70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

Portrait of a silent artist
Shalom Danny (Ernő Weisz) painter, intelligence officer
Berettyóújfalu, April 22, 1928 - Israel, May 21, 1963

By Krisztina Politzer Maymon - 2018-04-08

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

When we were looking for Israelis of Hungarian origin worthy of our 70 postcards celebrating the independence of Israel, my father sent me a brief story about the Weisz family, copied from the memorial book of the Jews of Berettyóújfalu and its surroundings [1]. At first sight this too is the "usual" tragic story of village survivors: Jewish laws, forced labor service, Bergen-Belsen, father and relatives murdered, survival, migration to Israel and family founding, work and then "new life" - Israeli children and grandchildren. In the other postcards published here, we find some overlaps, such as their escape thanks to the the Kasztner Intervention (the Weisz family, the mother and the four brothers got on a train to Austria instead of Auschwitz, and so they escaped), on their way to Palestine with the aliyah bet, a short stay at a refugee camp in Cyprus ,thanks to the British, and to serve the new homeland: two of the Weisz boys, Tibor and Ernő, started working and had a successful career at the Mossad (Israel's Security and Intelligence Service).

 

However, Ernő Weisz's short life story is abundant in adventures; he would do well as a hero of a Jenő Rejtő novel! We can learn the most about his life and work from a well-known spy novel: "The House of Garibaldi Street," by Isser Harel, the 5th boss of the Israeli Secret Service, tells the capture of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, and dedicates a full chapter to Shalom Danny, the painter.

 

Ernő Weisz was involved under this name in the Finale action and was chosen to join the team because he had a unique talent: the mastery of document forgery. Shalom Danny traveled around the world with brushes, paints and canvases, and under all kinds of circumstances, in any language, he was able to forge passports, ID cards and other official documents free hand. Although he trained as a painter since a young age, he has often used his talent during the persecution and when emigrating to the new home, helping his family and his companions as he was able to produce fake documents in the most primitive circumstances, even from toilet paper (once he was thrown into an American jail for this in Cyprus).

1959 in Morocco, hundreds of fake passports were needed. After the proclamation of Morocco's independence in 1956 and its further Islamization, Jews living there were prohibited to move to the newly formed Israel. Between 1956 and 1961, Israel, with the help of Shochut and Mossad, provided help to nearly 50,000 Jews of Morocco via secret, dangerous actions to get out of the country; this assistance was launched by Isser Harel, the above-mentioned Mossad boss, through the so-called "Casablanca Network." For this action, Shalom Danny moved to the capital of Morocco posing there as a local painter, rented a studio, learned to write Arabic; besides, or rather, instead of creating art works he was busy producing fake passports, so successfully that the local authorities did not discover it, so hundreds of Moroccan Jews could leave the country "legally" in a relatively secure way.

 

Shalom Danny also participated in one of the most famous secret service actions of the world, the capturing of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The Nazi SS Chief Officer Eichmann, who was responsible for the "Final Solution" in WWII, organizing the mass deportation and execution of Jews - and for the longest time in Hungary in person - successfully escaped from Europe and lived with his family as Ricardo Klement, in Argentina. The Mossad and Shin Bet investigated for years and then, when they were finally assured of his whereabouts, they captured him on May 11, 1960, in a successful action. Eichmann was taken to a hiding place in a rented home and they were forced to guard him there for 9 days, as they wanted to smuggle him into Israel using the plane of an Israeli government delegation that came to the capital on the 150th anniversary of Argentine independence. However, according to the preliminary announcement, the machine was only meant to return on 20 May. So Eichmann was "escorted" by the Mossad agents onto the El Al plane only on that day, in an Israeli Airline uniform, in a sedated state albeit able to walk.


The role of Shalom Danny in the capture of Eichmann may seem modest at first sight, as he did not investigate, follow, stand by, throw down Eichmann or deliver him to the hiding place. However, without his involvement, this action could not have been successful. This is how his comrades, in their recollections, describe how he worked for days without a word; Shalom Danny in a Buenos Aires apartment preparing the team's papers. He produced fake passports, visas, driving licenses, license plates, and after the capture of Eichmann, he was responsible for taking the photo of the war criminal and preparing his passport. According to the descriptions, Shalom Danny, the short, silent, humble artist, was forced to spend a whole night with Eichmann to do the job. Eichmann's immediate proximity had shaken the artist, trembling in his whole body, but this time, too, he successfully completed his job. For Eichmann, the Israeli passport was issued under the name Zeev Zichroni, he boarded the Israeli aircraft as an El Al employee, and his escorts were also posing as staff members of the airline supplied with appropriate documentation.

 

Eichmann had to appear before the court in Israel for his sins. The public procedure was broadcast live all over the world and this was the first time Holocaust survivors who appeared as witnesses in court could personally report the horrors they and their families have endured. On December 15, 1961, Eichmann was sentenced to death by rope by the Israeli tribunal of three Judges.

 

The 50th anniversary of the action was celebrated by an unusual exhibition of Mossad, which was shown at the Diaspora Museum in Tel-Aviv and later in other countries as well: visitors could see the objects and documents used to capture Eichmann. Here are the tools of Shalom Danny and the perfectly prepared documents.

Some of the tools used for the forgery

Israeli passport issued to Eichmann as an Israeli pilot - photo: Beit Hatfutsot

El-Al Airplane Engineer Certificate issued to Mossad's Chief Harel, 1960 - Photo: Elad Sarig / Mossad Archive

Shalom Danny later went to Paris, and besides his service for the state, he was at last able to deal with fine art, and precisely this activity ended up causing some slight diplomatic complications. In 1962, one of his Spanish, French and Moroccan landscapes exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris won the top prize awarded by the King of Morocco annually for the most beautiful Moroccan landscape. However, the winner did not only have a $1,000 worth of prize from the monarch but also a multi-week Moroccan trip, whose peak event was to paint the king's portrait. When the organizers became aware that the lucky winner was an Israeli citizen (not to mention if they had found out his real mission too!), in order to avoid diplomatic complications, the talented artist agreed to resigning from the main prize and be satisfied with the second place.

During his studies in Paris, Shalom Danny invented a revolutionary process in the field of glass painting, whereby the sample can be transferred to the glass without a free hand drawing, but with a photo employing a vitrage technique that is still being used ever since.

The award winning painting

Early news about Shalom Danny painter’s too big of a success in Paris

Having been a member of the secret service, it is difficult to gather more information on his work, but his name is also mentioned in connection with important Mossad actions, such as the attempt to capture Josef Mengele (who was the first target of Mossad after Eichmann was captured) and a spy action concerning German scientists assisting the Egyptian missile program. However, we know that Shalom Danny's name is kept in a separate room and memorial in a museum created for the memory of intelligence members who died in the service of Israel (although he did not die during his service but passed away because of his heart disease at the age of 35). The museum, with its monument shaped as a labyrinth contains a library and archive; it was created with the help of the largest share of public donations, in order  that the memories of Israeli spies, secret agents and intelligence who, because of their work, lived and died in anonymity, would not get lost in obscurity.

Monument to Israeli Intelligence

Thus Shalom Danny was a hero of Israel, serving his country with his talent and work - and he did it quietly, away from fame and spotlight. We remember him with this postcard.

Shalom Danny and his wife - family photo

[1] - A memorial to the Jews of Berettyóújfalu and its surroundings. Haifa, 2001. Edited by Dávid Nesher and Zsuzsa Gerő, pictures: Arie Lancet

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