Shimon Peres, who said this week that in his youth he dreamed of being a "poet of the stars," was for years the man most Israelis loved to hate, more than any other politician. But when Peres said that as president, he would continue to dream, he found himself enveloped by tremendous love. It is hard to remember a time when so many Israelis loved any politician. Peres apparently hit on just what Israelis have been missing more than anything in these dreariest of times: a common dream and a faith in the return of spring, just as he said.
Along with Dimona, Entebbe and Oslo, Peres nurtured a series of dreams that, had they become reality, would have changed the face of history. Today, Peres could be making a presidential visit to Israeli Guiana, where France once ran a notorious penal colony (to which Alfred Dreyfus was exiled).
One day Peres met someone from French Guiana (then a colony and now an overseas department of France), and this person told him that the place would be better off if Israel ruled it. Peres was enthused by the idea. He proposed to his friend Jacques Soustelle, the French minister of overseas colonies, to lease the sparsely populated Guiana to Israel for 30 or 40 years, and he told David Ben-Gurion about it, too. The prime minister recorded the proposal in his journal: "the colonization of a Jewish majority (let's say, 40,000 Jews) and to establish a Hebrew state as an Israeli holding." This was in March 1959.
Peres sent several experts to Guiana; upon their return, they reported to the government about the possibilities. The ministers, they of little faith, thought the idea was crazy. Peres was right, of course: What a dream country Israel could have been today if the settlers had only taken their imperialistic impulses to Guiana instead of the West Bank.
Not to mention that if all of Peres' proposals had been accepted, the Six-Day War would never have broken out at all, and Israel would not have conquered the West Bank. Peres opposed the war. A few days before it began he proposed that it be averted by means of a nuclear test: The Arabs would be frightened off, Israeli deterrence would be rehabilitated, there would be no need to attack Egypt. Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan rejected the idea.
The conquest of the West Bank began, of course, following a Jordanian assault on the Israeli section of Jerusalem, but had history proceeded in accordance with Peres' vision, King Hussein would not have attacked Jerusalem, because a few years earlier Israel might have "appointed" in his place another king, an Israeli Arab - this, too, according to a proposal from Peres that Ben-Gurion recorded in his journal. One day, perhaps, the journals of Peres himself will be made public and historians will have a real celebration.
Who was the camp whore?
Press photographer Paul Goldman achieved fame because of two pictures: one of David Ben-Gurion doing a headstand, and one of a woman revealing an inscription in German tattooed on her chest - "camp whore" - along with a number. Evidently, she was a Jewish woman who was forced to serve the Nazis as a whore in Auschwitz. Her face is not visible in the photograph. For several years, some have claimed that the photo was staged, and the claim was recently raised again, on the London & Kirschenbaum news program. Na'ama Shik, of Yad Vashem's Institute for Holocaust Education, asserts on the basis of doctoral research that the Nazis did not employ Jewish prostitutes in the camp, and that at the time they used the series of numbers seen in the picture at Auschwitz, numbers were no longer etched on prisoners' chests, but only on their arms. There are other things that arouse suspicion, too.
Photographer and Israel Prize Laureate David Rubinger, who found Goldman's collection of negatives, saw to their restoration and oversees the showing of his pictures, admired Goldman and would like to believe that the photograph is not fabricated. Goldman's records indicate that the picture was taken in 1945 in Nahalal. It is possible that on the same occasion, Goldman also captured the visit of Chaim Weizmann.
This week, Rubinger returned to the negatives of the picture and noticed a stunning detail he had not been aware of before: There are three negatives of the photograph and they have been trimmed all around with scissors, apparently to conceal the identity of the woman in the picture. Goldman may have tampered with the negative in order to protect the woman; or he may have done so to protect himself.
The belief that the Nazis used Jewish women as prostitutes apparently became rooted in the Israeli memory of the Holocaust as a result of an article published by Yitzhak Sadeh in October 1945, entitled "My Sister on the Beach." It told of a female Holocaust survivor who arrives on an illegal immigrant ship and told Sadeh of her life as a whore in the service of the Nazis. According to Sadeh, the words "For officers only" were engraved on the woman's chest. The circumstances of this encounter are described in Sadeh's biography, which was written by Zvika Dror.
Holocaust writer Yehiel Dinur (also known as K. Zetnik) maintained that the woman was a relative of his. In his book "Beit Habubot" ("The House of Dolls"), he described a Jewish prostitute and said it was his sister. The covers of several editions of K. Zetnik's book feature a drawing and photograph that are very similar to Goldman's, but the number on the woman's chest is apparently different.
A possible solution to the mystery: Perhaps Goldman prepared the photograph to serve as the cover of K. Zetnik's book. It's doubtful whether the notation in his archive is correct: Weizmann visited Nahalal in December 1944, and at the time there were no female survivors from Auschwitz there.
At some point later on, four female Holocaust survivors did come to Nahalal. Yizraela Bloch, who oversees the local archive, said this week that she remembers them all: She lived with them in the same room. She says not one of them had a tattoo on her chest. David Rubinger is uncomfortable with the possibility that this is a fabricated picture, but as long as the mystery remains unsolved, he is not putting the picture away. This week it is on display in an exhibition in Singapore.
A Turkish gesture
Turkey has agreed to lend for exhibition in Israel the inscription from the days of Hezekiah that was discovered in the Shiloah tunnel and put on display in Istanbul. Israel is supposed to build a memorial to the Turkish soldiers who fought in World War I.
A suggestion for Turkey: Insist that the inscription be displayed in the Israel Museum, and not in Kfar Hashiloah (Silwan), a nationalist symbol and residence-stronghold of several members of the Israeli extreme right.
A suggestion for Israel: Do not build a memorial to soldiers of the army that perpetrated the Armenian genocide, or at least, memorialize the victims of Musa Dagh as well.
Following the revelation that Guenther Grass served in the SS in his youth, it has recently come to light that two well-known German writers, Siegfried Lenz and Martin Walser, were registered as members of the Nazi party when they were young.
British authorities are deleting Hitler, Gandhi, Stalin and Martin Luther King from the list of personages that middle school students are required to know about. Also among the deletions: Winston Churchill.
In the United States, the oldest car in the world, La Marquis, is up for sale. It was manufactured in 1884 and runs on coal.
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