The Man Who Developed Krav Maga to Defend Against Anti-Semitic Attacks

Imre Lichtenfeld developed Krav Maga as a method of defensive street fighting against anti-Semitic attacks in the city formerly known as Pressburg.

Krav Maga

Pressburg is the historical name of Bratislava, today the capital of Slovakia, a place with a rich Jewish history that was interrupted about 70 years ago. The city is unique in its location, sharing borders with two other countries – Hungary and Austria- which also used to have large Jewish populations. The famous Pressburg yeshiva no longer exists in the city but if you stroll through Jerusalem today, you may come across a yeshiva there named after the original one in Pressburg. You are also sure to see at least one street named in honor of the more famous residents of Pressburg, including the Chatam Sofer, a leading rabbi of European Jewry in the early 19th century, and Imre Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga.

1925 Pressburg Jewish Ghetto The Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Pressburg Jewish Ghetto in 1925. Image from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

There is still a Jewish presence maintained in Bratislava in modern times, despite the fact that the large and very impressive synagogue was destroyed due to the construction of a new bridge in the 1960s under communist rule. A tram line was also built through the former Jewish cemetery though several tombs were preserved, including that of Moshe Schreiber, otherwise known as the Chatam Sofer. Jews from all over the world who flock to Bratislava to visit his grave get off the tram at the stop named “Chatam Sofer.”

Chatam Sofer tram stop in Bratislava. Image croutesy of Dominika Sedlakova.
Chatam Sofer tram stop in Bratislava. Image courtesy of Dominika Sedlakova.

The memorial for the Chatam Sofer, the last remaining synagogue in the city and the Museum of Jewish Culture can be visited for free during the European Days of Jewish Culture festival, which takes place every year on the first Sunday of September. There is a temporary exhibition in the Museum dedicated to Imre Lichtenfeld or Imre Sde´Or, a founder of the Israeli self-defense art of Krav Maga, who spent an important and defining part of his life in Bratislava. Krav Maga has today become a popular sport but was originally taught for self-defense and survival in the streets of the Pressburg Jewish quarter.

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Imre Lichtenfeld was born in Budapest in 1910 but spent his childhood in Bratislava. It was in the late 1930s, in reaction to anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish riots in Bratislava, that he came up with the idea to transform street fighting into a proper style of self-defense. In May of 1940, following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the splitting up of the nation, Imre managed to escape the country and the hands of the Nazis on a steamboat called Pentcho headed for the Land of Israel. This river-boat was not built to be used on the open sea but those on board did not have any other option. The Pentcho shipwrecked on the Greek Dodecanese Islands and Imri, along with several other survivors, were saved by the British. Imre ended up in Egypt which was under British control. After serving time in the Free Czech Legion, he was released and he was finally able to travel to the Land of Israel where he began training members of Haganah and the police force in 1944.

Jewish street in Bratislava The Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
A Jewish street in Bratislava. Image from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

With the foundation of the State of Israel, Imre trained soldiers as the Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga in physical fitness, knife fighting, street fighting, and swimming. He served in the military for twenty years, always refining his methodologies for hand-to-hand combat. It was after his retirement that he developed the style of fighting for civilian use as well, and Krav Maga gained global popularity. Imre Lichtenfeld died in 1998 at the age of 88.

Imre Lichtenfeld exhibit
Poster for the Imre Lichtenfeld exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Culture in Bratislava. Image courtesy of Dominika Sedlakova.

If you find yourself visiting Bratislava nowadays, you may have to look a little closer to find the Jewish presence but it certainly is alive and thriving. There are theological classes available and a renewal of Yiddish culture and music is also apparent, with bands reviving old Jewish songs from before the World War II era. While Jews no longer represent twelve percent of the population as they used to, a visit to the city will allow you to experience a still vibrant and lively Jewish culture.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond in cooperation with Paideia – The European Institute for Jewish Studies.

How Anti-Semitism Robbed the Jewish Miss Europe of Her Crown

Erzsébet Simon faced extreme anti-Semitism despite the glory she brought to her homeland.

Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon

Erzsébet Simon, image from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

With the conclusion of the First World War and the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary underwent a period of extreme instability and political unrest.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved and Hungary was reborn as an independent republic, bringing about a period of tremendous upheaval. The country struggled politically, economically and culturally to rebuild and regain its status and position among its neighbors. After years of dramatic changes, in 1929, Hungary finally enjoyed a taste of normalcy, hosting the first-ever Miss Hungary beauty pageant with the hopes that, after years of ugly political unrest, the nation could return to its former beauty.

There was a spark of excitement in the air as the competition kicked off on January 6, 1929. Two hundred and eighteen candidates stepped forward to compete in the first ever nation-wide beauty competition to take place in the country. Among the crowd of beauty queens stood Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon, a young Jewish girl born in 1909 to Sándor Simon, a prominent man and the chief physician of their small town of Keszthely. Böske took to the stage and immediately captured the spotlight, standing out from the crowd of contestants with her bright blue eyes and striking blonde hair that made up her classic beauty. She quickly rose to the top of the competition, winning the hearts of the audience and the judges. Erzsébet Simon was crowned Miss Hungary and declared to be the most beautiful girl in the country.

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Along with the glory and honor that came with winning the top prize in her homeland, the crown of Miss Hungary granted Böske entry into the Miss Europe pageant. She traveled from Hungary to Paris where, on February 18, 1929, she competed against sixteen other beauty queens from across the continent. Fighting against the odds, the most beautiful girl in Hungary was crowned the most beautiful girl in Europe. Hungary returned to center stage with Böske bringing great honor to her country. She was congratulated by the highest of society in France and was showered with praise by the President of the French Republic, artists, celebrities and diplomats.

Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon
Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon, Image from the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

A month after taking the crown of Europe, Simon finally returned home from Paris. She was greeted by cheering crowds as thousands came out to see her and celebrate her triumph in the name of Hungary. She was congratulated by the Mayor of Budapest who thanked her for sharing her beauty and reclaiming the glory of her nation from its opponents in the Great War.

Unfortunately for Böske, not everyone was pleased with her victory. Simon quickly discovered that no level of success could win over the hearts of the anti-Semites. During the welcoming ceremony at the train station, she was heckled by several anti-Semitic members of the crowd who called out “Miss Palestine,” and “filthy Jew,” though their shouts were largely ignored.

Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon
Erzsébet “Böske” Simon, image from the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

Simon chose not to do many public events and instead decided she would host only one autograph signing appearance to be held on March 17, 1929, an event that was interrupted by crowds of anti-Semitic demonstrators who arrived to protest. She was verbally attacked by the crowd who jeered and booed her calling her an “ugly Jewess” and an “untrue Hungarian.” Later that same day, a group of nationalist students protested outside Böske’s apartment, shouting anti-Semitic slurs against her and the Jewish people as a whole.

The crown of Miss Europe granted Böske entry into the Miss Universe pageant scheduled to take place in Texas that year. Due to political pressures and continued anti-Semitism, she gave up her spot in the competition along with several acting job offers she had received from the United States. The severe anti-Semitism she faced drove Erzsébet Simon to retire from public life giving up a future of fame and fortune.

After a whirlwind entry to the world stage, Erzsébet quietly exited stage left in favor of a more simple and quiet life as a citizen of her country. She married a young man named Pál Brammer who worked in the textile industry but they divorced shortly after. Erzsébet married for the second time a little while later. Her second husband, Daniel Job, was a theatre director and the couple survived the Holocaust together in Budapest. They were spared from the deportations and the violence though other members of their families were not as fortunate.

Daniel Job died in 1950 and Erzsébet Simon, the most beautiful woman in Europe, died on October 8, 1970 from health complications.


More on the subject: The Year of Jewish Beauty Queens

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.

“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 ברוד
Max 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