U.S. Asks Thant to Aid Former Head of Anti-nazi Spy Ring Leave Poland for Israel
Menu JTA Search

U.S. Asks Thant to Aid Former Head of Anti-nazi Spy Ring Leave Poland for Israel

Download PDF for this date

Ambassador George Bush, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, has asked U.N. Secretary General U Thant to help bring about the reunion with a family in Israel of a Polish Jew who was head of the fabled “Red Orchestra,” the anti-Nazi Soviet espionage ring which operated in France and Belgium during World War II. This request came after a discussion last week with Dr. William Wexler, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Dr. Wexler informed Ambassador Bush that Leib Trepper and his wife Liba, who are elderly and ill, have been refused permission to leave Poland and join their sons and families in Israel. He brought letters from one of Trepper’s sons, Dr. Ed Trepper of Tel Aviv, to Thant and Edward Gierek, head of the Polish Workers (Communist) Party, telling of his parents plight and begging for aid to bring about their emigration. They were forwarded by Bush to Thant.

Dr. Wexler said that in addition to his plea to the United States Mission, to use its good offices in the U.N. to bring about the Treppers’ emigration, he was also appealing to the State Department directly to communicate with the Polish Government about the matter. Dr. Wexler expressed “amazement and dismay” that Poland would give such “shabby treatment to two people who had done so much for the victory over the Nazis.” All the Treppers want to do now, he said, “is to live out their lives with their children in Israel. This is little enough to ask for all they have done.” Dr. Wexler left for Israel on Friday to meet with a special committee formed to help Trepper get out of Poland. The letter to Thant said that the Treppers’ relatives had recently reached Israel and that their parents “have been struggling for a long time to go to Israel where they wish to spend the last years of their lives” in the midst of their family. Trepper, who is 67 years old and whose underground name was “Leon Domb,” and about whom and his “Red Orchestra” books have been written, was recently arrested in Poland with his wife while working on a French film about the espionage organization with the author of the book “Red Orchestra,” Giles Perrault, a Belgian television reporter. They were released after a week and the reporter was expelled and his film confiscated. Trepper, who spent five years in a Stalin prison camp, much of the time in a cell too small in which to lie down, contracted a disease there and has been growing progressively weaker, it was reported.


Born in Poland, and active in a Zionist youth movement from the time he was sixteen, Trepper was recruited into the Russian espionage mechanism and sent to Paris in 1938 charged with the task of organizing an anti-fascist spy-ring there. Operating under the code name “Red Orchestra,” Trepper’s underground organization became one of the most successful espionage operations of its kind in World War II. Trepper, or “Domb,” was the first to uncover Hitler’s plans to attack the Soviet Union, but Stalin paid no attention to his report. At the end of the war, in 1945, he returned to Moscow where he was decorated for his exploits. In 1949, during one of Stalin’s anti-Jewish campaigns and purges, he was sent to a labor camp and released in 1955 after Stalin’s death and “rehabilitated.” He returned to Poland that same year under the repatriation agreement between that country and the Soviet Union.

Trepper began asking permission to leave the country for Israel when Gomulka’s campaign against the Jews went into high gear and Jews were being dismissed from all government and party posts as well as from the universities and other positions. Exit visas were given to some 25,000 Jews, including his sons and their families, but not to him and his wife. His son’s letter to Thant said that the refusal to let his parents emigrate was “dooming them to complete isolation and untimely death in complete loneliness. Our mother and father are very ill and they cannot count on decent medical aid.” He said that they were taking no part in Polish political life and that he and his brothers considered the denial to let them emigrate a “cruel act, a slow skilling and an act of retaliation against old and defenseless people.” Trepper’s son asked Thant to “express your opinion openly via the media of mass information” and to appeal to Polish authorities for his parents’ release.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund