Saturday, December 19, 2009

Polish Consulate

To the best of our knowledge, the first organization to use the Husheimi house after the Husheimis left was the Consulate of Poland. There had been a Polish Consulate in Jerusalem for a couple decades at least. Previously, the consulate had been located near Derech Beit Lechem. However, in October 1947 there was a bombing at the backdoor of the Consulate, where the Consul, Dr. Olgierd Gorka, lived. (Gorka is pictured above.) From the Palestine Post (Oct 13, 1947):
" A violent explosion damaged the entrance to the Polish Consulate-General in Talpioth in Jerusalem at 7.37 last night when a bomb which had been placed in a doorway went off.

This was part of a series of Arab nationalist bombings, that also targeted the American and Swedish consulates.
"Polish Consular officials told The Palestine Post that the "exceptionally strong" bomb had been placed in the doorway of the house of Professor O. Gorka, the Consul-General, whose private residence is at the rear of the Consulate...Prof. Gorka commented that his cocker spaniel had been frightened, but he himself had been in much worse explosions in London during the Blitz."

Shortly thereafter, the Polish Consulate moved from Talpioth to Katamon, where it was located at 28 Rachel Imenu. This move occurred at the end of 1947 and by Jan. 5, 1948, the doors of the new consulate were opened:
"The offices of the Polish Consulate in Jerusalme will be closed from December 29 till January 5, as they are being moved to Katamon (Zone A)." (Palestine Post, Dec 26, 1947)

While we cannot prove that this move was a direct result of the bombing, it is possible that the two are related. Furthermore, we know that the Palestine Police investigated the bombing. Though we have no direct proof of this, it is possible that at this point Abdin Husheimi came in contact with Polish officials and mentioned that his house was available for rental. And beyond this, we also know that Kroyanker writes that the 3rd floor of the building was added in 1947. It is conceivable that this expansion was done by the Husheimis to prepare the building for rental by the Polish Consulate.

Apparently even in the new location there was crime, as an article in the Palestine Post from March 14, 1948 explains that the car of the Polish Consulate (along with those of the Iranian and Ethiopian Consulates) were stolen by armed Arabs in Jerusalem.

As mentioned the first Consul to live in the building was Prof. Dr. Olgierd Gorka. He had been a member of the Polish Government-in-Exile during World War II. He had been a member of the Liga do Walki z Rasizmem (League for the Struggle Against Racism) in Poland and fought against anti-Semitism. He was a historian and later taught at University of Lwow (or Warsaw, according to another source), until his death in 1955.

During the Independence War in 1948, the Polish Consulate apparently remained neutral. In his book Kuzari B'Yerushalayim, Yair Goren writes
"In the building opposite us, on the northeastern corner of the plaza next to us, life in the Polish Consulate continued as normal. People walked around in the house and courtyard. Women sat in the garden, and the sounds of speaking and songs were audible from the radio. When I approached there and tried to speak with them, they refused kindly but unmistakeably: "We are neutral," they said. "We do not support any side, and aren't in contact with either side of those fighting." (translation by J. Skarf)

Despite this neutrality, it didn't take long for Poland to recognize the State of Israel. On May 18, 1948, the Foreign Minister sent a letter to Moshe Sharett to this end. Gorka sent a similar letter on June 6, 1948, from his office in 28 Rachel Imenu. Nonetheless, Poland did not upgrade relations with Israel until 1954, two years after Gorka had gone back to Poland and was replaced by Marian Drawniak. (Nili Oren, "The Israeli Mission in Warsaw from 1948-1951" in Shvut 2004-5, pp.83-103) 1954 is also the last year in which we find mention of a Polish Consulate at 28 Rachel Imenu. Diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel continued until June 1967, when they stopped and were only resumed in 1989. In any case, in 1952 the Polish Consulate in Jerusalem was downgraded to a branch of the Tel Aviv branch. (Davar, Apr. 29, 1952)

It should be noted that the Polish mission played an important role in Israel's relationship to Eastern Europe:
"Since the Polish consulates were the first missions representing any East European country in Palestine/Israel, its consuls gained invaluable first-hand experience that could be shared with Soviet representatives who arrived later." (Albert Stankowski, "Poland and Israel: Bilateral Relations 1947-1953" in Jews in Eastern Europe, pp. 5-23)

We have no other direct testimony or pictures regarding the Polish Consulate in this building. Nonetheless, the various stories do paint a picture of what life was like in the building. We do not know if they altered the building at all, though it is possible that they were responsible for the addition of a flag pole to the front elevation.

One other event surrounding the Polish Consulate and its employees can be attested by two sources. In a letter from May 22, 1948, Gorka wrote to thank the Hagana regarding an incident that occurred on May 14. He writes:
"On the 14th inst. at noon, I went on duty on my way to the Belgian and Polish Consulates-General, in the car of the Consul-General of Belgium, Mr. Nuverhuis, the Chairman of the Consular Trace Commission of UNO. I was accompanied by the Belgian uniformed kavas, as driver and an Arab messenger of the Polish Consulate. According to relationship received a safe passage was assured, the care running under the Belgian flag and the accompanying staff wearing C.C. armbands. But suddenly passing nearby the David's Bldg, inside the Security Zone B, the care was received with unexpected heavy fire from near distance, machine-gun and rifle fire coming from Arabs. The car hit by a score of bullets was immediately put out of action and the Belgian kavas-driver seriously wounded...
"For more than four hours we stayed outstretched on the pavement under constant heavy firing from Arab positions. The fire was obviously directed on the car, on the people hidden behind the car and partially behind a low fence,notwithstanding the Belgian flag, which was oustandingly visible.

Gorka managed to relay his position through the Jewish Agency to the Hagana, who came to his rescue:
"By few leaps amidst whistling bullets, we had succeeded to enter the cars, which retreated steadily from the line of fire, taking us to safety. The two Arab members of the Consular staff have later been delivere by Haganah soldiers to the respective Consulates...I take the libery to repeat now in writing my warm feelings of gratitude, previously expressed orally, for the help rendered and the gallant rescue executed from such a critical situation. At the same time I beg to express my sincere words of thankfulness to the Jewish Agency for the ears extended to the members of the Consular Staff. I declare my gratitude and respect to the soldiers of the two Hanagah armoured cars for their gallant behaviour and firmness in action, distinctly displayed in the chivalierous [sic] rescue of non-belligerent members of the Consular Service."

The letter is signed Prof. Dr. Olgierd Gorka, Consul General of Poland.

Amazingly, a parallel testimony of the aforementioned Arab messenger is also available. Though anonymous in Gorka's letter, his name is Rashid Irsheid, and he too writes about this event in the context of the general Arab-Israeli conflict. He was born in 1928 in Walajha, a small vilalge outside of Jerusalem and currently lives in Chicago. During World War II, his family sheltered a Polish diplomat, from the Nazis. After the war the diplomat wanted to thank Mr. Irsheid, and arranged for Rashid to work as a telephone operator and messenger in the Polish Consulate in Jerusalem. Irsheid writes that
"On May 14th, I was working in the Polish Consulate. on that day, I went with a driver to the post office at around 11:00 in the morning. In order to go to the post office, we had to go near the Jewish Agency, where Ben Gurion was. And across from there, across Mamila Road, were the Arab [forces].
"While we were driving, our car was shot at by the Arab side. I opened the door of the car, and I jumped out and ran to the sandbags near the Haganah.
"The consul told the driver: "Wait here, I have to get Rashid", because otherwise they would take me as a prisoner or something like that. So he told the Haganah I was his employee and they said "OK." While we were gone, the driver took off with our car and went to the old city!
"We went to the Belgian Consulate for lunch. At around 2:30 the Belgian consul told his driver to take us back to the Polish Consulate - about a mile and a half away. I sat next to the diver, and the consul was in the back.
"The British were supposed to leave at 12 midnight, but they left at 12 noon. They gave [certain buildings] to the Haganah, They were shooting at the Arabs in the hills. A bullet came through the door and burned my shirt. Then the driver was shot in the arm. We stopped, and we went down on the ground. We stayed there for three and a half hours.
"The Polish consul took his shirt and gave first aid to the driver. He started calling: "I am the Polish consul general! Please send some help!" He was calling to the Haganah, in the windows of a building, where they were shooting. "We need help, we need help!"
"Finally they took us to the Jewish area. And they gave us first aid, and then it was back to the Belgian Consulate where we stayed the night."

Irsheid also relates how the next morning, during a meeting in the Belgian consulate, all the foreign diplomats and Ben Gurion attended. The consuls told Ben Gurion to call the Arab headquarters, but someone who spoke Arabic was needed.
"So the Polish Consul said "I have my employee Rashid. He speaks Arabic, and English, and Hebrew, and Polish." And Ben Gurion said" Ok.. Call them and tell them we request a ceasefire."
I called and said "We are here, the consular dean and the all these consul generals, including Ben Gurion. And they are asking for a ceasefire. Stop shooting, and we are ready to make ceasefire."
"And the guy who answered me, he was reckless. He said "Tell them fa'at." In Arabic, that means, that's it. It's all over. I said to myself, my God, such a word, it's hard to explain. So I told Ben Gurion, "They mean, it's all over, no discussion." And I remember he said: "Let it be."And that's it. A state!

No comments:

Post a Comment