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David Ben Gurion Meets Conrad Adenauer in New York, 1960

In 1960, just 15 years after the Holocaust, the possibility of a meeting taking place between official representatives of Israel and Germany was not to be taken for granted. The memory of the Nazi crimes and the silence of most of the German population was still very fresh among Holocaust survivors and in Israel society overall. While certain ties had already been forged during the negotiations over the reparations agreement around 1952, reactions among the Israeli public proved that even this realm of contact was unacceptable among part of the Israeli population.

The question of establishing official diplomatic relations between the two countries hovered continually over the formal and informal liaisons. During the signing of the reparations agreement, the German side signaled that it was prepared for such a step, but the Israeli side was reluctant, basing its hesitation on the grounds that it was still too early to go so far as full-fledged diplomatic relations. In the mid-1950s, the positions reversed: Israel was prepared in theory for the establishment of formal relations with West Germany, but the German side was holding back, because of the broader political context. It feared the response of the Arab countries, and in particular, the latter’s recognition of East Germany, which the West German leadership did not want, in keeping with the Hallstein Doctrine; according to this doctrine, the government in Bonn sought to isolate the eastern part of Germany, which it did not recognize as an independent country. Every country that did recognize East Germany found itself in a diplomatic crisis with West Germany. This is the primary reason that delayed the actual establishment of relations with Israel until 1965.

 
An article from "Davar" journal (March 15, 1960)
about the meeting between Ben Gurion and Adenauer

Despite this, at the beginning of 1960, Israeli and West German leaders decided that it was time for a certain détente. This took the form of an official meeting between the two head statesmen: David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer. To this end, the two sides decided that while they were in New York for visits on other official business, they would stay at the same hotel, the prestigious Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Only two floors separated the rooms of the two politicians. Many journalists heard rumors about the planned meeting and waited in the hotel corridors hoping to photograph and report on the “historical moment.” Ben Gurion, who was 73 at the time, decided – as the younger of the two – to go downstairs to the suite of Konrad Adenauer, who was then 84 years old. When the two statesmen met – the socialist Ben Gurion and the conservative Adenauer – it quickly became apparent that the “chemistry” between them was excellent. They enjoyed conversing with one another, and for two hours spoke in a pleasant atmosphere, despite the historical shadow of the Holocaust and World War II. This, of course, was one of the topics they discussed. The fact that Adenauer had not been appreciated by the Nazis (who had deposed him from his post as mayor of Cologne in 1933) was certainly known by the Israeli side, and made both the decision to hold the meeting and the dialogue with Ben Gurion easier.

During the conversation, the two men discussed various topics, such as monetary support for Israel, the provision of arms to the IDF, problems of integrating new immigrants into Israel, the kibbutz movement, and the political situation in the world overall. The positive conversation led to an agreement on financial support for Israel for many years, and ultimately, also to the establishment of diplomatic relations five years later. Upon Ben Gurion’s return to Israel, fierce opposition awaited him from the political right, which viewed any official contact with German representatives as a betrayal of the victims of the Holocaust. In 1965, when the two countries exchanged ambassadors, Adenauer and Ben Gurion were no longer in office as heads of state, but they continued their written correspondence. In 1966, Adenauer came to Israel on a private visit, during which he met with Ben Gurion at Sde Boker. A year later, Ben Gurion traveled to Germany for a state ceremony in honor of Adenauer, who had died at age 91. The first prime minister of the State of Israel thus paid his final respects to the first chancellor of Germany.

The Israeli press intensively followed the meeting between the two leaders in 1960, as well as the topic of relations between the two countries. The newspapers published articles, photographs and also caricatures. One of the leading caricaturists was Kariel Gardosh, known to most Israelis as “Dosh” (1921-2000). His caricatures accompanied Israeli politics and society for many years, mainly in Maariv, but also in published collections of his work. Clearly, the developing political ties between Israel and Germany became a topic of Dosh’s caricatures, such as the cartoon he illustrated following the meeting between Adenauer and Ben Gurion. A careful look at the picture reveals that Dosh had certain reservations regarding the meeting. Dosh himself was a Holocaust survivor, and he lost most of his family members, who were murdered in Hungary. The two characters in the illustration – the Jewish survivor and the former (?) Nazi – seem each in his own way to fail to understand how times have changed.

 
Source: Dosh Archive, Archives Department, ARC. 4* 1793 07 21