By Geoffrey Paul
January 15, 2010
Have you been reading Ben Macintyre in The Times re-telling, with fascinating new detail, the amazing wartime story of the successful British bluff which duped the Nazis into thinking the Allies were going to invade Greece and the Western Mediterranean rather than Sicily ? Immortalised in book and film with the title "The Man who Never Was," the story highlighted the role of then naval officer, Ewen Montagu, in preparing the corpse of a vagrant to be dropped off the coast of Gibraltar with all sorts of "clues" intended to mislead the Germans. Which it did. Not featured in The Times's account, and why should it, is that Ewen Montagu went on to become - wait for it - the President of the United Synagogue!
Ewen Montagu, who probably never ate a kosher meal in his life if he had the choice was, if I recall correctly, a nephew of Sir Robert Waley Cohen who was himself an unlikely President of the United Synagogue during the period when the Chief Rabbi was Dr Joseph Herman Hertz, celebrated as the man who never resolved a dispute peaceably if there was another way. Hertz was a small man physically, Waley Cohen something of a bear by comparison. The story is told that, on one occasion when Waley Cohen approached Hertz to embrace him, the overwhelmed chief rabbi shouted for all to hear: "Don't squeeze me!"
The unJewish Jew Montagu became, in essence, the prime spokesman for traditional United Synagogue Jewry, a role in which, with his upper class manners and mannerisms, he often seemed out of place. The still greatly missed Chaim Bermant properly described him as the last of the Cousinhood which led Anglo-Jewry from the Victorian into the new Elizabethan age. When Montagu died 25 years ago, Bermant wrote that his demise marked the "passing of a class, indeed of class, in the leadership of the community." Montagu was succeeded in the US presidency by Sir Isaac Wolfson.