From the Political Wilderness to the Asian Jungle: Moshe Dayan in Vietnam

Not long before his appointment as Minister of Defense ahead of the Six-Day War, Moshe Dayan visited the Vietnamese war zone. Israel would end up applying much of what he learned there...

Moshe Dayan accompanies a military patrol in Vietnam, photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection

Lightheaded from the fatigue and the experiences of the long day he had had, Moshe Dayan described the obstacles preventing sleep in the base in the heart of the Vietnamese jungle: “At night I spread a double layer of mosquito repellent on myself. The sleep predicament is two-faceted: mosquitoes and artillery. The artillery guns inside the camp’s perimeter shake the ground and walls with their every shot (especially the 175mm. artillery). Apart from that, you need to pay attention to the distinction between ‘exiting’ shells – artillery guns shooting outward – and ‘incoming’ Vietnamese shells, which explode inside the camp” (August 22, 1966, “Vietnam Diary” by Moshe Dayan).


Moshe Dayan takes a nap on the ground, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


The Minister of Agriculture Seeks an Eastern Adventure

After five years as the Minister of Agriculture, the political career of the most renowned Chief of Staff in Israeli history was going through a bit of a slump. In 1965, he joined the Rafi party founded by his long-time patron, David Ben-Gurion. This short-lived experiment ended in failure; the party, which presented itself as a replacement for the ruling Labor Alignment movement, received only ten mandates in the general elections. Dayan went from being Minister of Agriculture to a junior member of the opposition. He was in desperate need of a new experience, one which would help him realize the zenith of his ambitions: the Ministry of Defense.

A year later, he received an offer he couldn’t refuse: an offer from the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv to fly to South Vietnam and join US forces in the field as a reporter. Dayan’s decision to travel to the war-torn country was criticized from every possible side: his fellow party members saw it as a misguided move, and MK Shmuel Mikonis of Maki (the Israeli Communist Party) challenged his forthcoming journey and claimed that the presence of such a well-known Israeli figure in the middle of a contentious war would damage Israeli neutrality. The Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, dismissed this claim, but he did express puzzlement at what appeared to be a hasty step; he questioned why Dayan did not consult with the government at all before leaving. A heated debate about his trip to Vietnam was held in the Knesset, but Dayan was not deterred by the reactions.

Before boarding the airplane, he explained to a journalist from the newspaper Davar that “This trip to Vietnam does not express solidarity or opposition with America’s actions there. I am travelling to Vietnam to see the political and military aspects of what is being done there, and I believe that there is much that can be learned from my visit.” The series of articles and the diary published over ten years after his trip proved just how right he was.



“M. Dayan Left for Vietnam through Paris, London and Washington…” An article published on July 4, 1966 in the “Davar” newspaper

Dayan travelled from Israel to Paris, to hear from another superpower that had intervened in Vietnam why it failed to retain control of the country. He met, among others, with Generals Luasion and Niko, who served in the region before the French defeat. They expressed opposing opinions on almost every topic. General Luasion chastised Dayan and cautioned that the rebel forces in the north are tired: “And that I am likely to arrive too late: by the time I reach Saigon there will already be a ceasefire between the Vietcong and the Americans.” Luasion attributed the Americans’ difficulty in finishing the war to public opinion, both worldwide and internally in America, which refuses to support the tough steps which must be taken. If it were not for this subversive public opinion “everything could have been concluded satisfactorily – or more precisely: militarily”. General Niko, on the other hand, saw the situation differently. He told Dayan that the air raids must be stopped, and that the efforts should be directed towards obtaining intelligence. The Americans are looking for “a radical action to end the battle ‘once and for all'”, but they will discover that only a prolonged battle will defeat the Vietcong (July 4, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

From Paris, Dayan flew to London to talk with the hero of the Second World War, Field-Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. Montgomery had clear views on the topic of Vietnam. He saw China as the rising power and Communism as a governmental system well suited to Asia. “The Americans are mistaken by wanting to impose their ‘lifestyle’ on others.” Dayan summarized the meeting in his dairy, “We left after two hours, and he parted from me saying: ‘When you return from Vietnam come and tell me what you think and tell the Americans they’re crazy.'” (July 10, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

Dayan flew from London to Washington. Here Dayan could ask the representatives of the U.S. military some piercing questions. He found it hard to believe the claim of the colonel who reported that the Vietcong’s winter attack was defeated by General Westmoreland’s troops. If the ratio of the U.S. army and the North Vietnam forces was really three to one (a claim he heard repeatedly), and the North Vietnam underground were not in possession of “tanks, artillery and above all, have no air force, in contrast to the Americans who have all the above – I find it hard to understand why the Americans did not want to achieve a definitive victory.” (July 14, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

This was the first but definitely not the last time during his two month trip that he was given a pre-prepared answer devoid of logic.


Americanization of the War

Dayan landed in Saigon, the capital city of South Vietnam on July 25th. After dozens of conversations and briefings in various capitals, a festive dinner and off-the-record meetings, Dayan tired of words and demanded to go out to the field. He spent the following day in what he referred to as “a paper zone”. He was issued three different journalist certificates: American, South Vietnamese and Israeli; equipped himself with appropriate army clothing and underwent a singularly unimpressive military briefing from a sergeant who did not hesitate to stress, whenever he was asked a question he did not know how to answer, “that he is only a public relations officer”. At the end of this long day, Dayan received what he desired: he set out to see the war itself.


Crossing a river with the troops, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection

From the very first (daytime) patrol Dayan participated in, he was unable to keep his professional opinion to himself: he told the soldiers and commanders he met that the heightened American patrols in the Delta rivers would not prevent the enemy forces from smuggling weapons and ammunition without stopping every boat, boarding it and conducting a thorough search, thereby paralyzing the trade in the region. The impression the locals were receiving was that the Vietcong was so strong that only reinforcements armed with state of the art weapons would have any chance of subduing it. He suggested a significant reduction of American forces as an alternative “and to position air and sea reinforcements in specific places which can be mobilized by two-way radio” (July 27, 1966 “Vietnam Diary”).

After the maritime tour which included sleeping on an aircraft carrier, Dayan was initially assigned to the 7th squadron of the second brigade of the First Marine Division and later to the “Green Berets”- the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.


The former Israeli Minister of Agriculture in the Vietnamese jungle, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection

Despite his advanced age (he was 51 at the time), his American escorts quickly understood that this one-eyed journalist had seen a battle or two in his lifetime, and could hold his own. He did not hesitate when it came to approaching the frequently-shifting front lines, laying in ambushes, crossing rivers or immersing himself in pools of mud or sweat. “He moves like a worm through hot soil”, one American commander described it. Still, the Vietnamese mud left a deep imprint upon Dayan: “I have seen mud before in my life, we sunk up to our knees in the early years of Nahalal, but I have never seen mud like this before. Mainly ‘thanks’ to the tanks which grind up the ground which is wet from the incessant monsoons” (August 13, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).

American might and arrogance were all around him: the aircraft carriers fighting wooden boats, tanks attacking wooden huts and helicopters relentlessly pursuing two barely armed guerilla warriors. Dayan’s conversations with the soldiers and officers he met left him with a positive impression of their characters: “Liberal, experienced, pleasant and laidback. As individuals – they are ‘gold’. All up to one point: as long as U.S. power is not ‘disparaged’. On this topic, even in a conversation, they are completely inflexible” (July 29, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).



Flying to the battlefield, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


What he saw convinced him that the war in Vietnam was a war of appearances, in which the North Vietnamese were paying a heavy price for their attempt to defy the superpower: “My impression is that they are not currently fighting against illegal immigration to the South, nor guerilla war and not even a war against Ho Chi Minh [the commander of the North Vietnamese troops], but an American war against the entire world. To demonstrate their power and the steadfastness of their decisions to everyone (including England, France, the USSR), to make it known: when the Americans enter the fray – they are undefeatable (July 29, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).


Shaving in the jungle, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


Dayan did not just observe and document the military experience and the battles: he also insisted on trying to understand what the divided country would look like after the military battle ended – assuming it would be concluded to the satisfaction of the Americans. He interviewed soldiers who worked in regional development: assisting in agriculture, helping build infrastructure for schools and the health system. It was from these soldiers that he heard the prevalent prognosis of the American military: it would take decades until the locals would manage to establish a “regional administration which would take the reins into its hands” (August 3, 1966, “Vietnam Diary”).


Dayan eating corn with a local family, a photograph from the Dan Hadani Collection


Dayan did not spare the senior commanders from his criticism: he refused to accept General Westmoreland’s claim that the army’s goal was helping the Vietnamese people. At this stage of the war, America’s objective was the extermination of the Vietcong. “Nothing to do with helping the Vietnamese: simply, an American war against the Vietcong. It does not matter how they reached this point – out of a desire to help the Vietnamese, to uphold the Geneva Agreement, or for any other reason. They will not stop the war at this point, even if the good of the Vietnamese (who decides?) should require it”.

This was not a pessimistic slip of the tongue, Dayan supported the right of a mighty military superpower such as the United States of America to shoot “an artillery barrage at any enemy sniper”. Nonetheless, he deeply opposed what he referred to as “the Americanization of peace. The doctors, teachers, administration, the desire (which stems from good intentions) to teach the children here ‘baseball’, to be ‘scouts’ – is all pointless. Vietnam – like any country – can receive external aid, but not patronage; its progress needs to be organic and independent – through advice and assistance but not dictation and taming” (August 4, 1966, “Vietnam Dairy”).


Dayan’s conclusions were not only published in Israel: his articles were published in the British ‘Sunday Telegraph’, the French ‘Le Figaro’, and the American ‘Washington Post’. The news about Dayan’s arrival in Vietnam was extensively reported in the various Arab countries that feared Israeli intervention in the war. An article published on October 16, 1966

Conclusions to Take Home

Toward the end of Dayan’s stay in Vietnam, he became convinced that the war – which would definitely last much longer – was a lost cause. He estimated that the US Army had the strength to destroy the Vietcong, but would never be able to uproot the support and affection most of the country’s residents had for the North’s battle for independence.

Dayan’s Vietnamese adventure gave new life to one of the most worn out clichés quoted ad nauseum by Israel’s founding fathers – how imperative it is that the State of Israel face its challenges itself. “By the way – in Israel, when we talk about “American involvement” we must know what ‘American military aid’ means: it is not placing the Seventh Fleet under the IDF’s command, but quite the opposite, transfer of Israeli sovereignty to the American troops. In order to maintain an ally’s independence – they first take it from them for safekeeping” (July 29, 1966 “Vietnam Diary”).



“Ho Chi Minh’s path cannot be blocked with bombs” Moshe Dayan’s penultimate article on behalf of Ma’ariv. The article was published on October 28, 1966

Those Good Old New Years!

No matter how you like to celebrate New Year's Eve, somewhere there's a party for you. Whether you prefer to dance to Jazz or lose your mind in Rave, the New Year is coming your way!

As 2017 comes to a close and 2018 is just around the corner, it is no surprise that everywhere you look flyers and posters for parties are popping up left, right, and center.

It may seem a bit absurd for the residents of the Hebrew Yishuv in the 1930s or for modern Israelis in the 1950s and up until today, to celebrate New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December. After all, Jews have their own New Year that is celebrated like clockwork year in and year out. But Sylvester, as New Year’s Eve is commonly called by the locals in the Holy Land, is celebrated every year and New Year parties have been advertised throughout the last weeks of December for decades.

Today, like back in the good old days, you have your pick of party style!

Do you prefer dancing in a Viennese cafe… in Haifa?

A Special Dance at the “Vienna” cafe on December 31st, 1932. From the National Library’s Ephemera Collection

Or are you into a New Year’s Eve at the lavish Dan Hotel in the 1950s? There may still be tables available!

New Year’s Eve at the Dan Hotels. From the Eri Wallish Collection

Or perhaps a 1969 Jazz concert is more your style? Get your ticket now!

New Year eve ball at Z.O.A. House, 1969. From the Municipal Historical Archives – Tel Aviv

And of course, the underground Raves could also be trusted to lure you in, so you could say goodbye to the old year and bring in the new year with a bang!

Street Freedom Rave flyer from 2006. From the National Library’s Ephemera Collection

Happy New Year from everyone here at the National Library of Israel!

“Tropical Zion” Revealed

A rare photo album reveals how refugees from Nazi Germany made the Caribbean wilderness bloom.

Even Hitler was shocked by the lighting speed of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938. The exultant hordes who welcomed Adolf Hitler concealed a terrible truth: opponents of the Nazi regime, left-wingers, and above all – Austrian Jews – began to feel the iron rod of the Nazi tyranny as soon as the occupying forces entered. Thousands of Jews knocked on the doors of the American Embassy in Vienna in an attempt to receive exit visas from the country which had suddenly been annexed to the Third Reich.

11 days after the Anschluss, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the U.S.A., proposed the establishment of a special refugee committee to aid immigration of refugees from Germany and Austria. The President appeared to be interested in a rapid and full solution to the problem of refugees from the expanding Third Reich, but Roosevelt quickly clarified that no country – including the U.S. – can be expected to radically change its immigration policy. This reserved tone cast a cloud of gloom over the committee meetings from the outset until the wording of the final conclusions.

Discussions in the Evian Committee, July 1938. Source: Encyclopedia of America’s Response to the Holocaust

For nine days, from July 9th – 15th of 1938, representatives of 32 countries convened in the Royal Hotel in the city of Evian on the banks of the Genève Lake in France. The representatives raised various claims against raising the quota of entrance visas for refugees: America kept its word and refused to increase the existing immigration quotas (which amounted to 27,370 refugees from Germany and Austria per year), but promised to utilize them fully – something it had not done in previous years. The representatives of the United Kingdom vehemently refused to discuss the possibility of settling the refugees in the Land of Israel. France raised a similar argument, and added that its financial condition does not allow for the absorption of more refugees.

Belgium agreed with the general tone and also refused to raise the immigration quotas. The Netherlands offered to accept additional refugees, but added the draconian condition: The Netherlands would serve as a transit port for the refugees on their way to a final destination. The Australian representative surpassed all other members of the committee with his claim that “As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one”.

Will the Evian Committee lead us to freedom? A cartoon published before the beginning of the Evian Conference’s debates on July 3, 1938

The only country that agreed to take in a significant number of refugees was the Dominican Republic. The representative of the Republic, one of the Conference’s final speakers, promised that his country would allot expansive plots of land for agricultural settlement of European refugees. The tiny country kept its word. And so, two years later, the settlement known as the “Sosúa Settlement” came into being.

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People has a collection which documents the Jewish settlement there, which also includes a photo album depicting the life of the Jewish community in Sosúa from May 1940 – when the first Jewish refugees from Europe began to arrive – until July 1947. The only texts in the album are the words added to the various photographs, but when looking through the album one can have no doubt of its importance.

The first page of the Sosúa Settlement Album

The Sosúa Settlement Album

The city of “Sosúa”, a word which means worm in the language of the island’s original residents, received its name from the nearby Sosúa River. Prior to the arrival of the Jewish refugees to the region and Sosúa’s growth into a city, Sosúa was a tiny village – it was originally the dwelling places of the workers of the banana plantations, and after the plantations were abandoned – the village was used by the island’s wealthy residents as a summer vacation destination.


A stamp issued by the government of the Dominican Republic marking the 42nd birthday of then President Rafael Trujillo

When the Second World War broke out, the dictatorial President of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, transferred the lands in the Sosúa region to the management of James Rosenberg, one of the heads of the “Dominican Republic Settlement Association”.

James Rosenberg, initiator of the Sosúa Settlement
Signing the contract with the Dominican Republic

The first quota the Dominican Republic issued for refugees amounted to five thousand visas. Only 757 Jews managed to take advantage of them. The first settlers arrived on May 7, 1940, from countries bordering on Germany.

The first settlers arrive
The Sosúa beach

Even though the album is a publicity album published by the settling company, the photographs in the album are consistent with what we know about the development of the new community. Many of the refugees understood the need to abandon their previous occupations as doctors, attorneys and other kinds of free professions, and quickly adopted agriculture and farming. Each immigrant received 80 acres of land, together with a mule, horse and ten cows. A cooperative named Productos Sosúa was established in order to market the agricultural produce, milk and meat the settlers produced.

The children receive classes on agriculture
House and garden
The main product of Sosúa
Milking cows
Feeding chickens

The album depicts extensive construction of infrastructures: establishment of buildings, paving roads and dedicated cultivation of the agricultural crops

Work in the vegetable garden
The Surveyor

Construction work
Water infrastructure
Road construction

Though the refugees left the professions they had worked in in Europe behind, they did bring with them the Jewish traditions and culture and adapted them to their new home; they established kindergartens and schools in which the young boys and girls learned Spanish, studied agriculture and celebrated Jewish festivals.

Celebrating Channukah
Dressing up on Purim
A geography class
The kindergarten in Sosúa
Natural immigration in Sosúa

Synagogues and a Jewish cemetery were also established in the city, as well as reading rooms and a general store in the European model.

The synagogue
Reading room

After the Second World War, several thousand Jewish refugees from Europe and Shanghai came to Sosúa. These immigrants are also represented in the album.

Children from Shanghai
The Strauss family from Shanghai
New settlers from Shanghai arrive in Sosúa

Most of the members of the community immigrated to America during the 1950’s and 60’s – settling primarily in New York and Miami. It is estimated that the number of Jews currently living in Sosúa range between twenty and a hundred Jews. The current mayor of the city is Ilana Neuman, a descendant of Jewish refugees who came to Sosúa during the Second World War.

The Jewish Soldiers of the Kaiser’s Army

12,000 Jews were killed in action serving the German Army in the First World War, but Jewish loyalty to Germany was always doubted and questioned.

Jewish soldiers in the German Army celebrate Hanukkah on the Eastern Front, 1916. Photo: Jewish Museum Frankfurt, S. Ajnwojner Collection

Many countries and nations found themselves fighting against each other during the First World War. Spread throughout these countries and nations were the Jews, citizens of their particular locales; they participated in combat and could be found fighting in the various armies throughout the Great War. Jews have always been minorities in their various countries of origin, yet their percentage in the nation’s armies was always higher than their percentage in the general population. In the same token, their efforts in the war were also greater.

German Jewish Soldiers in a Catholic Church in Northern France, Yom Kippur, 1914

Due to the fact that historically the Jewish people were a nation among many, Jews often found themselves in the absurd and tragic situation of fighting each other on opposite sides of the fence. A Jewish soldier would be standing in front of the opposing force, not knowing that a Jewish brother would be an enemy as well. Legends surrounding the meeting of fellow Jews on the battlefield emerged.

Jewish Soldiers in the German Army Radio Unit, 1915

In hand-to-hand combat, Jews were known to cry the “Shema”, which notified an enemy combatant who also happened to be Jewish that their enemy was a brother, and so he would avoid a killing blow. When killing could not be avoided, the utterance of the “Shema” more than once made sure that Jewish enemy soldiers found comfort in each other in death.

A prayer Siddur for Jewish soldiers, Berlin, 1914

The First World War was not the first armed conflict in which Jews fought beside their gentile compatriots, while their enemies included fellow Jews. In the century that preceded the First World War, Jews fought in the armies of kingdoms and Empires from all over Europe. In the New World, Jews could be found fighting for the North and the South during the American Civil War.

German Jewish Soldiers during a Yom Kippur prayer in Brussels, 1915

The Jews of Germany were quick to enlist in the army of the Kaiser, just as their French and English brothers enlisted in their armies. Almost 20% of German Jewry enlisted. Due to the tension between the anti-Semitic and the more liberal attitudes that German society held towards the Jewish people, many German Jews saw the First World War as an opportunity to prove their love and loyalty to their German homeland.

But very quickly anti-Semitic rumors spread about the Jews’ lack of patriotism and their low enlistment numbers. In October 1916, the German Military High Command announced a Judenzählung, “A Jewish Count”, to find out and report if the claims were true. The results of the report were never published and rumors continued unabated. It was in this atmosphere that Otto Armin (whose real name was Alfred Roth) published the so-called report and its results, claiming it proved that Jews avoided enlistment.

Anti-Semitic poster: The Jewish soldier “the last to charge, the first to head home.”

But the anti-Semitic language of the publication reveals Otto Armin’s slanderous intent.

The cover of Otto Armin’s anti-Semitic book “The Jews in the Army”, published in 1919

Jews did not remain silent in light of this libel, and Dr. Jacob Segall published a book loaded with facts and figures regarding the Jewish soldiers of the German Army, going into great detail regarding their feats during the war.

The cover of Dr. Jacob Segall’s book “The German Jews as Soldiers in the War of 1914-1918, a Statistical Analysis.” Published in 1922

Some 100,000 Jews served in the German Army throughout the First World War. 12,000 were killed in action, and no less than 35,000 received medals and accolades.

A German poster in memory of the 12,000 Jewish soldiers that were killed in action

Despite all that, the rumors and doubt regarding the German Jewish contribution to the War effort never really died down and was an essential part of Nazi propaganda, years before the Nazis took over Germany.