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Zwi's Journy

by Graham S Morris

On 6 April 1941 Zwi Weinstock then aged 15½ entered Mandatory Palestine from Syria (then controlled by the regime of Vichy France) later to become Lebanon.  From Yugoslavia he had passed through Greece, Turkey and Syria entering Palestine at Rosh Hanikrah.  On that day Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded by Nazi Germany and were overrun within a month.  Neither country was ever the same again. 

Vichy France’s Paris Protocols with the Germans giving the Germans access to military facilities in Syria (including Lebanon) now posed a threat to the British Army in the Middle East and a month later Syria was invaded by the British (with a Palestinian Jewish Palmach unit) and in late July 1941 the Free French were placed in control of Syria and Lebanon whose independence was recognised less than three years later.  The Levant too would never be the same again.

 

In November 1939 Ehud Avriel, a Mossad envoy in Vienna, obtained permission from Adolf Eichmann to take from Vienna by boat nearly a thousand Jews (including Zwi’s mother) mainly from Vienna but also from elsewhere to Bratislava in Slovakia (already a pro-Nazi state) and then to Yugoslavia with a view to proceeding by boat down the Danube via Romania to the Black Sea and then to Palestine.  Zwi joined his mother in Bratislava since he had been living with his grandparents in nearby Nitra where he was studying in a yeshiva.  The boat sailed down the Danube and reached Kladovo near the Romanian border where it was stopped.  Kladovo was a small gypsy village with a winter boat anchorage.  The refugees remained on the boats for some months and in May 1940 went ashore where they lived in a camp.  In September they were moved to Sabac, a small town near Belgrade, where they had a school and a synagogue as well as living accommodation.  Plans were then laid for the teenagers to proceed overland to Palestine. To leave Yugoslavia Zwi needed and had been granted on 22 October 1940 an entry visa to Palestine authorised by telegram from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to HM Consul General in Zagreb, still part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  He would be admitted to Palestine on condition that he undertook a course of study for 24 months.  His certificate for Palestine perhaps formed part of a batch of certificates granted for Youth but not fully utilised.

 

For his journey Zwi needed first a transit visa to pass through Greece.   A transit visa issued by the Hellenic Kingdom of Greece was issued in Belgrade.  This would presumably have proved no problem since the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Kingdom of Greece were still both allies of Great Britain which issued the destination visa for Palestine.  Zwi entered Greece from what is now the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and crossed into Greece to reach Idomeni unknown until 2015 but since then famous as a site for a large refugee camp for migrants from Syria and elsewhere seeking to move northwards.  He would have crossed Greece and entered Turkey close to Edirne, an important city in European Turkey and home of an important Jewish community as well as Doenmeh, the followers of Shabbatai Zvi who had converted to Islam but maintained their identity and customs for three centuries.

 

Zwi’s Turkish transit visa was also obtained in Belgrade.  The Turkish Republic was neutral in the Second World War.  It had accepted some German Jewish refugees mainly academics but later became more nationalistic levying ruinous taxes on its Jewish, Christian and Doenmeh citizens.  In March 1941 the newly arrived British Legation from Sofia was blown up in the iconic Pera Palace Hotel due to German agents having placed bombs in their luggage.  The bombed-out Pera Palace stood as a reminder of how close the war was coming.  German troops were already in Bulgaria and soon to invade Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete.  Eventually through the intervention of the Jewish Agency and the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, Turkey was persuaded to cease requiring transit visas for Jews holding valid immigration certificates for Palestine.  Needless to say after the German invasion of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece and with Romania making life difficult for Jews wishing to leave, transit visas were hard to come by.

 

Finally Zwi needed a transit visa to enter Syria (including Lebanon) from Turkey as the final stage of his journey.  He entered Syria at the border town of Meidan-Ekbes and leaving at Nakoura in what is now South Lebanon.  If you “Google” Nakoura hotels you are shown hotels in Northern Israel near the Lebanese border!  But how did Zwi get his transit visa to travel through Syria?  Since September 1940 and the fall of France French embassies and consulates were controlled by the collaborationist Vichy Regime which had already passed antisemitic laws and was on the way to participating in if not orchestrating the Val d’Hiver and Drancy staging points for Auschwitz.  How did the Zagreb French consulate in Yugoslav Croatia respond to the application for transit visas for Zwi and his fellow travellers through Vichy Syria?  Perhaps bribery helped or just the applicants’ representative found a sympathetic individual in the French consulate who had not been influenced by his new masters.

 

As a result of these transit visas Zwi Weinstock was able to enter Palestine on 6 April, the day Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Greece.  Yugoslavia ceased to be an independent federal kingdom which had been created after the First World War from territories of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Serbia.  After the Second World War it was renamed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia under the Communist Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito who ruled what was an independent socialist (with some private enterprise) state until his death in 1980.  In 1984 on the 40th anniversary of the Liberation Zwi’s sisters and other family members visited Belgrade and saw for the first time their mother’s final burial place with so many others from the Kladovo Group who had been brutally murdered by the Nazis soon after they overran Yugoslavia.  Not long after 1984 the country broke up into six or seven states.

 

Greece too was never the same again.  The Jewish community of Thessaloniki, one of the most important in Europe, was almost totally destroyed with few Jews surviving elsewhere in Greece.  There was a polarising civil war after the end of the Second World War between communist and anticommunist forces with democracy and a republican constitution only being restored in 1975.

 

On that fateful date (6th April 1941) Zwi arrived in Palestine and joined Kfar Hanoar Hadati, an agricultural school (in accordance with the conditions in his visa).  Soon after his arrival in Palestine he wrote to his siblings in England in perfect English which he had started learning in Kladovo. As he explained “I learn here English who was in London and speaks very good English”.  By the time he arrived in Palestine he had lost the German syntax and was writing correct and even stylish English.  In this first English letter from Palestine Zwi asked his siblings if they had received his postcard “I wrote to you from my journey”.  Sadly though understandably it did not arrive at its destination and no one will every know whether it was sent from Greece, Turkey or Syria.  In December 1941 via the British Red Cross in Jerusalem he sent a letter (in German) to his maternal grandmother in Nitra Slovakia (where he had begun his journey) informing her (and his grandfather who had in fact died after his letter was written but before it arrived) that he was now in Landwirtschaft-Schule (agricultural school).  His grandmother replied in January 1942 that Zwi’s grandfather had died on 16 December 1941 and that she wanted him to go to a yeshiva and “keinesfalls Landwirtschaft” (under no circumstances agricultural school).  Zwi had however already made up his mind and became part of the religious Zionist world moving on to Kibbutz Yavneh where he combined agriculture with education and culture, retaining his religious ethos albeit in a new setting.  He was encouraged by his childless uncle and aunt Pinhas and Gittel von Mosel who shared his recently acquired religious Zionist convictions and understood when he found the kibbutz structure too narrow for him.

 

His aunt Chane Hinde recently arrived in Palestine and soon to marry one of the leading ideologues of the religious Zionist movement Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap was a source of encouragement but when he sought her advice on seeking to enter the Hebrew University she indicated her approval but counselled him first to spend a year in yeshiva, probably Hevron.  He decided however to go straight to university while pursuing his yeshiva studies part time.  All this he explained to his siblings in England, this time in a Hebrew letter of elegant construction.  He clearly had a flair for languages.

 

He therefore entered the Hebrew University where he studied Physics and Radio Science with great success.  He joined the Hagana and was in the front line at Yemin Moshe escorting convoys and working on communications equipment.  He nevertheless continued working with underprivileged youth, as he had since entering Palestine.  In November 1947 he left his university studies to concentrate on his Hagana activities.   In April 1948 he volunteered to join a convoy bringing medical and military supplies to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus.  On 13th April (4th Nisan) 1948, he joined Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members and Haganah fighters only to be ambushed by Arab forces.  There were only two survivors and some of those killed in the attack were buried in a mass grave in the Sanhedria Cemetery which had been recently established as the first Jewish cemetery in West Jerusalem.  It is also possible that some were buried by the attackers near the Lions’ Gate in the Old City.  Every year on 4th Nisan a ceremony is held remembering the fallen and a memorial stands in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem between Nashashibi Bend and the Antinous House. 

 

May Zwi’s memory be a blessing for his family and all Israel.

© 2018 by Boaz Albert.

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