Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the World Zionist Congress brought an alternate reading of the history of Nazi Germany to light, one in which the grand mufti of Jerusalem planted the idea of the Holocaust with Adolf Hitler instead of merely being one of the most enthusiastic supporters of destroying European Jewry.
By coincidence, a novel that came out in September explores an alternate history in which Hitler in part does what Netanyahu said the mufti feared: He allows large numbers of Jews to emigrate and settle in the Holy Land instead of trying to kill them.
The premise of “The Ambassador,” written by Yehuda Avner (who died in March) with Matt Rees, is that the British decide in 1937 to enact their partition plan for Palestine before the inevitable outbreak of World War II. As a result, the new nation of Israel must deal with the devil and try to appease Hitler through the diplomatic efforts of the title character, Dan Lavi, so Germany will let as many Jews as possible leave.
Avner, whose memoirs of his career at the highest levels of the Israeli government became the two-part documentary film “The Prime Ministers,” hews as closely as possible to actual history, including Kristallnacht, the early years of World War II and the launch of the Nazi Final Solution. It’s worth noting, in light of the controversy over Netanyahu’s speech, that the real Nazis inhabiting this fictional world explore mass deportation of Jews to Madagascar or Siberia through 1941 before concluding that extermination is the only answer.
Lavi’s appeasement of the likes of Adolf Eichmann and the espionage of Yoni Richter, the Mossad agent placed as Lavi’s deputy, enable the exploration of whether the ends justify the means and what happens when a man dealing with evil on a daily basis hits his breaking point.
The desire to incorporate as much real history as possible into the novel, including the Holocaust-executing 1942 Wannsee Conference, stretches the timeline to a frustrating length but justifies Avner and Rees’ explosive solution to the novel’s central dilemma. We’re left to wonder how many millions of Jews could have been saved if Israel were 77 instead of 67 years old.
By Yehuda Avner and Matt Rees
Toby Press, 339 pages, $24.95