On September 17, 1948, Count Falke Bernadotte, the first U.N. mediator in the Middle East, was shot to death in an ambush set up by Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, as his car, bearing both U.N. and Red Cross flags, traveled up a narrow Jerusalem street. There, four months earlier, the state of Israel had come into existence and the Holy Land had become a scene of a bloody struggle for control among Jewish factions and the Arab forces that had been sent to assist their Palestinian brethren.
In a fast-moving, riveting narrative, Ms. Marton places the minutely planned and meticulously executed assassination in the context of the continuing struggle over Palestine, still deeply mired today in violence, seemingly an integral part of the "peace process." Of particular interest is the book's central figure, U.N. mediator Count Falke Bernadotte, a nephew of Sweden's King Gustaf V and a great great-grandson of the famed marshal in Napoleon's army who became the first Bernadotte to occupy the Swedish throne. Destined for a military career, Bernadotte had married the asbestos heiress of one of America's greatest fortunes, Estelle Manville, in one of New York's social events of that year.
Starting with Chapter VIII, "A Privileged Youth," where he is described as "coddled, the youngest of five children, in their privileged shelter of the Swedish royal family," at every possible tum Bernadotte is belittled and his works downgraded. We are told that, in addition to a recurring stomach ulcer, he apparently suffered from dyslexia, a common condition in the Bernadotte family "which made reading a struggle for the Count." This disability, plus "a nature not given much to introspection or analytical thinking, produced a weak appetite for literature which never evolved past the Bible and a life-long affection for comics." His world, she further notes, "was closed and seemingly complete within itself." He had "no higher ambition than to be a cavalry officer in the Royal Horse Guards....There was no need for a Bernadotte to change anything, to struggle against injustice or even to be curious about the world."
However, a study of his life shows that he did care deeply about the world around him. In addition to his early interest in scouting and Red Cross work, Bernadotte proved to be passionately concerned with helping his fellow man. Choosing not to take advantage of his father-in-law's international banking contacts, he threw himself into humanitarian work, first in the Red Cross at home and then abroad. Deeply religious, he believed, as he expressed it, that "we have been sent to the world not to be happy, but to make other people happy."
Bernadotte was responsible for the first exchange of 10,000 British and German wounded prisoners of war. In 1943 and 1944, he traveled widely on Red Cross missions across the battered European continent. Where he failed to bring about a German-Russian POW exchange, he succeeded elsewhere. Of 10,000 Danish Jews, 7,500 were allowed to slip underground before the anticipated German roundup.
Assisted by Felix Kersten, a Latvian-born Finn who served as masseur to the ailing Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler, and the Swedish ambassador in Berlin, Bernadotte slipped into Berlin on February 16, 1945, for the first of his four meetings with the Nazi leader. Hinting of possible postwar Swedish retribution were the Nazis to carry out their rumored plan to massacre prisoners as they withdrew, Bernadotte won permission for the gathering of 13,000 interned Scandinavians into two camps to be supervised by Swedish Red Cross workers.
On his return to Germany on March 5, the count, accompanied by 12 white buses bearing the Red Cross insignia and twelve trucks filled with medical and other supplies, collected 2,200 Danes and Norwegians from Sachsenhausen, 600 from Dachau and 1,600 Scandinavian policemen from various German concentration camps, and transported them to Neuengamme camp under Red Cross care. Bernadotte personally participated in these delicate transfer operations in which he faced constant danger from Allied bombing (two bombs actually hit the convoy). In entering Neuengamme, he was the first representative of a neutral humanitarian organization to set foot in one of the Third Reich's death camps.
That April 21, the Swedish count was told by Himmler in their third meeting that the Swedes could take back all surviving inmates. These included the 4,000 Jewish women from the Ravensbruk camp who were placed on a train bound for Sweden. In all, the Swedish count had rescued nearly 21,000 inmates, citizens of more than 20 different countries and about 6,500 Jews. He also had extracted a promise from the Nazi Gauleiter that no Jew would thereafter be executed and that Jews would be treated like others. The day before making this pledge, Himmler had visited Hitler in his bunker in Berlin and could see how close to the end Germany was.
Gen. Walter Schellenberg, the reichminister's right-hand man and head of German Strategic Intelligence, proved to be of invaluable assistance in achieving Bernadotte's goals. Later Bernadotte harbored General Schellenberg in his home, just prior to his going before the Nuremberg Court as a war criminal, and offered aid to the Nazi's wife and son during the six years the general served in prison. The author applies the tarbrush of antisemitism to Bernadotte for these actions, stating: "Of much longer duration would be the damage Bernadotte's heedless friendship for this man caused the Count's good name."
To assist in denigrating Bernadotte, Ms. Marton quotes a disgruntled Swedish diplomat who was excluded from the effort to secure the release of the Scandinavians and the Himmler meetings. Described by the author as "a cynical but shrewd observer," he says of Bernadotte's appointment as mediator: "I feel that this is just awful. We're not talking about a scouting mission here." Regarding the visit of Gen. George S. Patton to Stockholm, Grafstrom's diary reads: "I saw Bernadotte self-importantly [italics added] engaged with the press." On the occasion of the sudden death of Prince Gustav Adolf, the heir to the throne and Bernadotte's close friend and first cousin, Grafstrom writes that Bernadotte's tribute to the Prince "showed that Folke has more heart than brain."
The author's intent in belittling Bernadotte appears to be to minimize the seriousness of the Israeli crime. To help accomplish this, the author insinuates over five pages the charge of Bernadotte's antisemitism as raised by British historian H.R. Trevor-Roper and Felix Kersten. Baldly stating that "no historian of any nationality has found a shred of evidence to support the charge that Bernadotte was an anti-Semite," the author, nevertheless, then introduces in full a May 10, 1945, letter Bernadotte allegedly sent to Himmler that she herself describes as having "an absurdly scurrilous tone, mixing antisemitism ('Jews are not wanted in Sweden just as they are not wanted in Germany.') with treachery, offering advice on how the Nazis could improve their aim on British military targets."
As so frequently in this 270-page narrative, one premise is set forth, and then it is the author herself who destroys this very postulate. She manages, nevertheless, to inject the question of antisemitism, with the Holocaust in the shadows. As British novelist-philosopher George Steiner expressed it, "Any man can say 'Auschwitz,' and if he says it loud enough, everyone has to cast their eyes down and listen, like smashing a glass of Waterford crystal in the middle of dinner.''1
Throughout this book Marton seems bent on making heroes of the Jewish assassins and villains of the assassinated-not solely in the instance of Folke Bernadotte but also with regard to Walter Edward Guinness, Lord Moyne, the British minister of state for the Middle East and close personal friend of Winston Churchill. On November 6, 1944, the minister was struck down by two young Lehi members, the 17-year-old Eliahu Hakim and the 22- year-old Eliahu Bet-Zouri. They had waylaid Lord Mayne as he entered his Cairo home and pumped deadly shots into him.
We are told of the assassins' deep feelings "that we must rule in our land" from which they felt they were being kept by the British. The author also reports that Lord Mayne had frustrated efforts to rescue Hungarian Jews by rejecting agent Joel Brand, who carried a proposal from Nazi henchman Adolf Eichmann calling for an exchange of Jews for trucks. Mayne is quoted as saying: "Whatever, my dear fellow, would I do with one million Jews?" The two youths had been trained by Yehoshua Cohen, Lehi's hit-man who three years later was himself to pump six bullets at close range into Bernadotte. They were apprehended as they tried to escape on bicycles from the scene of the crime, tried in Cairo and hanged in March 1945. But Cohen, like the other principal Lehi conspirators in the Bernadotte assassination, was never caught. Two of them, Mattiyahu Shmulovitz and Natan Yalin-Mor, were given light prison terms and were pardoned after spending two weeks in jail. The latter went from his prison cell to the Knesset where he was sworn in as Lehi's sole representative.
Ironically, Cohen wound up in the Negev's Sde Boker as companion-bodyguard to retired Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who had permitted Bemadotte's slayers to get away with murder.
From the outset Ben-Gurion had known the names of Bernadotte's killers. His Israeli police permitted incriminating evidence, including the bullet-ridden, bloody car of the mediator, to disappear, and the four Lehi conspirators never broke their vows to remain silent about how Bernadotte had been slain, even when Yitzhak Shamir (along with Shimon Peres) took over the country's leadership as successor to Menachem Begin in 1982. Ben-Gurion did crack down on Lehi as the political opposition to his rule, but he left the Bernadotte killers unscathed.
It was Shamir who, by his own admission, had orchestrated Bernadotte's assassination as he had Lord Mayne's earlier, both of which acts he defended: "Reprisals were not acts that called for celebration. They had to be and were part of the payment demanded from us for national survival-but I recall them without apology or regret."
Shamir had begun life as Yitzhak Yezernitsky in the small shtetl of Rozhnoy in what is now Belarus, then part of Poland. Initially a member of Menachem Begin's Irgun Zvai Leumi, he found that group's activities against the British rulers of Palestine ineffectual and deserted to join another defector, Avraham Stem, who had founded Lehi (Lohmey Heroth Israel), "disparagingly" referred to by the British as the Stem Gang.
Stem is described as a "handsome womanizer, a bona fide poet," allegedly a protégé of Dr. Judah Magnes, Hebrew University's first president, who is said to have described him as a "pure, enlightened soul"2 and predicted "a brilliant career for him"-just about as relevant to the Bernadotte murder as noting that Charles Manson was a cute baby.
Verification for the author's historicity rests principally, not with historians or unprejudiced observers but with such Israelis as Lehi informant Baruch Nadel, Israeli Army Liaison Moshe Hillman, Ambassadors Walter Eytan and Abba Eban, and various American Zionists. It was Nadel who told the author: "We warned him [Bernadotte] that we will kill him, and he should have taken it seriously."
Typifying the author's dubious methodology is her account of a live television program in late 1991 in which three of the principal surviving conspirators in the Bernadotte assassination, Israel Eldad, Yehoshua Zeitler and Meshulam Makover, regaled their audience with details of how their guns cut down the U.N. mediator. The studio audience of Lehi veterans and their families cheered "the burlesque imitation of Bernadotte's military posture." Although the author decries this laughter about a murder as "tactless and macabre," she, nevertheless, includes it in her text.
At nearly every tum, there is some direct or oblique reference to Nazis and the Holocaust, oppressive British misrule in Palestine or antisemitism. For example, on three successive pages we find the phrase, "the little death ships," a reference to "the steamers groaning under their burden of ten or twenty times their intended human cargo of Jews" smuggled out of Europe with the help of the Haganah or the Irgun which had broken through the British blockade, only to be kept from landing in Palestine.
To bolster this account of U.K. villainy and serve as further condonation of Israeli terror, we read Arthur Koestler's "Open Letter to a Parent of a British Soldier in Palestine" protesting British action forcing ships to return with their "doomed hysterical load, back to where they came from. The figure of your boy grows smaller; a few years later you hear that he has been gassed at Auschwitz. Instead of Smith, if your name were Schulewitz, it might have happened to you."
Strong emotional stuff undoubtedly! But there is no reference to Koestler's later pertinent comments on the Balfour Declaration, generally adduced as Zionism's legal justification for taking over Palestine:
In the Balfour Declaration, one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third. No second thoughts can diminish the originality of this procedure. The Arabs have been living there for centuries, and the country was no doubt theirs in the generally accepted sense of the word. It is true that the Arabs had vast underpopulated territories at their disposal and the Jews had none; and that the latter claimed to have received that country only three thousand years earlier, from God Himself who had only temporarily withdrawn it from them. But arguments of this nature had never before in history induced an active state of a comparable kind.
In describing State Department opposition in the spring of 1948 to precipitate American recognition of the about-to-be proclaimed State of Israel, State Department Director of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Loy Henderson's "cold logic" is equated to "plain antisemitism." Emmanuel Celler, the congressman from one of the largest Jewish sections of New York city, describes Henderson as "the Arabophile and stripe-trousered underling saboteur." To the author, Henderson's greatest unforgivable crime was his prediction that "if Washington backed the frail new state of Israel, there would be nothing but decades of trouble and 'the rise of fanatic Mohammedanism."' Today's continuing violence and terror in the region, virtually destroying hopes for the peace process, proves exactly how perspicacious Henderson indeed was.
Again, the book's recital of events following adoption by the United Nations of its 1947 Palestine partition resolution reveals additional selective and distorted historicity. After the U.N. plan had been adopted and violence had broken out everywhere in the Holy Land, the Truman administration reluctantly concluded partition was not implementable. Hence, at the Security Council on March 19, 1948, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Warren Austin announced a new proposal calling for the suspension of the partition plan in favor of a temporary trusteeship over Palestine. This action, the book alleges, "stunned President Truman." The author asserts: "Austin had not cleared his speech with the White House." From Margaret Truman's biography of her late father she pulls out this presidential quote: "The rug has been pulled out from under me."
However, State Department documents, contained in the same volume the author cites as her source (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, Volume V, The Middle East, South Asia and Africa), conclusively prove that Truman had earlier authorized the full content of Austin's speech announcing the drastic change in U.S. policy to trusteeship, as well as the precise procedure to be followed by the ambassador at the United Nations.
It was the unfortunate timing of the announcement that had infuriated Truman, causing him to overlook that in February he had given his approval, with the strong support of Secretary of State George C. Marshall, to the change. Only the day before Austin delivered his speech, through the efforts of Eddie Jacobson, Truman's former partner in their unsuccessful haberdashery business, Israeli President-to-be Chaim Weitzman had been quietly slipped into the Oval Office where the president pledged anew his support for partition and promised immediate recognition of Israel.
At a frenetic May 12, 1948, meeting at the White House attended by Truman, Marshall and State Department officials, the two sides battled over the wisdom of prematurely recognizing Israel as proposed by presidential aide Clark Clifford. Marshall, decrying the proposal as an utterly crass domestic political maneuver, declared that if this course were adopted and if he voted in the forthcoming election, he could not vote for the president.
Marton quotes Marshall as calling immediate recognition of Israel a "pig in a poke" and a "doublecross of the United Nations." However, a close examination of the same official document cited by the author3 reveals that these were never the words of the secretary or even of Undersecretary Robert Lovett. Rather, these were the words used by Clark Clifford in summarizing Marshall's opposition to recognition and were quoted as such by Lovett in his "secret" May 17, 1948, memorandum contained in the official State Department records. Three days before Israel declared its state on May 15, Secretary Marshall had even warned that a truce between the embattled Arabs and Israelis must precede recognition. Achieving this was the difficult task assigned to Folke Bernadotte after Israel came into being. Truman had overruled Marshall. Eleven minutes after Ben-Gurion spoke in Jerusalem, the United States became the first country to recognize the new Israel.
The book without exaggeration can be said to be an apologia for the most outrageous Israeli acts, ranging from the murders of Lord Moyne and Bernadotte through even the 1993 slaughter of 29 Palestinians kneeling at prayer in Hebron 's lbrahimi mosque. Israeli victims invariably are accused of antisemitism and of having threatened the "bitterly earned independence" and "survival of Israel."
The author denies this charge, claiming her book is simply an effort to put "in perspective the mad dance of violence in which Arabs and Jews have been locked for over a half century." The final evidence that this book is nevertheless first and foremost such an apologia can be found in the tone employed throughout, a good example being the last two pages of the final chapter. Here, we read of a memorial ceremony in a park on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl where Lehi survivors gathered to mark the forty-seventh anniversary of the hanging of the two "martyred" Eliahus, the slayers of Lord Mayne. They pray, joining together in reciting from the melancholy hymn of Stern's Anonymous Soldiers:
We are men without name, without kin
Who forever face terror and death,
Who serve our cause for the length of our lives -
a service that ends with our breath.
We dream of the time when our people and land
By freedom and peace will be blessed.
The author leads off her epilogue with this quotation from Dr. Ralph Bunche, Bernadotte's Nobel Prize winning assistant and successor: "I would like to fly to Stockholm in his former plane...just to place some flowers on his grave." But she closes her book on an entirely different note, shifting from sentimentalizing Bernadotte to glorifying his assassin by noting the "realization of Avraham Stern's dream of reclaiming the whole of the Golden City as Zion's capital" and quoting Moshe Dayan's 1967 address to his fallen comrades at the burial of Israel's 1948 casualties on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives:
We have not abandoned your dream nor have we forgotten your lesson. We have returned to the mountain, to the cradle of our people, to the inheritance of the Patriarch. We have returned to Hebron and Shechem [Nablus], to Bethlehem and Anatol, to Jericho and the fords of the Jordan at Adam Haiir. We have returned never to be parted again....
The author fails to include similar Dayan sentiments expressed two years later, more nakedly revealing Israel's expansionist dogma:
Our fathers had reached the frontiers which were recognized in the Partition Plan. Our generation reached the frontiers of 1949. Now the six-day generation has managed to reach Suez, Jordan and the Golan Heights. That is not the end. After the present ceasefire lines, there will be new ones. They will extend beyond Jordan-perhaps to Lebanon and perhaps to central Syria as well.4
On the very last page of the epilogue, Bernadotte is described as "a Swedish aristocrat, seemingly aloof and indifferent [in Marton's eyes alone, not to the hundreds he saved from the Nazis] who would serve as a convenient symbol for all that was wrong with the world's treatment of Jews."
Shamir adds to the apologia: "Reprisals were not acts that called for celebration. They had to be and were part of the payment demanded from us for national survival." Ms. Marton repeatedly affirms this glacial pragmatism in sharp contrast to her Jack of the slightest expression of empathy for the Palestinian refugees who were forcibly exiled from their homes although in 1948 they constituted 66 percent of the population.
Where Bernadotte is sharply criticized for his friendship with Nazi General Schellenberg, Stern is excused for his attempt at collaboration with Hitler. In a letter delivered to Nazi agents in Vichy-controlled Beirut, the Lehi leader proposed cooperation between the Jewish underground and "the new Germany" in "evacuating Jewish masses from Europe to the homeland of the Jewish people, the land of Israel."
The Nazis never responded to the proposal which, however, was defended by Lehi's Barach Nadel: "Hitler was the guy with power-he's the landlord."
On the subject of this overture to Hitler, Shamir's pragmatism again came to the fore: "What was, was justified. We believed in what we did. We believed in what we said, spoke and wrote. Therefore, it was right."
The seminal event in the struggle over Palestine was the April 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin, the tiny village at the entrance to Jerusalem, which was carried out jointly by the lrgun and Lehi. Arthur Koestler described it as the "psychologically decisive factor in the spectacular exodus of Arab refugees" while to Israeli President Chaim Weizmann it provided a "miraculous simplification."
An admixture of maximum myth-information, misinformation and non-information marks the author's recital of this massacre. Her version: "The attackers, unhinged by the Arabs’ surprisingly stubborn resistance, unleashed a random orgy of killing and looting. The mutilated bodies of the men, women and children lay strewn in grotesque heaps in the terrorists' wake....When we drove through the poor neighborhoods of Jerusalem with our trucks filled with Arab prisoners from Deir Yassin, people applauded us as we passed."
Her story was based largely on the account of her principal source, Nadel, who explained that these were "frustrated Israelis who had wanted to fight for Jerusalem but were held back for too long. So they exploded at Deir Yassin." According to her page 29 note, Marton also learned about the massacre from Hebrew University Professor Joseph Heller and Haganah Capt. Moshe Hillman, the Israeli army liaison. This note adds: "There is also relevant material on the subject in Larry Collins’ and Dominique Lapierre's O Jerusalem, pages 284-285."
O Jerusalem is regarded by historians to be the authoritative source on the massacre. From that book, pages 275-79, Harry Levin's Jerusalem Embattled, Polk, Stamler and Asfour's Backdrop to Tragedy and the account of International Red Cross representative Jacques de Reynier, A Jerusalem Un Drapeau Flottait Sur la Ligne de Feu, we obtain a vastly different, and exceedingly more graphic, picture of what actually took place at Deir Yassin: "Two hundred fifty-four5 women, children and old men were killed, and most of their bodies thrown down a well....Bit by bit, Deir Yassin was submerged in a hell of screams, exploding grenades, the stench of blood, gunpowder and smoke. Its assailants killing, then looting and finally they raped....the daughter of one of the principal families of Deir Yassin declared that she saw a man shoot a bullet into the neck of my sister Salhiyeh, who was nine months pregnant. Then he cut her stomach open with a butcher's knife."6
The vast majority of the men were absent because they worked in Jerusalem, so there was the most minimal resistance. Further, we are told that "none of the men died with a weapon in their hands.''7 Previously the village had lived in peace with the Jewish suburbs surrounding it and had actually driven out some Arab militants at the cost of the mukhtar’s son.8 "Surviving men and women including the mukhtar and his family were stripped and paraded in three open trucks, their hands over their heads, up and down King George V Avenue, where they were spat on and even stoned."9
One can only conjecture as to what prompted the author to wander at this time into the early days of the stricken field of Palestine by presenting her version of the Bernadotte slaying 45 years after the fact. Her earlier Wallenberg book revealed her deep devotion to Zionism which is clearly evident in this book as well.
At a time when the peace process is in disarray, Holy Land violence at new heights and Jerusalem up for grabs as it increasingly becomes an American domestic presidential campaign issue, the question of who are and who are not the terrorists and why they behave as they do is most pertinent to the molding of world public opinion. Perhaps, in order to cover up Israel's Achilles heel, Marton believes it wise to present her own version of the terrorism that has beset Israel from the outset of its creation.
Her citing extenuating circumstances for the behavior of her two heroes, Stern and Shamir, such as their humble beginnings and their deep passion for Israel, is in sharp contrast to her belittling of Bernadotte and her callous dismissal of the Palestinian refugees. Their fate was of the greatest concern to Bernadotte, which he expressed after visiting Ramallah: "Never have I seen a more ghastly sight-excited masses shouting with Oriental fervor that they wanted food and to return to their homes.''
In four places, Bernadotte is described as "naive," three times as being "ignorant of history" and as "a stranger to the region.'' This is by way of responding to the Bernadotte Plan which dared prescribe internationalization of Jerusalem, decried by Marton as "unthinkable and undo-able" for Jews "with their mystical attachment to the Holy City." The mediator's attempted demilitarization of the city had been earlier rejected by the Israelis.
However, it is clear that any lasting peace based on justice and equality between Arabs and Jews, in the opinion of this writer, must have as a major component an internationalized Holy City, which belongs equally to the three monotheistic faiths. Such a solution, following the prescription of the original 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, points the only road ahead if we are to even begin to approach the so-illusory peace. This will undoubtedly require the courage and perspicacity of a Folke Bernadotte, who gave his life in an effort toward accomplishing this. Unfortunately, today there are too many, like the author, who insist that we constantly look back over our shoulders and dwell on the Holocaust in deciding the rights and wrongs of current Middle East strife.
The author is a brilliant writer and excellent raconteur. These talents combined with her interesting personal history-daughter of Hungarian Jews, former wife of ABC anchorman Peter Jennings, present wife of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke--ensure that A Death in Jerusalem will reach a wide audience, which is regrettable as the book is far less about a death in Jerusalem than it is about upholding the impunity granted a country because the world has so long persecuted its people. In this diabolically clever book, Bernadotte has been assassinated a second time.
1 George Steiner, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1980), p. 114.
2 Gerold Frank in his book The Deed, a dramatic depiction of the assassination of Lord Moyne, where the slaying is portrayed as necessary for Jews "to gain their ancestral home."
3 Volume V of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, Part 2 at p. 1005.
4 Published in the Israeli weekly, Ho'olam Hazeh, as reported in The London Times, June 25, 1969.
5 Number supplied by de Reynier, who was on the scene.
6 Collins and Lapierre, op.cit., p. 275.
7 Collins and Lapierre, op.cit., p. 279.
8 Levin's Jerusalem Embattled.
9 Collins and Lapierre, op.cit., p 279.