Being a wickie at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight had its good points, Benjamin thought. His wife Edith and daughter Judith aided him in his work, so it became a family endeavor. Also the lighthouse grounds doubled as a meteorological outstation. During daylight, the Margolies family sent hourly reports of temperature, humidity, cloud height, cloud formation, wind direction, and wind force to the Meteorological Office in London by Teletype. This allowed Benjamin the satisfaction of working within his chosen field.
When Benjamin was paid his salary a small amount of petrol was delivered to power the engine that turned the lighthouse shaft. He was never tempted to divert a portion of this petrol to his motorcar, as he had none, but he did have to keep an eye out for neighbors who did.
On weekday mornings Judith trudged up from Undercliff to the village of Niton for her primary school, and sometimes her mother accompanied her when she needed to attend to shopping. At sunset on Friday, when it was Shabbat, Benjamin and his family ceased from all their labors and remained indoors. On rare occasions Benjamin took his family by ferry and bus on such modest holidays as they could afford. One time they went to the beautiful Lake District in the northwest of the country, camping in the high, treeless hills called fells that qualified as mountains in Eng- land.
The Isle of Wight lay within the English Channel, and the English Channel was the chief arena of contest between the United Kingdom and Germany in 1940. That is not to say the Margolies family would have been entirely safe if they had moved closer to the Lake District.
The Luftwaffe had a clear advantage when it came to the quality of their aircraft, but with the new Chain Home Radio Direction Finding systems providing early warning of attacks, RAF pilots could rest until scrambled, use less fuel, and put less wear on their own aircraft.
As the Luftwaffe began to take heavy losses in bombers and fighter cover they tried attacking some of the Chain Home stations, including one that was constructed near to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. The Margolies family was unharmed but they had their first taste of the War. Towers constructed with an open lattice structure are practically immune to blasts. The few antennas the Germans did manage to topple were repaired within days while operators from nearby dummy stations broadcasted signals to make the enemy believe no harm was done at all.
The Luftwaffe tried flying lower and approaching England below the sight line of Chain Home stations but the British used smaller systems intended to direct gunfire against ships in the Channel and German losses continued to mount at an unacceptable rate. Eventually the Luftwaffe accepted they would be spotted electronically and switched to night raids, thinking the RAF’s fighters could not see them in actual combat. The British quickly produced even smaller systems for planes that rapidly ended German night bombing over England.
The Luftwaffe lost nearly two thousand planes and Hitler was forced to shelf his invasion plans indefinitely. In hindsight Hitler’s ‘Operation Sea Lion’ was never realistic. Even if Germany had obtained a lasting command of the air, Britain still had an unmatched Navy.
The United Kingdom shifted emphasis from air defense to air offense, but during the course of 1941 it became clear to Bomber Command that nighttime navigation to the correct target was a serious issue. In 1942 an electronic guidance system called Clarinet was developed. Clarinet used two highly directional radio beams, one transmitting Morse code dots and the other one transmitting dashes, to be received by a single bomber flying point in the wave to minimize the chance of the Germans reverse-engineering the system from a downed plane.
The night bombers flew out from England on a straight line along the radio dots, and when the lead plane encountered the strongest part of the radio dashes from another angle it dropped a load of marker flares. Then the whole bomber wave dropped their bombs on the flares.
Concrete was transparent to the Clarinet frequency. So an antenna was constructed inside Benjamin’s lighthouse mounted to the central shaft. That way the structure of the lighthouse would hide the antenna and the Germans, it was thought, would never suspect a thing. Periodically a targeting order came to Benjamin Margolies over the same Teletype he used to transmit his weather information to London. The message gave him a precise angle to position the antenna, a duration and start time, and whether he was to transmit dots or dashes.
The Margolies family was kept busy throughout 1943 as the RAF focused their bombing campaign on Hamburg and the industry centered in the Ruhr valley. The next year a large number of American, Australian, En Zed, and Canadian troops were transported to the south of England.
They trained with Tommies in preparation for the invasion of France. To ensure their success a tower of deception was assembled that the world had never seen before nor since. False plans were even planted on a corpse that was allowed to wash up on a French beach. A world of false radio traffic was created and maintained to let the German High Command conclude that US Army General G. S. Patton was gearing up to lead the entire force over the narrowest part of the Channel where Dover could be seen from Calais. The Germans knew it was the smart move.
Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay, in overall command of the invasion, left absolutely nothing to chance. On June 4, 1944, just before D-Day, Sir Ramsay actually took time to visit St. Catherine’s lighthouse. The weather was quite murky and wet so he cut his inspection short. Benjamin showed Ramsay the room where the Teletype and Clarinet transmitter were installed. Ramsay thanked Benjamin personally for his service to the King, and Benjamin, for his part, considered it prudent not to mention the assistance he received from Edith and Judith.
The Admiral seemed to be captivated by a wall chart and asked Benjamin to identify it.
“That’s my moving five-day weather forecast for Undercliff, sir. That would be this stretch where the lighthouse is located. We are in a rain-shadow, you know. And also a fog-shadow. The weather here is not nearly as immoderate as it is for the Overners.”
After the War it was Benjamin who coined the word microclimate.
He led the Admiral into the white octagonal tower to inspect the Clarinet antenna and took him spiralling up the ninety-four steps to the top. Benjamin showed Sir Ramsay where the huge crystal lens had been chipped by a 1943 air raid. They could see thirty nautical miles out to sea. The whole English Channel was roiling with whitecaps kicked up from high winds which threatened to derail the immanent invasion.
“And you do this weather forecasting as a sort of hobby?”
“Perhaps more than just a hobby, Admiral Sir Ramsay. I’m trained as a meteorologist, and I’m a damn fine one, if you don’t mind me carrying my own chair. But it’s wartime now, and I’m a wickie for the duration. Now I know we’ve all got to pull together to stop Jerry, sir, and I’m sure other professional men are in the same predicament as myself, but all the same, one must use the skills one has been trained to use, or one’s mind gets in a bit of a rut.”
“I see,” said Ramsay.
“It’s not the purely sterile pursuit you might imagine it to be, Admiral Sir. By a strange fluke of geography and wind and water currents, the weather here at the lighthouse has a very high correlation with the weather directly across the Channel on the coast of France. I’ve checked it for years, sir, in every season, and the match occurs more than eighty percent of the time, well outside the realm of coincidence. I intend to publish a paper about this after the war.”
“Is that so? Remarkable! And what do you forecast for Undercliff?”
“A twenty-four hour break in this miserable weather, partly cloudy, winds drop to five knots. Then on the afternoon of the sixth of June we return to the same pattern. Everywhere else along the English Channel there will be fog and rain and winds gusting to thirty knots.”
Admiral Sir Ramsay was elated. Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist had predicted the same short break in the weather using B-17 aircraft far out over the Atlantic to gather the data. General Montgomery was willing to take the risk, but Ramsay and Ike were still cautious.
Allied Intelligence said General Erwin Rommel, master of the Atlantic Wall, wasn’t even presently in France, a sign the Germans were anticipating at least a week of bad weather. But now a doughnut hole in that weather was confirmed by a second, entirely unexpected source. Sir Ramsay had moved over to General Montgomery’s camp and was ready to give the nod on the invasion. It might be enough to convince Eisenhow- er, the Supreme Allied Commander, to launch the massive invasion of France just as the Germans were letting down their guard.
The Admiral asked, “Does the strange correlation of weather between Undercliff and the French coast hold for the Pas-De-Calais?”
“Alas, no, I’m afraid that predicting the weather for Dover and Calais is a puzzle, and my reports to the Weather Office are but one piece.”
The Admiral sighed, suddenly reluctant to proceed. There was one final duty Benjamin Margolies could perform for England, and it saddened the Admiral to deceive the man, but there was no choice. It was, in fact, the chief reason for his visit. He said, “Then it is time to reveal the real purpose of my visit here, and why I have attended to this myself rather than send a staffer. What I’m about to tell you has the highest possible classification. You cannot mention a word of it even to your family.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Mr. Margolies, the following three weeks will be very lively ones for you, I’m afraid. You might be aware that much of southern England has become one large armed camp containing millions of troops from several countries, and all their supplies. As we get closer to the moment of the Allied invasion across the Strait of Dover, which is set for the final week of June, you will find that your Clarinet task orders will be coming in at a much greater rate than ever before.”
“Nightly rather than weekly, then, sir?”
“Twice nightly, I’m afraid. We will soon be bombing the potential landing areas continuously, day and night, and you’ll need to get such sleep as you can when it is light. I wanted to tell you this, Mr. Margolies, so when it happens you do not imagine things have gone terribly amiss.”
“I understand what I must do, sir,” said Benjamin Margolies. “Perfectly.”
So after a brisk shake of their hands they descended the spiralling steps mounted inside the structure of St. Catherine’s lighthouse and were parted, but Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay felt thoroughly soiled.
One time a German U-boat captain gazed at the shore of the Isle of Wight through his periscope and noted that St. Catherine’s lighthouse stopped flashing for hours. It was a small matter but he noted the start and stop time. The report wound its way through Berlin. One clever analyst realized the data matched the start and stop time of the Clarinet signal originating from what they thought was a nearby antenna. A second observation verified the light beam remained lined up on a target in Germany that was taken out by night bombing.
In the early morning hours of June 5, 1944 a U-boat surfaced off the Isle of Wight. Commandos rowed ashore to raid the lighthouse, led by an SS captain named Felix Schaub who doubled as the political officer to ensure the crew’s loyalty to the gangsters running Germany. On this occasion Felix Schaub wore his black pre-war Schutz Staffel uniform for the brutal psychological effect he knew it would have on the Margolies family.
Judith and Edith whimpered in terror when they were tied up and threatened with pistols pointed at their heads. Benjamin demonstrated the operation of the Clarinet system to Captain Schaub, but the Germans neither destroyed the gear nor tried to remove it to their submarine. Instead, Schaub identified each member of the Margolies family by name, and told them he knew they were Jews.
“Mr. Margolies,” Straub said, “this is a matter of life and death for your wife and daughter. I do not make empty threats. The fate of Edith and Judith will depend on how you answer two questions. First, what is the target area of the planned invasion across the Channel?”
Benjamin stiffened in dismay. He was confronted with the choice of losing his family or betraying the trust Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay had given him. To prod him along, there was a slight nod from Schaub. The hammer was pulled back on the pistol pointed at Judith’s head.
Margolies capitulated. It was never really a question. “Dover to Calais,” he said, letting escape the breath he had been holding for half a minute.
“Goot,” Captain Schaub said. “And the timing?”
“I do not know the precise day. I know only that it will be during the last week of June.”
The SS officer smiled. “I am a man of my word,” he said. “Your family is safe. But this is what I want you to do now, Mr. Margolies. When you get your orders to operate Clarinet, you will carry them out, but you will be just a little sloppy when you align the antenna. Not too much, Mr. Margolies! Perhaps only a fraction of one degree. Just enough to throw off the resulting bombing raid by a few hundred meters. You will do this until your government returns to their original wisdom and no longer prosecutes its war against the Reich. But this is the most important part: you must tell no one you are sabotaging the raids, or that we were ever here.”
“Or you’ll return and kill us?”
“Mr. Margolies, now I am disappointed in you! What does a man have in this world if he fails to do what he promises he will do? You have my word that neither you nor your lovely wife Edith nor your beautiful young daughter Judith will be killed. But I am not sure that you are a man of your word, Mr. Margolies. So at this time we will take them to the concentration camp near Saint-Malo in France.”
“No, I beg you!”
“Do not be alarmed, Mr. Margolies. Your wife Edith and your daughter will not be unduly mistreated there, nor even on the way there. This camp I mentioned that lies in Brittany is where all the British Jews we captured in the Channel Islands have been relocated. But if we learn that a future air raid using the transmitter inside this lighthouse is successful, things will not seem so good. But even then, my word will hold! Judith and Edith will be simply be transferred to a work camp deeper in France or perhaps even in Germany.”
Judith and Edith Margolies were taken to Cherbourg by raft and by sub, and by the morning of June 6 they were inducted into a French farm that had been dubbed a clinic for racial hygiene.
Schuab’s report, sent by coded radio from the U-boat, filtered up to Hitler, and the final piece of deception in the Fortitude element of Operation Bodyguard was in place. Hitler reinforced the defenses in the Pas-De-Calais region and left only a skeleton force at Normandy. Captain Felix Straub and the Uboat at his beck and call only just made it to Cherbourg in time.
In the early morning hours of June 6 the Channel was filled with 7,000 vessels carrying 160,000 men to the beaches of Normandy, and not Calais, as Benjamin told his tormentors. Mr. Margolies’s weather forecast had tipped Ramsay into Montgomery’s camp for having a go, and that in turn convinced Eisenhower.
Two Panzer tank divisions, which might have defeated the invasion, were kept on a tight leash by Hitler because he didn’t trust his own generals. Hitler himself slept until noon on the sixth of June, and didn’t release the Panzers until four in the afternoon, by which time the beachhead was relatively secure and Allied aircraft dominated the skies to the point of forcing all German tanks to move only at night.
For two months the Allies were tied down in the Normandy region trying to break out of hedgerow country while the Germans attempted to contain them. When the Allies did escape, the breakthrough was very near to the Saint-Malo area where Judith and Edith were being held. To prevent their premature liberation the Germans moved everyone in the camp to another one deeper in France, far from the front lines, precisely what Felix Straub threatened would happen should Benjamin Margolies prove faithless in his sabotage, when he in fact never was.
Benjamin continued to operate the Clarinet system when the nightly orders came in over the Teletype, but he deliberately altered the requested target angle slightly. He sincerely believed Captain Straub that it was the only way he could save the lives of Edith and Judith.
The deception came crashing to an end in September when Judith failed to register for secondary school. The constable came calling, and he found evidence of the raid by the German frogmen. He notified army intelligence, and they in turn squeezed the truth out of Benjamin. Sir Ramsay successfully intervened to keep Benjamin out of prison, but Sir Arthur Harris of RAF Bomber Command insisted the man be sacked from his lighthouse job. He was forced to move to a small cottage on the beach nearby and he was not even permitted to operate his weather station inside St. Catherine’s lighthouse. In his isolation Benjamin gradually began to despair of seeing either one of his loved ones again.
After breaking out of Normandy at Avranches, General Patton’s Third Army moved across France at an unbelievable pace, performing a right hook that nearly encircled Hitler’s forces opposing the invasion. Judith and Edith were moved to different camps at least once a month. The constant relocation was encouraging in a way, but things grew progressively worse the nearer Edith and Judith were taken to Germany itself. Internment camps were abandoned for work camps, which were evacuated in turn for what could only be called punishment camps.
Early in 1945 after one more relocation, Edith and Judith reached their final destination, an extermination camp called Ohrdruf-Nord deep in the heart of Germany proper. In that place Jews were worked to death constructing a railroad center that would never be finished. Along the way currency, gold, and jewelry (of which Judith and Edith had none) were sent to the SS headquarters of the Economic Adminstration. Watches, clocks, and pens were sent to the troops on the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts. Their civilian clothing was given to increasingly needy German families.
Judith saw things that pushed far beyond any boundaries of human evil she thought were possible to exist. Ohrdruf wasn’t even the worst camp in the hellish constellation. Those were to be found further to the east, in Poland. Many men have a taste for sixteen year old female flesh. Judith learned to trade her body for scraps of extra food. The longer she could delay taking on the figure of a skeleton, the more opportunities he might have to trade her body for food, for both herself and Edith.
This became a huge problem during the terrifying and humiliating appells, or inspections, that followed roll call and lasted most of the day. The guards realized Judith and Edith were wasting away at a slightly slower rate than their companion prisoners. They were successful in feigning weakness, but it was almost impossible to hide their extra weight, and suspicion was raised.
When the guns of Patton’s tanks could be heard only forty miles away, the twelve thousand inmates of the camp were being loaded onto cattle cars. The prisoners were being rushed to transfer to Buchenwald. Edith Margolies slipped and revealed that she had a little extra food hidden away. What happened after that Judith told no one but her father, years after the war, on his final day of life. Learning the manner of the passing of his wife might have even been the thing that killed him.
Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Judith was one of the very few prisoners left standing. After the war in Europe when Judith had been sufficiently deloused and scrubbed, and had demonstrated her status as a British subject to the satisfaction of the Occupation, she was placed on a ship and sent home to her father.
She met him on a dock at Portsmouth. Judith gazed upon him as though across a great gulf which was the memory of the unspeakable ordeal she had somehow survived. They were utter strangers to each other. When he took her home Benjamin tearfully begged his daughter to tell him what happened to Edith. The girl said nothing. Every time he pressed, she would only shake her head. But the beach bungalow was very small, and it was not very long before Benjamin caught a quick glimpse of the mass of whip scars on his daughter’s back.
After Paul von Hindenburg, President of the Wiemar Republic of Germany, died in 1934 his powers were rolled up with the existing powers of the Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, making him the absolute ruler of the country. And since Hitler had always had it out for the Jews, things began to go badly for them in Europe. Jews were systematically stripped of their rights on the Continent. They lost their jobs and homes and were moved into work camps that eventually became great factories of human death.
But nothing similar ever happened in Britain. There were even Jews in Parliament. The Margolies family had been royal subjects for many generations. Benjamin Margolies was a meteorologist with a specialty in ‘numerical methods of mesoscale forecasting’. He lived, unfortunately, just before the proper tool for his work, the computer, had been invented.
But Jews were very rare in the United Kingdom, which might have explained why, during the Great Depression, Benjamin Margolies could only find work as a lighthouse keeper at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, just a few miles off the southern coast of England. Still, Benjamin faithfully served the crown in what capacity he could, even operating a directional transmitter hidden inside the lighthouse which guided bombers on nighttime raids in Germany.
Ultimately he was compelled, without his fully-informed consent, to become part of the disinformation campaign leading up to the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Just prior to the invasion his wife and daughter were abducted by German commandos as surety he would sabotage the raids. His wife Edith never returned to him.
Judith Margolies was an eighteen-year-old survivor of the Holocaust. She did not sleep nights anymore, not even a full year after the War. Instead she stayed wide awake on the back porch of her beach cottage, watching the coast with her war surplus Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle for Nazis who would never come. She suffered terribly from something 20th Century doctors called shell shock and 21st Century doctors would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
One instant Judith was scanning the beach below St. Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight. The next instant a giant appeared. The manner of the man’s appearance was entirely out of the ordinary, Judith thought. Then again, so was standing watch all night every night. Judith realized it was possible she wasn’t entirely sane.
In the feeble light of the full moon in the west and the hint of dawn in the east the giant’s face seemed too dark to be a Nazi, but he could have applied camouflage to his skin just like the frogmen who whisked her mother and herself to France. Judith wasn’t taking chances, not after what she had suffered, not after what she had seen her mother suffer. She fired a round into the air from fifty yards to get the giant’s attention before he advanced closer.
The strange man loomed higher than anyone she had ever seen, perhaps a full eight feet tall. The man watched Judith draw near with the rifle. At ten yards hy said, “You have no need of that weapon with me. I will offer no threat to you.”
“Who are you?” Judith demanded. “You don’t sound remotely English.”
“My name is Michael,” hy said. “And you are correct, I am not from your country at all. I am from somewhere very far away.”
Judith’s rifle dropped a bit from its sight-line on Michael’s head. It was now aimed at hyz heart. She said, “So what are you doing here? And how did you get here?”
“I am here to speak to you,” Michael said. “As for how I arrived, I could explain it to you, but you would think me entirely balmy, rather than just yourself.”
Judith lowered the rifle to point at the ground between them, and there was the faintest glimmer of a smile. She said, “And what would you, having come from so far away, have to say to me?”
“I would ask whether you would hunt real enemies of Jews throughout the world, rather than ones you imagine might come here.”
Judith unchambered the round and slung the rifle over her back. It was just before dawn, and in the light that was beginning to gather, Michael could take a better look at Judith. The girl had just reached adulthood, but there was an aged look in her hollow eyes, as though she had already lived four lifetimes, and it haunted hym. Obviously a kind of Darwinian process in the camps had produced a girl who was able to outwit, bribe, or intimidate anyone to get what she needed to survive. Michael saw the results on Judith’s face. He asked, “Do you live here, at the lighthouse?”
Judith shook her head. “We used to live there, but my father was sacked, for reasons that were entirely unfair. After the war he was allowed to resume work at the weather outstation, but we must live here.”
The work camps had emaciated her body, but when she returned home to the Isle of Wight and was fed by her father, the weight came back in the form of strong, wiry muscles. She was eighteen but looked twice that.
“I should like to meet your father,” Michael said.
Judith spat at the ground. “He has sold his life to the Goy and betrayed the promise of God that our people should rule Eretz Yisrael.”
“When you say your people,” Michael said, “I know you are not speaking of the British, Judith Margolies. You are also a member of a people whose very right to exist is always being questioned.”
Judith’s eyes narrowed at Michael. “How do you know my name?”
“I know many things about you, Judith. I know that your father rendered a service to the Crown that went far beyond the sacrifices that any other Britons were asked to make. I know he was used by the government to help deceive Hitler as to exactly where the invasion was going to take place. They planted false information on him. I know you and your mother were taken to camps on the Continent by German special forces. I know they tattooed the number 271828 on your arm and I know that you have come through such suffering and human degradation and evil that few could ever begin to understand the mere periphery of it, let alone sympathize with the core of your ordeal and your memories of it.”
Judith showed Michael the six numbers tattooed to her arm in Ordruf Nord to affirm her assessment was correct. She said, “The Crown owes a very large marker to my father, but he will not cash it in to obtain a small thing, a concession of such little import it could not possibly disconcert the government in the smallest way. The Foreign Secretary refuses to allow Jews to immigrate to the British Mandate in Palestine. Not even Jews who are already British subjects.”
“Oil,” said Michael.
Judith nodded. One word, but it explained everything. She said, “The admiral who deceived my father is dead. My father has resumed his profession and he is willing to let the whole matter go.”
“What would you do if I said I could take you to Palestine this very day?”
“What would I do? Please give me a moment.”
She went into her cottage, and returned ten minutes later carrying a small tote bag with clothing and her personal effects. She also carried her rifle, but now she also had several boxes of .303 caliber cartridges carried on little straps. But she had not taken the time to wake her father and notify him that she was leaving, and Michael knew that as matters stood the girl could not be persuaded to speak to him. Michael also noted, with some satisfaction, that Judith carried in one hand a quantity of unleavened bread. That was the essence of the feast of Passover, to reaffirm the willingness of the children of Israel to respond without delay to the command of their God to depart their place of captivity. Perhaps Judith had an intuition of who she was really dealing with.
The crack of dawn in England instantly changed to early morning in Israel. Michael had moved east toward the rising sun. Judith saw the light had shifted, and the terrain as well. The cool beach was gone, replaced by warm desert. Astonished, Judith looked into Michael’s eyes and asked, “Who are you, really?”
He said, “I will never lie to you, Judith, but at this point I think were I to tell you the entire truth you would hold me to be absolutely barmy. For now, at the very least, I hope that you consider me a teacher and a friend.”
Listening to Michael’s words had an effect that Judith could never put into words. She was silent for many minutes as her body shook with dry weeping.
Soon they were met in the desert by a number of Jewish farmers who lived a few miles inland from the Mediterranean, at a kibbutz founded by Polish immigrants in 1943 named Yad Mordechai. Lilith could see the kibbutz near at hand. The settlement lay on the coast highway only eight miles north of the city of Gaza and in later years it was only two and a half miles outside of the border of the Gaza Strip. Judith spoke no Polish, nor at that point had she even learned Hebrew, which had been revived from extinction. But all she had to do was brandish the tattoo on her forearm, and it was enough for the pioneers. They were already acquainted with Michael and on good terms.
In the weeks and months that followed, Judith began to suspect she had been taken to her new home by an actual angel of God, perhaps it was even the real Michael, the holy guardian of the children of Israel. The settlers refused to speak of Michael, and that first morning began to seem like a dream. But much fighting lay ahead, and it was much more like a nightmare.
For the balance of 1945, only eight small ships carrying a thousand Jewish war refugees reached Palestine from ports in Italy and Greece. For the first half of 1946, another 10,500 immigrants arrived on eleven ships. From August 1946 to December 1947, 51,700 Displaced Persons tried to make their way to Palestine on thirty-five ships, but were captured by the British and taken to new camps on the island of Cyprus, where they languished behind barbed wire. Many of the armed guards of these camps in Cyprus had liberated some of the very same prisoners from the extermination camp at Belsen-Belson only eighteen months prior, and they were fully aware of this.
In 1947 the UN proposed the creation of two independent states in Palestine, one controlled by the Arabs and one Jewish.r The Jewish side of the partition was to have 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs. The Arab side was to have 700,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews. Jerusalem was to have about 100,000 of each ethnicity. The Jews would get the blasted wasteland of the Negev desert, and the Arabs would get the fertile upper Galilee region. The UN thought all these arrangements were entirely fair. So fair, in fact, that after Israel declared Statehood and the UN realized the Displaced Persons were being handed rifles as soon as they got off the boat at Haifa, another SC resolution was passed to prevent immigration of males from age 17 to 45.
David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency whose authority had been established by the League of Nations, knew the Jews would have to fight even for the lousy territory they had been assigned. He ordered every Jew in Palestine mobilized for war, both men and women alike.
On the day after Partition, a bus carrying Jewish civilians to Jerusalem was attacked by Arabs with rifles and grenades, killing five people, including a young bride named Shoshona Mizrachi Farhi on the way to her wedding. The war for independence had begun, It would claim the lives of 6,000 Jews, or one percent of the total population.
Armed Bedoin nomads surrounded a number of isolated settlements in the south, including Judith’s collective farm. Ben-Gurion swore that not one single settlement would be evacuated. Armored cars produced in Tel Aviv were used to secure the water pipelines that these settlements depended on, and to send weapons and reinforcements through the Bedoin lines.
A convoy of armored buses was attacked on April 15, and seventy-seven Jewish doctors, nurses, and patients were killed. Only twenty-eight survived, and only eight of these were not wounded. King Abdullah of Transjordan offered the Jews autonomy, but only if they remained under his sovereignty. A Jewish Agency negotiator named Golda Meir was pained to disappoint her good friend the king, but she had to reject his offer. After everything the Jews had suffered it was simply not enough to be represented in a foreign parliament.
This led directly to the declaration of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. Eleven minutes later, the American President Harry S Truman officially recognized the state by cable, before he even knew what the name of the country would be.
Britain opened the camps on Cyprus and thousands of Jews streamed into Israel by ship.r The first Egyptian attack was against the kibbutz of Kfar Darom, seven miles south of Gaza, where thirty settlers held off elements of the Muslim Brotherhood with little more than grenades. When their grenades ran out, they put explosives in bags and hurled them at the attackers. When Egypt rolled in their tanks, the settlers fired their British-made anti-tank weapons at the lead tanks, destroying them, and causing the other tanks to withdraw.
Then Egypt bypassed Kfar Darom and moved to kibbutz Nirim, five miles away. Twenty defenders were killed but they held on. Not even a brutal air attack the next day broke their will.
When the Israeli defense activity completely abandoned the coastal highway running south from Tel Aviv, Judith’s kibbutz at Yad Mordechai was completely cut off. Only two private aircraft maintained contact between north and south, carrying newspapers and boxes of medical supplies. The pilots of these aircraft were called Mahal, or foreign volunteers. Judith herself was part of the Gahal, or immigrant soldiers. Most of the children in the kibbutz were called sabra. That is, they had been born in Palestine and knew no other home. Judith was their guardian when their parents worked the fields, both before and during the war.
Judith Margolies’ kibbutz lay just west of the road that linked Gaza to the Egyptian beachhead at Majdal. Egypt hurled two infantry battalions, one armored battalion, and an artillery battalion against them one dawn for an attack that lasted five days. Much enemy armor was taken out with the PIAT (Projectile, Infantry, Anti-Tank) mortar. There was a subtle line about a hundred meters out where the soil of the desert made a sudden transition to the soil of the kibbutz. Perhaps it was an artifact of the water table. Before the battle the kibbutzim already set the elevation of the PIAT to strike this line by firing dummy rounds. Now it was only a matter of rotating the barrel on its iron pivot sunk into the ground to take aim at approaching tanks. When fired each round contained a shaped charge massing one kilogram, designed to penetrate 100mm of armor.
Those tanks which managed to breach the perimeter were set alight at close range with Molotov cocktails or attacked with hand grenades whose fragments would enter the tank through the view slit, wounding the crew and forcing them to retire. Other tanks were taken out with buried mines, and still others simply broke down and were dragged out of range by armored cars. But there were just too many Egyptians and the shelling never ceased. After five days the settler’s ammunition was spent.r Judith and the other uninjured settlers helped carry the wounded through the Egyptian lines under the cover of darkness. Yad Mordechai lay abandoned, and in the morning the Egyptians occupied the place and burned it to the ground. But during those five days of resistance Tel Aviv was saved from being overrun. The stubborn defense at Yad Mordechai gave Tel Aviv time to bring in reinforcements and firm up the defensive line on the road between the city and Gaza.
On June 11, a truce called by the United Nations went into effect and lasted until July 9. In nearly one month of war Israel had lost 900 soldiers and 300 civilians. Between the first truce and a second one was ten days of fighting.
The IDF captured Nazareth, the home town of Yeshua, which had grown much bigger than the original five hundred souls. The second truce lasted until October 15, and was followed with one solid week of fighting against Egypt. On the first day of that week Israeli warplanes bombed the Egyptian air base at El Arish on the Mediterranean coastline of Sinai, and cut the railway from El Arish to Rafa.
After the third cease-fire took effect on October 22, Judith and the Polish settlers who had taken her in moved back into the ruins of Yad Mordechai and began to rebuild the town. There would be a sharp bout of renewed fighting in the winter, followed by a fourth and final cease fire, but Judith judged the continued existence of her new nation was no longer in doubt.
On her collective farm after the War of Independence Judith Margolies immersed herself in honest toil cultivating the fields and garden crops and poultry. At least once a month she helped defend the settlement from gunmen who infiltrated from the nearby Gaza Strip to kill Jews simply for being Jews.
Several times a year these attacks on Yad Mordechai were followed up by fierce IDF reprisal raids. Throughout 1950 Judith was frequently mobilized as a sergeant in the IDF reserves to help carry out these counterattacks. The military pay was small but so were her wants. She turned half of it over to the kibbutz out of gratitude for taking her in.
The children of the settlement ate and slept apart from their parents. Judith helped to educate them, even while she herself was learning from a Polish tutor to speak and read Hebrew.
One day during the following year someone who appeared to be a very tall boy of indeterminate race arrived at Yad Mordechai.r Che said, “I am named Elin, a servant of one who is known to the people of this farm. Michael would have me speak with Judith Margolies, one of the kibbutznikim here.”
Judith was relieved of teaching her class and brought to one of the empty houses in the kibbutnikiyot section to meet Elin. She saw how the short-haired newcomer was at least a foot shorter than Michael, yet che was still loomed like a tree over Judith. And being this close to hem, she was entirely unsure if the visitor was male or female. It was Judith’s first encounter with a nephil.
The ambe said, “Peace be with you, Judith Margolies. I am called Elin. I serve the one who met you on a beach of the English Channel and asked if you would hunt the enemies of Jews throughout the world.”
“And it is proof of your sincerity, Elin, that you know exactly what Michael said to me on that early morning.”
“Michael sent me, first of all, to ask if you were well.”
“Apart from my trusty British-made rifle,” Judith began, “I have very little in the way of personal possessions. I own some clothing, I ‘own’ a radio I share with the others in the Women’s House, and I have other such simple things. There are a few tractors and jeeps, but they belong to the whole community. All the profits of the kibbutz are pooled together for the needs of the laborers. I have a little pocket money from my reserve duty. I have good health. In fine, apart from the occasional firefight with the Arabs, you may tell Michael I am living in utopia.”
“That is good to hear,” said Elin, “because it clears the way to my next question. Have you heard of a man named Horst Wagner?”
Judith wanted to spit, but caught herself as she realized she was indoors. She said, “What Jew doesn’t curse the name of the German diplomat who was instrumental in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of European Jews to death camps in Poland? I know he was arrested by the allies and testified at the Nuremberg trials as a witness. But what happened to him after that I know very little.”
“Then Judith, allow me to pick up his trail where it runs cold for you. Late in 1947 Wagner was placed in an internment camp for Nazi war criminals called Nuremberg-Langwasser but it was guarded very weakly. He managed to escape to Austria and made contact with a rat line.”r A rat line was a kind of undergrounbd railroad for Nazis.
Elin said, “Specifically, he availed himself of the Kloster Line run by elements in the Catholic Church. He was hidden in a network of monasteries until a German bishop named Alois Hudal made arrangements for him to obtain an International Red Cross passport. He then made his way to Genoa, Italy. Using Vatican funds he sailed to Argentina to link up with the likes of Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele. We’re going after those last two, eventually, but for right now we’re beautifully set up to get Horst Wagner, and Michael wants you to be part of the extraction.”
“Who else is part of this?”
“There’s a man of the B’nei Elohim named Jashen. He has been working Wagner undercover for two months. Jashen’s a polyglot. He speaks Spanish and German as though he were born to them. Also, he’s a native North American, but he can pass as a native South American. So can I. So can you, Judith, if I squint my eyes. Wagner prefers a very neat home and Jashen has been coming in to tidy things up for him. Along the way they’ve struck up something of a friendship, much to Jashen’s disgust off the record, but he’s very professional about it. Recently he got Wagner to agree it’s time for a major field day so that’s where we come in. We’re going in as extra cleaning girls.”
Elin threw a bundle on the dining table and said, “You should change into these. I can step out if you want me to.”
“That depends on whether you’re a bloke or a bird. I still can’t tell which.”
“I’m both, actually, but I can turn around while you disrobe, if you think that will be sufficient.”
Judith nodded. While she was changing she said, “Where do you come in?”
“My code name in the B’nei Elohim is Arc Flash. I’m going to incapacitate the subject so you can deliver him to your government alive and well.”
“Why does Michael want me to be involved?”
“Someone has to make the actual delivery of the package to Mossad HQ. Michael thinks there are multiple advantages all the way around if it’s you.”r In a few more moments Judith was fully dressed as an Argentine housekeeper. “Go ahead and turn around, Elin.”
Che did, and after a quick glance at Judith, the scenery around hem changed from a home in the kibbutz to a back alley in Buenos Aires. They had gone there so no one could see the transition. Judith marvelled at this once more, but she was not stunned to incapacitation by the transition. Michael once used the same trick to whisk her away from England.
Judith followed Elin out of the alley to one of the better-looking houses on that street. There was no need to knock. The door was opened just as they arrived on the portico. Judith assumed it was opened by Jashen, and she noted that he seemed to be of normal height, for once, although he was still somewhat taller than most men she knew.
They followed him inside. Judith saw Wagner standing in his den and tried to suppress her rage. She had picked up enough German in the camps to know he called he was asking “Diego” if these were the housekeepers he spoke of. Immediately after he spoke a miniature bolt of lightning played between Elin and Horst Wagner. He fell to the floor in a dead faint.
Jashen said, “Sit on the floor right next to him, Judith.”
She did as she was instructed. Elin sat the unconscious man up in front of Judith and propped up his knees so together they both had a small profile. Then che said, “I’m sorry about this next part, it will probably disgust you more than Jashen’s undercover work did him, but Judith, you need to hold his knees so he doesn’t spread back out, at least until you get where you’re going.”
While they were gathering Wagner into an even smaller configuration Jashen went through his desk drawers as though he knew exactly what he was looking for and where they were. He threw a small book down at Judith’s side. “There’s his fucking ill-gotten Red Cross passport.” Then he threw down a thick ream of correspondence right next to that. “And your Mossad agency should find that stuff to be very interesting reading indeed. But now, Judith, off you pop back to Israel. I’m glad we met, and I hope we work together again.”
The next thing Lilith knew she was still crouching with Wagner on his kitchen floor, but the floor was now just a circle of wood lying in front of the Red House on Yarkon Street in Tel Aviv.r Mossad took delivery of Horst Wagner with all his supplementary documentation, but there were many pointed questions that Judith found impossible to answer. Fortunately for her, such was her new fame, both nationally and internationally, that the intelligence service was severely constrained. When Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion learned of the details, he told Mossad to back off. In his ancillary role as Defense Minister he brevetted Judith to the rank of Segen in the Israeli Defense Force, equivalent to a junior lieutenant.
For the time being, as a brevet officer, she retained the pay of Samal, or Sergeant, from her service in the reserves. But having fallen officially into the clutches of the IDF officer corps she was compelled to undergo her first physical.
In the main Judith was in excellent condition. The doctors noted the ugly mass of keloid whip scars on her back, which limited her movement to a degree. When they noted the six digit tattoo on her forearm they knew how she got the scars.
In 1952 there was a coup in Egypt deposing King Farouk, who had ruled his country since 1936. One of the coup plotters, a leftist revolutionary named Colonel Gamal Nasser, steadily rose in influence to become the usual President-for-life. In 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, seizing control from the British. He closed the Straits of Tirin in the Red Sea, which effectively put the southernmost Israeli port of Eilat under a blockade. At the same time he refused to allow any ships bound for Tel Aviv or Haifa to transit the canal.
The United Kingdom and France laid plans to take the canal back by force. They were interested in getting Israel involved in this operation. Israel was already leaning toward a tussle with Egypt, the question was simply when, not if. Cross-border fedayeen raids from the Gaza strip had never ceased in the eight years Egypt had occupied it, as Judith could well testify.
Judith skipped from 1951 and arrived in 1956 at the still tender age of twenty-three. For Michael the only difficult part was convincing Judith that what hy had done to her was real.
When Judith reported to her unit she explained her absence from all the scheduled drills with a claim that she had been overseas hunting Nazis. That was entirely sufficient. Her superior officers knew she was the apple of the Prime Minister’s eye.
Seren Judith Margolies’s part in the war began at Eilat and ran down the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba.r The objective was to seize the guns at Sharm el-Sheikh and lift the closure of the Straits of Tiran. Her commander was Colonel Avraham Yoffe, and she was part of a motorized infantry brigade of two thousand soldiers and two hundred vehicles.
Their route was along a camel track that was never designed to be used by wheeled vehicles. At one point at Wadi Zaala they all had to break out their spades, dig their vehicles out of deep sand, and push them uphill.
At Dahab Oasis they had their first firefight, at sunset, against the camel-mounted troops of the Egyptian Frontier Force. Later in the evening the force iwas supplied with fuel in drums from a set of twenty barges towed down the Gulf of Aqaba from Eilat. Judith volunteered to join a regiment-sized detachment who would board these barges to attack the Egyptians from the
At Sharm el-Sheikh a huge battery of naval guns were positioned to block all shipping making its way to Eilat. There, fifteen hundred Egyptian troops with their mortars and artillery held off the Israelis advancing overland led by Colonel Ariel Sharon.
Judith’s amphibious assault arrived under the guise of twenty deceptively painted, weathered-looking old barges slowly towed behind a jumbo tugboat. They were in two parallel trains of ten containers all linked together by flexible couplings. At Lt. Colonel Motti Adan’s command they all simultaneously broke free from each other and began moving under their own power toward the assigned beach. All twenty of the special landing craft began to take 40mm mortar fire from somewhere in the town but this was mainly just an annoyance. Each landing craft was coated with tank armor and constructed in the best shape for defense.
Judith made her way to the front of her barge, pushing through the men and women hanging on to straps from the ceiling. Judith raised her voice to address her people, saying, “I’ve spoken with Colonel Adan. He gave us the most dangerous stretch of beach possible. We’ll be practically single file. When you disembark immediately turn to the right and get off the sand spit as soon as possible. We’re the first. Our mission is to take out the big guns that have been turned inland against the threat of our motorized infantry. You can hear them even now.”
The boat officer beached Judith’s assault craft right up onto the sand. The wall behind Judith dropped down to become a ramp, revealing a beach being torn up by mortar fire. She knew the heavy shelling was soon to come. She yelled “Follow Me!” and led her people out onto the sand, the 1st Platoon of Gold Company.
Further down the spit were Blue Company, Orange, and White, each with five platoons, all of them storming the sand spit simultaneously. The astonishing sight of a rusty barge breaking up into twenty motorized landing boats, turning like a drill team on parade, beaching on the spit, and disgorging a thousand IDF troops onto Egyptian soil was spotted by the alarmed men in the fort control tower. They called it in to a secondary gun battery somewhere in Sharm el-Sheikh.
A pair of soldiers in Judith’s Platoon, male and female, tried to pinpoint where the rounds were coming from the puffs of smoke on the beach. Blue 5th Plt. took three killed and seven injured before he got a fix. The woman called out the resulting coordinates over a portable radio and requested an airstrike.
At first Judith wasn’t sure what happened next. She found herself waking up with her legs soaked by seawater. It slowly dawned on her that she had been knocked by the concussion of an incoming mortar round and ended up a little ways into the water. Judith had no recollection of the last few seconds. Minutes? She didn’t know. Her only thought was that dying was so easy. But Judith was not to die on that day. Her body armor had intercepted most of the blast shrapnel, and the overpressure had been enough to put her in a mild state of shock but it was not life-threatening. Still, Judith was a little dazed, and she no longer led the assault, to be sure. With her mind in a fog, she followed her people as quickly as she could manage.
A lieutenant assigned to serve under Judith had taken charge of the assault when he saw her go down. It was all handled as seamlessly as possible but the lieutenant no longer really had a coherent platoon to lead. There had been a total of three incoming rounds. Five in Judith’s platoon were immediately dead, eight were wounded, and four of those would soon die from organ failure or simply by bleeding out. The survivors merged with the other platoons running towards the battery.
At the fort Judith could see the Egyptians were not fighting up to snuff. She could sense a feeling of little boy lost among them. The surprise amphibious assault in their rear had been the turn of the tide. It was palpable. It fell over the Egyptians like a shadow and they began to surrender en masse.
The big guns of the fort were disarmed by 9 AM that morning. Then Judith, seeing the blue and white flag of her adoptive nation raised over the battery, fell at her feet in a dead faint. It was only then that she received the proper medical attention that she needed.r Jashen and Judith were both shocked at the ruin of an old man they saw through the one-way mirror. A survivor of the camps, he was missing his nose and his entire lower jaw. Still, when the unfortunate man saw the prisoner cuffed to his chair it took two burly Mossad agents to restrain the Holocaust survivor from assaulting him in a blood-blind rage. Neither Jashen nor Judith could stand to watch it any more. They turned away to face their own interrogator around their own table.
“Sir,” asked Judith, incredulously, “what was the meaning of that display? I’m a seren of the Tzahal. I bring in Doctor Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, and you don’t believe me? Do you think that I fabricated all this supplementary documentation?” She gestured at all the paperwork arranged on the table.
“Documentation,” Commander Gavish of Mossad snorted. He wasn’t having any of what Judith was feeding him. “We were never properly briefed on the last high profile Nazi you brought in. You just appeared in the middle of the night on the front door of the old Mossad Headquarters with Horst Wagner and no explanation of how you found him, no explanation how you captured him, and and no explanation how you both ended up there. How fortunate for you the founding father of our nation had a keen sense of the propaganda value of such a stunt.”
“Yes sir, Commander Gavish,” she said, “as I recall, I even got a promotion after the stunt. The Prime Minister is also the Minister of Defense, after all, sir, even now.”
“And do you imagine the PM will just walk in here as a deus ex machina and allow you to carry off a repeat performance?”
“No sir. But as I reported, I had outside assistance on both occasions.” Her head inclined slightly toward Jashen.
“Certainly, but that brings me to the subject of your friend with no papers. You say he’s an American. I realize the United States was well-disposed toward our country during the War of Independence but lately, with Eisenhower in office, things have not seemed so good. And you, an Israeli army officer with one of the highest security clearances in the country, have clearly been in long-duration contact with foreigners of unknown status, possibly intelligence agents, without declaring the contact and all relevant details through official means.”
“Sir, please review the security profile in my service jacket once more. You will see that I have indeed declared my association with a group that calls itself the B’nei Elohim.”r “B’nei Elohim? The offspring of God? That name was such an arrogant presumption we thought it to be some disgusting variety of messianic Christianity. Is it, in fact, a religious group, Seren Margolies? Are you member?”
“She is not yet one of us, Commander,” Jashen chimed in, speaking for the first time since helping Judith bring Mengele to captivity, and speaking in Hebrew at that. “But our leader, Michael, believes Judith definitely promises to qualify for membership in the B’nei Elohim one day.”
Gavish noted that for an American Jashen’s command of modern Hebrew was excellent, as though he were secretly sabra. It was somewhat better, in fact than Judith’s grasp of the language. She sounded as one expected a British citizen to sound after speaking the revived Hebrew language for only twelve years.
Gavish asked, “And what is the nature of your B’nei Elohim, Jashen? Christian? An offshoot of Judaism? Certainly orthodox Jews would have nothing to do with you.”
“I would say we are more orthodox than even the haredim. After all, sir, what you think of as Judaism didn’t really come into existence until after the Third Temple was destroyed. But I didn’t come here to offend your religious sensibilities.”
“Then why did you come here?”
“Because lately the B’nei Elohim have taken on the role of pest exterminators. The low-level Nazis, the sadistic prison guards of relatively low rank who managed to worm their way back into German society or even smuggle themselves overseas, we just hunt them down and Elininate them. No one escapes, because ‘Never Again’, right? I tell you this in case you wonder why Judith keeps missing reserve duty. She’s got a higher calling. But back to the Nazis! The notorious ones, the unspeakably evil ones responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, they don’t get off as easy as a round to the back of the head. So we bring them in, meaning here to your headquarters in Tel Aviv. I was part of the extraction team for Mengele and I was also on the team back in ’51 for Wagner. Judith knows all about it, she already reported everything. It turns out I have a knack for languages, and also I have some experience with undercover work. Michael tells me I’m impossible to intimidate, but that, I think, is mostly a Kuwapi tribal thing. Michael also asked me to hang around with Judith for this latest delivery because even though he already gave this same speech to your Prime Minister once before it didn’t seem to sink in here at Mossad.
The door to the interrogation room opened just then and a flag officer blerted, “Ten-HUTT!” Margolies and Gavish stood at attention from where they sat, while Jashen remained seated.
A very short elderly man with a bald head ringed by a wild tuft of white hair walked into the room with the chief of Mossad and two general officers of the Israeli Defense Force.
First he went to the one-way mirror to stare at Doctor Mengele sitting at a table with his hands cuffed to either side of his chair. The Prime Minister was silent for at least a minute, looking at the prisoner, before he finally spoke. “So there he is, eh?” Then he turned to examine the room he was in, with his glance settling at last on the face of Judith. “Seren Judith Margolies, is it?”
“We never met, the last time you made such a delivery.”
“No sir, but I am fully aware that you are very busy man.”
“Did you find the administrative token of my appreciation to be acceptable recompense for my failure to thank you in person, Seren Margolies?”
“Yes sir. The promotion was a very welcome surprise, but I would have brought Mengele here today even if I was still a sergeant in the reserves.” While she spoke she rolled up the sleeve of her uniform so the Prime Minister could see the tattoo she had received in the satellite camp of Buchenwald where her life came very near to being snuffed out.
Ben-Gurion saw the six numerals there and a dark cloud passed briefly over his face. Then he said, “The same rate applies today, Seren Margolies. I brought these army officers with me today to take note you are hereby brevetted to the rank of rav seren. And should the Arabs choose to get into yet another tussle with us I’m certain you will distinguish yourself in battle once more, which will make that full rav seren with all the pay and privileges that go with the rank.”
Jashen cleared his throat and addressed Ben-Gurion at that point. “Sir, I’d like to inform you that Michael, whom you’ve already met once before, is of the opinion the country will have at least ten years of relative quiet.”
“I see. And may I ask your name?”
“I am Jashen, sir, of the B’nei Elohim. I helped Judith make the Mengele extraction and also Wagner in ’51. But if Ha-Mossad is worried that we are working them out of a job we can certainly step back for the next decade while things go quiet. It seems Josef Mengele fancied himself a humble country doctor in Argentina, and when we fetched him we also fetched some of his patient’s charts. You can see the documents sitting here on the table. One of the folders is for none other than Adolf Eichmann. It seems the very architect of the Shoah didn’t much fancy seeing just any old doctor in Argentina. You’ll find all the contact information you need to scoop Eichmann up right there, because if there’s one thing doctors want to be absolutely certain of, it’s getting paid.”
That last bit sent David Ben-Gurion into a fit of hysterical laughter. When he recovered he said, “This is excellent, Jashen. We’ll take what you’ve given us and try to capture Eichmann ourselves. The day he arrives in the country, living or dead, is the day brevet Rav Seren Judith Margolies becomes a full major.”