Witold Hulanicki was a member of Jerusalem's international community in the last months of the British Mandate. This was a twilight time with no borders and no laws. Diplomats, journalists and secret agents wove a romantic tapestry of plots and intrigues, loyalties and betrayals. Jerusalem was at war with itself, as one of the last British officials in the city wrote.
Hulanicki was the Polish consul. He had come to Palestine in the 1930s, became part of the social scene and was considered a friend of Zionism. This was not problematic: Poland's government was trying to divest itself, at the time, of as many Jews as possible and encouraged its Jewish citizens to immigrate to the Land of Israel.
Among other things, Hulanicki was friends with Avraham ("Yair" ) Stern, the activist in the paramilitary Irgun organization, who later led the breakaway group Lehi. Stern fantasized about recruiting a large Jewish army from Poland in order to expel the British from Palestine. Hulanicki opened a number of doors for him in Warsaw.
Hulanicki also won the confidence of the British, and when Poland sacked him after World War II, he was allowed to remain in Palestine and was even employed censoring letters and administering abandoned property. At the same time he maintained his ties with the Jewish establishment and among other things helped the Jewish National Fund acquire property that belonged to expelled Germans.
On February 26, 1948, a number of young Jewish men came to Hulanicki's home on Metudela Street in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, where he lived with his wife and three daughters. They told him he was wanted by the Haganah pre-state militia for questioning and took him away. He never returned. The following day his body was found in the Sheikh Bader neighborhood, near Romema, alongside that of Polish journalist Stefan Arnold. Anonymous tipsters told the newspapers that they had been executed by Lehi members because of their connections with Arabs.
The upheaval at the time overshadowed the Poles' deaths, which remain shrouded in mystery: Why would the Lehi want to murder one of Yair Stern's friends? Nathan Yellin-Mor, one of the leaders of Lehi, claimed in his memoirs that the younger members killed him by mistake, and said that this deeply saddened and horrified him.
Historians Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University recently investigated the affair and came to a surprising conclusion: Yellin-Mor lied, and the Lehi members knew perfectly well whom they were murdering and why.
Ginor and Remez specialize in studying Soviet involvement in the Middle East, including communist spies in the Land of Israel. The full story of Hulanicki's murder will be revealed at an event held by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in cooperation with the Embassy of Poland. His daughter, Barbara Hulanicki Fitz-Simon, is scheduled to attend. She authored an autobiography that touches on her childhood in Jerusalem, and this will be her first visit to the city since the murder of her father, who is buried on Mount Zion.
About 10 years after her father's death, Fitz-Simon received a letter from a Pole who had also lived in Jerusalem during the 1940s, as the Polish army's spokesman in the Middle East. This man, Jan Szuldrzynski, wrote that shortly before he was killed, Hulanicki told him he had been receiving death threats and asked his compatriot to tell his family the truth: He had been helping the U.S. Secret Service in its anti-communist activity - in the belief that this would serve his own country.
Ginor and Remez say the Lehi members sympathized with the Soviet Union, though not for ideological reasons: They rightly believed that the Soviet Union would support the Zionist movement's aspirations in Israel so as to harm the British during the Cold War. Thus, say Ginor and Remez, Lehi murdered Hulanicki not because he was helping the Arabs, but rather because he was working for the Americans. They did this in the service of the Soviet Union.
This theory was published back in March 1948 in The Economist. Lehi publication Mivrak cited it proudly, without reservations. This publication is the "smoking gun" behind Ginor and Remez's theory. For now, though, the researchers have no explanation for the murder of the second Pole.
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