Generally, the name Ehrenstein brings a twinkle to the eye of experts in German Expressionist Literature. For the most part, anyone who hears the name assumes it refers to Albert Ehrenstein, one of the most prominent poets of the avant-garde movement, whose poems are still being published to this day and have recently even been translated into Hebrew (in the anthology “Weltende : eine Anthologie von expressionistischer Lyrik ins Hebräische übersetzt”, translated and edited by Asher Reich, HaKibbutz Hameuchad, 2013).
Very few remember that Albert had siblings: Otto (who died during World War I), Fritz (killed in the Holocaust), Carl and a sister, Freida. Every one of them stood in the shadow of their famous brother, who was the only one of them to receive an academic education. An interesting symbiosis developed between Carl and Albert, since Carl also had literary aspirations. Albert supported Carl for as long as he was part of the makings of modern German literature.
It can must be assumed that without Carl, we would know much less about Albert: after Albert died in 1950, Carl saw to it to collect the various parts of his personal archive and sent them to the National Library in Jerusalem in 1956.
Carl Ehrenstein was born in Vienna in 1892. After graduating from high school, he received training in a college of economics in his home town. He then worked in a number of insurance companies and banks, and even spent a few months in London in 1911. Little did he know then that in the future he would live in London and the surrounding area for many years. Concurrently, inspired by his brother Albert, Carl tried his hand at literature. With Albert as his agent, Carl’s first work, Klagen eines Knaben (The Complaints of a Youth), was published as part of a series of young and modern literature by Kurt Wolf’s famous publishing house in Leipzig. Over 80 Expressionist works were published in that series, including one of the first works by Franz Kafka. During World War I, Ehrenstein feigned insanity to avoid conscription into the Austro-Hungrian army. He spent time in a convalescent house in Switzerland. It is possible that there was an element of truth to his charade, as Carl suffered from a few nervous breakdowns over the course of his life.
During most of the 20’s of the 20th century Carl lived in Berlin and worked, for the most part, as a cultural critic for a local Communist newspaper (Die Welt am Abend). In the framework of his work for the newspaper he visited theatres, exhibitions, movie theatres and even sporting events, and wrote many reviews that appeared in the newspaper. In many cases, Ehrenstein kept the invitation, program, ticket, manuscript of the review and its final printed version in his personal archives. At the same time, Ehrenstein began to translate texts from English to German, mostly popular literature. He tried to find German publishers interested in publishing translations of English literature into German. In January of 1928, Carl Ehrenstein travelled to London, with letters of recommendation from German publishers, in order to find new English books to translate into German. The visit, which was planned to last two months,, was extended indefinitely, and Ehrenstein never saw continental Europe again.
In England, Ehrenstein began to work for a number of English publishers,mostly for Putnam. He read numerous books in German and wrote reviews which often determined whether the book would be translated into English or not. In 1933 he came across a book by the German author Hans Fallada. Fallada’s work greatly excited Ehrenstein. In the following years, until 1938, Carl Ehrenstein repeatedly wrote positive reviews of Fallada’s books and even corresponded with the author. This was, possibly, Carl Ehrenstein’s greatest achievement: introducing Fallada’s works to the English speaking public. There are indications that Ehrenstein even knew about the attempt to extract Hans Fallada and his family from Nazi Germany – an attempt that failed, as Fallada changed his mind at the last minute.
In England, Ehrenstein began to write poetry in English. However, he did not make an effort to publish the poems. Their quality possibly justifies Ehrenstein’s reluctance; his works are not generally considered to be the best of his era.His personal archive, however, (which includes portions of the estates of his sister, Freida, and his friend Thomas Schramek) is important because it includes a wealth of correspondences with publishers and writers from the 20s and 30s of the previous century as well as the cultural criticism and reviews that he wrote. All of these elements come together to create a colorful picture of culture and international relationships in the era before World War II.
The Two Pages That Survived the Nazi Book Burnings
In May of 1933, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, organized the burning of thousands of books in Berlin. Two scorched pages survived the burning and made their way to the National Library in Jerusalem.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14597 / Georg Pahl / CC-BY-SA 3.0
The May 1933 book burning in Berlin is remembered by many as one of the key events of the early days of Nazi Germany. It is tempting to view the symbolic moment as foretelling of what was to follow during 12 years of Nazi rule; its significance amplified by Heinrich Heine’s famous quote, proclaimed more than 100 years earlier.
Though the book burning at the Opernplatz was not an isolated event, it is likely that a person with a heightened sense of historical awareness would have recognized its symbolism and significance. Such a person was indeed present at the book burning – a publisher by the name of Rubin Mass.
The name may ring a bell for those of you who are familiar with Hebrew books, as the publishing house established by Mass still exists today in Israel, its books still appearing on the shelves of bookstores across the country. Rubin Mass Publishers and Booksellers is one of the oldest publishing houses still operating in Israel, founded by Mass in Berlin back in 1927. In his shop in Germany, customers could find Hebrew newspapers, books and practically any item printed in Hebrew and published in Israel, Poland, the United States and elsewhere.
After arriving in Mandatory Palestine in 1933, Mass became well-known for other reasons; he was among the first Jews to settle in Talbiya, a Jerusalem neighborhood then mostly populated by Arabs. His son, Daniel Mass, was the commander of the famous “Convoy of 35” (Lamed He) and was killed in the notorious battle on the road to Gush Etzion during Israel’s War of Independence. Following his loss, Rubin Mass served as the chairman of Yad LaBanim (Israel’s commemoration organization for fallen soldiers) and was particularly active in commemorating those who died in battle.
It is therefore no surprise that a man who had earned his living since the age of 21 by dealing in books would truly comprehend the significance of the unbearable event. That is precisely why Mass made a point of going to watch the massive burning which was publicized in advance through the Nazi party’s various propaganda platforms. When the flames that lit up the skies of Berlin died out, Mass approached the charred remains of the 20,000 books that had been thrown into the bonfire; he retrieved two half-burnt leaves of paper from the pile, a total of four pages, from a book written in German – historic remnants, literally snatched from the fire.
As mentioned above, Mass made Aliyah later in 1933. It seems he understood the status of Jews in Germany would soon greatly deteriorate, and that the Nazis would not be satisfied with the annihilation of books. When he moved to Israel, Mass deposited the pages for safekeeping at the Jewish National and University Library (today’s National Library of Israel). Rubin Mass indeed possessed a heightened sense of historical awareness. The pages were kept in an envelope, on which Abraham Yaari, then the director of the Library archives, wrote: “Delivered by Mr. Rubin Mass, who pulled them from the fire with his own hands”.
As the years went by, the pages remained in the archives. The Library only began to keep a record of its archives around the same time as their arrival. Thus, the pages ended up in a collection with the curious title, ‘Miscellaneous Items’, along with various writings and items that did not quite fit in with the Library’s existing collections. To this day, the scorched pages remain somewhat of a mystery. Over the years, the Library’s top experts and researchers have attempted to decipher which book the pages belonged to and so far a final conclusion remains elusive. It appears that the book was dedicated to psychoanalysis or sexual education – subjects that were considered “Jewish” by the Nazis and worthy of being cast into the fire. Still, we do not have an exact identification of the book that was destroyed over 86 years ago in central Berlin. Perhaps you, our readers, might have a clue?
Update: We have received many suggestions regarding the book’s identity. It is highly likely that this was a copy of Sexualpathologie, written by the Jewish German physician and sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld.
Hirschfeld was a world pioneer in sexual research and among the first to advocate for LGBT rights. He founded the Institute of Sexology in Berlin, which was the source of the majority of books burned by the Nazis on the infamous night of the 10th of May, 1933. Please comment below and offer your thoughts.
The skies of Europe filled with gathering clouds in the summer and fall of 1939. As the autumn breeze carried the sound of marching spiked boots around sections of the continent, in the Latvian capital of Riga, the Jewish community was preparing for the holidays of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, while peering worriedly across the border. The peculiar combination of festivity and fear of that which lay ahead, is still discernible on the pages of one of the prominent Jewish weekly magazines published in Riga at the time, Yiddishe Bilder.
Yiddishe Bilder (“Jewish Photos”) was only published for a little over two years; its first issue was printed in late May of 1937 and the last issue, as we shall see below, reached the newsstands on September 27th, 1939. The weekly publication, a sort of local, Jewish version of Life magazine, was an unusual phenomenon in Latvia, which was under the authoritarian rule of Karlis Ulmanis at the time, who had come to power following a 1934 coup. The Ulmanis regime was hostile toward Jews and prohibited the publication of Jewish newspapers, except for one daily outlet called Haynt. However, two publishers named Brahms and Pollack were granted a government concession to publish an illustrated weekly magazine – the Yiddishe Bilder.
Befitting such a magazine, as readers browse through its pages, their attention is drawn to the large, striking photos that appear almost on every page. The content was intentionally apolitical, providing a platform for all views of the local Jewish population. It was published in Yiddish, though the captions of the photos were usually printed in three or four languages: Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German.
Yiddishe Bilder was widely circulated and in addition to Latvian communities, it reached shops in Poland, Estonia, Britain, France, the United States, Sweden, Holland and many other countries. Its copies were distributed all over the Jewish world, including the Land of Israel, and a large portion of the pictures published in it were taken specifically for the magazine’s use. Thus, the front page of Yiddishe Bilder‘s very first issue featured a photograph of members of the Jewish community in India. In another issue, one of the magazine’s reporters interviewed the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.
In addition to covering Jewish communities and world politics, the magazine put its spotlight on the world of entertainment and its big stars. The reporters enjoyed digging up the supposedly Jewish roots of various world leaders and famous actors (some of these stories had little basis in fact). A double-page spread was even dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, on the pretext that the silent film star was of Jewish origin.
The magazine included interviews, items about Jewish celebrities, serial novels, a small sports section, jokes, riddles, crossword puzzles and even a children’s section. A significant portion was dedicated to Zionist activity; comprehensive articles discussing the Zionist Congresses of the period and many pictures of life in Israel were featured in the magazine’s issues.
In 1938, the magazine gradually began to cover more dramatic events from around the world, which had clear repercussions on the lives of Jews: The Anschluss with Austria, Kristallnacht and the dedication of Polish Jews to the local military were recounted by the magazine. In its first issue of 1939, a new column was included introducing different possible destinations for emigration (this issue discussed British Guiana). Later that year, an additional column designed for English learning was printed in the weekly magazine.
The fact that the fate of the magazine and its readers is known to us today does not dispel the drama that unfolds as one leafs through the final issues. As the weeks went by, more and more pages were devoted to images of guns and cannons. The coming of the fall marked the beginning of preparations for the Jewish High Holy Days. The Rosh HaShanah issue, published on the eve of the Jewish New Year of 5699, featured a cover photo of a soldier carrying barbed wire used for fortifications. The caption below the picture read “The World Welcomes the New Year!”. The issue included items on the holiday customs alongside stories on current events: how the Zohar predicted the war’s outbreak and pictures of world leaders with the caption, “War and Peace Is in Their Hands.”
Fear continued to surface in the Yom Kippur issue published ten days later. The first few pages include a Yom Kippur folk tale, followed by large photographs of the raging war in Poland. Special reports reviewed the endangered Polish synagogues. One page displayed photos of the lives of Jewish communities in the country. The issue also covered the possible ways of reaching the Land of Israel – by boat, bus or car.
New routes to Israel
The last issue, published on the eve of Sukkot, September 27th, 1939, reflects the anxiety and hope which were intertwined during those Days of Awe. The issue’s cover photo is of a woman assembling the Skakh (roof or covering) of her Sukkah, her smile bright and her eyes beaming. Reading the fine print, we learn that the photo was taken in Nahalat Yitzchak, a neighborhood in east Tel Aviv. At that time, Nahalat Yitzchak (established by Jewish immigrants from Lithuania) belonged to no municipal jurisdiction; the magazine even referred to it as a “kibbutz”.
The back cover of the issue shows a different world entirely – soldiers wearing helmets, standing by cannons and machine guns – the title reads ‘This Is the Face of the War’. The atmosphere in this despondent picture is completely disparate, the faces of those in it hidden. In between, reports from the past week at the battlefront were printed (the issue was published as the Germans completed the invasion of Poland); the following page describes the dangers of mustard gas and the memoirs of a soldier who served in the French army in WWI. Later we see photographs from around the world of preparations for war and of British military forces on alert in Mandatory Palestine. Another article discusses past Jewish wars, including some that occurred in the time of the Bible.
And yet, Sukkot was approaching, and the issue also displayed pictures of the holiday spirit. An illustrated article was featured about women serving in the British police service in the Land of Israel. Also to be found were a serial novel, holiday songs, crossword puzzles and, of course, the children’s section.
Another reminder of the great loss which lay ahead for these communities was emphasized in a double-page spread dedicated to Jewish life in Vilnius; the synagogue and Holy Ark, community leaders and staff members of YIVO, the authority established to regulate Yiddish spelling and transliteration.
Yiddishe Bilder was more fortunate than other Jewish newspapers during the early days of WWII – the editorial staff was given the opportunity to say goodbye to the magazine’s readers who were loyal to it for roughly two and a half years. A short, framed message was printed at the end of the issue, in which the magazine’s publishers and editors described how “the flames of the war have consumed the largest Jewish community in Europe.” The magazine’s largest audience lived in Poland, and most of the stories the magazines reported over the years had come from there. The publication had developed a network of reporters and photographers in Poland who produced the content which the magazine depended on. In light of the events, the editors announced they were forced to cease publishing the weekly magazine. However, they promised, it would be but a temporary break. When better days arrived and peace was brought to the world, the Yiddishe Bilder, too, would return, to “maintain Jewish interests and cultivate courage and self-awareness among Jews.”
“Dear friends, this is not goodbye, but farewell, we shall meet again.” These words conclude the last issue of the illustrated weekly magazine read by so many Jews across so many communities. Though peace did eventually come, the Jewish communities of eastern Europe would never recover from the tragedy that had befallen them. The Yiddishe Bilder was never published again, yet its issues have been here since, a standing memory of a thriving culture and its day-to-day life.
A Greek postcard sent by Theodor Herzl to his daughter, Paulina, in 1898
Few of us still take the time to sit down, pull out a piece of paper and write a handwritten letter. Perhaps even fewer still choose to make use of the letter’s “little sister” – the postcard, which nowadays commonly features a picture of a tourist site.
Postcards were first produced in the middle of the 19th century, when a few small companies were given concession to distribute cards with a limited number of words on them. However, the breakthrough occurred on October 1st, 1869, when the Austrian Postal Authority officially announced the new medium that was to serve the general public. Following the Austrian resolution, many countries around the world joined in the new trend. Postcards had an advantage; they were often sold with a stamp already printed on the card, with the price being lower than that of a letter stamp.
For the sake of comparison, you could say that the postcard served a similar function to that of the modern electronic text message. Short messages were sent from one location to another and thanks to the relatively quick delivery times and frequent distribution of mail (in some cases more than three times a day), more and more people began using postcards.
Soon after, postcards began being developed with pictures printed on the backside – paintings, portraits and landscapes. The new medium became extremely popular, with postcards being sent in large quantities, originally in black-and-white print, and later in color, using chromolithographic technology.
Remnants of the massive popularity of postcards during the 19th and 20th centuries can still be found today. Museums carry large public collections, as well as private ones, sorted by era, motif and the like. Many postcards are also found scattered in archival collections, among correspondence which was more commonly conducted via letters. Naturally, personal archives hold more postcards than institutional archives, as sending a postcard to a government office or an official authority would generally be considered inappropriate. The National Library of Israel also has many postcards in its collections, distributed among the different correspondence files as well as in our special Postcards Collection.
In the gallery below you can view a selection of postcards from the NLI collections: