Atlanta native David Macarov, a member of Ahavath Achim Synagogue, served in the U.S. Army in India in World War II, then made aliyah with wife Frieda in 1947 and served as a major with Israel’s new military in the War of Independence. Macarov, who died in Israel two years ago at age 97, oversaw coded communications for the Israel Air Force.
The following are excerpts from his memoir “A Small Cog: Tales From My Two Wars.”
I remember exactly how I became a Zionist. Every boy and girl in our Atlanta Jewish community joined Young Judaea at the age of 12, and so did I. On the way to my first meeting, I heard someone mention that Young Judaea was a Zionist organization.
When I approached our meeting room, my club leader was standing in the doorway. I charged up to him and asked, “Is Young Judaea a Zionist organization?”
“Sure it is.”
“Do you want to go to Palestine?”
“If all my family and friends are there, that is where I want to be.”
That made sense to me, and I became a Zionist.
(Note that he never came to Palestine nor Israel and spent his retirement playing golf in Florida.) …
We heard Ben-Gurion announce the establishment of the state over our small radio and were surprised, and pleased, to learn that it was called Israel. There had been speculation about the name — some people thought it would be called Judaea, and others something else, perhaps Zion. Of course, we were thrilled at the establishment of the state and waited with bated breath until we learned that both the United States and Russia had recognized the state.
We have heard accounts, and seen pictures, of the celebrations that took place to mark the emergence of the state, but in Jerusalem the Arabs were still firing from the Old City walls, mortar shells were still landing, and any crowd was a good target. So we heard the announcement on the radio and stayed home. …
It took quite a while to get used to the differences between life in besieged Jerusalem and that in Tel Aviv. Food was available, cultural life carried on, and I walked to Air Force headquarters every day, without fear of snipers or mortar shells.
However, one day we were all advised not to take the straight route to headquarters because a ship named the Altalena had beached off Tel Aviv, and not only was there fighting going on with the Etzel, who had brought the ship in and refused to hand the arms on it over to the Israel Defense Forces (which is what the official army of the state of Israel was called), but there was danger that the ship might explode, either from outside fire or from Etzel sabotage.
The next day, when I took over the corner room that was to be my headquarters in the Air Force building, I was shown what seemed to be gouge marks in the wall. “Don’t let their propaganda fool you,” said the soldier who was showing me the room. “These are bullet marks from Etzel members who fired into this room from the roof of the Plaza Hotel across the street, in order to keep us from attacking the Altalena. And they say they never attack other Jews.” …
One of the things we had trouble adjusting to was the normalcy of life in Tel Aviv after Jerusalem. Movies played, cafes were open, and nightclubs were crowded. The Yarden Hotel had its own nightclub that opened onto the street, and as it was summertime, many of the patrons sat at outside tables. The orchestra was louder than it was good and seemed to play until the last patron decided to leave.
The noise from the orchestra was very disturbing, especially since the heat, even at night, required that windows remain open. Some of the pilots billeted at the hotel complained to the owner several times, but their pleas were ignored — perhaps because they, too, could not get his bill paid. They tried to explain that they flew, often to overseas, all day and needed their rest to be able to function adequately the next day. Nothing helped.
So one night the pilots got together and at 11 o’clock went down to the nightclub, pulled their pistols and ordered everyone home. They then told the orchestra leader that if he ever played with the doors open after 11 o’clock, they would come down and put a bullet hole through every instrument in the band. We had no more noise trouble. …
Although my job was in charge of codes and ciphers, I was really only in charge of encoding and enciphering, not the reverse — cryptanalysis, or breaking enemy messages. That was a good thing, too, since the short course in New York would not have been nearly sufficient to make me even a clerk in such an operation. Breaking codes and ciphers took a mathematical mind, with a good ration of physics thrown in.
Hence, I was glad to be introduced to a British physicist who headed the codebreaking section. He was dead scared of what the British would do to him if they knew he was using his knowledge for Israel, and we were forbidden to ever mention his name or acknowledge that we knew him.
However, I was taken to his operations room, where long lines of girls sat with earphones, being fed intercepted messages and attempting to break their codes. One girl had a large picture pinned over her desk — not of a movie star or a sex symbol, but of a rather ordinary-looking older man.
My eyebrows expressed my surprise, and she leaned over and kissed the picture: “My sweetheart, the French ambassador.” Her team had broken the French diplomatic code and was reading their messages as fast as they were sent. …
I have never been able to acquire information from the British Open Information Act to allow me to know whether they had ever broken the codes we were using. However, almost the last message that arrived while I was still in the codes and ciphers service was not broken by either the Arabs or the British, but came in clear language from one of our own army information officers.
It seems that during our air raids on Egypt in the final phases of the war, either the British government or the British commanding officer or some rump British pilots decided to fly over the air battle that was going on.
It is not clear whether they were seeking and communicating information to the Egyptians or just observing or actively engaged in the fighting, but their presence in the middle of air battles between the Israelis and the Egyptians was not benign, and — there being no possibility of clarifying the matter during the battle — the Israeli pilots took things into their own hands and attacked the unauthorized foreign planes.
Consequently, the Israel Air Force observer on the spot became so excited that he forgot security completely and sent an urgent message in clear language (English) reading, “We have just shot down five — repeat five — British — repeat British — planes.”
I rushed the message to the head of the Air Force, and all of our military and diplomatic services held their collective breaths waiting for the British response.
There was none. Evidently the British realized that their planes had no business being over Egypt at that time, and rather than be embarrassed or have to explain and perhaps apologize, they preferred to ignore the incident.