A witness to the rebirth of Israel: Jewish DPs in Austria

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A witness to the rebirth of Israel: Jewish DPs in Austria

There are many descriptions of how the new state of Israel was welcomed.

US Army Jewish Chaplain Oscar [Lt. Colonel] M. Lifshutz was an officer dealing with Jewish Affairs, whose duty was to visit Jewish displaced persons camps in post-war Europe. On May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the State of Israel. Jews throughout the world celebrated the establishment of the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.

Lifshutz experienced the creation of a free and independent Jewish nation on a personal level, through the eyes of his fellow American troops, and the liberated Jewish DPs. His description of that event from the DP camp is especially poignant:

“At 9:00 o’clock on May 18, 1948, I visited with the leaders of Displaced Persons at Camp Riedenberg in Salzburg, Austria,” he said. “There was shouting and dancing in the parade area of this old and dilapidated ex-German barracks. The American Military Police (MP), who formerly guarded the outside gates and policed the surrounding area, were now dancing the Hora with the refugees.

Suddenly, a jeep loaded with officers drew up to the gate and a group, headed by a colonel, dismounted and headed toward the flagpole. ‘Good morning, Colonel,’ I said greeting him with open arms.’ How can I be of service to you.?’

‘This is a great day for you Rabbi,’ he quipped, ‘and I am here to see to it that we are going to do things in the right way.’’

Lifshutz sensed that the officer wanted to ensure that something special occurred.

‘What do you have in mind, sir’ I asked?”

‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘I am a Christian and I feel that I, too, have had a hand in helping to bring the Children of Israel to the Promised Land. I want to tell my children that I helped a people find a homeland. I have been away from my home for three years to regain freedom for all people. And, I am going to ask you, as a Rabbi, to help me do something.’

‘Do what,’ I asked?

He signaled to two of the MPs to come forward to the base of the flag pole. One of the Lieutenants called ‘Attention!’ and the military group froze at attention as the American flag was slowly lowered from the mast.

When the flag was neatly folded in military fashion, it was given to the Colonel, who, in turn presented it to the camp leader.

‘Please remember us,’ said the Colonel. ‘Remember, will you that a lot of my men fought and died to achieve this day. I am proud to have the honor to present you with this flag of my country, the United States of America, as a symbol of freedom.’

Thereupon, the camp leader signaled to one of the refugees, who carried a large package under his arm. He brought it forward and gave it to two of the refugees who had replaced the MPs at the flag pole. Slowly they opened the package and withdrew a large blue-and-white flag.

They attached it to the halyard and slowly began to pull it up to the top of the mast. As the wind got it, it unfurled, and there, majestically flying almost within the shadow of Hitler’s Retreat area, flew the flag of Israel in all its majestic glory. Again the Lieutenant gave the command of attention and every DP in the camp grew a head taller as they sang Hatikvah[song describes the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their homeland]. When the final notes of the anthem ended, I had the same feeling as if a sacred prayer had just been sung by a celestial choir.

‘Carry on, Chaplain,’ said the Colonel, after he dismissed his men. ‘I envy you today. Thanks for helping me.’

As the jeep disappeared in a backwash of dust, I looked at the camp leader and all the DPs. They were looking up at the miracle at the top of the flag pole and every eye and cheek was wet with tears. Suddenly, I realized that I was crying myself. I was a witness to the rebirth of Israel.”

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