Yosef Govrin, Reflections on my Mission as Israel’s Ambassador – To Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia

, October 16, 2017

Yosef Govrin, Reflections on my Mission as Israel’s Ambassador – To Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia:  August 1993 – December 1995 (Hebrew), Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2016, 264 pp.

At the beginning of the German occupation of Romania during the Second World War, Yosef Govrin was deported along with the Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina, to the Transnistria concentration camp in the Ukraine. Despite great hardship and adversity, he and his mother survived, and this experience shaped his outlook both in his personal life and subsequent career in Israel’s foreign service.

Reflections on my Mission focuses upon Govrin’s two-and a-half years as Israel’s Ambassador to Austria and as non-resident ambassador in Slovenia and Slovakia. There, Govrin devoted much effort to cultivating the local political and cultural elites and building ties of friendship. He also maintained strong ties with the Jewish community of Vienna and arranged cultural events as well as Independence Day celebrations featuring Israeli actors, singers and orchestras. He also established contact with the small, reemerging Jewish communities of Slovakia and Slovenia. Govrin was especially moved by his relations with the Jewish communities in all three countries.

In his capacity as Israel’s representative Govrin addressed many requests to his host countries for information about the missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad and lobbied for his release, since these countries had relations with Iran. The Iranians were eager for commercial and political ties particularly with Austria. Therefore, he never missed an opportunity to remind his hosts about Ron Arad.

Govrin also met with Slovenian and Slovakian officials in order to discuss the rise in antisemitism and urged them to erect memorials for Holocaust victims and Jewish resistance fighters. Along with his advisors, Zvi Pe’er and Ya’akov Fass, he made efforts to expand economic and cultural ties with the two small Eastern European countries that recently emerged from Communist rule and whose relations with Israel were in the process of formation. His long tenure as Director of the Eastern European Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs enabled him bring many Austrian political figures to Israel.

This book is a well-written, highly readable and aesthetic memoir. Even its cover is noteworthy, showing an Austrian army unit standing at attention while Ambassador Govrin, accompanied by the head of protocol of Austria’s Foreign Ministry, presents his credentials to President Dr. Thomas Klestil. The reader can only be impressed by the hard work, initiative and resourcefulness he devoted to what is often regarded as a slick and glamorous job. Hopefully, those who aspire to a career in Israel’s foreign service will study Yosef Govrin’s remarkable career and learn from his example.

About Avigdor Shachan

Dr. Avigdor Shachan is a historian and a retired lecturer from Ariel University, Ariel, Israel.