the Nazis to get his people out of Germany? Doehl, tall and groomed, looked extraordinarily spruce in contrast to his pudgy, rumpled visitor, who, on taking a seat, found himself frowning at a wall brandishing a row of close-ups of the Third Reich's leaders in triumphant poses, headed by Hitler. "You like my picture gallery, I see," said Doehl, his face melting into a buttery smile. But this unexpectedly morphed into an angry scowl, and he growled, "What on earth is that din outside?" Both men sprang up to look down through the open window upon a clutch of yelling demonstrators, penned in by two British policemen by the succa booth, and carrying crude placards that read, "Down with Jews who trade with the Nazis," and "The Jewish Agency Transfer Agreement is treason." The consul-general snapped the window shut and, settling into his high-backed leather chair, said sardonically, "I understand the Transfer Agreement is one of your portfolios." "Indeed it is," sighed the Jewish Agency man, taking a seat. "And as you see, it is a source of heated controversy." Indeed, it was. The Transfer Agreement had been negotiated by the Jewish Agency with the Nazis in 1933. Under it, German Jewish émigrés to Palestine were permitted to transfer a proportion of their assets (the bulk had to stay behind) in the form of German-manufactured goods, particularly agricultural and construction machinery, which the Zionist movement needed to build the Jewish national home. Upon arrival in the country the Jewish Agency paid the newcomers for the value of the equipment, minus a percentage dedicated to national enterprises. It was a mutually beneficial trade-off: The refugees were provided with the basic wherewithal to begin life afresh; the Zionist Organization received invaluable equipment for its nation-building program; the Nazi economy, desperately starved of foreign currency, was given a serious boost; and the worldwide boycott of German goods, spearheaded by the American Jewish community, was severely breached. Doehl made a tent of his manicured fingers and said silkily, "I have to tell you, Dr. Senator, that Berlin is in the process of reassessing the whole Transfer Agreement." Senator's heart missed a beat. He sat there observing the Nazi, navigating with his instincts, intuition whispering to him to say nothing until he heard more. "The point is," continued the German, "since we signed that agreement in 1933, time has moved on. When the Fuehrer came to power, our coffers were almost empty, and your American Jews were launching a worldwide boycott of German goods. One of the reasons we made the agreement was to smash that boycott." Senator punched back hard: "Perhaps so, Herr Consul-General, but nobody has lost out on the Transfer Agreement. It has helped you implement your diabolic policy of ridding Germany of Jews. It has helped us absorb them. It has created jobs for your unemployed. It has earned you foreign currency. And, yes, it has undermined the boycott. So why tamper with it?" Doehl's response was gluey with conceit. "Because the Palestine question is of considerable interest to the Fuehrer, and hence, it is under constant review. The Arabs are naturally seeking our active support against you Zionists, but as things presently stand, our Palestine policy remains one of non-intervention. After all, we do not wish to alienate the British when Berlin's long-term interest is an Anglo-German alliance, not an anti-colonial crusade. And as for your Zionism" - this with a shrug - "well, what should I say?" "What should you say?" flared Senator, fists clenched, thinking to himself the whole world was going mad: Hitler in Berlin, Mussolini in Rome, Franco in Madrid, Hirohito in Tokyo. "I should say that the more we push you Jews out of Germany to Palestine, the quicker the Reich will become Judenrein," sneered Doehl. "However, of late, another school of thought has been gaining traction in Berlin." "Another school?" The Jewish Agency man was becoming irate. "Oh yes, indeed. Some are asking the question: Are we wise to continue our policy of Konzentration [concentration], or should we opt now for Zerstreuung [dispersion]?" "Concentration? Dispersion?" "Precisely. Should we continue to encourage you Jews to concentrate here in Palestine, or scrap the Transfer Agreement and disperse you worldwide - expel you from the Reich to as many different countries as will take you in?" "With what purpose?" "To drain Zionism of its hidden intent." "You're speaking in riddles, Herr Consul-General," Senator said. He was utterly appalled. "Am I?" The man placed his palms together in prayer-like contrition and said, "Oh, please forgive me. Allow me to explain. The dispersion school believes that what you Jews are establishing here in Palestine is a power base from which to better mount your international conspiracies - control the press, manipulate international finance, pull the strings of foreign governments, even plot conspiracies against Germany itself." "You're joking. You have people in Berlin who really accept such nonsense as true?" His voice had trailed away in disbelief. The consul-general returned him a fixed look. "Oh yes, indeed. They fear a Palestine that will become the center of international Jewish control; a Jewish state, perhaps, one day - Zionist ambassadors in every capital, inciting against Germany. Are not the strings of international conspiracies always controlled from foreign capitals? Moscow: temple of international communism; the Vatican: arbiter of international Catholicism; Washington: pantheon of international capitalism; Jerusalem: one-day headquarters of Judaic international conspiracies." Abruptly Doehl rose, opened a walnut bookcase, and pulled out a red, leather-bound volume. "This was presented to me by the Fuehrer himself," he boasted, intently flipping over the pages. "It is a ceremonial edition of Mein Kampf. Ah, here is what I'm looking for," and he read out loud: "'Zionism tries to persuade us that the national self-consciousness of the Jew will find satisfaction in the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In saying this, the Jews again try most slyly to dupe us, we, the stupid goys. The Jews have no thought of building up a Jewish state in Palestine to inhabit it as a normal people would. What they really want is a central headquarters for their international trickery, a refuge for convicted rascals, and a high school for future rogues.' "There, you see," said the Nazi. "The Fuehrer foresaw what you Zionists are up to." "And is this now to be the basic Nazi divinity?" asked Senator evenly. Walter Doehl leaned back with excessive nonchalance and gave a reassuring wave of the hand. "For some, yes, but the views of the Konzentration people are still dominant. They argue that better to concentrate you Jews here because in the best of circumstances you are incapable of ever creating a civilized society, let alone a modern state. You're too riddled with racial defects. You have no cultural concept of work, no understanding of the principles of racial health, no intuition for civic responsibility, and as for defending yourselves against the Arabs, you wouldn't know a rifle from a bagel. Hence, your so-called Jewish national movement - Zionism - is a comedy." Then, leaning forward, his square chin flexed and his eyes staring straight into Senator's, he added in a voice acid with scorn, "Moreover, the konzentration school propagates that however many of you reach this country, the Arabs will be waiting for you with their knives. You are fodder for them, and believe me, the English are not going to shed a drop of blood in your defense." As he spoke, a grin of satisfaction spread across his face, and with a sudden slap of his palms, he snorted, "We funnel all our Yids into the meat grinder, and the Arabs mince you up for dog food. So we not only make the Reich Jew-free, we also send the lot of you to Kingdom Come. We get two for the price of one," and he rollicked so hard with laughter that he had to wipe his eyes. "Interesting," said Senator, sotto voce. "You raise an intriguing paradox." He said this with such dispassion it made the German sit up. "Meaning what, exactly?" The Jewish Agency man rose, walked to the window, and said, "You see that flimsy, strange-looking shack across the road?" The German swiveled around and stared at the succa. The demonstrators had gone, but the Orthodox Jews in their round, wide fur hats and other distinctive festive garb were still walking in and out, carrying their ritual four species. "What of it?" "We Jews put one up every year to symbolize the fragile dwellings our forefathers lived in during their 40 years wandering after the Exodus from Egypt." "Really - I'm impressed," spat the Nazi, full of contempt. "It also symbolizes the House of Israel. Fragile-looking though it be, it survives the harshest of gales." "What are you talking about? What sort of drivel is this?" "Not drivel, Herr Consul-General," returned Senator, rising to take his leave, "simple truth. In every generation tyrants whip up deadly storms to cause that little booth to collapse. It never has; it never will. The tormentors are always the ones to perish. It endures! Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Consul-General."