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Ehud Avriel

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5000 | Film ID: 3100, 3101, 3102, 3103, 3104

Ehud Avriel was born in Vienna and became active in escape and rescue operations after the Germans invaded. He continued this work once he reached Palestine in 1939. Avriel later held several positions in the Israeli government.

FILM ID 3100 -- Camera Rolls #1-4 -- 01:00:07 to 01:33:11
Roll 1
01:00:07 Ehud Avriel sits in a chair in front of a window overlooking the ocean, most likely in a hotel or office in Tel Aviv, Israel. Claude Lanzmann remains off camera while he asks Avriel questions about the missions he was involved in during the war. Avriel was part of a group of emissaries called the Haganah that worked to establish contact with Jews in ghettos and occupied countries in order to help them escape. He arrived in Istanbul in the winter of 1942-43. [CLIP 1 BEGINS] Avriel worked with Danny Schind and lived with other Haganah members and their mission at that time was to organize the departure of boats from Bulgaria and Romania to bring Jews to safety in Turkey. It was very difficult and dangerous because telephones were unreliable and were able to be interfered. The Mossad was a part of the Haganah focused on emigration into Palestine. One of their greatest challenges was finding trustworthy people in hostile countries, though Bulgarians treated the Jews very well there was still a fear that they would betray them or the Gestapo would find out about these secret missions. 01:11:15

Roll 2
01:11:18 Another problem they faced once they were able to get the Jews out of Bulgaria was how they were going to try and get them into Turkey. Turkey wanted to remain as neutral as possible and feared allowing Jews into the country would alter this neutrality. For the Haganah it was a matter of convincing the Turkish government that these refugees would leave once the war was over. The challenge was trying to figure out a way to guarantee that the Jews would in fact leave. Once they were able to accomplish bringing the Jews into Turkey the next mission was to transport them illegally through Syria and Lebanon to Palestine. They were in constant talks with the British government about making the move to Palestine official. Lord Cranborne, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in England at the time, released a statement which said that Jews who were able to get to Turkey on their own, without the help of any groups like the Mossad, would be granted access into Palestine. At the same time, Major Arthur Vitold contacted Mossad. Avriel reads from the letter that was sent from Vitold which stated that secretly he would allow Jews to go to Turkey and Palestine that had been assisted by Mossad. Publicly the British government acted very strict about the placement of Jews in Palestine, but secretly there was transit permission. 01:22:23

Roll 3
01:22:33 Upon learning this information the Haganah rushed to resume and maximize their mission. Lanzmann asks Avriel about how much of the extermination they were actually aware of at the time. Avriel states that they were completely aware that the Nazi's goal was to exterminate the Jewish population and that they had the capabilities to follow through. In the spring of 1943 they were aware of Auschwitz and Treblinka and other extermination camps. Though they were aware of the mission they never imagined the brutality of it such as the gas chambers. The Haganah had instant contact with the Jews in the ghettos as of the early 1940s, but it was difficult to penetrate the concentration camps. The mail they received was written in coded language, Jews would often use Hebrew words as names of people they were writing about in order to inform the Haganah of what was happening. 01:32:38

Roll 4
01:32:40 Avriel reads an example of a postcard they would receive. 01:33:11

FILM ID 3101 -- Camera Rolls #5-7 -- 02:00:06 to 02:33:36
Roll 5
02:00:06 [CLIP 2 BEGINS] Avriel sits indoors in Israel and reads a letter the Haganah received from a Jew in Warsaw, Poland. The letter reads pleasantly, but Avriel explains the code words that reveal it is a letter about the extermination of millions of Jews. CU of Avriel as he reads the letter. Avriel reads another letter from the Bedzin ghetto on the Polish/German border. It is from November 10, 1942 and sounds like a normal letter of correspondence, but the coded words reveal the description of certain people being brought to death camps and the hopelessness the author of the letter is feeling. Letters were sent by regular mail and though secret or double agents who worked for the Haganah and for the other side. Avriel discusses how close they were to the German embassy where Mr. von Papen was the ambassador. In order to continue their operation they had to pretend be employed with something else like newspaper correspondence and marmalade production. 02:11:21

Roll 6
02:11:24 Lanzmann asks Avriel about when he came to know about Joel Brand. Avriel states that after the Nazi occupation of Budapest in 1944 they received a telegram regarding Brand, but under an alias. They arrived in an official German government airplane without proper visas. In a meeting with all the emissaries from Palestine Joel Brand spoke of a meeting he had with SS Officer Eichmann in which Eichmann stated he would trade Jewish lives for goods such as trucks, soap, tea and coffee. While Avriel and the Haganah were in awe of Brand's presence they were also very confused about Eichmann's proposal, it was difficult for them to believe. 02:22:25

Roll 7
02:22:31 Avriel recounts what happened at the meeting after Joel Brand told of Eichmann's proposal. Bandy Gross pulled Avriel aside and told him that everything Brand said about Eichmann is actually a hoax. There was much confusion over who or what to believe. Joel Brand thought the Haganah in Istanbul was much more powerful than they actually were, it was difficult to explain to him that they did not have the resources or money or support to accomplish such an operation. Avriel says Brand had fallen for the Nazi belief of Jewish groups being all-powerful. Avriel understands the Nazi influence because he lived under the Nazis in Vienna in the late 1930s. 02:33:36

FILM ID 3102 -- Camera Rolls #8-11 -- 03:00:07 to 03:38:28
Roll 8
03:00:07 [CLIP 3 BEGINS] Avriel sits indoors in Israel as he tells Lanzmann of when he lived in Vienna. He describes the power of Nazi propaganda and how he too fell victim to it during this time. He sympathizes with Joel Brand because he had no idea he was being tricked. Brand probably saw Istanbul as a country of freedom and that the Haganah was all powerful, able to have influence over Roosevelt and Churchill, when in fact none of this was true. Avriel and Danny Schindt were convinced that Brand's meeting with Eichmann was a German trick to use Jews as bait. The Haganah went to Vitold for help and Avriel believes he did everything he could to help them. Meanwhile Brand was attacking them for not acting fast enough saying that every hour they let pass ten thousand more people were dying. Brand was disappointed with their limitations. 03:12:45

Roll 9
03:12:47 Avriel says that Brand spoke like a Biblical prophet telling them they were not doing what they should. While they sit safe in Turkey ten thousand people were dying per hour. Avriel recounts how hard this was to listen to especially because they actually could not do anything quick enough or large enough to help those numbers of people. 03:16:09

Roll 10
03:16:13 Avriel says that Brand talked to them like he was going back to Hungary. His entire family was still there. Brand was very convincing because he seemed like a man who only spoke the truth. The Turks refused to allow Brand to stay in Istanbul, but he did not want to return to Hungary empty handed. Brand felt as though he had let his people down. They devised a plan to fabricate an interim accord document that stated that Brand had instructions from Chaim Weizmann. This plan was supposed to buy Brand more time when he returned to Budapest. 03:27:18

Roll 11
03:27:19 [CLIP 4 BEGINS] Avriel discussed how little they knew in 1944 and how much they had to speculate about Brand and Gross' intentions for their visit to Istanbul. They had theories about Himmler wanting to make contact with Eisenhower. Brand was so convinced that Eichmann was going to stick to his word and stop the deportation of Hungarian Jews. They had to convince Brand that Eichmann did not have the power to "stop the machine." Brand met with Shertock in order to further the fabrication that they had devised to buy Brand more time in Istanbul. 03:38:28

FILM ID 3103 -- Camera Rolls #12-15 -- 04:00:06 to 04:32:43
Roll 12
04:00:06 Avriel continues to discuss Joel Brand as he sits indoors in Israel. After they had all the information they could get from Brand it became about returning him safely. They knew he would never survive crossing a Nazi border on his way back to Hungary, so the Haganah decided to inform the British government with the hopes that they would be interested in saving or detaining Brand. Avriel wonders if what he speaks of is information he knew at the time or actually a combination with things he has learned since the war. He thinks Brand lost his courage and his will and that is why he did not bring the fabricated accord to the Nazis in Hungary. 04:11:13

Roll 13
04:11:15 [CLIP 5 BEGINS] Because Brand had lost his courage, Avriel and Barder decided to go to Budapest to continue negotiations with the Nazis. The entire mission was a mistake. Avriel and Brand travelled from Istanbul to Aleppo together. Brand disappeared at the end of the train ride. Later Avriel learned from Sharet that Brand was arrested. Lanzmann and Avriel then discuss Kasztner. The negative reel (picture) has ended and it is only audio until 04:25:41.

Roll 14
04:25:42 Lanzmann questions Kasztner's integrity for testifying in favor of Becher in Nuremberg. Avriel explains why he believes it was an error in judgment and not an evil action. 04:28:44

Roll 15
04:28:46 Lanzmann is shocked by Itsak Gruenbaum's text which seems contradictory because while he was on a public committee to save the European Jews he was also placing Zionist edification above the rescue. Avriel disagrees that this was Gruenbaum's actual mindset and argues that even if it was it did not matter because he had no authority over the people. Avriel discloses that Gruenbaum's son was a Communist that collaborated with the Nazis. Avriel discusses how Gruenbaum was a politician and not an authority. 04:32:43

FILM ID 3104 -- Coupes -- 05:00:05 to 05:07:56
(Silent) 05:00:05 Claude Lanzmann sits in a chair and writes in a notebook. He smokes a cigarette and looks at the people off camera. CU of Lanzmann with his glasses on. He adjusts himself in his chair and listens intently to Avriel. CU of Lanzmann as he lights a cigarette. CU of Lanzmann as he writes. 05:06:07 CU of Lanzmann laying down. Camera zooms out to reveal Lanzmann lying in bed. Lanzmann, shirtless, sits in bed under the sheets and lights a cigarette. He is talking to someone off camera. The camera zooms in on his face while he smokes a cigarette. 05:07:56

Event:  1979
Production:  1985
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2023-11-07 12:39:42
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