“But why are you handling that manuscript without gloves?!” This is perhaps the most common question scholars come across every time they are photographed with a manuscript. No doubt about it- handling a manuscript with gloves looks much more impressive. However, in most cases – this can actually do more harm than good.
There are two main reasons for this: The first is the issue of sensitivity. Wearing gloves causes us to lose the natural sensitivity in our hand – our sense of touch. This increases the chances that the person handling the manuscript will damage the very work that they are seeking to examine and preserve. This is especially true when it comes to manuscripts with fine or thin pages.
The second reason is that cotton gloves used by libraries and universities around the world can get just as dirty as bare hands – if not more so.
At most, wearing gloves can be said to be a neutral approach (though as aforementioned, it probably does more harm than good). However, many institutions indeed demand that gloves be used due to norms that have been established over time. A strange result of this is that these institutions often don’t bother teaching their handlers how to properly hold and browse through manuscripts, based on the assumption that glove-use is sufficient. An assumption that turned out to be mistaken.
So the next time you’re handling a rare manuscript (and every manuscript is rare, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), remember that the best way to read it is with bare hands, which were washed in soap and dried carefully beforehand. However, if the manuscript you intend to touch is infected with a harmful fungus or covered in some sort of hazardous material, it is recommended, and even crucial, that you use gloves. In addition, the room should be properly ventilated and a protective mask should be worn as well. Why would a manuscript be hazardous, you ask? In one recent case, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark discovered three books dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries which were covered in a green pigment containing arsenic – a highly toxic substance that would become even more common in the Victorian era, when it could be found in everyday items. At the time, people were not fully aware of the dangers of the substance.
Incidentally, it is unclear when people started using gloves in libraries and universities in order to handle rare manuscripts and books. This is probably a new practice, which began in the second half of the 20th century. Some associate it with the practice of photographers, who as early as the nineteenth century, used gloves when working with negatives. Or perhaps the answer is concealed in the book, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Have you read it?
The Exodus upon its arrival in the port of Haifa. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel
For a certain generation, the story of the Exodus, the ship that carried 4,500 Jewish refugees from post-war Europe to Mandatory Palestine, encapsulates the essence of Israel’s creation – a journey, an exodus – from the hellish depths of the Holocaust to the exhilarating heights of independence and nationhood.
Indeed, there are many who first became aware of the story of the modern State of Israel thanks to “Exodus” – the 1960 Hollywood hit film, though the movie is only very loosely based on the history of the actual ship.
The Toldot Yisrael project, which is hosted on the National Library of Israel’s various platforms, was able to gather several video interviews which tell the true story of the voyage of the Exodus, as well as provide a rare glimpse into events which transpired behind the scenes.
When Monica Levin finally saw the film starring Paul Newman, her father – Louis “Shorty” Levin – shocked his daughter by telling her, “I want you to know that that ship belonged to me…”
Levin had owned the ship back when it was known as the “President Warfield”.
The organization that eventually purchased the ship from “Shorty” Levin was known as HaMossad LeAliyah Bet (“The Institution for Immigration B”). This was a branch of the Jewish underground Haganah organization, devoted to facilitating clandestine, illegal, Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine.
To mask its activities, the underground group made use of front organizations which it could hide behind. When it came to buying the President Warfield, things were run through a straw company answering to the very non-Jewish sounding name: “The Chinese American Industrial Corporation”. The only Jew on the company board was a Haganah operative who had a habit for popping up just about everywhere, the future mayor of Jerusalem – Teddy Kollek…
Monica Levin relates the full story below:
“Mr. Lopez, I have an envelope for you. Do you have an envelope for me?”
These were trying times. A third of world Jewry had just been annihilated in Europe, and the men and women of the various Zionist organizations had no intention of being deterred by bureaucratic or even legal obstacles getting in the way of what was seen as a matter of pure survival.
Before ships could be arranged to carry Jewish Holocaust survivors from Europe to Palestine, those ships had to have their papers in order. David Macarov was one of those tasked with speaking to diplomatic consuls in New York, who could provide the flag papers necessary to embark on the rescue voyages. Unsurprisingly, Macarov often had to grease a few palms. A typical sentence of his became:
“Mr. Lopez, I have an envelope for you. Do you have an envelope for me?”
In a surprising twist, David Macarov also revealed how the voyage of the Exodus was tied to the price of bananas on the international market…
A ship to Oklahoma?
Sam Schulman was one of the few who boarded the President Warfield at its home port in Baltimore, on its way to collect refugees from France. Even in a friendly American port, there was a need for discretion and secrecy.
When Schulman reached the pier, he approached the men manning the ship at the docks…
“I says – ‘This the ship that’s goin’ to Palestine?’ They said, ‘No, no, no, we’re goin’ to Oklahoma.’ In my mind [I’m thinking] – “Oklahoma is landlocked…”
Schulman went on to describe the fateful voyage of the Exodus in detail, including just how the ship was converted to hold so many refugees, as well as the dramatic altercations with the British Royal Navy…
You can find hundreds of interviews with the men and women of Israel’s founding generation here, and you can learn more about the Toldot Yisrael project here.
Thanks to Aryeh Halivni, director of Toldot Yisrael, for his assistance in the preparation of this article.
In June 2018, I started a project called “Budapest Téglái” (“The Bricks of Budapest”) to document old graffiti on the walls of Hungary’s capital. People used to write their names, sometimes dates and even short stories on the buildings in which they lived, worked or even just passed by, often offering enough information to identify them and begin exploring their stories. These prewar works of graffiti left written on the walls of Budapest are my favorite signs from the past to discover.
One of my favorite spots to find old graffiti is the Anker Palace (Anker-palota in Hungarian), a huge building located in Terézváros, the 6th district of Budapest. The Anker Palace was designed by the architect Ignác Alpár and built in 1908. Many Jews bought or rented flats in this huge building located in the center of the city. Of the people who lived there before the war, the most famous was probably Léopold Szondi, the psychiatrist who developed the Szondi test and fate analysis.
When I see this old graffiti, I always wonder about who the people were who wrote it and what happened to them. During my last visit to the Anker Palace, I found graffiti left by a girl called Renée Nadler who used to live there.
I did some research using various databases and I managed to find some information about her. Like many of the Anker’s inhabitants, the Nadlers were Jews. Her father, Izsák, made and sold suitcases and passed away in 1935. Her Mother, Roza Acht, was the daughter of Lazar Acht, a tailor from Lemberg (today Lviv in Ukraine) who settled in Budapest in 1902. Renée had 6 siblings: Gizella, Emma, Rozalia, Henrik, Illés and Bertalan.
I found a picture of Renée in an old Hungarian magazine called Szinházi Élet from 1932 where she sent her greetings from the town of Héviz to her friends in Pest:
Renée had a brother called Henrik. His nickname was “Pubi” and he was a famous football (soccer) player on the MTK football club, with whom he became a 7-time Hungarian champion. The MTK used to be considered to be a “Jewish football club” since most of its founding members and players were Jews. The team still exists.
Tragically, Henrik was murdered in May 1944 either as a forced laborer in Austria or at the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was not the only MTK football player to be murdered; József Braun, Antal Vágó and Imre Taussig were also victims of the Holocaust.
Renée was very interested in football and she was a supporter of MTK where her brother played. The Sporthirlap newspaper, which specialized in sport, reported on how Henrik, Henrik’s wife and Renée had some passionate debates about the performances of certain football players while riding the 38 line tram in June 1933.
Henrik’s murder was not the only tragedy to strike the Nadler family. Renée lost a second brother, Illés Nadler, who was also murdered during the Holocaust. Renée’s sister, Gizella, wrote to all leading Hungarian newspapers in 1945 in order to find more information about Henrik and Illés’ fates.
Unfortunately, I could not find much information about the fate of Renée. It seems that she probably survived the Holocaust and married a man named Árpád Weisz. Her husband was a leather trader and he changed his name to “Varga”. They apparently left Hungary and settled in Israel or the United States.
It is incredible to see how simple graffiti written by a little girl in the 1920s helps us explore the past and honor the memory of people who where murdered and suffered during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, this old graffiti is endangered, with much of it disappearing when the buildings are renovated. I do my best to document it while we can, posting the results of my research on the Budapest téglái (in Hungarian) or Buildings Tell Tales (in English) Facebook pages.
Anyone with information about Renée or the rest of the Nadler family is invited to email: [email protected].
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 Hindenburg disaster, May 6, 1937 (Public Domain / Gus Pasquarella)
The pride of Nazi Germany, the Hindenburg — officially designated LZ-129 Hindenburg — was the biggest commercial airship ever built, and, at the time, the most technologically advanced. It was 803.8 feet (ca. 245 meters) in length and 135.1 feet (ca. 41 meters) in diameter. It was more than three times larger than a Boeing 747, and four times the size of the Goodyear Blimp. Four engines powered the Hindenburg and it could reach cruising speeds of 76 mph (ca. 122 km/h) with a maximum speed of 84 mph (135 km/h).
The Hindenburg featured 72 passenger beds in heated cabins, a silk-wallpapered dining room, lounge, writing room, bar, smoking room, and promenades with windows that could be opened in-flight. Special precautions were taken to ensure that the smoking room was safe, including a double-door airlock to keep hydrogen from entering.
The Hindenburg was named for former German Weimar Republic President Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934). It took its first flight in March 1936, and flew 63 times, primarily from Germany to North and South America.
The Hindenburg was already under construction when the Nazis came into power in Germany in 1933. The Third Reich saw the Zeppelin as a symbol of German strength, as the Hindenburg was partly owned by the government and partly owned by the Zeppelin Company, its creators. Giant swastikas were painted on its tail fins. The German minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, ordered the Hindenburg to embark on a propaganda mission early on, before the ship’s endurance tests had even been completed. For four days, it flew around Germany, blasting patriotic songs and dropping pro-Hitler leaflets.
After opening its 1937 season, by completing a single round-trip passage to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in late March, the Hindenburg departed from Frankfurt, Germany on the evening of May 3. It was the first of 10 round trips between Europe and the United States that were scheduled for its second year of commercial service. American Airlines had contracted with the operators of the Hindenburg to shuttle the passengers from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Newark, New Jersey for connections to airplane flights.
Except for strong headwinds that slowed its progress, the Atlantic crossing of the Hindenburg was otherwise uneventful, until the airship attempted an early-evening landing at Lakehurst three days later on May 6. Although carrying only half of its full capacity of passengers for the accident flight, the return flight, which never happened, had been fully booked. Many of the passengers with tickets to Germany were planning to attend the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London the following week.
The airship was hours behind schedule when it passed over Boston on the morning of May 6, and its landing at Lakehurst was expected to be further delayed because of afternoon thunderstorms. Advised of the poor weather conditions at Lakehurst, Captain Max Pruss charted a course over Manhattan Island, causing a public spectacle as people rushed out into the street to catch sight of the airship.
After passing over the field at 4:00 p.m., Captain Pruss took passengers on a tour over the seaside of New Jersey while waiting for the weather to clear. After finally being notified at 6:22 p.m. that the storms had passed, Pruss directed the airship back to Lakehurst to make its landing almost half a day late.
At 7:25 p.m., the Hindenburg caught fire and exploded during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at the Naval Air Station Lakehurst, filling the sky with smoke and fire. On board were 97 people (36 passengers and 61 crewmen). There were 36 fatalities (13 passengers and 22 crewmen), as well as one ground crewman, a civilian linesman.
The massive airship’s tail with its Nazi symbol fell to the ground, while its nose, hundreds of feet long, rose into the air like a breaching whale. It turned to ashes in less than a minute. Some passengers and crewmembers jumped dozens of feet to safety while others burned. Despite the sheer ferocity of the colossal fire, 62 of the crew members and passengers survived, but most of them were severely burned.
The majority of the victims were burnt to death, while others died jumping from the airship at an excessive height, or as a consequence of either smoke inhalation or falling debris. Immediate survivors were taken with broken bones and burns to the small, 40-bed, Paul Kimball Hospital in nearby Lakewood, New Jersey, eight miles (13 kilometers) away, which was overwhelmed by the number of patients.
Treating the Hindenburg patients, regardless of Nazi party affiliation or religion, was prominent Lakewood physician, Adolph Towbin, M.D. (1888-1966), a Jewish immigrant from Kaments-Podolski, Ukraine. Dr. Towbin arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15 in 1903, and had graduated from Fordham University Medical School in 1916. After an internship at Flushing Hospital in New York, he was drafted into the army and assigned to Lakewood, New Jersey in 1918 as WWI soldiers were being treated at the Laurel in the Pines Hotel, following poison gas injuries. He liked Lakewood so much, he decided to stay and open up his medical practice after the war.
The treatment at the time for burns, malaria, herpes, and smallpox, was picric acid, as it was an astringent and antiseptic. With the number of patients being treated, the hospital quickly ran out of picric acid, gauze, bandages, and other medical supplies. Dr. Towbin immediately called his best friend and relative by marriage, pharmacist Max Gitow, R.Ph. (1894-1973), the owner of Lakewood Pharmacy, to bring him all that he had in stock.
Gitow, (whose original name was Moishe Gitovich), was another Jewish immigrant, from Mogilev, Belarus, who had arrived in the U.S. in 1904. He had graduated from the New York College of Pharmacy in 1913 at the age of 18, and his father, who was also a pharmacist in Belarus and later in Ukraine, had purchased Lakewood Pharmacy in April 1914. He personally brought over the needed supplies to the hospital 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) away and stayed to see if he could be of assistance. It was these two Jewish professional men whose quick actions helped save the lives of numerous German (several of whom were Nazis) and non-German Hindenburg passengers.
At the time, the Hindenburg was supposed to be ushering in a new age of airship travel, but the crash instead brought the age to an abrupt end, making way for the era of passenger airplanes. The crash was the first massive technological disaster caught on film, and the scene became embedded in the public’s consciousness.
The actual site of the Hindenburg crash is marked with a chain-outlined pad and bronze plaque where the airship’s gondola landed. It was dedicated on May 6, 1987, the 50th anniversary of the disaster. Hangar No. 1, which still stands, is where the airship was to be housed after landing. It was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1968.
Special thanks to David Richmand, M.D., of Plainfield, New Jersey, the maternal grandson of Dr. Adolph Towbin, who provided input for this article. Max Gitow, R.Ph., was the maternal grandfather of the author.
This article was originally published in the December 2019 edition of the Tulsa Jewish Review.It appears here 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.