Thursday, May 7, 2015

The End of World War II in Europe: Wartime Letters from Chaim Herzog to Family and Friends

This May we mark the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War in Europe. Last year we published a post on a letter sent in May 1945 by Israel's future president, Lieutenant Chaim (Vivian) Herzog, to his parents, while serving as an intelligence officer in the British army. Here we bring you more of Herzog's wartime letters in English which were collected for the commemorative volume issued by the Archives.
Chaim Herzog and his brother Yaakov
with their father in Germany, June 1946
Israel State Archives
In the summer of 1938 Herzog, born in Belfast when his father, Rabbi Isaac (Yitzhak) Herzog, was serving as chief rabbi of Ireland, went to England to study law. When World War II broke out in 1939 he was not conscripted, but after qualifying as a barrister in 1942 he joined the British Army. You can read the letter he sent to his parents and brother Yaacov here. He signed it "Vivian", the name by which he was known in the Army, as Chaim was hard to pronounce.

In June 1944 the allied armies invaded Normandy. Herzog too was sent to France and searched for members of his family who had managed to survive the Holocaust. He wrote to his parents about a visit to them in Paris in November 1944 and about his attempts to obtain news of his cousin Annette Goldberg, who died in Auschwitz. In December 1944 he took part in the Allied invasion of Germany and in April 1945 he wrote to his parents from Brussels about celebrating – or rather not celebrating – the Pesach holiday in occupied Germany.   Soon afterwards Herzog wrote to his family on "the morning of the first day of peace in Europe" (May 8) after the surrender of the German forces in the Weser-Elbe peninsula.

After the German surrender Herzog joined the British military government, and on 1 January 1946 he wrote to his old friend Yehoshua (Justus) Justman that he had managed to find Justman's relative Ruth, who had survived. In another letter from September 1946 he described celebrating the New Year in the Belsen D.P. camp which had now become the centre of Jewish life in the British occupied zone. He complained that the German style rabbi sent over from England had failed to rise to the occasion - "Rosh Hashanah before Musaph in a shattered community", and gave a dry sermon, adding in Yiddish "A German [Jew] remains a German."
Chaim Herzog and his mother, Rabbanit Sarah Herzog, in Palestine, 1945
Photograph: David Eldan, Government Press Office Collection

Chaim Herzog reached the rank of major, and the experience and knowledge acquired during his service helped him when he became the head of intelligence in the new Israeli army in 1948, and served again in the post in 1959-1961.

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