THE SECRET OF SADAT'S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM: A Communication between the First Lady of Egypt and an elderly Holocaust survivor in New York
Rabbi Norbert Weinberg 10/14/2021
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Just this past July, the widow of Egypt’s President, Anwar Sadat, passed away. While President Sadat was widely acclaimed for his role in making peace with Israel, the First Lady was highly regarded as a person of great achievements on her own, especially in advancing women’s rights in Egypt.
Now, just a few months since her passing, and as we approach the anniversary date of the Yom Kippur War on the Jewish calendar, it is time to showcase an interesting communication between Jehan Sadat and my great aunt.
|1st Lady Sadat with PM Begin|
The late Dora Iger Kitzay of Manhattan, my "Tante" Dora, with her own private diplomacy through the mails, may have set in motion the machinery for peace that followed on the heels of the Yom Kippur War.
|Dora Kitzay Iger|
My "Tante", a survivor of the Holocaust, came to New York from Poland and made her living with reparations money, some sewing and an occasional care-taking of a sick and elderly roomer. How she made ends meet was one of her mysteries, but she had many such mysteries. She and my mother, Irene Weinberg, had helped each other survive, right under the nose of Nazi officers in Lwow and Warsaw during the Holocaust.
She claimed to have seen Trotsky speaking from his train car before the Revolution( she was just a younbg girl at the time) and worked for an import-export office on the Russian-Austrian (later Polish border).
She always said she was a Jewish gipsy. She dressed that way and told the future from the cards. My mother told me she was frightened because Tante Dora called the future to well too often.
Here she is, on the doorsteps of a house in Poland, perhaps in Bolechow, where the family settled for a few years, just before the outbreak of war. She, in her gypsy scarf and cards in hand.( Colorization thanks to MyHeritage.com software from B &W original).
She was highly resourcefuland something of a prankster to boot. For example:
Even times of persecution had lighter moments.
Once, my mother came back to the apartment, and couldn’t find her aunt. She was in a panic, and searched high and low, and then went to the closet. As she was going through the clothes, and hand touched her from behind. My mother’s heart dropped—it was Dora, playing a prank on her.
At another time, the officers brought back a turkey and asked her to cook it for them. They were going to take it with them for the holidays. My mother was in a panic-she could paint and sing, but not cook. She agreed, on the condition that they stay out of the kitchen, and allow her to work patiently. Men of honor, they left her to her own in the kitchen. Dora sneaked in, started to cook, and when ever the officer’s queried,” Is it ready”, my mother would pop out, with work apron and smeared gloves, and ask them to wait patiently. The turkey was cooked, given to the officers, to left to go for their holiday.
At the end of the war, my mother and her aunt had to split up. Dora found safety in a small Polish village, where she blended in very well. After the Kielce massacre, my mother decided it was high time to leave Poland, found her aunt, and had to convince her almost by force-my aunt had set up a thriving small business in the village:
|This may be Dora seated on the rug preparing to make her sales|
Her prime occupation was letter writing. She began writing to local and international political figures on all topics under the sun. She prided herself on her linguistic skills, writing in English, German, and Russian, while Polish was her native tongue. Each time she received a politely worded response acknowledging her concern -- "Your thoughts are appreciated and we will certainly take them under consideration...".
One day, it paid off. She had written to the Mayor, complaining about the ill-managed condition of some statue in the park; this time, the response really was a response. City Hall promised to take action, and a local paper reported it. It drove her to greater undertakings.
When Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Nasser as President of Egypt, she sent him her sage advice. She warned him, "Keep far from the Soviets. Don't trust them; they will only try to take over your country". A few months later, Anwar Sadat sent the Russians packing out of Egypt. She was sure that her words had helped Sadat see the light.
Shortly after the Yom Kippur War, Jehan Sadat, the wife of the Egyptian President, visited the United States. She said to a New York Post reporter, "We are not filled with revenge; we are committed to peace". She told of a soldier in the hospital, who promised that he would take her, in victory, to Tel Aviv. She had answered him: "Tel Aviv is for the Israelis. It's not ours. We only want a land, a free Palestine, and to live in peace with the Jews.”
That statement prompted Dora to write; here was a mind open to peace, awaiting only the right advice to give it a shove in the right direction. She once again took up the mighty pen. She reminded Mrs. Sadat that it was the constant Arab threat to "throw the Jews into the sea" and the direct aggression of Nasser that had led to
the Six-Day War. She complimented her on her comment about Tel Aviv and her wish for peace, if only those were not merely poetic words!
Several months passed, and there arrived in Dora's mail a reply from Jehan Sadat.
This time, however, it was not mimeographed, photo-copied or computer printed. This was typed on official stationery with the seal of the Egyptian government, the image of an eagle, embossed upon it and a heading, in Arabic, in green print.
The heading was an invocation in the name of Allah, the gracious and merciful , and over the date, what I ( or Google translate) can make out” Muharram al Rais.” It looked to have been typed on a manual typewriter, typed perhaps, by Mrs. Sadat herself. This is her reply:
Cairo, March 1974.
Dear Mrs. Dore Kitzay,
I have received your message concerning what was written in the "New York Post"
about the events in the Middle East and your own impressions about the Arab territories
occupied by Israel.
I would like to inform you that each country has its own style in solving its own problems. Israel, as I wish you to bear in mind, depended on violence and intimidation to usurp Sinai, Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank of Jordan and the other Arab territories. She also perpetrated assassinations at Der Yasin, bombed school children and dismissed unarmed civilians from their homes.
The Arabs on the other hand, and with the support of the United Nations have resorted to the most honourable means to liberate their lands.
We, Arabs are not sadists or savages as you have mentioned in your message but we are people who have great faith in their God and their land. We are not ready to give up an inch of our land and in the same time we believe in cooperation that leads to human prosperity.
President Sadat has tried all peaceful means to settle the dispute but in vain. Our demand is clear and just and that is restoring our land usurped by zionists.[lower case z]
We are for peace, justice and prosperity.
With my best wishes,
Mrs. Jehan El-Sadat."
Dora was not satisfied. On the one hand, Mrs. Sadat spoke of peace; on the other, she repeated the old canards. It required a reply:
Dear Madame Jehan El Sadat,
I thank you and value much your answer, but I didn't find in it anything new,
nor an answer to any of my questions.
I know it wouldn't be easy to answer such complicated questions. As you know
from the letters I wrote to President Sadat three and two years ago, I am not against
the Arabic people, only the wrong, lightheaded politics, because everything I promised,
you have now.
You don't want to admit that since 1967 Israel has not had one single day of peace, and because it is a small corner, the world ignored it, and even America didn't make one step to help the Israelis, but today, America is the best friend and respects them--because of the Six Day victory, for which they fought.
Madame Sadat, why by such way, should I believe that the Jewish blood and tears make you happy.
From the beginning, I was sure that the Soviets will disappoint your people and they have a great deal in all Arabic mistakes and disaster.
Madame Sadat, only by an honest will and way we can create a permanent peace and live like good brothers.
The Israelis will not disappoint your country and people.
With best wishes for peace for you and us,
Dora Iger Kitzay"
Yet a short while later, she received another reply from Mrs. Sadat:
Cairo, June 1974
Dear Dora Kitzay
I have received your kind letter with interest and appreciation.
I would like to thank you for all what you have mentioned in your message,
and would like you to know that we are peaceful people, but we are for peace based
on justice. I am extending to you and the friendly people of America my best wishes.
"Mrs. Jehan El-Sadat"
This important piece of shuttle diplomacy went by virtually unnoticed; only
one Yiddish monthly, Freie Arbeter Shtimme (Free Voice of Labor) took notice of
the first letter in its June issue, in an article by N. Kahn, "Sadat's Wife Sends
a Letter to a Jewish Woman in New York".
From: FREIE ARBEITER STIMME (Free Voice of Labor Association)
33 Union Square - Room 808 WA 9-3799 New York
Sadat's Wife sent a letter to a New York Jewess – E. Kahn
"A Jewish woman in New York,· Dora Iger Kitzay, a refugee from Lemburg, a descendant of Rabbi Akiba Eger, had written a letter to the wife of Sadat, the all-powerful chief of Egypt. It was sent in reference to an interview given by Jehan Sadat to a local paper.
… She told the New York Post that since the '73 war, she has not worn a ballgown and she regularly goes to visit the wounded soldiers in the hospitals.
She said, "we are not filled with revenge and we are committed to achieve peace".
She told the wounded soldiers who had offered to take her to Tel Aviv - in victory - "Tel Aviv is for the Israelis. It's not ours. We only want our land, a free Palestine, and to live with the others in peace".
The article went on to summarize the account of the Yom Kippur War and then presented the correspondence in Yiddish translation.
We are led to believe, especially by media hype, that big names make big news. Leo Tolstoy once offered the example, that to confuse famous names with major events in history was like assuming that the whistle that one hears when a train is about to leave the station is what makes the train go. Maybe it wasn’t Barbara Walters!
Perhaps it is, rather that just such a letter, sent by a well-meaning, elderly lady, in addition to the thousands of dead and wounded, the damaged economy, and the years of agony, may have tipped the scales for peace.
My aunt Dora died in February of 1977; just ten months later, November,43 years ago, Anwar Sadat made his fateful trip to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, neither of them lived to see the fruition of their dreams.