That’s How it happened – Memories of Dan Carmel

The book ‘That’s how it happened’, written by Dan Carmel, was published in 1997 in a very limited edition for family and friends only. This year, in honor of Dan’s 90th birthday, we decided that this is the best time to re-publish the book on the Internet, including a new English translation:

Through his personal history, my father tells the story of the establishment of the State of Israel. It begins with Dan’s childhood in Vienna, the capital of Austria, at the beginning of the 20th century. Jews who lived there comfortably and conveniently were deeply involved with the local society, while at the same time strongly influenced by the young Zionist movement born in this city. However, complacency and the comfortable life ended with the German annexation in 1938. Dan refuses to flee to the United States, along with his brothers and uncles, but insists on going to Israel, as he was educated by the Zionist youth movement. He joins a group of pioneers who intended to go to Palestine, leaving Vienna at the last minute, immediately after the outbreak of war. Unfortunately, the group gets stuck in Yugoslavia for two years. Dan narrowly succeeds in escaping at the last minute and safely arrives in Palestine. The people that remained, including his cousin Leah, are murdered after the Germans invaded Yugoslavia.

In Palestine Dan sheds the remnants of life in the diaspora. He stops speaking German and changes his surname from Weinreich to Carmel. After graduating high-school he joins the Palmach, the Israeli underground, and takes an active part in the defense operations before the establishment of the State of Israel. He participates in building Kibbutz Hukok in the Galilee, and fights in the Jordan Valley during the War of Independence. After the war, he marries Elka and they build their family at Kibbutz Beit-Hashita, where they live to this day.

In 2012 I visited Vienna, as part of my work, and took the opportunity to visit the house were you were born Father, at Arnezhofer-Strasse. The house is located in a small alley in the Prater quarter. Is this the alley where the Hitler Youth members marched shouting ‘Death for the Jews’? Is this the alley where you ran away from SA soldiers who wanted to punish you for your insolence? I looked at the building and saw the staircase you used to slide down, annoying your mother. Is this the staircase where years later you ambushed your Nazi neighbor who humiliated your mother and expelled you from your apartment, looking for revenge? Only God and you know how close he was to his death that day.

From your house I went to the beautiful Danube which flows through the city. A new modern bridge crosses the river instead of the old bridge that was destroyed during the war. I stood on the bridge and watched the water flowing calmly. It seems that here you stood, throwing in the service revolver and the certificate of excellence of your father who fought for the imperial army in WWI. You also threw your mother’s gold jewelry into the gray water, to avoid giving them to the hated authorities. I took the tram and watched the travelers. Luckily, there is no special trailer today for ‘Dogs and Jews Only’. Vienna is a cosmopolitan city, contemporary, smiling and cheerful, flooded with tourists and members of different races. The city has completely forgotten its dark past. I’m sure you’re glad of that.

Your book, Father, tells how you confronted evil at its most murderous, and built a beautiful home and family here in Israel. Is it the state you dreamed of, while lying on top of the water tower in Hukok, watching the moon overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the absolute desolation around you? I’m sure that even in your best dream you did not envision the prosperous country in which we live today. On the other hand, I suppose you did not foresee the effects of racism and xenophobia in the Jewish state. You probably ask yourself how people who suffered so much from hate and humiliation can hurt others in the same way? I hope your personal story can contribute to more tolerance among us.

This year we celebrate your 90th birthday, Father. Our wish for you is that you continue enjoying your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Your book will expose them to the story of your life and to their roots. This is the story of your life, Father, it will live in our hearts forever.

In conclusion, I would like to thank everyone who helped bringing this book into existence. To Adi Carmel who helped in selecting the appropriate site and in finding the video interview of Dan and Elka talking about their wedding day. To Jenny Carmel for the cover design. To Chani Sacharen for the linguistic editing of the English version. And finally, especially to you Father, for sharing the story of your life with us, and for the tremendous effort you put in translating the Hebrew manuscript into English.

David Carmel
Haifa, Israel
March 2015

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