What happened to Charles Jordan?
Was the JDC director a spy? What did Ludwig Hoch do for Israel? And what was Moshe Sharett told about the Institute for Biological Research?
Charles Jordan was the executive director of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the largest Jewish humanitarian organization in the world. On August 20, 1967, his body was found in the Vltava River in Prague. It is assumed that he was murdered. This is one of the greatest mysteries of the Cold War period. In commemorating the 40th anniversary of Jordan's death, the JDC has asked U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to appeal to Czech authorities and demand that the murder investigation be reopened. Meanwhile, one can also make some inquiries at the offices of Israel's own Mossad espionage agency.
There are documents of interest there not necessarily because of their content, but because of the fact that they are classified. In the state archive, for example, there is a file bearing the number 7499/26 (Prime Minister's Office); it is related to the Jordan affair and is closed to the public. The Foreign Ministry file dealing with the affair also contains classified documents. The Soviet Union thought that Jordan was a spy.
Documents kept in the JDC archive in Jerusalem indicate that in the weeks preceding his death Jordan traveled a great deal: New York-Geneva-New York-Geneva-Rome-Paris-Geneva-Rome-Israel-Rome-Bucharest-Prague. He participated in the convention of Jewish millionaires that was held in Jerusalem a short time after the Six-Day War, and was involved in discussions concerning the settlement of Palestinian refugees.
There has never been a proper examination of why Jordan suddenly traveled beyond the Iron Curtain. One of the Foreign Ministry files contains testimony by Moshe Rosen, who was the chief rabbi of Romania. On Friday night August 11, Jordan left the synagogue in Bucharest and began to look for a taxi. Suddenly a car stopped next to him; inside was a woman who spoke French. She said that she had just arrived from Brussels and was looking for a hotel. Jordan said that if she gave him a ride in her car, he would take her to the hotel where he was staying. She immediately agreed. Behind the steering wheel sat a man who didn't utter a word. When they arrived at the hotel the car and the woman disappeared.
In the Foreign Ministry file there is a theory that agents from the Soviet Union murdered Jordan. They actually wanted to do so in Bucharest, in order to disrupt relations between Romania and Israel. By mistake they killed him in Prague. And there are a thousand other possibilities. Maybe he wasn't a spy at all.
In any event, Israel treated Jordan's death as though it was one of its own stories. The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Mordechai Kidron, described Jordan as a "brother in arms"; foreign minister Abba Eban wrote the JDC that Jordan "fell" - as though he had been a casualty in some mysterious battle. Israeli ambassadors in every capital were briefed on and told to inflate the affair in the context of anti-Soviet propaganda efforts. After a while the Israeli position changed: Now the claim was that Jordan had been murdered by Egyptian students or Palestinian terrorists. Whatever the case, it really was an Israeli story as well.
About 20 years before Charles Jordan arrived in Prague, Israel had signed a deal to receive weapons from Czechoslovakia. I have a personal recollection of that: During my army basic training we received "Czech rifles," and a swastika was engraved on the butt of mine. After some hesitation I dared to ask my squad commander about it. He mumbled that in every group of new recruits there was some wise guy who received a rifle with a swastika and started to ask stupid questions. These rifles were apparently designated for the use of the Wehrmacht, and in 1948 arrived in Israel instead.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this arms deal; some say that because of it, Israel won the War of Independence. Historian Uri Milstein has reconstructed the tortuous contacts that made it possible; his story is fascinating. A book by Avraham Ziv-Tal attributes the deal to two Jews, Richard Kauder and Ludwig Hoch, whose story is also astounding. Kauder was a Jewish spy in the service of the Nazis, who also spied for the Soviet Union: He made fools of everyone and emerged without a scratch. Ziv-Tal, an amateur historian who was himself an intelligence officer, pursued information about Kauder in one archive after another; his book "The Maskirovka of Max and Moritz" (Bahur publishers) will be enthusiastically received by those who are crazy about World War II espionage stories.
Ludwig Hoch, the second Jew involved in the efforts to sign the arms deal between Israel and Czechoslovakia, changed his name to Robert Maxwell, became a controversial media mogul in Great Britain, and for a time was also the owner of the Israeli daily Maariv. During World War II Maxwell served as an officer in the British army, and after the war he was stationed in Germany. He died in 1991; his death is shrouded in mystery, like that of Charles Jordan: He too "fell," or was pushed, into the water.
For a reason that has never been explained, Maxwell was brought for an almost-official burial in Jerusalem. Then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, formerly one of the senior members of the Mossad, said over Maxwell's grave that what this man did for the benefit of Israel during its most difficult hour would never come to light. Perhaps he was referring to the arms deal, or who knows what else?
The story of Maxwell's part in organizing the deal has been told in the past based on anonymous sources. Now there is an identified source: Shortly before Teddy Kollek died, the former Jerusalem mayor had a visit from Maxwell's daughter Isabel; Shimon Peres arranged the meeting. Kollek was already 95 years old at the time and not completely lucid, but he definitively confirmed that Maxwell had been involved in contacts that led to the Czech deal. Kollek could have known that: He himself was involved in espionage during those years.
The English edition of Ziv-Tal's book comes with a significant addition: words of praise from the famous British historian Sir Martin Gilbert. Gilbert also has knowledge of such things.
Klingberg was amazed
What would we have done without these good spies? For example, Marcus Klingberg, the traitor from Nes Tziona, who passed several of the secrets of the Institute for Biological Research to the Soviet Union, and has now published his memoirs ("Marcus Klingberg: The Last Spy," Maariv Books).
Among other things, Klingberg reveals information about "childhood illnesses" of Israeli politics - information worth knowing: The shroud of secrecy that surrounded some of the work of the institute was meant to conceal what was happening inside it not only from the public in Israel and the world at large, but from then foreign minister Moshe Sharett as well. Many people came to visit the institute, says Klingberg, but few got the full tour. At the same time, the administration there knew that Sharett had to be kept away from the institute's security activities.
Klingberg writes that he understood that the order for this came directly from David Ben-Gurion.
According to Klingberg, Alex Keinan, the director of the institute, told him, "He doesn't have to know what we're doing," and therefore Klingberg showed Sharett only the unclassified research. Klingberg does not say so definitively, but he assumes that even when Sharett was serving as prime minister, the staff didn't reveal to him what was going on in the institute.
"Amazing," says Klingberg. "Amazing."
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