The Hungarian Noble Family That Took in the Exiled Jews

The Hungarian noble Batthyány family claims to have roots reaching back to the founding of Hungary. The family is said to be descended from the famous chieftain Kővágó-Örs, first mentioned in a document from the year 970 AC.

Order bearing the secret seal of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary regarding Berthold Elderbach/Ellerbach of Monyorókerék. Buda, 1470.

Count Lajos Batthyány served as Hungary's first Prime Minister in 1848. His image here is from a portrait in the Hungarian National Museum.

The Batthyány Family was an aristocratic family that served as a meeting point of different social classes between the 16th and 20th centuries and contributed greatly to the continuity of the previously Turkish-splintered Hungary, not only with their private armies and bodies of governance, but also through their contributions to Hungarian cultural, educational, political and medical history. In 1848, Count Lajos Batthyány even served as the first Prime Minister of Hungary. Today, the famous “Batthyány tér,” a square in Budapest, preserves the family’s memory.

The Batthyány family’s existence is continuously verifiable from 1398 when the Esztergomer Captain György Kővágóörsi received the estate of Batthyán with the market town Polgárdi from King Sigismund for his services in the fight against the Turks. For hundreds of years, the coat of arms of the Batthyány family was a pelican feeding his chicks with his own blood and a sword carrying lion below it.

Batthyanys Coat of Arm
Boldizsár and Benedek Batthyány’s Coat of Arms received from Ulászló the Second on December 12th, 1500 in Buda

Batthyanys newer Coat of Arms
The coat of arms went through some small changes over the centuries, but its central motif remained the same. Later, the lower part was bordered by a ribbon, that read in Latin, “FIDELITATE ET FORTITUDINE” (with fidelity and courage).

In the second half of the 17th century, when Emperor Leopold the First expelled the Jews from lower Austria and later forbade them from settling in the royal cities, the Batthyánys were among the major landowners, in addition to the noble Esterházy and Zichy families, who welcomed and accepted the Jews, allowing them to settle on their properties in the western part of Hungary as they saw a potential economic advantage in their presence in the local economic life. Typically, once the Jews settled down in the villages of the large estates and in the centers of the capital, they got actively involved in the economic life of the estate.

The first group of Jews came mainly from the Jewish communities of Nikolsburg and Uherský Brod (Magyarbród). The Jews were accommodated and resettled by Esterházy in Sopron county in the well-known “Seven Communities” (Sheva Kehilot) of the Eisenstadt (Kismarton) estate. In Rohonc (Rechnitz), on the Batthyánys estate was established in 1687 the first large Jewish community with more than 30 families. Their lives were governed by a letter of privilege received from the Batthyány landlords. The privileges provided by the Batthyány family, which laid down the duties and rights of Jews, were also used as a model for communities established in subsequent settlements.

Contrary to the seemingly positive attitude of the Batthyány family towards the Jews, the castle in Rohonc has a sad World War II history that is described in the British journalist David R. L. Litchtfield’s article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2007, as well in Swiss journalist Sacha Batthyany’s book “A Crime in the Family” that was published in 2017. Rohonc had been the property of the Batthyánys since the 16th century, but in the 19th-century, the property was transferred to the possession of the Thyssen family. In the 1930s, Count Iván Batthyány married the Rohonc born Margit Thyssen-Bornemisza and Rohonc returned to the Batthyány family.

In the spring of 1945, a party was held at the Castle of Rohonc on Palm Sunday evening (24th March). One hundred and eighty Jewish Hungarian forced laborers were murdered and buried in mass graves during the party. These 180 Jews were among the 600 Jews brought to the Burgenland settlement in Rohonc for the construction of the south-east rampart with the purpose of holding back the advancing Red Army. The mass shooting of 180 Jewish men who were found “unfit for work,” was ordered by Margit’s lover and Nazi sympathizer Joachim Oldenburg and by Franz Podezin, the NSDAP Commander of Rohonc, who freely and purposefully handed out guns to the partygoers. Fifteen of the Jewish prisoners were left alive and were tasked with digging the mass grave for the victims. After they completed their task, the fifteen survivors became victims and were murdered by Podezin and Oldenburg. With the completion of the shootings, the party guests went back to the castle to continue the celebrations with drink and dance. The otherwise immaculate name of the Batthyánys was disreputed following these events. Margit and her husband lived a long life in Bad Homburg in Germany. After their deaths in 1985 and 1989 respectively, the other members of the Batthyány family did not allow the couple to be buried in the family crypt.

The Batthyány Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Batthyány Collection at the National Library of Israel consists of 76 archival files (ARC. 4* 2013 – Batthyány family collection).

These files include about 200 records in Latin, German, Hungarian and Czech and include letters (correspondence), resolutions, orders, certificates and other administrative documents dealing with properties of all kind created by the Batthyány family members or other European medieval noblemen, kings, emperors and administrative workers between 1470 and 1868. It seems that none of these documents are connected to the Jews or their matters.

The Batthyány Family Collection includes documents from the second half of the 15th century issued by various kings and royal officials. The timeframe of the collection begins with this period and stretches all the way to the second half of the 19th century. The collection includes various paraphernalia, documents on heritage issues and other administrative documents that relate to the family’s elaborate mansions. The correspondence includes not only discussions with the most prominent personalities of the time but also communications with high official servants, domestic serfs and property governors who turned to the landlords during the course of their routine tasks, providing us with documentation of the problems of everyday life of that time. Among the administrative documentation from the 16th and 19th centuries are representations of the Ortenegg, Város-Szalónak, Rohonc, Németújvár, Körmend, Ördöglika, and Hidegkút estates. The documents issued in the 18th century have a political and military character and include several matters regarding the Batthyány family members who were prominent in their national positions.

The majority of the documents are clearly related to the Batthyánys and their affairs, however, there are also a number of private letters and official documents which could not be linked directly to the family. Their possible direct or indirect relation to the family has not been disproven but any attempt to reveal this connection may require a deeper knowledge of the Batthyány family tree and its history.

Despite their age, the documents, written on parchment and paper, are in relatively good shape but some of them will undergo special conservation treatment at the National Library in the near future. Because of the sensitivity of these archival materials to humidity and other climate conditions and because of their high historical value and importance, the Batthyány Family Collection is kept in the Library’s Rare Collections Department.

The collection now found in the National Library of Israel completes the archive of Batthyány family in Hungary, which is massive and well known, serving as a major source of information for many historians.  Unfortunately, the archive suffered many misfortunes including damage caused by Soviet soldiers in Körmend during World War II and fire damage during the revolution of 1956 in Budapest. Today it is kept at the National Library of Hungary in Budapest (Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár) including almost 212 meters of archival material created between 1501-1944.

Here are some examples of the interesting historical documents of the Batthyány Family Collection at the National Library of Israel:

Matyas kiraly
Order bearing the secret seal of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary regarding Berthold Elderbach/Ellerbach from Monyorókerék. Buda, 1470.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 02


Elisabeth Swetkowitz
An agreement to divide the estate of Elisabeth Batthyány (née Swetkowitz, wife of Kristóf Battyhány) written by the Austrian inheritance advisor Marshal Wilhelm von Puchaim. Vienna, 09.06.1535

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 05


Anna Lemberg
Inventory of silver, clothes, garments and other property of Anna Szwetkowitz, widow of Joseph von Lemberg. Ortenegg, 04.03.1558.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 09


Balthasar Literatus Schytarocky
Testimony in Latin signed by Balthasar Boldizsár III Batthyány. Nikolsburg, 16.04.1572. Many of his letters are declared lost. Boldizsár had a great passion for books and had about one thousand of them in his personal library.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 14


Bethlen Gabor Thurzo Imre
Letter from the king of Hungary and Prince of Transylvania, Gábor Bethlen to Count Betlenfalvi Imre Thurzó, about an event planned for 16.03.1621. The letter mentions, among others, Friedrich V, Elector Palatinate of the Rhine.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 18


Komornyik István
One letter from the Bailiff István Komornyik to Count Ádám Batthyány reporting on matters concerning escaped bondservants, cattle, debts, Turkish prisoners, battles, etc. Veszprém, 24.03.1639.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 21


Miklós Postákovich
A contract concerning the leasing of family property in Hidegkút involving Ambrosio Ludwig von Reichhardtsperg, Miklós Postákovich, Cristoph Batthyány etc. Koschendorf, 13.06.1696. The document includes a financial redemption for the leased estate (additional text) for 300 florins signed by Augustin Reichhartperg in Güssing on 26.05.1745 (note the difference in years).

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 40


Miklós Postákovich
A similar contract concerning the leasing of family property in Hidegkút involving Ambrosio Ludwig von Reichhartsberg, etc. Güssing, 20.08.1696. The document also includes the redemption of the leased estate for a fee of 1000 florins from Augustin Reichhartperg signed also in Güssing on 26.05.1745 (note the difference in years).

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 40


Güssinger Zeitung 1930

Güssinger Zeitung 1930
An article in the Güssinger Zeitung newspaper from 21.09.1930 that mentions the redemption of a previously leased (1696) Batthyány family property in Hidegkút for 300 florins in 1745.


Batthyány Eleonora
Instructions from Eleonora Batthyány to the Prefect Sámuel Palotai concerning money matters – rental, sale and credit contracts with the Dominican priests in the city of Sopron (Ödenburg), Steinamanger, etc. Vienna, 15.02.1713.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 47


László Ignác Bercsényi
A barely legible Hungarian letter from László Ignác Bercsényi to count Ferenc Batthyány concerning a future meeting in Rohonc. Szombathely, 10.05.1714.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 48


Galánthai József Esterházy
A letter from Galánthai József Esterházy in Vienna to the Hungarian chancellor Count Lajos Batthyány of Német-Újvár. Cseklész (today Bernolákovo), 15.02.1739.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 51


Maria Theresia - Philipp von Batthyány
Imperial mandate signed by the Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresia (Theresa) given to Count Philipp von Batthyány (1731-1795), youngest son of Ludwig von Batthyány, allowing him to serve in the Széchenyi Husar Regiment as Lieutenant Colonel. Vienna, 10.10.1760.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 60


Count Philipp von Batthyány
Imperial decree appointing Count Philipp von Batthyány (1731-1795), youngest son of Ludwig von Batthyány, to the rank of Major-General (General Major) and as a member of the Secret Council on a trial basis. Vienna, 08.08.1771.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 65


Karl Carl von Batthyány
Notes on purchased property matters written and signed by Karl (Carl) von Batthyány, Lord of Güssing. Güssing, 30.09.1792. On the same document: additional property notes dated 18.01.1827 in Güssing concerning Johann Batthyány and Philipp Batthyány.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 68


Gábor Sényi
A letter from Gábor Sényi, prince Fülöp Batthyány’s governor of goods, to the property office in Körmend concerning the rental of the premises of the castle of Körmend and the sale of horses and wool from the lordships of Kanizsa and Ludbreg. Vienna, 18.06.1852.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 71


Holic - Goods and Property Administration in Körmend
Two letters from the Imperial Royal Administrative Office in Holitsch (Holíč) to the Goods and Property Administration in Körmend concerning an auction, etc. 09.06.1854.

Link to the record of the above document: ARC* 4. 2031 / 73


The Batthyány Archive has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of The Leir Foundation.

“Now I think that Kafka himself is saying to me: ‘You have done enough’”

From Zurich to Tel Aviv: A journey tracing the legacy of the writer, composer and philosopher: Max Brod

מקס ברוד

When authors, artists, and academics were forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1933 (and later Austria and other countries), they generally left in such a haste that they were unable to bring along personal effects and their private archives were often poorly stored or lost altogether. Moving (or being moved) to new cities and countries, last-minute escapes and deteriorating living conditions became the natural enemy threatening the survival of archival materials: documents, correspondence, manuscripts and drafts.

The same was true of the personal libraries of great writers.

Accounts from Jewish artists who fled the Nazi regime best illustrate this matter. In 1934, writer Stefan Zweig began sending away parts of his personal archive (a section of which was sent to the National Library in Jerusalem), but he also left portions of it at almost every stop on his way to Brazil. When the poetess and painter Else Lasker-Schüler fled Nazi Germany in 1933, considerable portions of her written material remained in Berlin. The trail of this material has long run cold and will probably never be rediscovered. Walter Benjamin’s papers were hidden away by an acquaintance in the National Library in Paris. Benjamin sent other materials to his close friend in Jerusalem, Gershom Scholem. There are rumors that on his last journey (which was ended at Portbou near the Franco-Spanish border when Benjamin took his own life), he carried with him a suitcase with an unfinished manuscript. To this day, what happened to the suitcase remains a mystery.

מקס ברודMax Brod. His diaries reveal a who’s who of the European cultural world in the first half of the twentieth century 


After 1945, this situation led a number of archival institutions around the world to invest efforts in locating and collecting the scattered remains of personal legacies, collections and archives lost in the Holocaust. The actions of these institutions helped to rescue and reveal important materials, but they also created a certain competition among the organizations as they raced to track down manuscripts, letters and entire archives. This is precisely what happened in the case of the personal archive of the author, philosopher and playwright, Max Brod (1884-1968), whose 50th memorial will be observed on December 20, 2018.

Although Brod managed to transfer large portions of his archive to Israel, we will see that it only narrowly avoided the fate of the archives mentioned above. The long journey of Max Brod’s archive to the National Library has been the subject of extensive media coverage in Israel and around the world.

There is no need to delve into the details of the affair that spanned four courts, scores of lawyers and even more journalists. I will only note that, in 1961, Max Brod stated in his will that his secretary, Esther Hoffe, was to manage his estate after his death and arrange for all written material to be transferred to the National Library of Israel or to another suitable place. Esther Hoffe did not execute this order posthaste. Instead, she began selling important items in the collection. In 1971, Hoffe sold several letters written to Brod by Franz Kafka and others, as well as three original short manuscripts written by Kafka. Other items were also sold later on.

This selling off of the various items in the collection culminated in the sale of a manuscript of Kafka’s novel, “The Trial,” for two million dollars in 1988. The majority of sales were made on the free market and not to public archives. It is, therefore, difficult to identify any marked intention to preserve the unity of Max Brod’s archive, including the letters and manuscripts written by his friend, Kafka. The German Literature Archive in Marbach tried to acquire the archive from the Hoffe family in order to transfer the works to Germany. But, due to the unequivocal ruling of three Israeli courts in favor of the National Library’s position on the matter, Max Brod’s estate remains in Israel. The first part of the collection is currently undergoing cataloguing and registration in the Archives Department of the National Library. The Brod archive provides a valuable addition to parallel archival collections of Prague-based authors (Felix Weltsch, Hugo Bergmann, Oskar Baum and others), whose works already reside in the library.

The sections of the archive in Max Brod’s possession arrived in Palestine intact, together with its creator who was able to arrange a last minute immigration from the Czech Republic in March 1939. Brod continued to write in his new home and even extended his influence in the theater world as an artistic advisor at Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv.

During the nearly 30 years in which Max Brod lived in Israel, his personal archive grew as he wrote and accumulated many materials. In the 1940s, Brod gave the Kafka writings to the Schocken family (well-known publishers) for safekeeping. However, those writings which Brod received as a gift from Kafka were transferred to bank vaults in 1952 and 1957. All of Franz Kafka’s other writings (those that never belonged to Brod) were handed over to the author’s nieces in the 1960s, and eventually reached the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The majority of Kafka’s writings that were owned by Brod were placed in a bank vault in Zurich and, over the years, Esther Hoffe removed items to sell them at auction.

Following the decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court, other parts of the Brod archive were removed from bank vaults located in Tel Aviv in December 2016 and January 2017. The archive was declared a public trust and now, fifty years after Brod’s passing, the time has come to allow the materials to be examined by researchers and scholars. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the contents of the vaults were transferred to the National Library, which was granted the status of custodian of the collection.

Among the items found in the vaults were manuscripts of a number of novels composed by Brod, including: “Der Meister” – “The Master”, published in 1952, a novel about Jesus, “Galilei”, written in 1948, about the astronomer Galileo Galilei, “The Prague Circle” from 1966 and others. These novels were published (in German and several other languages), and some of them even became bestsellers. But Max Brod’s diaries are what will shed new light on his life, his work and the period in which he lived. Several of these diaries were discovered in the vaults (others were removed by the Hoffe family in the 1980s and have never resurfaced). In the diaries we mainly find Brod’s own reflections, as well as various stages of his artistic work and descriptions of significant events in his life.

For example, in one diary from 1925-1928, Brod recorded his thoughts and described his efforts to help Franz Kafka’s last wife, Dora Diamant, find work. In a list from October 1926, Brod mentions an entire network of Kafka’s friends who had tried to help Dora. Robert Klopstock thought that Dora Diamant would be best suited to be a kindergarten teacher, but Lisa Weltsch (Robert Weltsch’s sister) had already found Dora a position which she ultimately turned down. Brod wrote a letter to the Neue Rundschau (New Perspective) magazine in Berlin recommending her for a job. He also wrote to Willy Haas, the founder of the influential literary journal, Die Literarische Welt (The World of Literature), and to Berthold Viertel, a writer and director who is well known today.

Alas, the group’s effort was for naught. Dora continued to inhabit an unheated apartment without enough food, her sole source of income stemming from a monthly allowance given to her by Robert Klopstock. One can almost hear Brod’s audible sigh as he wrote these concluding lines: “Now I think Kafka himself is saying to me: ‘You have done enough.'”

The correspondence found in the archive is extensive and impressive. It can be characterized as a type of who’s who of the European cultural world in the first four decades of the twentieth century. There are letters by the philosopher Walter Benjamin (who did not particularly appreciate Max Brod’s work), by Hugo Heller (the book dealer, musicologist and friend of Sigmund Freud) from Vienna, by the communist composer Paul Dessau and by the pioneer of literary expressionism, Kurt Hiller. Brod was in contact with Hiller for at least 40 years and even appeared with him at literary events in Prague. Surprisingly, Hiller is mentioned only once in the memoirs of Max Brod’s life, “A Life of Quarrel.” Max Brod had even corresponded with the founder of the famous Die Weltbühne magazine, Siegfried Jacobsohn. The letters, found in the vaults in Tel Aviv, illustrate how connected Brod was with writers, journalists, scribes, and other literary professionals. Their analysis will enrich the picture of the historical period in which they were written and may even change our understanding of it.


ברוד והילר, שנת 1910
Max Brod and Hiller, 1910

As mentioned above, some items from Brod’s archive are still hidden away in safes in Switzerland. The National Library is working to find a solution, within the Swiss legal system, to transfer these items to Jerusalem. The vaults in Switzerland hold the most valuable materials in Brod’s archive: first and foremost, Franz Kafka’s many letters and even a few small manuscripts (“Wedding Preparations in the Country”, “Letter to His Father”). Kafka’s writings in Hebrew and a number of his paintings are also contained in these vaults.

In addition, the Swiss vaults contain other important pieces of Max Brod’s correspondence including letters by Klaus, Erica and Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, Albert Einstein and Martin Buber. It is reasonable to assume that these parts of the Brod estate were placed in Switzerland for fear of being kept in Israel. They are thought to have been intended for sale, as was the case with Kafka’s two manuscripts, “The Trial” and “Description of a Struggle”, as well as about forty letters written by Stefan Zweig to Brod.

As if the splitting of the archive was not enough, ten years ago thieves broke into the Tel Aviv home of Eva Hoffe, the daughter of Esther Hoffe. In the house were archival materials that the family had refused to account for, their nature and quantity unknown. Five years ago, thousands of pages in Brod’s handwriting appeared in a German manuscript market and were offered for sale.

Our colleagues at the German Literature Archive in Marbach drew our attention to these documents and, eventually, the German police intervened. In a lengthy process, the papers were examined and it turned out that most of them undeniably belonged to the Brod estate. Among the recovered documents were many letters between Brod and his wife Elsa, lists and manuscripts of several of his works (including the early novel Schloss NornepyggeNornepygge Castle). There were also notebooks from his studies at the Prague Gymnasium and various photographs. These documents are slated to be transferred to the National Library in the near future.


כתב ידו של ברוד מתוך יומניו
Brod’s handwriting from his diaries, June 23, 1946: “I have browsed through the old diaries, mainly in numbers 5 and 6, but I have changed quite a bit. At the time, I lived in the illusion that a few good things (a solution to unemployment) could come from evil (the Nazis). Everywhere I saw a mixture of good and evil, good came out of evil and unfortunately the opposite as well. But all this is nonsense. Now I see things clearly and firmly. The terrible doubts were so strong in me because these masochistic Jews (Blau, Thomas Keller, etc.) repeatedly preached in the newspaper Prager Tagblatt: ‘It is true that for us it is not good for what is happening in Germany, but we must not lose objectivity.’ In the end we saw how wrong that assumption was.”


The various locations in which pieces of the Max Brod archive have been discovered (not to mention those yet undiscovered) show the extent to which private ownership can be harmful to the condition of the material. An organic archive that was brought to Israel almost eighty years ago was scattered to a number of locations across the world (most of which were never intended to professionally preserve documents of historical-cultural significance) over the course of fifty years, following Brod’s death.

The full extent to which keeping archival materials in a private home can be unsuitable and even dangerous was exemplified when a team of archivists visited Eva Hoffe’s residence (following her passing) in Tel Aviv in mid-September to identify additional parts of the Max Brod estate and transfer them to the National Library. Prior to the visit, the team was warned that they would encounter the most difficult of conditions – and so it was.

Many cats and cockroaches watched us suspiciously as we discovered and collected a considerable amount of archival materials and books. This is not the place to describe the catastrophic conditions in detail, but it is reasonable to assume that (following the unprofessional maintenance) the National Library’s rehabilitation lab will have a great deal of work in the coming months. Perhaps the sole positive in this situation is that Max Brod was spared the sight of his life’s work having been given this disrespectful treatment.

Are You a Sadist? The Historic Role of a Controversial Psychological Test

Whose test results led Dr. Szondi to declare that “this man has murderous tendencies?”

The Szondi Test

The “Szondi Test” is undoubtedly one of the strangest items found in our collections at the National Library of Israel.

What is so strange about the test developed by the Jewish-Hungarian psychologist Leopold Szondi? And whose test results led Dr. Szondi to declare that “it is crystal clear that this man has murderous tendencies?”

In January 1961, Dr. Shlomo Kulchar, the manager of the psychiatric department at the Tel Hashomer Hospital, was summoned to an urgent meeting with Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecutor of the Eichman trial. Hausner presented Dr. Kulchar with a sensitive task – to carry out a psychiatric evaluation of Adolf Eichmann.

Dr. Kluchar met with the subject of the examination multiple times over a period of two months. One of the tests he administered to Eichmann was the “Szondi Test.” Without stating the name of the examinee, Dr. Kulchar submitted the results of the examination to the creator of the test, Leopold Szondi. Szondi had originally refused to perform what he referred to as a “blind diagnosis,” but after a quick review of the results, he simply could not ignore what he saw. He quickly sent a response to the Israeli psychiatrist in which he stated that he had never seen such disturbing results. In a later telephone conversation, Szondi related that, based on the test results, he received the impression that this “man has uncontrollable murderous tendencies (according to an article published in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper on March 10, 2000).”

Eichmann at his trial in Jerusalem (Photo: David Rubinger). From the National Library of Israel collection

So, who was Leopold Szondi and what was the test he developed?

Tell Me About Your Genes and I Will Tell You Who You Are

The 20th century was a period of intensive research of the human psyche and its flaws. It was in this century that psychology became a scientific discipline, the subconscious became a research category and childhood became a punching bag –something to blame for almost any adult behavior or weakness.

Sigmund Freud, 1921

One of the most wide-spread and controversial psychological tests of this “psychological century” was developed in 1937 by the Hungarian-Jewish psychologist, Leopold Szondi. Throughout his life, Szondi grappled with questions of fate and genetics. In contrast with Sigmund Freud who saw childhood as the period in which a person’s personality is formed and in which his mental neuroses develop, Szondi constructed a theory which gave a person’s genetic make-up a definitive role. Szondi believed that the structure of a person’s psyche – and not only his external appearance – is predominantly determined by his genetic material.

Szondi saw human life as a complex game between freedom and restriction – between the freedom given to a person in his personal choices and preferences and his genetic predisposition to certain mental illnesses. In order to precisely diagnose a person’s natural-genetic tendencies, and, no less important, hir or her placement on the scale of each illness, Szondi developed a simple test.

The Szondi Test. From the National Library of Israel collections

Construction of the medical-psychological history of a patient is a complex task which Szondi attempted to simplify by means of the following test. He collected 48 photographs of patients who suffered from what he (incorrectly) defined as eight different mental illnesses, divided into four pairs of opposites:

  1. Homosexuality versus sadism
  2. Epilepsy versus hysteria
  3. Catatonia versus paranoia
  4. Depression versus mania


Examples of possible series of photographs in the Szondi Test. From the National Library of Israel collections

Szondi determined that the examinee must go through a set of eight photographs each day for six consecutive days and from each set the examinee must must select two photographs which he or she finds attractive and two which he or she finds repulsive. At the end of the six-day testing period, the subject would have selected 12 favored photographs and 12 detested photographs from which the doctor compiled an in-depth profile of the examinee, establishing his or her place in each category. The entire test is based on a theory which claims that mental illness is expressed in a person’s facial features and that the level of attraction or repulsion a person feels enables diagnosis of which illness is “stored” in his or her genes and at what stage.

The form the examinee was required to fill out after examining the eight photographs on the Szondi Test. From the National Library of Israel collections


The majority of Szodi’s theories along with the test he developed were disproved decades ago. Today, we know that homosexuality is not a mental illness. Additionally, the theory that mental illnesses are expressed in facial features was also refuted. However, the debunked Szondi Test does present us with an unsolved mystery: assuming the story told by Dr. Kulcher is indeed true, how was Dr. Szondi able to diagnose Eichmann’s murderous personality so accurately?

The book that accompanies the test. From the Gershom Scholem Collection at the National Library of Israel

Revealed: How Hanukkah Was Celebrated a Thousand Years Ago

We collected a few greetings and well-wishes for the holiday that were found in the famous Cairo Genizah

A letter written in Judeo-Arabic reads "Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa (These days the honorable ones), al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim (well-known and recognized for miracles)... He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time…"

Even though it is not one of the biblical Jewish holidays, the festival of Hanukkah held an important place for the Jews of medieval Cairo who wrote a majority of the documents in the Cairo Genizah. This famous collection of Jewish manuscript fragments was originally stored in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue. It contained around 300,000 items, some of them over a thousand years old.

The Genizah reveals that even in the Middle Ages, the Jews of Cairo (then known as Fustat) would send Hanukkah letters and greetings to one another. One such greeting contained a variation of a well-known Hanukkah blessing which is still in use today: “He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days and in this month, will perform miracles and wonders for us and for your people”. We have collected a few more greetings and wishes that can be found in the Cairo Genizah to share with you this holiday season.

Part of a letter in Judeo-Arabic. The author sends greetings to the addressee and other relatives. “Afchal al-salam” (peace be upon him), and wishes to send his peace (‘salami’) “Le-lamuli (to my master) al-Sheich Ya’qub Shatz, al-Sheich Taher, ve-seir al-sahab (and the rest of the members).”


One of these dates to the mid-11th century: an invitation sent by a man to an honored friend for a Hanukkah event: “…that we shall meet tomorrow in the synagogue.” He added, “God will put the days of Hanukkah upon him and all that he has, as a sign of good and a sign of blessing.”


“God will put the days of Hanukkah upon him and all that he has, as a sign of good and a sign of blessing.”


Another fragment of a letter, written in Judeo-Arabic, reads, “Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa (During these honorable days), al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim (well-known and recognized for miracles)…He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time…”


“Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim…” (During these honorable days well-known and recognized for miracles…)

It was a great sin to allow anyone to spend the holiday alone, without family. In a letter sent by a man by the name of Yosef to one of his relatives, he wrote: “V-ana akool anani etzel el-eichem alei el-Hanukkah (and I say that I will come to you in honor of Hanukkah).”


“V-ana akool anani etzel el-eichem alei el-Hanukkah” (And I say that I will come to you in honor of Hanukkah).”


Happy Hanukkah!


The first two letters are currently part of the Cambridge University collections – TS10J 14.9 & TS8J22.7. The third is located at the JTS Library- ENANS 2.5. The letter which mentions the Hanukkah family visit is part of the Lewis-Gibson Collection, LIT2.140