An exceptional German

After several years of battling a deadly disease, Otto von der Gablentz passed away last month in Amsterdam.

otto van der gablentz 88 (photo credit: )
otto van der gablentz 88
(photo credit: )
After several years of battling a deadly disease, Otto von der Gablentz passed away last month in Amsterdam. He spent seven years as the German ambassador in the Netherlands and gained the friendship of numerous prominent Dutchmen. Following his nomination in 1990 to serve as ambassador in Israel, some of these Dutchmen sent word suggesting I make his acquaintance. They might have mentioned to him that I had served in Holland and maintained close relations with them thereafter. I had no reason to regret following their advice. When we met for the first time in Israel, I astonished him by saying that I knew his father. How come, he asked? I told him that I read the extraordinary volume of Letters to Freya, a unique collection of letters that Helmuth James von Moltke sent to his wife between 1939 and 1945. The book was published in English that year and the name of the ambassador's father was often cited in these letters. I discovered that his father was an outstanding member of the covert anti-Nazi group called the "Kreisau Circle" headed by Helmuth von Moltke. VON DER Gablentz was not indifferent to those in Israel or the Netherlands who manifested awareness of his family's anti-Nazi record. His commitment to Israel and to Jews in general, and his profound devotion to the democratic European heritage and to Western liberal values were evident far beyond the official German posture. In fact, I often felt that his loyalty to Europe was a kind of insurance policy to resist past ruinous eruptions in German history. He would have liked his service here to last longer than the normal two or three years, but his government was looking for an outstanding ambassador to head the embassy in Moscow, and von der Gablentz was chosen. Those were the years of turmoil and chaos in Russia and of a massive flow of Jewish immigrants to Israel. Von der Gablentz was deeply aware of the historical significance to Israel as a state and to many of us individual Jews, who were deeply moved by what was happening. It was clear how genuinely he wanted us to know that he would be willing to help. Otto's widow told me the other day that the Portuguese Jewish Synagogue in Amsterdam had approached her saying that it would be a great honor for it to hold a memorial service for Otto on his 77th birthday this October. She responded positively, revealing that before his death her husband had told her to invite two of his close Israeli friends if a memorial was held in Holland - a former Israeli ambassador in Germany and a former ambassador in Holland. This link was very important to him, and I know his family would like to keep it alive. The writer is a former diplomat.