PARIS (Mar. 29)
Edwin Eytan, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s European bureau chief for more than 30 years and a veteran correspondent for the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, died here Sunday at the age of 63, after a long bout with cancer.
Eytan, born in Romania on May 15, 1928, and raised in Israel, was a gifted writer who was equally at home in Hebrew, English, French, Romanian and Yiddish.
His father was a U.S. citizen, he liked to recall, and he was brought up speaking English.
Blessed with a sharp nose for news and knack for developing a strong rapport with personalities of every stripe, he was the quintessential correspondent, a premier journalist and a leading reporter of Jewish news.
But Eytan was more than a reporter. He was a man of letters, a mixture of European refinement and Israeli straightforwardness. From his base in Paris, he often set out on missions across Europe. He was widely respected by the Paris press corps as one of its most seasoned members.
He was one of the first to write about the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, and later turned his knowledge into a book.
Avi Primor, Israel’s ambassador to Brussels and the European Community, said Eytan was one of his “closest and most intimate” friends. They first met in 1964, he said, and “we haven’t parted ever since, although we have seldom been stationed in the same country.”
Primor spoke of Eytan’s “absolute fidelity toward the State of Israel, which never infringed on his profession.”
He said that “even during his last days, when he was heavily under morphine, one week before his death, he was lecturing me on the problem of absorption of the Soviet Jews in Israel. An expert on location could not have given me more acute and relevant explanations.”
PROTEGE OF ELIE WIESEL’S
Eytan began his career with JTA in 1957 as a correspondent in Tel Aviv. In addition to his work for JTA and Yediot, he also edited the French Jewish weekly magazine Tribune Juive.
Eytan had immigrated to Israel on the eve of World War II and served in the Palmach, the commando troops of the Haganah. After Israel’s War of Independence, he left to study medicine in Geneva, but did not complete his studies.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a correspondent for Yediot based in Paris in the early 1950s, was saddened upon hearing of the death. “I made him a journalist,” Wiesel recalled. “I met him in Geneva in 1955, at a summit conference. He loved to be with journalists. He became so involved.
“I asked, ‘How about becoming a correspondent for Yediot Achronot?’ ” It did not take Eytan long to agree.
When Wiesel left Paris for New York, he urged Dov Judkowski, then editor of Yediot, to bring Eytan from his base in Geneva to Paris.
Judkowski, who is now chairman and group editor at Ma’ariv, mourned the death of Eytan, whom he described as “my good friend” who was “full of joie de vivre, a great raconteur and a great conversationalist, with a warm and sophisticated sense of humor.”
Judkowski, who is also a member of JTA’s board of directors, remembered that Eytan notched up a string of major journalistic coups.
When Mordechai Oren, an Israeli imprisoned by Czechoslovakia in 1952 on charges of spying for Israel, was eventually freed, “Edwin alone managed to get into Czechoslovakia, at that time a difficult mission in itself, and fly back to Israel on the same plane,” Judkowski recalled.
STIRRING COVERAGE OF BARBIE TRIAL
Among the many stories Eytan filed in his long career at JTA was a moving courtroom picture from the 1987 trial of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie in Lyon.
He wrote how, when Elie Wiesel testified as a special expert, “he spoke with the same quiet eloquence that raised his books to the stature of classics in his own lifetime.”
“The court listened in rapt attention,” Eytan wrote. “The three magistrates and nine jurors seemed spellbound. Prosecutor Pierre Truche shut his thick Barbie file and leaned forward, intent not to miss a word. Only an occasional sob from the public gallery broke the silence of the hushed courtroom.”
In addition to lauding Eytan’s strong journalistic sense, everyone interviewed remembered him as a bon vivant.
Judkowski recalled how Eytan would take him to a good restaurant, tell marvelous stories and then go back to the office, “where he would tap out his stories at breakneck speed.”
Eytan lived in Paris and traveled the world. But he always kept his Israeli citizenship.
New York writer Aviva Hellman, a longtime friend, said, “Living in Paris as he did, he was nonetheless completely an Israeli — the embodiment of an Israeli. That never changed.”
Moshe Arad, Israeli’s former ambassador to Washington and, like Eytan, a native of Romania, said he knew Eytan since the early 1960s.
“Edwin has always seen before him not only the news item he was dealing with and its impact, but rather the overall interest of the State of Israel,” Arad said.
“He was always aware of the human aspects of Israel’s foreign policy, and understood that it was his duty to serve not only the interests of Yediot Achronot and JTA, but also the more sublime goals of the interests of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”
‘EXPERT NEWSMAN’ AND ‘REAL MENSCH’
“I had the great personal pleasure and the deep honor of working with Edwin Eytan,” said JTA Executive Vice President Mark Seal. “His contributions to JTA, to the State of Israel and to world Jewry are too numerous even to list. We who knew him and were touched by him are richer for the experience.”
JTA Editor Mark Joffe said Eytan’s “incredible knack for obtaining inside information, his extensive contacts throughout Europe, his deep loyalty and his omnipresent sense of humor will be sorely missed at JTA. He was at once an expert newsman and a real mensch.”
Seal’s predecessor at JTA, John Kayston, called Eytan “a wonderful guy, very helpful in every possible way. He was full of life,” said Kayston. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Eytan’s body was flown to Israel on Wednesday, accompanied by his wife, Francoise; son Ariel, a physician in Switzerland; son Emmanuel, 13; and daughter Rafaelle, 11. He was to be buried Thursday at Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv.