The Case of Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Disappearance

One rainy December evening, Agatha Christie left her house and never returned. The disappearance of the bestselling mystery writer shocked the British nation, including Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who took a surprising part in the unprecedented search mission…

Autographed photograph of Agatha Christie

One rainy December evening, Agatha Christie disappeared without a trace, as if she were swallowed up by the ground.

All of Britain was anxious about the fate of their beloved novelist, and thousands of fans and volunteers joined in what was, at the time, the largest ever search operation conducted by the British police. Among the volunteers was none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who employed methods that might cause you to raise an eyebrow or two.

It sounds like the plot of a good English detective story. One that Christie herself, or Conan Doyle, could have easily written, but it turns out that reality sometimes trumps fiction.

In December 1926, Agatha Christie was already a famous writer. Her book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published a few months earlier, spread her fame beyond England and made her a respected figure in the international literary world. Her married life, however, was not as great a success.

She wed Archie Christie (whose name she kept until her death) on the eve of the First World War, in a hasty decision that was characteristic of many marriages all over the continent at the time.

Their relationship began to fizzle after the war. Archie returned to London from the trench war in France as Colonel Archibald Christie, and typical of the men of his day, he had a hard time dealing with his wife’s independence and professional success.

Agatha, however, was devoted to her family, even with her successful writing career well underway. “I didn’t consider myself a writer. A married woman was a profession in itself. Writing books was something I did on the side,” she said of those years.

Still, that “something she did on the side” was a sensation that brought publishers and fans knocking on her door while driving her husband away.

עטיפת אחת המהדורות הראשונות בעברית
An early Hebrew edition of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

On the night she disappeared, her husband confessed to her that he was in love with another woman—Nancy Neele— that he had been having an affair with her for two years and that he wanted a divorce. After dropping this bombshell, he left their house to spend the weekend in the arms of his mistress (who would later become his wife). Christie then went into her daughter’s bedroom, gave her sleeping child a kiss, and then she too left the house.

She didn’t come back.

Her car was found the next day between an abandoned quarry and a lake, with its headlights on and the motor still running. Inside was a bag with her personal belongings and an expired driver’s license.

Britain was gripped with worry. Did the beloved writer commit suicide? Had she been murdered? Did she drown in a terrible accident?

Thousands of volunteers (estimates range from 2,000 to 15,000), sniffer dogs and police officers embarked on an unprecedented search. For the first time in the history of the British police, planes were sent to assist in the search. But in vain.

Her disappearance made waves far from Britain’s shores, and was reported in the Jewish press around the world.

Haaretz made do with a short and somewhat laconic news item:

“In London, the well-known author Agatha Christie has disappeared. Following matters between her husband and herself, she left the house in an automobile and the automobile was later found stuck in mud.”

The editors of the American Yiddish newspapers Forṿerṭs (The Forward) and Der Ṭog devoted more space to the headlines, and in general were much more informative:

This edition of The Palestine Bulletin was also quite detailed:

It was at this point that no less a figure than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle entered the story. The creator of Sherlock Holmes offered to help with the police search for the vanished murder mystery novelist. However, contrary to what one might have expected, he did not offer Scotland Yard the benefit of his sharp logical mind, instead volunteering to help in a completely unexpected way.

By this point in his life, Conan Doyle had become an ardent spiritualist, something that Sherlock Holmes would have surely curled his lip at. He was now a firm believer in the existence of the world beyond this one as well as our ability to communicate with it.

The “Cottingley Fairies” appeared in a photographic series published in England in 1917. Apparently, Conan Doyle considered this proof of the existence of fairies. In the 1980s, the girls in the photographs revealed that the images were fake. The fairies were pictures cut out from a children’s book. The photographs can be found today in the National Science and Media Museum

The police gave Conan Doyle one of Christie’s gloves that was found in the abandoned car. He then took it to a local medium hoping that she would use her special abilities to uncover Christie’s whereabouts. The medium was unable to find out the exact location of the missing person, but declared decisively that she was alive, in no physical danger and would be found soon.

The proof Conan Doyle had been waiting for came eleven days later. A waiter or receptionist at a spa hotel in Harrogate where Christie was staying under a false name recognized her, and contacted the authorities. She was picked up by Archie and the police, safe and sound, her sanity intact, but she never fully explained her disappearance.


שרלוק וווטסון, איור של הסראנד לאחד מסיפורי הולמס של ארתור קונן דויל שפורסמו בעיתון זה.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, an illustration by Sidney Paget from the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Greek Interpreter, which appeared in The Strand Magazine in September, 1893

The official version (probably put out by her husband) was that she suffered from what would be described today as dissociation, and was not aware of what was happening to her the whole time.

But this explanation, is, shall we say, less plausible than some other possibilities. Did Agatha Christie stage her own disappearance? And if so, to what end?

She never offered an official version of events and the episode is not even mentioned in her autobiography. But years later it came out that on that evening, after abandoning her car, Agatha boarded a train to London, where she stayed the night with a friend in Chelsea Park Gardens.

The cynics tried to claim that it was a brazen publicity stunt. A sort of elaborate ruse to promote her detective novels.

The romantics, on the other hand (and probably also tabloid readers, in other words – almost everyone), thought differently.

Was it an attempt to embarrass her husband (whom the police snatched from Nancy’s bed the night Christie went missing), or worse—to frame him for her murder? Was she trying to shock him so that he would return to her or was it really the mental collapse of a woman who had just discovered the answer to a mystery that had been brewing in her own home for over two years?

In retrospect, we can reasonably assume that the motives were related to the betrayal, since beyond the extraordinarily coincidental timing, it turns out that the pseudonym Christie used to register at the hotel included the last name of her husband’s lover—she called herself “Teresa Neele.”

We will never really know for sure. This mystery, unlike all the hundreds of mysteries she solved for us, will remain just as it is: open and intriguing.

From that point, Agatha Christie’s life took a massively positive turn. She remarried an archaeologist, Max Mallowan, who took her on fascinating journeys around the world, and she won unprecedented professional success, the likes of which no other writer has been able to replicate to this day. Only the Bible and Shakespeare have sold more copies.

Agatha Christie on an archaeological dig in the Middle East with her second husband, Max Mallowan

In 1971, Christie was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, so in fact proper protocol would decree that we should have added the title “Dame” to her name throughout this article.

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie passed away on January 12, 1976, taking the secret surrounding her disappearance for eleven days with her to her grave.

Persecuted for Their Judaism in Germany and for Their German Origins in America

The story of the Jewish refugees from Germany who fled the Nazis to Latin America and found themselves in internment camps in the United States during World War II

Jewish prisoner Leo Hamermann

After his factory was set on fire, his property confiscated, and two months spent behind bars, Max Brill finally managed to leave Nazi Germany with his family in 1937, beginning a new life in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

He worked in electronics for a while, but then opened a pub and seemed to be on the road to social and economic rehabilitation. However, Brill found himself once more in a state of economic uncertainty when the United States of America entered World War II and his name made it onto the U.S. embassy’s blacklist of German-owned businesses.

Brill had difficulty advertising his business in the local press or even purchasing merchandise. Local suppliers were afraid of doing business with a person on the blacklist for fear that they might end up on the list themselves. His repeated appeals to the embassy claiming he couldn’t be a Nazi supporter because he himself was Jewish and had been forced to emigrate from Germany due to the regime’s persecution fell on deaf ears.

In a separate case from May 1944, the new Bolivian government, which had seized power in a coup in December 1943 and had yet to be recognized by the United States, was forced to hand over a number of German and Japanese citizens living in its territories, some of them without any semblance of proper justification.

These examples illustrate one of the most bizarre anomalies of World War II—the blacklisting of eighty-one Jews, the confiscation of their assets and their subsequent imprisonment in internment camps in the United States, along with 4,707 citizens of the Axis countries who had been living in Latin America, most of them Germans. The very same Jews who had left Germany because of their Judaism, were persecuted in their country of refuge because of their German origins. During part of their imprisonment, they were even detained in the same camps as those who held Nazi views.

Germans began migrating to South and Central America as early as the 19th century. Some owned large coffee plantations or engaged in large-scale trade. Those with means were connected through economic and family ties to the local elites. After Hitler came to power, a number of them joined the Nazi party—some due to a belief in racial purity and Nazi ideology, and others in order to maintain good relations with the German authorities, or to ensure the safety of their families back in Germany, or to secure the German state’s continued partial funding of local German institutions.

Most of the Germans in South and Central America did not join the Nazi party, but neither did they display any ideological opposition to the regime. While there was friction between the “old guard” and members of the Nazi party over control of the community’s cultural and educational institutions, it seems that these conflicts had more to do with personal and intergenerational tensions than with ideological differences.

A voting form for German diaspora communities on the Anschluss. The voting took place on board German ships stationed near South American port cities

In any case, the establishment of the new regime in Germany led to the spread of the Nazi party in South America and a rupture in relations within the German diaspora communities, between Jews and non-Jews. Some of the Nazi leaders wanted to replicate the persecution of Jews that was being carried out in Germany and target the local German Jewish population as well. Eric Heinemann, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Guatemala and later Israel’s ambassador to the country, noted that only four families out of all the Germans in Guatemala continued to maintain friendly relations with his family after Hitler came to power. Moreover, Hentschke, the leader of the Nazi party in Guatemala, even organized surveillance of Jewish homes to make sure that the local Germans were indeed boycotting them.

The growing concern in the United States over Germany’s military successes and the U.S. decision to join the war in late 1941 led the government to take action against German citizens. The U.S. administration saw them as a potential fifth column and decided to issue blacklists of German-owned businesses. American companies were prohibited from trading with the businesses on the list. Later, Central American countries and a number of South American states were forced to hand over Germans suspected of Nazi activity to the American administration. The U.S. however, which relied on corrupt and self-interested local intelligence sources, did not conduct a thorough examination of the candidates for deportation and thus Germans who had nothing to do with the Nazi party, and even anti-Nazis and Jews persecuted by the Nazis were sent to prison in the United States along with Nazi party activists.

A list of foreign citizens living in Bolivia, prepared by the FBI (of the 12,000 Germans, 8,500 were Jews)

The conditions in the internment camps weren’t exceptionally harsh and the detainees’ basic needs were reasonably met. At the family camp near Crystal City, Texas, there was a school, cultural institutions and even a makeshift swimming pool. Each child received a daily milk ration. However, life for the Jewish detainees was not easy, as the most vocal and powerful group in the camp were the Nazi supporters, who sometimes harassed the Jewish detainees. For example, in the Stringtown internment camp, pro-Nazi detainees managed for a while to prevent the Jewish detainees from attending English classes and from taking part in the camp’s sports and cultural activities. Eighteen Jews who were housed in a steamy bunk next to the camp’s showers faced daily antisemitic ridicule from passers-by.

German prisoners from South America arriving at Camp Kenedy, an internment camp in Texas

Luckily for the Jewish inmates, in March 1942 the Department of Justice assumed control of the camps from the State Department. The Justice Department officials were more sensitive to questions concerning the legality of incarcerating people without trial solely because of their background, and without any evidence of subversive, pro-Nazi activity. Jewish and refugee organizations pleaded the case of most of the Jewish detainees and in the spring and summer of 1943 the Jews were transferred to a separate camp near Algiers, Louisiana. Within a year, all but six detainees received a conditional release. They were allowed to make a living, and some were even able to volunteer to serve in the United States military. After the end of World War II, seventy-five of the Jewish prisoners decided to move permanently to the United States. Only two returned to South America.

It turned out that the American imprisonment of German citizens offered an opportunity to save Jews from the Holocaust. Hoping to “repatriate” some of its citizens in the diaspora, Nazi Germany had built a special compound inside the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp for this purpose. This facility was intended to house Jews who had real or forged documents testifying to some connection to countries in North or South America. So long as the Nazis had hope of exchanging their own citizens for these detainees, the detainees were kept alive. However, the U.S. government’s reluctance to send its German detainees back to Germany, mainly due to the fear of strengthening the German war machine, meant that very few Germans were actually returned to Germany in exchange for Jews with ties to the United States or to countries in Latin America. The failure of these efforts meant that these Jews had lost their importance as bargaining chips. Only a handful of them managed to survive the war.


Further Reading:

Friedman, Max Paul, Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign Against the Germans of Latin America in World War II, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003

Strum, Harvey, “Jewish Internees in the American South, 1942-1945”, American Jewish Archives 42,1 (1990), pp. 27-4

Escaping Certain Death: How the Jews of Treblinka Rose Up and Fought Back

During its year of operation, Treblinka extermination camp was one of the most deadly places on earth. Dr. Julian Chorążycki led a band of unsung heroes who helped put an end to these horrors, and gave his life for the uprising that brought Treblinka to its knees. In this article we commemorate the brave young doctor and the courage he showed in the face of the greatest possible adversity

Dr. Julian Chorążycki (right) and the Treblinka Memorial (photo: Adrian Grycuk)

In 1943, the fearsome Nazi Gestapo secret police published a series of adverts offering a “tempting reward” for anyone who could provide information on the escaped Jews of Treblinka extermination camp. Who were these fugitives and how were they able to leave Treblinka alive at a time when the only Jews who managed to exit the camp ended up in a mass grave?

This news item appeared in the December 31, 1943 issue of The Sydney Jewish News

The facility at Treblinka was opened by the Nazi regime in July 1942, becoming the third camp to be dedicated to the expressed purpose of annihilating the Jewish population and committing mass genocide. The vast majority of the Jews whose unfortunate fate led them to Treblinka would be robbed of their possessions and then taken straight into the gas chambers to live out their final moments. However, a few young and relatively healthy Jews were kept alive for a short while to do the guards’ dirty work. It was there that many of them would meet the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” – a bloodthirsty camp guard who would routinely torture Jews for fun before killing them (Ivan’s true identity has never been fully resolved. John Demjanjuk was suspected as a possibility and even convicted by an Israeli court before the verdict was later overturned).

Those Jews who were spared the gas chambers had to endure days filled by removing the lifeless bodies, hauling them off to be burned or buried, and searching the dead for any valuable items which would be dutifully looted by the camp guards. In the midst of all this, a small but mighty group of workers found a few stolen moments to hatch a plan of escape.

Dr. Julian Chorążycki – a photo portrait, part of a questionnaire submitted by Chorążycki to Nazi occupation authorities. The original survives in the Central Medical Library of Warsaw (via Wikipedia, enhanced with MyHeritage software)

Amongst this group was a Russian Jew, Dr. Julian Chorążycki. Born on August 19, 1885, he had been a revolutionary from a young age. He spent his pre-war life fighting for Jewish rights and the recognition and representation of people with disabilities. He also served in both the Russian and Polish armies during World War I, before finally settling down in Poland. Dr. Chorążycki lived by a strict policy of helping all those who came to him for medical aid, including those who could not afford to pay him for his services. When the Warsaw Ghetto was formed, Dr. Chorążycki decided that he would become the ghetto doctor and help keep the new ghetto residents as healthy as he could. In 1942, as Jews were being driven to their deaths by the thousands, he was packed into a cohort of Jews headed to Treblinka extermination camp. It was there that he spearheaded a plan to escape, and bring down Treblinka with him.

Shimon Peres, then Israel’s Minister of Immigrant Absorption, addressing an audience during a ceremony in memory of the victims of Treblinka, 1970,  the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Dr. Chorążycki formed a group of brave comrades and laid out the plans. The first step in the battle to escape involved stealing a key to the weapons storage used by the Treblinka guards. It took many attempts to break in undetected but when they did, the stores waiting for them were invaluable: rifles, grenades, knives and axes. As the rebels spent time collecting the goods, Dr. Chorążycki was caught with a wealth of resources and immediately taken into interrogation. Faced with the prospect of turning in his fellow Jews, Julian Chorążycki made the decision to end his own life and avoid releasing the details of the uprising and those involved in it.

Rachel Auerbach, in her book “In the Fields of Treblinka” says Dr. Julian Chorążycki was one of “the faces and personalities that distinguished themselves in a large anonymous crowd and gained eternal glory in the last hours of their lives as great Jews.”

Oyf di felder fun Treblinke (“In the Fields of Treblinka”), an audiobook by Rachel Auerbach, originally recorded by the Jewish Public Library, Montreal

Despite not making it out alive, Dr. Julian Chorążycki’s legacy lived on and the other Jewish prisoners continued to prepare for the uprising. In the middle of the afternoon on a stiflingly hot summer’s day, the guards went down to a nearby river to enjoy a swim and cool down. The Jews saw their opportunity and seized the moment. Around a thousand prisoners rose up, igniting explosives, burning buildings to the ground, and fighting their way into the surrounding fields and freedom beyond. “The fight lasted three hours and in the end, all of us who survived tried to escape” said Holocaust survivor Chaim Sztajer.

This news item appeared in the August 1, 1980 issue of the Australian Jewish News (Melbourne)


Chaim Sztajer, a survivor of Treblinka, pictured with a scale model he created of the camp. This image appeared in the March 6, 1987 issue of The Australian Jewish News (Melbourne), colorization by MyHeritage

Of the roughly 300 prisoners who managed to escape during the uprising, between 20-90 Jews are estimated to have survived the Holocaust. Their rebellion was not in vain. Shortly after the uprising, the camp was liquidated and by August 19, 1943, those who operated the well-oiled, efficient killing machine known as Treblinka had murdered their final Jew. Over 800,000 Jews were killed in Treblinka during its period of operation, a mere fifteen months. This is the story of the rebellion that put an end to its atrocities.

Hannah Senesh’s Hanukkah

In December of 1933, a 12-year-old Hannah Senesh composed a Hanukkah poem that concluded with the words: “These candles encourage us at every turn, fear not Israel, the time is yet to come."

Hannah Senesh and her handwritten poem “Hanukkah"

Hannah Senesh was born and raised in Budapest, in an urban Jewish environment that was well-versed in the trends and fashions of Hungary’s cultural elite. In her teenage years, she cultivated her literary talent by writing diaries and poems. Her ambition was to continue in the footsteps of her father, Béla Szenes, an acclaimed writer, journalist and playwright in Hungary who died prematurely, at the age of 33.

Among Hannah Senesh’s archival materials deposited at the National Library of Israel in 2020, is a notebook containing poems she wrote in her youth starting from when she was just seven years old. She would dictate her poems to her maternal grandmother, Fini, who would write them down in beautiful and neat script in special notebooks that are now preserved in Jerusalem. The poems that Hannah wrote throughout her childhood years reveal her sense of grief following the death of her father, as well as her joy and excitement at the changing of the seasons and the transformation of the landscape in her native Hungary,

However, alongside these writings dedicated to her homeland and her own personal experiences, there is also one surprising poem dedicated to the festival of Hanukkah. Senesh wrote this one on December 10, 1933, when she was only 12 years old. The Senesh family were not particularly religious, and it appears that Hannah wrote the poem while attending the Baar-Madas school in Budapest.  Though Baar-Madas is a Calvinist institution, the poem was likely written after one of the “religion lessons” given to Jewish girls who attended the school.

Senesh’s mother Katrina brought these notebooks to Israel, and the poem was later translated into Hebrew by the poet Avigdor Hameiri, on the occasion of the publication of the book Hannah Senesh: Her Life, Mission and Death (Hebrew), on the first anniversary of her death.


Here is a translation of the poem into English:




On Hanukkah, the candles are kindled, every Jewish heart quivers;

In our hearts rise up images of nations long since passed, ancient and great;

Of the days of Egyptian suffering, the kingdom of Greece, and our strength was not broken by any foreign rule;

We carried our Torah from place to place, from which we drew our faith and virtue;

We wandered through the wilderness, hungry and destitute, but God is with us – we will not be alone;

And we are descended from the same fathers, we will not give up. But will stay and fight;

These candles encourage us at every turn, fear not Israel, the time is yet to come.


Despite her young age, the poem already hints at the spirit of national pride and determination that would characterize Senesh in her adulthood, and also the impression left by Hanukkah’s nationalist ideas on her youthful soul.

The Senesh Family Archive is deposited at the National Library of Israel, with thanks to the Eisen Family.