In 1932, Benno Weiser Varon was a student of medicine in Vienna. During a brawl at the Anatomic Institute he rescues a Jewish fellow student, when he cracked the skull of a huge Nazi with two outsized metal keys, while some thirty Nazis watched from an upper floor. He considered this event his rite of passage, in which he proved to himself that "Jews are no cowards." Life would give him many an opportunity to prove it again.
A Jewish Rambo? Not at all. Fellow Viennese remember him for making them laugh. He wrote, directed, and performed in literary cabarets. Gerhard Bronner, Vienna's foremost entertainer, claims that watching Weiser perform inspired his choice of career.
"All I could take along from Nazi Vienna," says Weiser Varon, "was my accent." But he also exported his fighting spirit. As Ecuador's first syndicated columnist, blending drama with satire, he dispensed faith to those who rooted for the Allies and heartburn to the powerful Nazi colony. The Axis powers sponsored seven weeklies to counteract his influence, there was an interpellation in parliament, a "promise" by the minister of the interior to silence him, an op-ed dual with a Vichy diplomat. The New York Times, reporting on his struggle, called him one of Latin America's best known columnists.
In 1946 the World Zionist Organization drafted him into its campaign to convince the nations of Latin America of the justice of the Jewish fight for statehood. Varon's niche in history is the U.N. Palestine Partition Resolution of 1947. The Encyclopedia Judaica credits him and a colleague with the decisive Latin American votes. In 1964 Golda Meir appointed him ambassador to a succession of Latin American countries. In 1970 Baron survived an assassination attempt by Palestinian terrorists. In 1972 he retired from diplomacy and returned to journalism.
Varon met Albert Einstein and Aleksandr Kerensky as well as the Who's Who of Latin-American writers, painters, intellectuals, and statesmen, such as Peron, Castro, the Somozas, Stroessner. He also placed second-best in a joke contest with Bob Hope and, together with his actress-wife, wrote a play, "A Letter to the Times," which was produced in both English and Spanish.
Translated by Emma Gorlov (Boston)