Celebrating the heroes of the fight against fascism—Palestine-Berlin underground (Second of two parts)

By Hans Lebrecht, People's Weekly World, 11 November 1995

TEL-AVIV—In May 1937, after receiving my diploma I became unemployed and had no hope of work in my profession. So I turned to my underground friends, volunteering for real and active anti-fascist activity. They told me to go to the Palestine Bureau in Berlin, Meinecke St. 10, and ask to meet a certain Berthold (I forget the family name). He would advise me about a possible further underground career. I was astonished, since the Palestine Bureau was the headquarters of the Zionist organization in Germany and I never even thought of becoming a Zionist, or emigrating to Palestine, but had many, sometimes quite heated arguments with Zionists at the time.

Berthold told me I had to get a good cover in addition to being a son of a well-known bourgeois industrialist. So they thought to make out of me a trustworthy Zionist. In fact, the Nazi regime and the Gestapo cooperated at the time to some extent with the Zionists, mainly out of their common strategic aim—to relieve Germany of as many Jews as possible. At that time, the Nazis had not yet designed the Endloesung, the physical annihilation of German and European Jewry.

Berthold and some young women comrades who secretly worked in the Palestine Bureau for the Communist Party and its underground sent me in September 1937 to Palestine as a guiding instructor of a Youth Aliya (Zionist Youth for Palestine) group of about 50 youths aged 9-14. I remained in Palestine for about four weeks, spending most of the time with my already then beloved girlfriend, and later my lifelong companion Tosca, who was already in Palestine, after which I returned to Germany as a recognized Zionist youth instructor.

Back in Germany, I was sent to be secretary of a small group of young prospective Zionist settlers on a preparatory professional course to learn agricultural labor, working on a large farm in southern Germany, not far from the Austrian and Swiss border. I knew the region well from previous hiking and skiing trips on both sides of the border.

When there was no other job to do, I milked cows and raised calves and piglets. Sometimes, after a coded telephone message, I had to go to town, officially to attend to matters of the Zionist group. In fact, I was engaged in smuggling people and money across the green border, the men and women to join the German Thaelmann Battalion, fighting with the Spanish Republicans against the fascist onslaught of Franco and their Italian and German collaborators upon the legal republican regime; the money went to finance the battalion.

Among the people I smuggled over the border were not a few who succeeded in escaping from Gestapo detention and even from concentration camps. On the way, after we were safe across the border, I heard many a story of the horrible fate of the detained and tortured opponents of the Hitler regime. I relayed these reports back to my superiors in the underground. I believe that I did a small, but important job against the Nazis, strengthening somehow the revolutionary anti-fascist forces that fought against the inhuman fiend with arms in their hands. I wished I could be one of them—but my orders were to do my job here, on the underground home front. Retrospectively, I think I was not aware, or did not care too much about the dangers to my person, or that of my comrades-in-arms, by doing my clandestine job. All that was against the hated Nazi regime, was good and worthwhile for me.

After about 10 months, I was warned that the Gestapo had issued a warrant for detaining me and two other of my fellow activists, and that most probably their men were waiting for us in the border region. We were instructed to stop immediately our activity. I was ordered to leave the farm and await further orders.

I left the farm and traveled to Nuremberg to contact my superiors in the underground. Our standing order was, in case of danger to our activity, to travel to the southern French port Marseilles and there to apply to the recruiting office of the International Brigades in Spain. But at the time—autumn 1938—the Franco hordes already had overrun the republican army, and the International Brigades crossed into France and demobilized. So our standing order became obsolete, and I did not know what to do. After some deliberations, I was advised again to turn to my friends at the Palestine Bureau in Berlin who would provide me with an entrance visa into Palestine for three months as a tourist. I was quite glad to leave Hitler's fascist Thousand Year Reich and had no intention to return to Germany, except after the elimination of the Nazi specter.

Right after the nationwide November 1938 anti-Jewish pogrom, during which 91 Jews were killed and tens of thousands were gravely injured and incarcerated in concentration camps, nicknamed by the Nazis as Kristallnacht as if only glass and crystal was broken during that pogrom, the German Communist Party (KPD) was the only force in Germany proper that published, and widely distributed as clandestine leaflets, a declaration under the headline: The Disgrace of the Anti-Jewish Pogrom. In it, the KPD condemned the pogrom and warned that this was the opening signal for an aggressive war against the nations of Europe and an all-out mass murder of Jews. I left the Nazi Reich just a few weeks before that infamous pogrom.

After Hitler's starting the war in Europe, and especially after the German invasion into the Soviet Union, I tried to join the British army to fight Nazi Germany, but was rejected because of my record of having spent (1940/41) some time in the British colonialist Central prison in Acre, Palestine, as a sympathizer of the outlawed Palestinian Communist Party, and because of a chronic dysentery (I am still suffering from), I had contracted in jail.

The prison where I met for the first time Jewish and Arab Communists face to face, was a good educational experience that convinced me to join the Party as an active member. I was arrested by the British police for being an illegal immigrant, a tourist who overstayed his residence as tourist in Palestine for two-and-a-half years. However, during the interrogations at the Haifa headquarters of the CIC (the British Intelligence), the interrogators knew very well about my activity in the Communist underground in Germany, as well as my connections with the British Communist Party. So, after I paid my symbolic fine of one shilling (almost worth a day's work at the time) for being an illegal immigrant, I remained detained under suspicion of being a Communist. Shortly after the release from prison, I joined the Palestinian Communist Party.

After Hitler's army invaded the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), Great Britain and the Soviet Union became allies in the war against Nazi Germany. Following this, the Palestinian CP went into the open, to continue, now legally, the 20-year common Arab-Jewish struggle against the oppressive British colonial rule in the country.

From 1929 to 1939, the British colonialists, often in connivance with the Zionist leadership and the Zionist trade-union Federation Histadrut, deported more than 2,000 Jewish Communists from Palestine to the countries they emigrated from in Europe, among them also Nazi Germany. So if I have been detained earlier, it may well be that I would have been deported, too—may be even back to Hitler Germany.

During the war Tosca and I found many left-wing comrades in the British army. In May 1945, we were invited by British friends to a victory celebration to the Royal Air Force base near Petah-Tiqva. We were favorably surprised to find that only in front of the base headquarters the British colors, the Union Jack, was hoisted and a picture of King George hung over the entrance, while almost all other barracks were decorated with red flags and pictures of Stalin. The Soviets, led by Stalin, had been the main victors in the war and suffered the greatest loss in Europe, our friends explained.

I am sorry and upset that now, as an active member of the CP and the progressive peace camp in Israel, I still have to fight fascism. I am currently a member of the leading bureau of the International Federation of Resistance Fighters. The fight against neofascism in Europe and throughout the capitalist world continues. This includes against the fascist hoodlums in Israel who attempt to torpedo the peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.