In 2010, the Israeli-Danish journalist Herbert Pundik – or Nahum Pundak as he was known in Israel – shocked his many readers when he revealed that for 10 years he also worked as a Mossad agent. Pundik was not the first journalist who crossed the lines – or crossed back and forth between them – but his admission was a very rare step, certainly for such a famous journalist with such an impressive reputation.
With the headline: “Yes, I was a Mossad agent,” he told about how during his journalistic mission to Africa in the 1960s, when he worked for the Israeli Davar newspaper and for Danish media outlets, he also sent reports to the Mossad.
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In fact, his entire mission was on behalf of the Mossad, while his cover was that of a journalist, he confessed. “Where is the line between spying and journalism? For example, I wrote an analysis on the tribes in Somalia and their relationship to political parties. I researched the political situation in northern Nigeria. Those were things a newspaper was interested in too,” he said.
A large part of his work in Africa was intelligence, he admitted. “To a certain extent I was a double agent,” and the Mossad shared his reports with their Danish counterparts, he said. He stopped working for the Mossad in 1970 after he was appointed the executive editor of the Danish daily newspaper Politiken.
Pundik was born in 1927 in Copenhagen. His father’s family, which was religiously observant, moved to Denmark from Ukraine at the beginning of the century. His mother’s family was originally from Leipzig, Germany. In his book “In Denmark It Could Not Happen: The Flight of the Jews to Sweden in 1943,” he described his family’s escape from the Nazis in 1943. Like most Danish Jews, they fled to Sweden after the Jewish community received a warning the Germans were about to round up all the Jews.
He said his childhood ended at age 16. In the middle of French class in school, the principal entered the classroom, interrupted the teacher, pointed to Pundik and two of his friends and told them to come out into the hallway. Pundik said they realized from this polite tone they were not in trouble.
The principal said that if there were other Jewish students, they should also come out into the hallway and warned them the Nazis were about to begin hunting down the Jews, and sent them home quickly because the Germans could show up at any moment. Pundik returned to class, packed up his bag while all the other students watched in silence. He rushed home, found his parents and brother dressed and ready to flee, with warm winter clothes and a few bags and other items.
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Within a few hours all the Jews in Copenhagen knew about the German plan of action, he said. They left for neutral Sweden by sea, where they found refuge. He continued his high school studies there, and at the end of the war he enlisted in the Danish Brigade in Sweden and guarded German prisoners. In 1948 he became a foreign volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces and fought in the Alexandroni Brigade during the 1948 war. He participated in the capture of the Palestinian village of Tantour, among other battles.
He returned to Denmark after the war, studied economics at the University of Copenhagen and married Susie Ginzborg in 1951. They moved to Israel in 1954 and he began working as a correspondent for the Danish newspapers Information and Politiken. He was also the editor of Davar’s weekend magazine, Davar Hashavua, and sent the newspaper stories from Africa.
He served as the executive editor of Politiken for 23 years, and it became the best-selling paper in Denmark during this period. He was known as the “flying editor” because he continued to live in Tel Aviv while still editing the paper. In practice, he spent most of the month living in a hotel in Denmark and a small bit of time with his family in Tel Aviv.
Pundik continued writing for the newspaper through last year. He passed away in December and was survived by his wife, Susie (Ruth), daughter Michal, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their oldest son, Uri, was an officer in the Armored Corps and was killed in the Yom Kippur War. Their younger son, Ron, was one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, and died of cancer in 2014.