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March 9, 2018     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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March 9, 2018

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH. NEWS, MARCH 9, 2018 PAGE 7.A By Norman Berdichevsk~ Although "The Moldau" (Czech Vltava), is immedi- ately recognized bY most lovers of classical music as the work of composer Bedrich Smetana evoking the flow of the Vltava River from the forests of Bohemia through the Czech countryside to the city of Prague, it holds out a special appeal for many Jews and especially Israelis who hear in its opening bars a melody quite similar to the Israeli national anthem and Zionist hymn "HaTikvah" (The Hope). This seems to symbolize the long tradition of solidarity, sympathy and tragic history that led to the struggles for the indepen- dence of the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1993) and Israel. In 1938, Lawrence Morrell, a British journalist, was sent by his newspaper to report on the "Czech Crisis" threaten- ing war between Nazi Ger- many and the Anglo-French Alliance, which along with the USSR, Yugoslavia, and Romania had pledged them- selves to come to the aid of the beleaguered country in case of German aggression. His book "I Saw the Crucifix- ion" (London, Peter Davies, 1939) was a cry of despair over how Britain, the other Great Power, and the moral blindness of the so-called "international community" had betrayed Czechoslovakia and made possible the trans- fer of valuable resources and strategic strengths, paving the way to further German aggression and the inevitabil- ity of World War II. Morrell had earlier, un- successfully tried to warn world opinion of the German threat to absorb Austria and later went on to play an important role in the formation of what became the British Secret Service. His firsthand account of the Sudeten crisis in his book is a masterful portrayal of the immense pressure put on a proud nation to surrender its strategic defenses in the name of "peace." The book casts an eerie spell over all those concerned about current events and the mounting pressure on Israel from all sides to accommo- date the Palestinians who are a Trojan Horse today parallel to the Sudeten Germans in 1938. Czechoslovakia then, like Israel today, had the will and means to defend itself against its mortal enemy but was deprived of the right to do so by its "friends" who exercised enormous pressure and mobilized to deprive this democratic state of its right to defend itself and its borders. "It was not the rights and wrongs of the Sudeten Germans which constituted Hitler's problem. It was precisely the integrity of Czechoslovakia, the barrier that the Czechs presented to his drive toward becoming the strongest power in Eu- rope. The Sudeten Germans were pawns he used for his public policy. For his not so public policy, for the benefit of the Communist-haunted handful of people in Eng- land, he used the scare of the Czech-Soviet pact and raised the ghost of Communism in Germany. "Perhaps I did not and still do not see things as Mr. Chamberlain sees them, but to my mind the issue seemed very simple that day: England's vital interest lay in Czechoslovakia. After all, when you play chess, you do not wait until your opponent is two moves off checkmating you before moving to defend your king." (pp. 172-173.) Morrell observed how Wal- ter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford, a prominent National Liberal politician in the United King- dom between the 1900s and 1930s with a distinguished background of humanitarian aid he helped organize during World War I, was deceived by Chamberlain to lend his hand as an "impartial mediator." Although British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain knew full well of the Nazis' unalterable demands, he nevertheless played with the idea to satisfy anti-Nazi senti- ments at home, that various compromise positions based on the Swiss cantonal ar- rangement of local autonomy might be reached in which the Sudeten region would still formally remain part of Czechoslovakia with only the local police and army units still under the control of Prague. When the Czechs had reluctantly agreed to accept even this which granted the local Sudeten regions the right to introduce the same policies as Nazi Germany, including anti-Semitic mea- sures (Czechoslovakia had granted full equality to its Jewish population, the only state in Central or Eastern Europe who actually lived up to this promise during the Versailles Treaty delib- erations), the SdP leader Konrad Henlein balked and withdrew from what were in fact his original demands. He and Hitler had agreed not to stop short of anything less than a complete annexation by Germany of the entire Su- deten region. Can the Israelis expect any better type of ne- gotiation and "compromise"? The SdP, while ostensibly calling for local autonomy had received instructions from Nazi Germany not to reach any agreement and thus all attempts at media- tion failed in much the same way that Arafat's PLO, Hamas and a dozen other Palestinian "resistance groups" backed by the political strength at the U.N. of two dozen Muslim ma- jority countries, never were ready to honestly negotiate a compromise. The parallels and sense of deja vu between Morrell's book and today's contin- ued mounting pressure on Israel to throw away all its advantages and risk all it has achieved is startling. Many historians are reluctant to make historical comparisons but in this case, the parallels are inescapable. They extend to the very similar sense of a far-flung diaspora and its aspirations for the contin- ued welfare of the original homeland and close cultural ties. Not only the Czechs and Slovaks abroad but all of the Southern Slavs that com- prised Yugoslavia identified with the most successful, vibrant, culturally creative and democratic state of Czechoslovakia much as Jews feel today with the celebra- tion of such events in Israel as the Maccabiya Games. Is it any wonder that this sense of solidarity and com- mon fate linked Czechoslova- kia and Israel during and after Israel's War of Independence in 1948? The leaders of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine), already in the summer of 1947, intended to purchase arms and sent Dr. Moshe Sneh (the Chief of the European Branch of the Jew- ish Agency, a leading member of the centrist General Zionist Party who later moved far leftward and became head of the Israeli Communist Party) to Prague in order to improve Jewish defenses. In January 1948 Jewish representatives were sent by Ben-Gurion to meet with General Ludvik Svoboda, the Minister of National Defense, and sign the first contract for Czechoslovak military aid. At first, a "Skymaster" plane chartered from the U.S. to help in ferrying weapons to Palestine from Europe was forced by the FBI to return to the USA. Czechoslovak assistance to Israel's military strength comprised a) small arms, b) 84 airplanes--the out- dated Czechoslovak built Avia S.199s, Spitfires (see illustra- tion) and Messerschmidts that played a major role in the demoralization of enemy troops; c) military training and technical maintenance; " On Jan. 7, 1949, the Israeli air-force, consisting of sev- eral Spitfires and Czecho- slovak built Messerschmidt Bf-109 fighters (transferred secretly from Czechoslevak Czech on page 15A