20 December 2014

Independence Museum in Tel Aviv

The Romans destroyed the Jewish state in 70 AD, razed the Temple and sent the government into exile.

In May 1948 prime minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the re-establishment of the Jewish state in Tel Aviv.

In the interim 1,878 years, Jews prayed three times a day for the re-establishment of the state and tried to survive the anti-Semitic nature of life in exile.

The modern Zionism movement changed from purely religious.. to religious and political. In 1896, Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl published an important political pamphlet called The Jewish State, which argued that the establishment of a Jewish state was the only way of protecting Jews in exile. Herzl convened the first Zion­ist Congress in Basel (in neutral Switzerland) in 1897. Ottoman-controlled Palestine, the old Jewish homeland, was the natural location where a re-established Jewish state would want to be. Alas for Herzl and the millions of Jews in central and Eastern Europe, they petitioned the Ottoman government for a charter without success.

After the pogroms in Russia at the turn of the century, tens of thousands of Russian Jews began to immigrate to Palestine, speaking Hebrew as the national language and Yiddish/Russian at home. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during WWI, Britain took over Palestine, issuing the 1917 Balfour Declaration about establishing a Jewish home-land in Palestine. This was authorised by the League of Nations in 1922. Britain, unable to find a practical solution to the hostility between Arabs and Jews, referred the problem to the United Nations, which in November 1947 voted to partition Palestine.

Nathan Jeffay, Australian Jewish News (2/5/2014), was very helpful. At 4 PM on the 14th May 1948, in the presence of the leaders of the coun­t­ry, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the new state. After the Declaration was signed, the entire Jewish world sang the Hatikvah. The words of the national anthem could not have been more apt: “Then our 2000 year old hope will not be lost. To be a free people in our land”.

On the same remarkable day, the British mandate in Palestine offic­ially ended at midnight and David Ben-Gurion became Israel's first prime minister. Despite the British army withdrawal, a blackout in Tel Aviv and an imminent Arab invas­ion, Jews joyously celebrated the birth of their new nation. Egypt launched an air assault against Israel that evening. The next day, forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded.

David Ben Gurion stood underneath the photo of Theodor Herzl
in Dizengoff House, Tel Aviv
and declared the establishment of the Jewish state
14th May 1948

the same room in Independence Hall Museum today

To my parents the most important events in their life were a] their marriage in 1945, b] the birth of their first baby in 1948 and c] re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. For my parents-in-laws the most important events in their life were a] liberation of the German concentration camp by Russian soldiers in 1945, b] their marriage in 1945 and c] re-establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.


Meir Dizengoff and his wife Zina had received a plot of land in the sand dunes in 1909, before Tel Aviv was established. It was here he built his first small house and it was here he went on to become Tel Aviv’s first mayor. Dizengoff House, which was located in Rothschild Bld, gained a second storey according to the design of architect David Hershkovich. and looked like the rest of the Bauhaus-inspired city. This home provided the site for the signing of Israel's Declaration of Independence!

In 1930, after the death of his wife, Dizengoff donated his beloved house to the city and requested that it be turned into a museum. From 1932-1971 the house was used by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, with Dizengoff still living inside until his death in 1933. Most of the pictures that were part of the Tel-Aviv Museum’s collection have remained on the walls, among them the works some of my favourite artists - Ury Lesser, Marc Chagall and Boris Schatz.

Then in the 1970s Dizengoff House became Independence Hall, a museum celebrating the achieving of statehood. Nathan Jeffay recommends visitors look at the huge portrait of Theodor Herzl flanked by two Israeli flags, documents, invitations, recording equip­ment and memos. The names of the important public figures who attended the ceremony are still recorded on the dignitaries’ stage and on the chairs.

Importantly, Independence Hall now houses exhibits on the history of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. And there is a film describing the history of Dizengoff’s home.

Dizengoff House, now Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.
Crowds waiting to hear the news in May 1948.

Independence Hall today

16 December 2014

1942 - American soldiers, Australian women, nylon stockings

My mother’s final year of high school was 1942, the very year American soldiers and sailors first arrived in Australia. Mum's sole knowledge of American men until that point came from seeing Spencer Tracy and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr at the local picture theatre.

My mother got to meet real live American men in two strange ways. Firstly her high school in Melbourne gave all its football fields over to the American Army, to use as a training camp. The school built a brick fence between the students and the soldiers, but athletic girls managed to climb the fence to check out the talent on the other side.

Secondly my grandmother used to go down to the docks at Port Mel­bourne, before every major Jewish holiday. My grandmother must have been a courageous and determined soul. She asked the ships’ captains to select a small group of their Jewish sailors for the holiday.. and no captain ever refused her. Her goal was to give young sailors a holiday meal, surrounded by a warm loving family, even though they were 10,000 ks from home. Every American sailor or soldier brought a luxury gift that my family had not afforded before – orchids on a stick for my grandmother and nylon stockings for my mother and her two teenage sisters.

Perhaps Australian men were less educated in dating etiquette; the best gift they brought to warm the heart of a date was a chocolate frog for 3d. More likely still, Australian men brought no present at all! Or perhaps the Australian army and navy had paid hopelessly low salaries to its men since August 1939, whereas the Americans paid their men halfway decent military salaries since January 1942.

At least regarding nylons, Smithsonian.com has the answer! Hemlines were rising throughout the 1930s, and stockings, made back then from silk or rayon, had become an essential component to a woman’s ward­robe. The delicacy of the 1930s stockings did not hurt the bottom line; women purchased an average of eight pairs of stockings per year during that decade.

Nylon stockings did not make their debut in the USA until Oct 1939. It happened in Wilmington Delaware because that was the home of Wallace Hume Carothers and the company he worked for, DuPont. Carothers was the chemist who researched in the field of Polymers, producing a fibre that was to replace silk in many clothing garments. [What a shame that Carot­h­ers, nylon’s creator, did not get to see the mania around his invent­ion; he committed suicide in 1936 after battling depression for years].

In fact the first test sale to DuPont employees’ wives took place at the company’s experimental station. Before the 4,000 pairs of stockings sold out, DuPont had had women modelling nylon hosiery at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; they were touting nylon as a synthetic fabric light as air. Intelligent American men soon understood how to win a woman’s heart!

From the moment DuPont realised what kind of stretchy, durable, wash­able, dryable revolution it had synthesised, the company focused on women’s hosiery, a huge potential market. DuPont’s initial sales success in Wilmington was the start of the nylon stocking craze! In May 1940, four million pairs of brown nylons landed on department store shelves across the USA at $1.15 per pair and sold out immediately. Standard silk stockings, which did not stretch, were tough to clean and ripped easily, were quickly supplanted. By 1941, sales in the USA reached 64 million pairs.

Eventually WW2 arrived in the USA. As quickly as nylon stockings had found their way into department stores and boutiques, providing women with inexpensive, longer-lasting hosiery options... the stockings disappeared :( The material was severely rationed and channelled into war efforts. Nylon was permitted only in the manufacturing of parachutes, ropes, air­craft fuel tanks, shoe laces, mosquito netting and hammocks, aiding in the USA’s national defence.

American women had to be inventive to meet their leg-beautifying needs or turn to the black market. However nylon stockings were app­arently present in many GI’s kitbags to impress the glamour-starved women in the overseas countries American soldiers trained in. Did my 18 year old mother and her friends know that? Were Australian women as excited about nylons as American women? It has been suggested (History Today, October 2014) that some of the babies born in Britain and Australia to American soldiers in 1943-5 could be directly traced back to the gift of nylons.

When the war was over and rations were eased, nylon stockings ret­ur­n­ed to American shops and sold quickly. In late 1945 Nylon Riots started up around the USA; tens of thousands of women queued up to try to buy a pair.

13 December 2014

Lord Haw Haw - Britain's most vile Fascist?

The rise and rise of Fascism in inter-war Britain was both powerful and nightmarish. I had little trouble researching Sir Oswald Mosley, the BUF and its organised opposition, The 43 Group; the Battle of Cable St in the East End of London; Archibald Ramsay and the Right Club; two of the Mitford sisters; and King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The elephant in the room was always going to be William Joyce, and that was a story clouded in secrecy. So thank you to The Heretical Press for presenting new evidence.

William Joyce (1906–1946) was born in New York to an Irish Catholic father, and when he was a child the family left the USA and moved back to Ireland, settling in County Mayo. Because the family was very Cons­ervative and pro-Union, they were very unpopular with the local Sinn Fein supporters. Joyce's early life was marked by violence, but luckily for him he was very athletic, strong and brutal.

In 1924, while working as a patrolman at a Conservative Party meeting, Joyce was silently trapped by men in black; he received a deep razor slash that ran across his right cheek to his mouth, leaving a permanent scar. In an incident that he relived over and over in his mind, Joyce claimed his attackers were Jewish communists.

Joyce formally joined the Conservative Party, but left after a short period in 1931. He called the old men of the Con­serv­ative Party weak, grasping and dishonest men, who were betray­ing the nation to the Agents of International Finance. In particularly the Conservative Party failed him by not being anti-Semitic enough.

In 1932, Joyce joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and was much admired for being brutal with his knuckledusters in fights against the anti-Fascists. More surp­ris­ingly Joyce became a leading speak­er, praised for his power of oratory. “His speech was elect­rifying, so terrifying in its dynamic force, so vituperative, so vitriolic.

Germany Calling: A Personal Biography of William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw was written by Mary Kenny and published by New island Books in 2013.

Two years later, Joyce was promoted to the BUF's Director of Propaganda under Sir Oswald Mosley. But a devastated Joyce was sacked from his paid position in the party by Mosley in 1937. By the time war broke out, Joyce was adamant that Britain was being led into another pointless war and the governments of Neville Chamb­erlain and Winston Churchill were betraying their people.

In Aug 1939 Joyce fled from the UK when tipped off about the government's plan­ned internment of Fascists. He escaped to Germany where friends put him in contact with the Private Secretary to Germany's For­eign Minister von Ribbentrop. Just a fortnight after the out­break of war, he was appointed Editor and speaker for the German transmit­ters for Europe in Berlin.

Joyce became the main German broadcaster in English, and became a naturalised German citizen. The English-language propaganda radio programme Germany Call­ing was broadcast to UK audiences on the mediumwave station Reichssender Hamburg and by shortwave abroad. The programme started in Sep 1939 and continued until April 1945, when the British Army was finally victorious.

Through such broadcasts, the Reich Ministry of Public Enlighten­ment and Propaganda wanted to demoralise both British and British Commonwealth troops and English-speaking citizens, and to spread German propag­anda. For example the German broadcasts happily rep­orted on the loss of Allied aircraft and ships. Allied troops and civilians often felt they had to listen to Lord Haw-Haw's broadcasts because they offered the only details available from behind enemy lines concerning the fate of Allied soldiers.

Lord Haw Haw and his wife Margaret in Germany
photo credit: Daily Mail

Joyce was capt­ured by British forces in northern Germany just as the war ended. He was taken back to Wandsworth Prison in Britain, tried, found guilty and hanged for treason in Jan 1946.

Why did he betray his own adopted British nation? Facing death Joyce wrote “In death, as in this life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the power of darkness which they represent. I warn the British people against the crushing imperialism of the Soviet Union. May Britain be great once again and in the hour of the greatest danger in the west may the Swastika be raised from the dust, crowned with the historic words: You have conquered never­the­less. I am proud to die for my ideals; and I am sorry for the sons of Britain who have died without knowing why”.

Did he believe it was worth risking the lives of 40 million British citizens to exterminate a tiny Jewish population? Or was he admonishing the Allies for fighting a war secretly organised by the Jews? In either case he was being disingenuous! His radio voice suggested he was totally thrilled when London was blitzed and Coventry almost disappeared from the map!

Commentators have since argued that Joyce achieved nothing except a reputation as a comical, almost pathetic, figure in Britain. But this was never true. The Nazis were de­lighted that Joyce’s anti-Semitism never faded in its viru­lence. For his efforts Joyce continued to live a comfortable life in Berlin and in Sep 1944 was awarded the Cross of War Merit 1st Class with a certificate signed by Adolf Hitler himself. And from the other side, there was also an impact. The an­x­ious mood in Britain was well depicted in the wartime film Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), starring Basil Rathbone. In the film, Joyce's broadcasts were shown to pred­ict actual defeats, thus seriously undermining British morale.

Some British media and list­eners used "Lord Haw-Haw" as a generic term to describe all English-language German broad­casters using an unintentionally comic upper-class accent. The same nickname was also applied to some other broad­casters of English-language propaganda from Germany. eg James R. Clark was a young English broadcaster and a friend of British Fascists William Joyce and and Unity Mitford. James Clark's mother Dorothy Eckersley showed great interest in German National Socialism and Fascism, and moved to Germany with her teenage son, enrolling him in a German school. Clark and his pro-Nazi mother were both tried for treason and she was gaoled after the war.

But today the nickname almost always refers just to William Joyce.

I don’t believe in capital punishment in ANY event, but I do understand the British government’s reluctance to let a war-time traitor go on with his role. Even had he been given a life sent­ence with no parole, he would certainly have become a celebrated martyr to the Fascist cause in Britain. I suggest this proves how influential Lord Haw Haw truly was during the war - the British government felt hanging was the only possible outcome.