Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fascinating tale of the Amerys

Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum gave a fascinating lecture at Beth Israel, the Conservative (Masorti) shool in Netanya, about the Balfour Declaration. He was motivated to give this lecture by his findings that he considered an amazing story. His curiousity was sparked by the question, who actually wrote the Balfour Declaration, that is considered the founding document of the Jewish State of Israel?

Other countries have founding documents, such as the US has the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 largely by Thomas Jefferson. Then there was the French Declaration of the Rights of Man adopted by the French Assembly in 1789. There is of course the Israeli Declaration of Independence written in 1948 by David Ben Gurion and others, but the Balfour Declaration was unique in that it was attributed to a leader of another government, in fact the Foreign Minister of the British Government in 1917 during WWI, Arthur Balfour. It was then adopted into international law in the Treaty of San Remo in 1920 and was then the basis for the Mandate given by the League of Nations (the forerunner of the UN) to Britain to administer the Turkish territory they called "Palestine" in order to establish a National Homeland for the Jewish people.

The story of how the Balfour Declaration came about is complex and long and has been described in several books, including "The Balfour Declaration" by Jonathan Schneer (see blog 17 May, 2012). But, it was not explicitly stated who actually wrote the final draft that was signed by Arthur Balfour. Several people had a hand in drafting it, including Chaim Weizmann, Head of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, Lord Rothschild, Lloyd George, and Balfour himself. But, after the papers of the British Government of the time were released 50 years later it was discovered that the actual author was Leopold Amery, who was theSecretary of the War Cabinet at that time in Lloyd George's Government.

Who was Leopold Amery? Therein lies an amazing tale. He was a typical British product of his age, born to an upper class family, he lived in Belgravia, London. His mother was a Hungarian aristocrat whose family had escaped persecution in Hungary during one of the uprisings and had fled to England. Leopold himself was born in India in 1873 and on returning to England went to Harrow School, a preserve of the upper class. After studying in Oxford he was sent as a journalist to S. Africa to cover the Boer wars and on his return wrote a seven volume history of the Boer Wars. Eventually he went into politics and was elected to Parliament where he served from 1911-1945. He served in several government posts and in 1915 during WWI was the Cabinet Secretary. It seems that in this role he was given all the drafts that had been received to support the concept of a Jewish presence in Palestine, and he put them together to produce what is known as the Balfour Declaration. It is in fact one sentence that encompasses the basic requirements for the founding of a Jewish National Home.

What became known later, although this was never revealed at the time, was that Leopold's mother Elizabeth, was originally Jewish. Her family had converted to Christianity, but Leopold himself was halachically Jewish, although this remained a secret during his lifetime. The irony of this will become clearer when we discuss his oldest son, John Amery. He was always a difficult child, and after his studies became an open supporter of the Fascist movement. He went to Spain and fought on the side of Franco and then vounteered in France to fight for the Nazis. He was brought to Hitler's attention and met with him several times, since he was after all the son of a serving British Cabinet Minister. John Amery broadcast German propaganda to Britain and he also established The British Free Corps to support the Nazis in the war, although he was only able to recruit a very small number of traitors. What was notable about John Amery was that he was a totally commmited anti-Communist and Jew-hater.

He was captured after the war and was returned to Britain for trial. His parents tried to save his life to no avail since he was a self-confessed Nazi supporter and a traitor to Britain. He was hung in London in 1945. The playwright Ronald Harwood in his play An English Tragedy (2008), explores the relationship between Leo and John Amery and considers it significant to John Amery's story that Leo Amery had apparently concealed his partly Jewish ancestry. It is an amazing story that the actual drafter of the Balfour Declaration that helped to establish the Jewish State was a secret Jew and that his son became a traitor and a spokesman for Nazi ideology.


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