Around 12:30 p.m. as President John F. Kennedy’s uncovered 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine entered Dealey Plaza, Nellie Connally, then the first lady of Texas, turned around to President Kennedy, who was sitting behind her, and commented “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you,” which President Kennedy acknowledged by saying “No, you certainly can’t.” Those were the last words ever spoken by John F. Kennedy.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. CST on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. He was fatally shot by Lee Harvey Oswald while traveling with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally’s wife Nellie, in a presidential motorcade.
Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as our 36th President on the Air Force One plane in Dallas just 2 hours and 8 minutes after the assassination took place. He took the oath of office administered by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side.
The new President quickly inherited pressing problems including the War in Vietnam and the Middle East juggling act. Kennedy’s effort to balance conflicting interests in the Middle East, already faltering by late 1963, collapsed altogether under Lyndon Johnson. Johnson gave up on even attempting a balanced approach. He instead, assumed a frankly partisan stance. He sided openly with the Shah of Iran against his internal opposition, with the conservative Arab regimes against Nasser’s Egypt, and with Israel against the Arab states as a whole.
With the dawn of 1964, United Israel World Union, established two years before the rise of the United Nations in 1945 and five years before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, entered its twenty-first year of global activities. Links on behalf of a universal Torah faith had been established on five continents and a sure foundation had been laid in re-born Israel.
UIWU held its 21st Annual meeting on Sunday, April 26. The highlight of the meeting was the announcement by Rabbi Irving J. Block, spiritual leader of The Brotherhood Synagogue in Greenwich Village, New York, of the gift of an antique Indian (Calcutta) Torah scroll to the West Olive, Michigan unit of United Israel.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded on May 28, 1964 with the purpose of the ”liberation of Palestine” through armed struggle. The Arab League had found a way to introduce a new weapon in its war against Israel.
In early February 1965, a most unusual and little-known story began to unfold.
An article written by Shlomo Nakdimon entitled “Sequence of events favoring Jewry marks change in Spain” appeared in the February 1965 issue of the UI Bulletin. In the article, Nakdimon indicated that reports from Spain during the past six months all indicate that the nation of the infamous Inquisition was moving quickly ahead to rectify the great wrongs inflicted upon the Jews on the eve of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Wrongs which up to our own modern times have still led to restrictions against their descendants.
Nakdimon went on to mention an article recently written by the noted Yiddish writer and radio commentator, Shelomo ben-Israel earlier in the month. The featured article appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward on February 1, 1965. Nakdimon called it “an unusual and intriguing development which may well have led to a reawakening and a stirring of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s “Jewish spirit” and to the realization of a true universal faith applicable to all mankind.”
In his article, Mr. Shelomo ben-Israel recounted how a Spanish correspondent at the United Nations one day last summer discussed Franco with his colleague, David Horowitz, editor of the Bulletin and World Union Press, and stressed the fact that the Generalissimo was most probably a descendant of the Marranos, and thus a Jew by origin. Moreover, he reiterated the fact, already widely known, that Franco aided hundreds of Jews fleeing from Hitler’s pursuit during World War II.
A thought immediately flashed through David Horowitz’s mind: Why not try to stir the dormant little “Jewish spark” resident deep in Franco’s bosom by sending him a copy of the book “Thirty-Three Candles,” an autobiography Horowitz had first published in 1949, covering the first thirty years of his life from 1914 to 1944.
The decision made, David autographed the volume and dispatched it in May of 1964 to Madrid. The autograph, in effect, read: “Your Excellency, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, in appreciation of what I have learned from a Spanish colleague here at the UN, namely, of the great aid you gave many fleeing Jewish refugees entering Spain from Nazi persecution during World War II, and in the knowledge that we may share a common heritage, I am happy to send you this, my book, which I trust will bring you many hours of pleasant and contemplative reading.”
Some six weeks after the book was mailed, Mr. ben-Israel points out, Mr. Horowitz received a telephone call from the office of the Spanish delegation to the UN informing him that an official letter had arrived for him from Madrid. Would he please come and pick it up.
Believing possibly that some secretary or official may have formally acknowledged the book, Mr. Horowitz went to pick up the letter. When he opened it, he noted to his amazement that Franco himself had signed the letter. The Generalissimo expressed his gratitude for the volume and especially for the sympathetic autograph.
When the Spanish correspondent at the UN was shown the letter he, too, thought it incredible that Franco himself should have found it important enough personally to acknowledge receipt of “Thirty-Three Candles.”
“Franco’s letter was dated July 4, 1964,” ben-Israel notes. “And two months later, in September, the Spanish Cortes (Parliament) suddenly took up a bill which called for the elimination of a law which had restricted the religious rights of both Jews and Protestants in Spain.”
“The news of this development,” ben-Israel continues, “created a great sensation. But, as it happened, the influence of the Catholic Church in Spain being so deeply rooted, that, despite all efforts of some liberals, the proposed bill was relegated to the sidelines.”
However, on the eve of the New Year, when Franco delivered his “State of the Union” message, “the Generalissimo dropped a small bombshell,” as the New York Times commented on the event editorially. “He came out in favor of the exercise of freedom of conscience. But in clearer language, this could only mean that he favors passage of the bill, which has been stalled in the Cortes since September. Since the Spanish Cortes is like a rubber stamp for General Franco, it must be presumed that a statute on religious rights will be enacted this year.”
But this was not to mark the end of the new turn of events in Spain under the new Franco.
“Last month,” ben-Israel observes, “something happened in Spain that has not occurred since the Inquisition. Namely, no Spanish head of state had received Spanish Jewish representatives in 473 years.”
But in January 1965, Franco broke the precedent. He received in a friendly audience the heads of the Jewish communities of Madrid and Barcelona, Max Mazin and Alberto Levi, discussing with them the status of the Jews.
The only previous meeting recorded in history took place between King Ferdinand and the great Jewish sage Isaac de Abravanel, who served as the King’s aide. Abravanel had vainly tried to have the King and Queen Isabelle rescind the decree expelling Jews from Spain.
Concluding his article, Shelomo ben-Israel asks: “Does Franco in truth feel proud of his Marrano descent? Did a mystic book bearing the title “Thirty-Three Candles” really influence him? Did the foregoing acts and reforms and new bills come about as a result of this influence? Possibly. One day, perhaps, a historian will come forth and give us the answers…”
Generalissimo Francisco Franco died just after midnight on November 20, 1975 at the age of 82, just two weeks before his 83rd birthday. In Spain and abroad, the legacy of Franco remains controversial. The length of his rule, the suppression of opposition, and the effective propaganda sustained through the years has made a detached evaluation almost impossible.
The reasons behind Franco’s late actions that moved to rectify wrongs of the Inquisition remain somewhat mystifying and unknown. We are indeed left to speculate but one of the forgotten pieces of the story might well be these efforts of our late President, David Horowitz.
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.
This post is the seventeenth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.