A true hero – Jewish diplomat
Ehud Avriel – An activist’s diplomatic passport.
The 20th century saw some of the worst violence in modern history being committed. Victims from all races and religions were massacred and hunted. One of the darkest moments in human history can be attributed to the events that took place in that century. And into that century one individual was born into.
Born in 1917 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire as Georg Überall, he was educated into accepting the notion that the right place for a Jew was not in Europe but in its promised land of Israel, then the British Mandate, occupied since 1918. Being active in Jewish youth movements, he had a strong sense and sensitivity to the events that were unfolding in the 1930’s in neighboring Germany. This would all have a personal meaning to him after Germany overrun Vienna in March of 1938.
Ehud found himself working together with the Jewish underground immigration movement known as
“Aliyah Bet”, and working at the Jewish Agency for Palestine Vienna branch. It was frequently visited by representatives from Palestine, and the offices were located close to Adolf Eichmann’s department, known as the “Central Agency for Jewish Emigration in Vienna”, that was run by at least twenty SS individuals, among them Alois Brunner. This office was tasked with the forced emigration of the Jews from Austria, and make all the necessary requirements needed for this task. All passports originating from Austria after the Anschluss can be attributed to have been issued or authorized by this office.
The individual in this article by the end of 1938 was playing an active role in finding methods to ensure travel permits & passports were being issued in larger quantities for those who wanted to leave, and securing the safe passage via neighboring countries to transit through and final arrival in Palestine. Frequent visits to Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, and Bucharest took place right up to the outbreak of World War Two. Meetings with various officials in those cities took place, exchanging of currency and documents, all were needed in order to make sure the poor souls would be able to leave and travel safely. According to his own biography that was published in 1976 “ Open Gates”, some of those individuals were high ranking Nazis who opposed the ‘improper’ means that were adopted in hunting down the Jews. When I read his book, I could not believe, at first, the German individuals that he met, sat with and drove with in order to secure such passage. If his accounts are accurate, then some senior officials were actively aiding in this project and putting their lives at risk at the same time as well!
He managed to flee Europe in 1940, by boat, and arrive safely, to build a home in Neot Mordechai kibbutz. In the 1940’s he was recruited again for the purpose of saving European Jews, and was sent to neighboring Turkey, first as an aid and then as the representative of the Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency in Turkey (1942-1944). The aim was to assist European Jews to arrive in Turkey and from there with the necessary permits to enter the Mandate. This was done together with the cooperation of British MI6 agent Major Arthur Whittall, who was posted as passport control Officer in Istanbul. The Jewish Agency for Palestine (JAFP) worked with various connections on this matter, among them with local police officials and business men as well.
After the war he was active in securing arms and weapons needed by the Jewish local population in their struggle for independence at home, and already in 1946 he was securing such purchases in liberated Europe, mainly in Czechoslovakia. This changed after the establishing of the State of Israel in 1948, were he was sent as senior diplomatic envoy to Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
He was then Minister Plenipotentiary to Bucharest, head of the Israeli legation from March 13th 1950 and returning back home on April 4th 1951. During his missions abroad from 1948 to 1951 he managed to secure Jewish immigration to the newly founded young state.
He was also personal aid to Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and Chargé d’affaires of his office, a post effective from May 1st 1951 to June of 1952. Other posts included general manger to Finance Ministry up to July of 1953, 1968-1972 as head of the World Zionist Congress; diplomatic posts, with the last position as special ambassador to Israel from 1977 to 1979.
He passed away on August 27th 1980.
Every nation has its leaders, heroes and individuals who put themselves last in place in order to serve the better good, serve the people who looked upon them for safety and assistance.
Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.