180 Years of Australian Jewish Newspaper History Going Online

Some 200,000 pages of historic press will be fully searchable as part of new global initiative

(Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

A new initiative will digitise and open free digital access to 180 years of Australian Jewish newspapers, including over 200,000 pages from Jewish communities across the continent. The project is a collaboration between the National Library of Australia (NLA), the National Library of Israel (NLI) and the Australian Jewish Historical Society (AJHS).

The new digital collection will be openly accessible and fully searchable from anywhere in the world through Trove, Australia’s free online research portal and the Historical Jewish Press Project (JPress), the world’s leading digital collection of Jewish newspapers and journals. The new digital collection will offer scholars and the wider community the opportunity to understand centuries of Jewish life in Australia as never before.

According to Dr. Marie-Louise Ayres, Director-General of the National Library of Australia, “The project continues the work being done by the National Library to connect culturally and linguistically diverse communities with their history. This global initiative supports international scholarship and enables those interested in the study of Jewry in Australia to freely access this wealth of information. The National Library’s unparalleled digitisation capabilities will once again unlock important sources for researchers and enable generations to connect with the treasured voices, stories and opinions of the people from their collective past.”

Jewish newspapers waiting to be digitised at the National Library of Australia (Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

“The National Library of Israel’s commitment to offer access to historic Jewish press from all communities and in all languages via its JPress platform receives a tremendous boost here with the massive digitisation of Australian Jewish press. We appreciate the close partnership with the National Library of Australia and the Australian Jewish Historical Society toward this shared mission,” said Oren Weinberg, Director of the National Library of Israel.

The history of Jewish press in Australia goes back to 1842, when, despite the very small Jewish population, a local edition of the London-based Voice of Jacob (what would later become The Jewish Chronicle) was published in Sydney. As the local communities grew and established themselves in the twentieth century, the number of publications and their variety grew immensely. Most of the publications were in English, but there were also some in Yiddish and Hebrew.

The Yiddish Australian newspaper “Australier Leben” is one of the titles being digitised as part of the initiative (Courtesy: National Library of Australia)

“Jewish people have been in Australia since 1788 and, while prominent members of our community such as Sir John Monash are well known, the history of those who came before him remains largely unknown. From a Jewish community standpoint, these newspapers represent a rich source of contemporary history and to have access to the information for historians, genealogists and interested members of the public is immense”, according to Peter Philippsohn OAM, President of the Australian Jewish Historical Society. “It’s not just about uncovering genealogical information and family history either, but revealing the arcane and the attitudes of society at a particular moment in time—the insights that can be gleaned from the community’s attitudes towards immigration, the Holocaust, and the World Wars.”

With permission from the Australian Jewish News and their publisher, Polaris Media, all issues of the Australian Jewish News will be digitised, as will all other Australian Jewish newspapers published up to the copyright date of 1954. According to David Redman, Chief Executive Officer of Polaris Media, “With a history that extends over 125 years, the Australian Jewish News has been an important part of not only the Jewish community but also the wider Australian community. Polaris Media, as the publisher of The Australian Jewish News, is very excited to be part of this project to preserve this history as well as make this unique record of our past available digitally to future generations.”

This joint initiative would not have been made possible without financial assistance from philanthropic supporters, including the David Lesnie Foundation, the Embassy of Israel in Australia, the Besen Family Foundation, and Eitan Neishlos and Lee Levi.


Project Partners

The National Library of Australia

The National Library is charged with preserving the nation’s memory for future generations. The NLA is committed to connecting with communities, and connecting communities with their national collections. While the Library’s mission has long been to collect, connect and collaborate, the ways in which we have carried out that mission have changed dramatically. The digital era has seen creative and research practices, knowledge production and community expectations being fundamentally reshaped through the opportunities, new technologies offer. The Library has responded to and anticipated these changes, building an astounding collection, developing world-leading digital platforms, connecting with more Australians than ever before, and collaborating with other agencies to develop digital research infrastructure on which the nation relies. We are committed to continuing this proud record of service to the Australian people.

Trove is a collaboration between the National Library of Australia and hundreds of partner organisations around Australia.


The National Library of Israel

Founded in Jerusalem in 1892, the National Library of Israel (NLI) serves as the vibrant institution of national memory for the Jewish people worldwide and Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths. NLI has recently embarked upon an ambitious journey of renewal and is now opening access and encouraging meaningful engagement with the treasures of Jewish and Israeli culture as never before through a range of innovative educational, cultural and digital initiatives. Its iconic new home is currently under construction adjacent to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem, on schedule to open its doors in 2022.

Alongside and in partnership with peer institutions across the globe, NLI is carrying out significant digital initiatives to open access, generate research, enhance user experience and exponentially expand the quantity and quality of materials available for user communities interested in its core subject areas. One such example is the Historical Jewish Press Project (JPress), the world’s leading initiative for preserving and opening digital access to Jewish newspapers and journals across centuries and continents, allowing users to search and browse nearly 3,000,000 pages from over 400 titles in a range of languages from the late 18th through the 20th centuries. JPress is an initiative of the National Library of Israel (NLI) and Tel Aviv University (TAU), in cooperation with institutions and collections around the globe.

JPress is a collaboration between the National Library of Israel and Tel Aviv University.


The Australian Jewish Historical Society

Founded in August 1938 by Rabbi Leib Falk, Sydney Glass, Hirsch Munz and Percy Marks, the Australian Jewish Historical Society is dedicated to promoting the study of Jewry in Australia from 1788. Since its founding the Society has sought to compile and make available unique and authentic records relating to the Jewish people in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands via the acquisition and preservation of historically significant documents and materials. Equally, the Society has pursued the conservation of places of Jewish interest and continues to foster the interchange of information through lectures, discussions and exhibitions of historical interest or value.

The Society is now working to make a range of materials available online.

A Belated Kaddish for the Unnamed Victims of the Annaberg Transport

They were murdered days after Yom Kippur, yet my father survived

My father was born on Yom Kippur nearly a century ago.

Two days after he “celebrated” his nineteenth birthday in a cattle car, his life was spared.

His name was Fred Bachner and he arrived at Auschwitz on September 30, 1944, one of 1,437 men transported from the Annaberg labor camp. When the doors to the cattle cars opened, those who were still alive saw the smoke from the crematorium billowing up to the sky and grey ashes falling down on them, proof that the stories about Auschwitz were unimaginable, yet true.

They stood at the gates with the infamous words, “Arbeit Mache Frei” – “work sets you free” – and were not fooled. They already knew those three words were deceptive and cruel and that “death”, “crematorium”, and “gas chamber” were more accurate.

The main gate to Auschwitz. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection (Photo: St. Mucha, Publisher: State Museum in Auschwitz)

The selection process “to the left or to the right” was not new to my father who had been in concentration camps for more than 18 months by then.  He knew his life depended on standing straight, looking healthy, and saying he had a skill that was useful to the Germans. My father said he was an auto mechanic, a claim he made at every concentration camp in which he was imprisoned.

According to the meticulous records the Germans kept, only 411 prisoners of the 1,437 from that transport were “admitted” to Auschwitz, branded sequentially beginning with B-10607 and put into Men’s Quarantine Camp B-IIa three days later.

I try to imagine what it was like for my father seeing hundreds of men from his transport forced in the other direction to their deaths. Although he survived that day’s selection, what my father saw was foreboding, a warning of how his life may likely end.

“I was in Auschwitz where we saw the ovens burning 24 hours a day and the transports arriving every day.  I was one step closer to death than before,” he later recalled.

I wonder how my teenaged father was able to control his emotions while standing at the place his beloved mother, Mutti, was murdered, the ominous smoke from the crematorium leaving no doubt that she was gassed and then burned.

“Mutti”, Fred’s mother, Erna Widmann Bachner. Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg

The last time my father saw his Mutti was February 18, 1943.

When he left for work delivering beer and soda by horse and carriage to labor camps, he saw German soldiers in the streets. He went back to warn his mother and that was the last time he saw her. His Mutti and the remaining Jews in Chrzanow, a small town in southern Poland, were taken on the last transport to Auschwitz where she was sent directly to the gas chamber.

The next day my father was taken to the Faulbruck-Graditz concentration camp and then to Annaberg in the summer of 1944.

Almost five years had passed since my father and his family were forced out of their home in Berlin and there was no end in sight to this unimaginable hell.

Fred Bachner’s parents, Abraham and Erna, at their wedding in Berlin. Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg

Living was much harder than dying and my father wanted to live.  The answer to what my father was thinking that day and every day during those horrific years comes from his testimonials:

“I wasn’t going to give up.  I used my inner strength and spirit and pulled myself together.  I talked to myself, ‘Fredi, you have to live.  You have to be there.  There’s another day tomorrow. You can’t let yourself down.  This is feasible.’ I needed to use my inner strength to overcome the hard work and mental anguish I knew I would be subjected to.”

That unwavering determination to do whatever is humanly possible was the same way my father lived every day of his life after the Holocaust. His determination, perseverance, and love for life are deep-rooted within me and are sources of strength.

The odds were against my father and the 410 others not murdered that day, just as they were stacked against every prisoner every day.

“I’m always asked the question how did I survive.  My only answer is that I never gave up hope,” he said.

Those admitted to Auschwitz for slave labor had numbers branded on their arms.  Their names and numbers were recorded in perfect German penmanship. My father was branded B-10618 and assigned to work as a slave laborer at IG Farben.

Slave laborers on their way to work in Auschwitz. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection (Photo: St. Mucha, Publisher: State Museum in Auschwitz)

The Germans had no use for the other 1,026 prisoners from the Annaberg transport.

Like Mutti, they were sent en masse directly to the gas chambers, with no record of them by name. Their families might not have known they were murdered at Auschwitz or that their Yahrzeit is the thirteenth of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, three days after Yom Kippur.

In January 1945 my father was sent on a death march from Auschwitz to Gross-Rosen and then got to Dachau a month later. In the middle of April, he was on a transport out of Dachau towards the Alps to be shot. He jumped off the train, hid in a farmhouse for a few days until the bombing stopped. When he came out he saw white flags and American soldiers and was taken to the Feldafing Displaced Persons camp in Germany, which just a few years prior had been a summer camp for the Hitler Youth.

Certificate issued by the US Army indicating that Fred Bachner was deported and kept for “compelsery” labor between Feb 18, 1943 and May 1, 1945 in the Graditz, Annaberg, Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, and Dachau concentration camps. Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg

By the following Yom Kippur, all of the concentration camps had been liberated.

Presumably no one said Kaddish on that first Yahrzeit for the 1,026 unnamed prisoners from the “RSHA transport of the Reich” who traveled with my father and were gassed at Auschwitz.

Now, 75 years later, I plan on saying Kaddish for them as a group to honor and remember them.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

A ‘High Holiday Prayer’ to the Czar

After he freed the serfs, Alexander II was virtually deified by one leading Jewish newspaper

As far as 19th century Russian autocrats went, Czar Alexander II did some decent things for the Jews. He abolished the cruel “Cantonist school” system, which ripped Jewish children away from their families and into decades of forced military service. He allowed some Jews to attend high school and even university. While the ultimate goal was certainly Russification, Alexander generally promoted a gentler form of it than others.

In 1861, the day before Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States, a no less significant event took place across the world. On March 3 of that year, Czar Alexander II signed the Emancipation Manifesto, which, along with accompanying legislation, freed some 23 million serfs across the Russian Empire.

Liberty was not immediate even for those officially freed by the proclamation, and for the 2.5 million disenfranchised Jews living in Russia’s Pale of Settlement, the Manifesto held little to no meaning.

The Jewish market in Minsk, home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the Pale of Settlement. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via NLI’s Digital Collection

Nonetheless, the editors of HaMelitz, a leading Jewish weekly published in Odessa, celebrated the Emancipation Manifesto and its signer as if it were the High Holidays and Alexander was the Almighty Himself.

HaMelitz generally championed values of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah), and played a critical role in the modern rebirth of the Hebrew language during the second half of the 19th century. It thus only seems natural that a modern take on traditional Jewish liturgy praising the Czar of Russia instead of the God of Abraham graced the publication’s cover shortly after the Emancipation Manifesto.

And it wasn’t subtle.

Following the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashana, worshippers traditionally say “Today, the world came into being, today [He] will stand in judgment…”, as they plead for God’s compassion and favor.

The difficult-to-translate Hebrew words “Hayom harat” begin this prayer, and they, along with other identical terms, open the ‘liturgy’ published by HaMelitz, as well: “Today the success of our Land came into being, today a KING [large font in the original] of justice and righteousness will stand…”

Perhaps the most well-known High Holiday refrain “Avinu Malkeinu” (“Our Father, Our King”) also makes an appearance, as Alexander is referred to as “Avinu Malkeinu HaRachaman“, “Our Merciful Father and King”.

Alexander II in his coronation robes. From The Coronation of the Russian Monarch Beginning with Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich to the Emperor Alexander III, Hermann Hoppe Publishing, 1883 (Public Domain)

While other Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur tropes continue throughout, additional Jewish holidays make appearances as well.

The Hebrew term for “light and happiness”, which famously appears in the Book of Esther after the Jews are saved from the hands of  the evil Haman, is here employed to refer to the day the beneficent Russian monarch freed 23 million serfs, with the latter referenced in a manner clearly reminiscent of the wording used to recount the myriads of Jewish slaves miraculously redeemed from Egyptian servitude.

The “prayer” concludes with a call for all who “loyally love the land of our birth” to “Bless the one who has granted us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day” – the exact text of the well-known “Shehecheyanu” prayer, seemingly directed towards the King of Russia, as opposed to the King of the Universe.

Front cover of the HaMelitz newspaper, Thursday, March 28, 1861. The ‘prayer’ to Czar Alexander II is the lead item. Click image to browse the paper
The ‘prayer’ to Czar Alexander II, published in HaMelitz, Thursday, March 28, 1861. Click image to enlarge

Similar works were written in honor of Alexander II across the Empire. In fact, over the course of his reign, Hebrew texts were composed to mark other events as well, including his anniversary and his survival of an assassination attempt (at least one of them). Some of these texts were even intended to be read in synagogue. This phenomenon is not specific to the czar, however. Over the centuries, countless Hebrew prayers, songs and poems have been composed to fete leaders around the globe – sometimes written from a place of authentic appreciation and gratitude, while other times more out of fear or attempted groveling.

While Biblical phrases and wording generally reserved for God may have sometimes been utilized by anti-religious authors in order to denigrate tradition and sanctify secularism and modernity, that was certainly not always the intention, as prior to the broader development of modern Hebrew, the language’s lexicon and contexts were overwhelmingly religious in nature. Hamelitz  specifically served as a major force driving the modernization and secularization of Hebrew, helping enable it to be used more widely.

A contemporary illustration of Alexander II’s assassination (Public Domain)

On March 13, 1881, an assassin’s bomb tore Alexander II’s body apart. He bled to death in the same room in which he had signed the Emancipation Manifesto almost exactly two decades earlier.

Alexander’s son would immediately go on to rule with an iron fist and usher in an era of state-supported anti-Semitism. His grandson, present in the Winter Palace for the assassination’s aftermath, would be the last Czar of Russia.


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

The Story of Daniel Hagège: Judeo-Arabic Author and Documenter of Tunisian Jewry

Hagège estimated that some 150 Tunisian authors wrote in Judeo-Arabic. This article is in memory of 100 years of Judeo-Arabic literature.

"Intishar al-ktayib al-yahudiyya al-berberiyya al-tunisiyya", by Daniel Hagège

The story of Judeo-Arabic literature in Tunisia is one of defeat; not only because the language in which this literature was written has disappeared due to the French and Hebrew prevailing it – but because it seems that this unique literature was never given a real chance to flourish.

Judeo-Arabic literature lasted in Tunisia for a mere 100 years. It began in 1862, when a partnership was formed among three Jewish writers: Mordekhai Tapia, Bishi Chemama, and Eliyahu Elmaleh. Their first book printed in Tunis was called Qanun al-dawla al-tunisiyya (“The Constitution of the Tunisian State”).

A year later, books containing folk literature began to be published. At first, they were copied by hand under the supervision of the author, storyteller, and tavern-owner, Hai Sarfati, and later at Uzan and Castro’s publishing house. In 1878, Abraham Tayyib founded the first newspaper in the country, called al-Amala al-tunisiyya (“Tunisia Province”).

Much of what we know about this literature we owe to the work of Daniel Hagège. Next to the French Eusèbe Vassel, Hagège (occasionally written as Ḥajjāj) is the greatest documenter of this rich literature, which consists of hundreds of original stories and translations. He was also one of the last authors to publish his works in Judeo-Arabic. In 1939, Hagège published a book titled Intishar al-ktayib al-yahudiyya al-berberiyya al-tunisiyya (“The Publication of Tunisian Judeo-Arabic Books”, translated into Hebrew by Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014). Some of Hagège’s many books have vanished completely, with the only remaining traces being a few details mentioned in this text. Hagège listed the published works of the Judeo-Arabic authors alongside biographic information about their lives and literary and professional work. Intishar al-ktayib was published at Makhluf Najjar’s printing house.

Thanks to this detailed bio-bibliographic list compiled by the author, we know that Judeo-Arabic literature, which emerged in Tunisia during the mid-19th century, was influenced by different elements. Firstly, Arabic literature; Judeo-Arabic literature was written in Arabic, peppered with Hebrew, French and Italian. Many other books and stories were translated literary classics from around the world, primarily France. These included works such as The Mysteries of Paris, Robinson Crusoe, and adaptations of One Thousand and One Nights, which drew from Antoine Gallan’s French translation.

Ḥikayat Robinson Krusoi, by Daniel Defoe

Before we read the work’s translation by scholars Joseph and Zivia Tobi, we assumed Hagège wrote his bio-bibliography because he wished to save this literature from vanishing into obscurity. In the book’s introduction, right after the acclaims – “Thanks must be given to the supreme God, the mighty and the terrible, creator of lands, with the perfection of wholeness, creator of man, and who places him above animals in understanding and language,” (translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014) Hagège clarified what drove him to write the book. It appears the author was quite confident that the language and its literature would last, and so he wrote: “After this, what will be set forth now is that the ‘Tunisian Arabic-Berber’ language, which our forefathers and even we ourselves have never ceased to speak to the present day, is a language like all the languages scattered all over the world. From the day of its creation until today it has been reinforced by a large number of learned writers, who were able to use this language, and they penned a great many literary compositions and love stories and weekly journals and even daily newspapers. We hope therefore that our historical essay will produce many benefits and will bestow esteem and honor upon our Jewish-Arabic language and renown to all the Tunisian Jewish master writers.” (Translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014)

Hagège estimated that some 150 Tunisian authors, all of them men, wrote in Judeo-Arabic. His compilation lists bio-bibliographic details of 17 of them, including the author himself. Hagège summarizes his work in a few self-praising sentences, followed by a list of the 30 books he published.

“The journalist Daniel Hagège, who has written for the journal al-Najma al-waḥīda since its revival, was born in our city of Tunis on July 15, 1892. After completing his schooling, a graduate of three grades in basic studies, he began working at the printing house with the revered writer the late Ya‘aqov Ha-Cohen on the weekly al-Shams and the daily al-Ṣabaḥ. This was in 1904. On October 21, 1910, this writer was appointed chief editor of the weekly Ḥayat al-janna, which lasted for several months. On August 1, 1913, he founded a magazine called al-Nuzha al-tunisiyya (“Tunisian Pastime”), which continued to appear until the end of 1915. It was revived in 1933 when seven issues were published. Thereafter it closed by order of the government. In 1914 he published an important book titled Anwar tunis (“Flowers of Tunis”), which contained the account Sabab takwin ḥarb uruppa (“Causes of the Development of the European War”) and the story al-‘Ishq wa-al-ḥubb ma fihim ṭibb (“There Is No Remedy in Lust and Love”) and several stirring Arabic articles and amusing tales.”

Bio-bibliographic details about Daniel Hagège, written by Hagège in Intishar al-ktayib

Like many Jewish authors and journalists in Tunisia, Hagège made a living outside of literary writing and had a completely separate profession. The most interesting part of Hagège’s biography is his “secondary” income, which was, in fact, his main income: “And from April 1924,” writes Hagège, “He began to work for one year as a mixer of medicines at the pharmacy of the Greek opposite Sinigalia on the square. From 1926 to 1930 he worked at the Suq al-Grana with the late Rabbi Eli‘ezer Farḥi, the pharmacist famous for his wisdom in plants and essences. Afterward he himself opened a shop at 4 Sidi al-Sridek Street in Tunis. This shop became well-known to everyone, as they came to learn of its great usefulness.” (Translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014)

Daniel Hagège belonged to the last generation of Jewish Tunisian authors. He ceased writing in Judeo-Arabic in the 1940s. In his bio-bibliography, he stressed that readers did not appreciate the hard work and high expenses of publishing Judeo-Arabic newspapers and books. They preferred to loan a copy rather than buying one. “Alshari wahid w’alkari asharh,” Hagège noted, meaning: “One buys, ten read.” (Translation: Joseph Tobi and Zivia Tobi, Wayne State University Press, 2014).

In 1959, Hagège immigrated to Paris. He died in 1976, and, in accordance with his last will and testament, the last Jewish author of Tunisia was buried in Jerusalem.

An assortment of the 30 books Hagège wrote, the National Library of Israel collections


The book Intishar al-ktayib al-yahudiyya al-barbariyya al-tunisiyya was translated into Hebrew and published in 2000 by Zivia and Joseph Tobi as part of their study of Judeo-Arabic Tunisian literature.