David Ben Gurion Meets Conrad Adenauer in New York, 1960

At the beginning of 1960, Israeli and West German leaders decided that it was time for a certain détente. This took the form of an official meeting between the two head statesmen: David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer

An article from "Davar" journal (March 15, 1960) about the meeting between Ben Gurion and Adenauer

In 1960, just 15 years after the Holocaust, the possibility of a meeting taking place between official representatives of Israel and Germany was not to be taken for granted. The memory of the Nazi crimes and the silence of most of the German population was still very fresh among Holocaust survivors and in Israel society overall. While certain ties had already been forged during the negotiations over the reparations agreement around 1952, reactions among the Israeli public proved that even this realm of contact was unacceptable among part of the Israeli population.

The question of establishing official diplomatic relations between the two countries hovered continually over the formal and informal liaisons. During the signing of the reparations agreement, the German side signaled that it was prepared for such a step, but the Israeli side was reluctant, basing its hesitation on the grounds that it was still too early to go so far as full-fledged diplomatic relations. In the mid-1950s, the positions reversed: Israel was prepared in theory for the establishment of formal relations with West Germany, but the German side was holding back, because of the broader political context. It feared the response of the Arab countries, and in particular, the latter’s recognition of East Germany, which the West German leadership did not want, in keeping with the Hallstein Doctrine; according to this doctrine, the government in Bonn sought to isolate the eastern part of Germany, which it did not recognize as an independent country. Every country that did recognize East Germany found itself in a diplomatic crisis with West Germany. This is the primary reason that delayed the actual establishment of relations with Israel until 1965.

Despite this, at the beginning of 1960, Israeli and West German leaders decided that it was time for a certain détente. This took the form of an official meeting between the two head statesmen: David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer. To this end, the two sides decided that while they were in New York for visits on other official business, they would stay at the same hotel, the prestigious Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Only two floors separated the rooms of the two politicians. Many journalists heard rumors about the planned meeting and waited in the hotel corridors hoping to photograph and report on the “historical moment.” Ben Gurion, who was 73 at the time, decided – as the younger of the two – to go downstairs to the suite of Konrad Adenauer, who was then 84 years old. When the two statesmen met – the socialist Ben Gurion and the conservative Adenauer – it quickly became apparent that the “chemistry” between them was excellent. They enjoyed conversing with one another, and for two hours spoke in a pleasant atmosphere, despite the historical shadow of the Holocaust and World War II. This, of course, was one of the topics they discussed. The fact that Adenauer had not been appreciated by the Nazis (who had deposed him from his post as mayor of Cologne in 1933) was certainly known by the Israeli side, and made both the decision to hold the meeting and the dialogue with Ben Gurion easier.

During the conversation, the two men discussed various topics, such as monetary support for Israel, the provision of arms to the IDF, problems of integrating new immigrants into Israel, the kibbutz movement, and the political situation in the world overall. The positive conversation led to an agreement on financial support for Israel for many years, and ultimately, also to the establishment of diplomatic relations five years later. Upon Ben Gurion’s return to Israel, fierce opposition awaited him from the political right, which viewed any official contact with German representatives as a betrayal of the victims of the Holocaust. In 1965, when the two countries exchanged ambassadors, Adenauer and Ben Gurion were no longer in office as heads of state, but they continued their written correspondence. In 1966, Adenauer came to Israel on a private visit, during which he met with Ben Gurion at Sde Boker. A year later, Ben Gurion traveled to Germany for a state ceremony in honor of Adenauer, who had died at age 91. The first prime minister of the State of Israel thus paid his final respects to the first chancellor of Germany.

The Israeli press intensively followed the meeting between the two leaders in 1960, as well as the topic of relations between the two countries. The newspapers published articles, photographs and also caricatures. One of the leading caricaturists was Kariel Gardosh, known to most Israelis as “Dosh” (1921-2000). His caricatures accompanied Israeli politics and society for many years, mainly in Maariv, but also in published collections of his work. Clearly, the developing political ties between Israel and Germany became a topic of Dosh’s caricatures, such as the cartoon he illustrated following the meeting between Adenauer and Ben Gurion. A careful look at the picture reveals that Dosh had certain reservations regarding the meeting. Dosh himself was a Holocaust survivor, and he lost most of his family members, who were murdered in Hungary. The two characters in the illustration – the Jewish survivor and the former (?) Nazi – seem each in his own way to fail to understand how times have changed.

Source: Dosh Archive, Archives Department, ARC. 4* 1793 07 21

Erich Kästner’s Poems in Hebrew, 1965

Kästner sympathized with the Zionist idea and even visited Israel a number of times. Some of his books were translated into Hebrew already in the 1930s

​For decades, German author Erich Kästner (1899-1974) was one of the best-known German authors in Israel. His international acclaim – his children’s books have been translated into over 40 languages – also reached Israel. His books Lottie and Lisa, Dot and Anton, The 35th of May, and others, met with a large, enthusiastic audience: Hebrew readers, young and old. Due to the sensitive nature of all matters pertaining to Germany, in most of the early translations to Hebrew, names of both the characters and places were changed. Locations in Germany were moved or assigned Hebrew names that transported them far from the geographic reality. Only the new translations by Michael Dak reinstated the original names and places.

In the days of the Weimar Republic, Erich Kästner worked as a journalist and even wrote poems and prose (for example, Fabian, a novel in fragments). His works were burned in 1933, when the Nazis destroyed many books that were not to their liking or whose authors were Jews. Despite the political situation, Kästner remained in Germany during all the years of the Third Reich, but published his books only in Switzerland. The Nazis arrested him a number of times, and in 1943, banned all of his publications, even outside of Germany. After War War II, the author resumed writing in newspapers and continued authoring children’s novels (such as Lottie and Lisa, 1949). Kästner sympathized with the Zionist idea and even visited Israel a number of times. Some of his books were translated into Hebrew already in the 1930s.

Front side of a postcard sent by Kästner to the Israeli writer Moshe Ya’akov Ben Gavriel

Erich Kästner’s works, however, are not limited to children’s books and a few adult novels. Kästner wrote poetry, and also appealed to the general public with the hope that they would read his poems not only on special occasions, but on a daily basis. One example are Doctor Erich Kästner’s Lyrical Medicine Chest, which was published in 1936 by the Atrium Press in Zurich. In this volume, Kästner wanted to provide his readers poems that are suitable to various moods of the soul whose remedies, according to the poet, are humor, anger, apathy, irony, reflection and exaggeration. Kästner viewed these poems as “homeopathic home remedies” for personal use. Kästner even added a user’s guide of sorts that explains which poems should be read for which mood. Here, the reader finds terms such as old age, loneliness, laziness, insensitivity, illness, dreams and more. This collection of poems was very popular among readers, and was even partially translated into Hebrew in a handsome edition published in 1965 by the art press Ekked, but omitting the poet’s “instructions”. Kästner’s poems were translated by Yehudah Ofan, interspersed with drawings by Chaim Nahor. Yonah Coleman created specially-designed font for the poem texts and the books were published on exclusive light-brown paper.

It may be that it is only a coincidence that this translation was published in 1965, the first year of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, but it is also possible that this choice of the poems of Erich Kästner, well-liked in Israel, was intended to acquaint the Israeli readership with an additional aspect of German literature, and in this case, even poetry filled with irony and humor, but that is also thoughtful and deep.

Cover of the Hebrew translation of the Lyrical Medicine Chest, and the first page of the German original volume

Theodor Heuss in Jerusalem

"The Germans must not forget what was done during these shameful years. […] Nobody, absolutely no one, will relieve us from that shame."

Theodor Heuss, Curt Wormann and Elazar Shena'ar heading towards the Library

Fifty years ago, on May 5, 1960, former German President, Professor Theodor Heuss, landed in Israel. Although Heuss was one of thousands of tourists who visited the country that year, his visit was classified top-secret, and his coming to Israel aroused much excitement. What was so special about Heuss that distinguished him from the other post- World War II German statesmen, and what was the secret of his charm, that caused many members of the Israeli public, who still had reservations regarding the new relationship with the “other Germany”, to receive him so warmly?

Theodor Heuss, son of an engineer, was born in 1884 in the state of Württemberg, Germany. He studied political philosophy at Munich and Berlin Universities, and already as a student became deeply involved in political activity. His unequivocal positions, as representative of the German Democratic Party, negated the policy expressed by the National-Socialist Party during the last days of the Weimar Republic. Among the political writings that Heuss published at the time, two of them are of particular note, as they were directed against Hitler. Later, these books were condemned to be burned and Heuss was publicly denounced. During the period of Nazi rule in Germany, Heuss was forbidden from participating in any political or journalistic activity, and he devoted himself to academic work, writing biographies, as well as a comprehensive history of the German of 1848. When publishing articles in the newspapers, he was always sure to use a pen name.

Heuss’s great moment as a statesman came after World War II. In 1948, after he failed in his attempts to establish a pan-German liberal party, he was elected to the position of Chairman of the Free Democratic Party. His respectable character, mild personality and broad education won him the sympathies of many people in the nascent West German Republic. As one of the formulators of the German constitution, Heuss contributed greatly to shaping the face of his country, forced to arise from the ruins and deal with its difficult past. In 1949, and again in 1954, Heuss was elected to the German presidency, and was the first president of the West German Republic. During his two periods of office, Heuess won the respect and affection of many members of the German people.

Dr. Curt David Wormann (right) presenting a manuscript to Heuss
Prof. Heuss in Martin Buber’s house

​In his great wisdom, Heuss understood that an inseparable part of the reconstruction of Germany and its reacceptance into the world of nations depended on its ability to courageously confront its Nazi past. Felix Shinar, Israel’s first ambassador to Germany, wrote in his memoirs that Heuss “expressed the idea of Germany’s inconsolable disgrace in coining the concept of the German people’s ‘collective shame’ about what happened.” In the dedication of the headstone in memory of the victims of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in 1952, Heuss said: “The Germans must not forget what was done during these shameful years. […] Nobody, absolutely no one, will relieve us from that shame.”

Heuss’s courageous attitude regarding the days of the Third Reich earned him the faith of many people, including in Israel, and helped facilitate the thawing of relations with the state, the echo of whose crimes against humanity had not yet subsided. Heuss’s personality therefore helped to bring about the recognition of a “different,” enlightened Germany, a country and culture that many Israeli citizens continued to secretly admire, wishing for the quick opening of a new page in the relations between the two peoples. It is therefore not surprising that Heuss was very warmly received by the Israeli academic elite, many of whose members were German-born. Heuss, the man of letters and culture, understood that a renewed rapprochement between the Jewish and German peoples would not arise merely from financial contracts and diplomatic ceremonies. The building blocks of the relations between Israel and Germany, he believed, would be an open and sincere exchange of view between intellectuals, artists and philosophers from both sides. His visit to Jerusalem, therefore, was one of the heights of a series of meaningful meetings and reciprocal visits, in which ideas in the realms of intellect and culture were exchanged.

Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Akiva Ernst Simon and Samuel Hugo Bergman were Heuss’s official hosts at The Hebrew University, and they delivered moving welcoming addresses at the conference held in his honor on the Givat Ram Campus, at which Heuss spoke about the shaping of democracy. The next morning, the daily newspaper Maariv reported that “There are 750 seats at the Wise Auditorium at The Hebrew University. Over 1,000 people attended, and many remained outside.”

The visit to The Hebrew University brought the 76-year-old Heuss great pleasure, apparently since it was the only event during his long tour of Israel in which the Holocaust was not mentioned explicitly and no questions on the matter were posed to him. During the period when citizens of Israel were waiting for the commencement of Adolf Eichmann’s trial, just a few weeks after his arrival in Israel became public knowledge, the topic of Holocaust crimes was a sensitive and oft-discussed matter. One cannot deny that during this historic visit, among the Israeli populace there were many who vehemently criticized the warm reception that the representative of the German people, the “murderous nation” received.

H​euss, who reported carrying a small notepad with him at all times, in which he drew and expressed his impressions in brushstrokes, shortly after his visit to Israel published a book with statements he delivered in Israel, and words spoken in his honor at The Hebrew University. The text in this book was interspersed with delicate brush drawings of Israeli landscapes that made an impression on him. In August 1960, just two months after his return to Germany, he sent Martin Buber a copy of this book, with a warm dedication. During his visit to Jerusalem, Heuss had made a personal gesture to Buber, visiting him at his home on Hovevei Tzion Street.

The meeting with the heads of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also included a visit to the National Library, which was at the time a university institution. The National and University Library, as it was called then, was poised before an historic transition from its temporary residence in the Terra Santa building to the new building on the Givat Ram Campus. In photographs documenting that visit, Heuss can be seen, a plump cigar protruding from his mouth, inspecting with great interest ancient manuscripts of machzorim from Ashkenaz that were brought to him by then director of the library, Dr. Kurt Wahrman and his vice director, Dr. Yissachar Yoel, both native Germans. Heuss remembered Wahrman from the period when he had been chief librarian of the Berlin-Kreuzberg public library system, during the Weimar Republic.

This important visit, although it took place only at the end of Heuss’s tenure as president of West Germany, was, in the words of Felix Shinar, an important link in fortifying the decisive role that intellectual, scientific and cultural matters have – as eternal values – in solidifying the relations between the two nations

​Prof. Heuss giving a speech in Weiss auditoium. Left: Maritn Buber
​In the room of the Library director, Dr. Curt David Wormann (at the center): the deputy director, Dr. Issaschar Joel, Presents to Heuss a manuscript. Left: Felix Elazar Shena’ar.
​Theodor Heuss’ personal dedication for Martin Buber in his book about his visit to Israel

Photographs: Dr. Kurt Meirowitz (Photo Emka) From the Library Archive, ARC. 4* 793 06 121

First Auschwitz Trial in Germany, 1963-1965

In keeping with the legal interpretation accepted at the time in Germany, there was a statue of limitations on every act of Nazis against Jews and against people with anti-Nazi views, with the exception of murder. Through these documents, it was possible to connect concrete murder cases with concrete people, enabling a legal investigation against the perpetrators.

​Near the small town of Auschwitz (Oświęcim) in Poland, beginning in 1940, the SS established a giant concentration camp, and next to it, an extermination camp as well: Auschwitz-Birkenau. At this camp, the Nazis developed a method of mass extermination in gas chambers, which operated with a merciless industrial efficiency. It is estimated that over one million people were murdered in this camp or died from extreme forced labor while it was in operation. Over 8,000 SS personnel served in Auschwitz, and collaborated in the collective murder that took place over almost five years, until the day the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945. This is the date that was established as a memorial day for Holocaust victims in Germany in 1996 (prior to this there was no such day), and in 2005 – 60 years after the liberation, January 27 became International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

​Over 8,000 SS personnel operated in this largest of concentration camps: this group should have been at the focus of attention of litigators and of the courts after WWII. As long as Germany was not a sovereign country, that is, until 1949, the legal institutions of the Allies tried to bring criminals who took part in the planning and execution of the extermination to trial. These efforts yielded the Nuremberg Trials immediately after the end of the war.

The first commander of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, was sentenced to death by a Polish court in 1947 and hung on the grounds of the Auschwitz Camp that year. Until then he had been one of the only chief responsible SS officers in Auschwitz to be brought before a court.

After the establishment of the two German states, the legal processing of Holocaust crimes was not at the center of attention of the legal authorities or the public in general. The ideology in East Germany dictated that according to the definition of the state as anti-Fascist by nature, there was no need to take responsibility for the deeds of the Nazis, since they were concentrated in the western part of Germany. In West Germany, some members of the legal and economic elite returned to their former posts and saw to it that Holocaust-related topics and inhumane behavior would not be raised for public discussion. For the most part, the citizens of both states accepted this approach without protest.

Beyond this, most of the civilians were busy with reconstructing the devastated country, and dealing with everyday life. Here and there, isolated trials were held against leading Nazis and SS officers, but until the 1950s, most of the public believed that a line had to be drawn at the end of the Nazi period, and that everything in the previous period should be let lie. However, not everyone was of this opinion. Among those opposed to the prevailing attitude were a number of lawyers in the city of Frankfurt, mainly in the Office of the Hessen District Attorney, Fritz Bauer (1903-1968).

A catalogue of an exhibition about the Hessen District Attorney, Fritz Bauer, 2014

In 1959, a former Auschwitz inmate submitted a complaint against one of the SS officers in the camp, a man named Wilhelm Boger. The former inmate identified Boger on the streets of Stuttgart. At the same time, a Frankfurt journalist submitted documents to the District Attorney in the state of Hessen. These documents contained reports of the deeds of Nazis in Auschwitz and mentioned the names of Nazis who murdered prisoners and even the names of their victims.

In keeping with the legal interpretation accepted at the time in Germany, there was a statue of limitations on every act of Nazis against Jews and against people with anti-Nazi views, with the exception of murder. Through these documents, it was possible to connect concrete murder cases with concrete people, enabling a legal investigation against the perpetrators.

The General Prosecutor, Fritz Bauer, who was of Jewish origin but did not define himself as a man of faith (he was a member of the Social-Democratic Party), pushed the investigations forward and transferred them to young prosecutors who were not tainted with Nazi ideology. For four years, these prosecutors collected documents, evidence and testimony, and even relied on collaboration with the International Auschwitz Committee (an organization of former camp inmates), mainly with then chairman of the organization, Hermann Langbein. During the investigation, the prosecutors identified 20 criminals who had operated in Auschwitz, among them, the last commander of the camp, Richard Baer, and the assistant commander, Robert Mulka. Baer died during his imprisonment, such that ultimately, 19 people were brought to trial. During the case, 360 witnesses from different countries took to the witness stand, and trips were even conducted to the site of the camp in Auschwitz, in order to carry out on-site verification of the claims of the accused and the witnesses. The trial went on from 1963 to 1965, and attracted the attention of the media and the public in Germany and elsewhere. Punishments were meted out for 17 defendants, six of whom were given life sentences, and 11 more who were sentenced to 14-year prison terms.

Following the trial, additional follow-up trials were held, all against a smaller number of defendants. In total, in all of the Auschwitz trials in Germany, only 60 defendants were stood trial: 60 out of 8,000. In contrast, in Poland, the number brought to trial exceeded 600.

And yet, in total, no more than 10% of the camp guards in Auschwitz were forced to appear before the court. This number illustrates that the topic was not sufficiently confronted, certainly not in Germany. At the same time, the Auschwitz trials were not a complete failure. Through the testimonies and reports in the German media, many dealt for the first time with the bitter reality of the period of the Third Reich, and did so from the perspective of the Nazi victims. Together with the discussions of cases of anti-Semitism (such as the desecration of the Cologne Synagogue in 1959) and the Eichmann Trial, the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials were a landmark in public grappling with Germany’s past and its ethical obligation towards the victims.

One of the examples of existing interest in the topic, an interest that continues to grow, is the large number of books published beginning in 1965 that deal with various aspects of the Auschwitz Trials. Among these books are analyses of the testimonies and the fate of those criminals who were pursued, materials documenting the trials, publication of sources and also a comprehensive catalogue on the character of Fritz Bauer.

Documentation for the Auschwitz trial, by Hermann Langbein, 1965
The first part of the publication of important sources for the Auschwitz trial, 2013
A monograph in English about the first Auschwitz trial, 2010