Mythical Dwarfs and Garden Gnomes – the Jewish Connection

Is there a connection between the pointed hat worn by mythical dwarfs and gnomes and the hats once worn by the Jews of Europe?


Once upon a time, there were dwarfs. Their popular image crystallized in the middle of the 13th century in European, and particularly German folklore. They were described as small creatures that were known to be greedy tricksters and treasure hunters. One of their prominent features was their ability to distort or impair vision: they could vanish and appear as they wished and could temporarily or permanently blind anyone who saw them.

Some legends added various details which described dwarfs as a people originating from Asia or some unknown distant land. In some of the stories, they sang songs in an unfamiliar language to the hero who chanced upon them. In the folktales, dwarfs traded in costly fabrics, gold and precious stones, which they brought with them from the East. They often had a mystical connection to these valuable treasures, from which they drew magical powers — a fact that also made them vulnerable. In some legends, the dwarfs told of how they were expelled from their land by humans, or how their treasures were looted or lost.

Illustration for the Hebrew children’s song Utsu Rutsu Gamadim (“Run, Dwarfs, Run” by Miriam Yalan-Shteklis. Illustrator: Tsila Binder. From Shir Hagdi – Shirim Usippurim (“Song of the Goat – Songs and Stories”), Vol. 1, Dvir, 1957

In the 13th and 14th centuries, artists began to depict dwarfs wearing a pointed cap. The pointed hat originated in the East, but over time, it became more closely associated with dwarfs and was believed to be the most dangerous weapon in their possession. They used it to trick the viewer, to disappear from sight or impair the vision of whoever happened to see them.

Although there were stories that described the dwarfs as creatures who had been maltreated and as close allies of folk legend heroes, the character of the dwarf was often pictured as unreliable, unfaithful, vengeful and deceitful.

From Tristan and Isolde – Melot the dwarf is a scheming figure at the king’s court who attempts to thwart the love affair between Tristan and Isolde; fresco, 1410, Runkelstein Castle, South Tyrol, Italy

Those familiar with European Jewish history can perhaps draw some similarities between the tales of the dwarfs and the everyday lives of Jews in medieval Germany. The Jews of Ashkenaz were a people with origins in the Levant who had been dispossessed of their land, and they too often appeared as merchants laden with all kind of expensive goods, reputedly brought from distant lands such as the deserts of Arabia or the Caucasus. Due to the occupational restrictions imposed on them in many places, they were forced to earn a living by moneylending at interest and soon their neighbors accused them of “hoarding treasures,” greed and deception. Some attribute these beliefs to the French King Philip IV, and his decision to expel the Jews from his land in 1306, in the hope that he could seize their abandoned treasures. Indeed, “Philip the Fair” greatly enriched his coffers with property left behind by the Jews.

In the middle of the 13th century (around the same time the image of the mythical dwarf became prominent in European culture), the first decrees came into force that required Jews to wear a special hat that would distinguish them from the Christian populace. Coincidentally, it was usually a pointed hat—a style of hat identified with the ancient East. In Chen Malul’s article, here, we examined the incarnations of the hat and how it ended up atop the heads of Europe’s Jews. What was the purpose of the decrees? Why was it important to differentiate Jews from their Christian neighbors?

The Jew Efraim wearing the infamous Jewish hat, at the foot of the bed of the ailing Saint Basil, from a 15th-century German text

Like the dwarfs, the Jews were accused of distorting reality because they did not see the truth that was before them. In Gothic cathedrals one can often find the blindfolded figure of Synagoga, which represented the Jewish faith. The image represented a Christian claim that Jews were only able to see the physical reality around them, and that they were unable to “see” the spiritual world beyond the temporal. This supposedly distorted vision of the Jews threatened to mislead innocent Christian believers, and therefore, to prevent their assimilation into society, Jews were required to wear special clothing, including the infamous hat.

A poster promoting the play “Gulliver in the Land of Lilliput” (translated into Hebrew as Eretz HaGamadim – “the Land of the Dwarfs”) by the Children’s Theater, from the Ephemera Collection at the National Library of Israel

It is possible, of course, that the theoretical connection between the pointed hats and their real and imaginary wearers is just a fluke. It is difficult to trace the exact transmutations of such cultural representations, and pointed hats did not characterize only Jews: as early as the 12th-century, the pointed hat appeared in works of art as an identifying mark of non-Christians and those opposing Christianity. During the 14th-century, the pointed hat was also a required article of clothing for non-Jewish moneylenders in some places, or Christian women accused of having relations with Jews. From there the cultural connection between the pointed hat and more general dubious figures spread to include infidels, criminals, sorcerers, and other people accused of “non-Christian” activities. Thus, the pointed hat came to depict witches and wizards such as the legendary sorcerer Merlin from the stories of King Arthur. Herein too is woven the notion of the deceptive and misleading abilities of the wearers of the pointed hat.

The figure of Merlin in a pointed hat. Illustrator: Hartmann Schedel, Nuremberg Chronicles, 1493

Over the years, legends and folk tales became a means of entertainment for children, and the image of the dwarf was significantly refined. The blatant greed and rudeness disappeared, and in many works they became cute and kind-hearted creatures that helped human beings, or at least maintained friendly relations with them. An example of this can be seen in the little bearded gnomes who adorn many a garden. On the other hand, the pointed hat on their heads – its Jewish connection all but forgotten—remains the identifying feature of dwarfs and gnomes in collective Western consciousness to this day.

Cover of the Hebrew book Tov Tov Hagamad, (a translation of “David the Gnome”): Shafrira Zakai, Modan, 1988

This article is based on  Naomi Lubrich’s paper:

Naomi Lubrich, The Wandering Hat: Iterations of the Medieval Jewish Pointed Cap, Jewish History, Vol. 29, No 3/4 (December 2015), pp. 203-244

The Last Bar Mitzvah Before Kristallnacht

At Berlin's Rykestrasse Synagogue, Fredi chanted Moses' song of darkness and redemption

Fredi Bachner and the Rykestrasse Synagogue, the site of his 1938 Bar Mitzvah

At the time of my father’s Bar Mitzvah in Berlin, Hitler had been in power for five years.  It was October 1938 and Jews were prohibited from participating in nearly all facets of German life.  The Bachners desperately wanted to leave Germany, but their attempts to get visas were unsuccessful.

As bad as things were, they could not have imagined that only a few weeks after Fredi Bachner’s Bar Mitzvah, synagogues throughout Austria and Germany would be destroyed on Kristallnacht, including the Rykestrasse Synagogue, where Fredi was Bar Mitzvahed.

The Rykestrasse Synagogue, Berlin. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

His Bar Mitzvah would be the last held at the Rykestrasse Synagogue for many years.

My father was born in Berlin on September 28th, 1925, the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur.  It was always meaningful to him that he was born on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, for reasons I now understand.

Berlin, early 20th century. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Antisemitism permeated Fredi’s childhood. In 1935, ten-year-old Fredi was stripped of his German citizenship and as a Jew was prohibited from going to public school.  The Bachners continued practicing their religion as observant Jews and Fredi went to school at the Rykestrasse Synagogue.

He joined youth groups, such as Bar Kochba and Makkabi, and participated in their outings, sporting events, and meetings.  Fredi credits the Jewish community with  “being the glue that held us together.  They kept the youth happy and busy.”

Makkabi Berlin event, 1937 (Nadav Mann, Bitmuna). From the Collection of the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Fredi’s Bar Mitzvah took place on the 13th of Tishrei. The Torah portion was “Haazinu”, which he read along with the Haftarah as a small group of friends and loved ones still in Berlin looked on.

“Haazinu” is the Hebrew word for “listen”, and the Torah portion features the famous love poem sung by Moses to God. It is the prophet’s last song before dying. In it, he reminds the people of Israel that at times God punished them for their transgressions, yet he also renewed his covenant, forgave and redeemed them.

My father distinctly remembered the rabbi’s foreboding words to the congregation. Warning them that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better, he said, “It doesn’t become daytime before it literally becomes night.”

As the Bachners posed for the family portrait at Fredi’s Bar Mitzvah, they did not know that this would be their last photo taken as a family.

Bachner family portrait taken at Fredi’s Bar Mitzvah, 1938 (Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg)

In the days and weeks immediately after Fredi’s Bar Mitzvah, nighttime was beginning to fall.  The situation escalated dramatically on October 28th when 17,000 Jews of Polish citizenship living in Germany, including his father, were arrested and forced across the border into Poland.

Kristallnacht – the “Night of Broken Glass” – took place on November 9th and 10th, 1938. It was a violent, destructive, and coordinated attack on Jewish homes and shops and on synagogues.

The following day it was quiet outside and Fredi went to school. He later recalled:

 “The curtains were ripped off the windows and the synagogue in back of the school was in ruins.  The ark was open, the Torahs and books were thrown on the floor and had been set on fire.”

Kristallnacht was a turning point for Jews throughout Austria and Germany.

“A Black Day for Germany” was how The Times of London characterized the events of Kristallnacht, as reported in the Palestine Post a few days after the events. Click image for the full article

Darkness continued to fall.

Fredi and his mother, “Mutti”, were alone in Berlin and were rightfully concerned how they would sustain themselves. They vacated their apartment, sold the family’s belongings, and rented a small room in a neighbor’s apartment. After several months, they were given permission to join Fredi’s father in his hometown, Chrzanow, Poland, a town ten kilometers from Oswiecim, later known as Auschwitz.

As was required, they worked for the Germans until February 1943 when the Nazis rounded them up for deportation. Fredi’s father was sent to concentration camps, Mutti was transported to Auschwitz where she went directly to the gas chamber, and Fredi spent the next 27 months at five concentration camps beginning with Gratiz and then Annaberg.

On September 30th, 1944 Fredi’s transport from Annaberg arrived at Auschwitz.  It was the 13th day of the month of Tishrei.  On that day six years earlier, Fredi had stood on the bima chanting Parashat Haazinu at his Bar Mitzvah in the Rykestrasse Synagogue.  Now he stood at the gates of Auschwitz awaiting his fate.

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

Would he be sent immediately to the gas chambers with no chance of living or would he be allowed to work as a slave laborer, enabling at least a slim chance to survive?

The rabbi’s ominous words were still fresh in his mind.  It was dark and Fredi prayed it would not get darker.

“I knew I was one step closer to death and I prayed to God to guide me,” Fredi recalled.

Would God save him, as promised to the Jewish people in Parshat Haazinu?

Fredi’s life was spared that day, as it was every day at Auschwitz, during the long death march which followed, and finally at Gross-Rosen and Dachau.

When the war ended in May 1945, my father said, “After what I had been through, I questioned God and did not know if I wanted to practice Judaism.  By the time Yom Kippur came, I was back at synagogue.”  Even though Fredi had been through the unimaginable, he was ultimately grateful to God for sparing his life.

Fred Bachner’s identity card, 1946 (Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg)

Fredi immigrated to the United States in 1947.  He married and raised a family in New York, where religion was an integral part of his life.

Every year he would chant the Haazinu Haftarah as he did at his Bar Mitzvah, and each Yom Kippur he would lead the afternoon services as cantor.

I now understand that he did these things as a testament that both he and Jewish life had survived.

Fred and Ellen Bachner, 1958 (Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg)

It certainly also brought back fond memories of his Jewish upbringing and connected him with his youth and the Rykestrasse Synagogue, where he had found a semblance of normalcy during an abnormal time.

My father passed away on December 9th, 2008.  The last time he was at the Rykestrasse Synagogue was the morning after Kristallnacht when it had been vandalized, its Torah scrolls and books set on fire.  The building was apparently not burned to the ground simply because the Germans were concerned about damage to the adjacent buildings. In a further act of desecration, the German military later confiscated the synagogue, using it as a warehouse.

In 2005, 67 years after Kristallnacht, the Rykestrasse Synagogue was rededicated after a $7 million renovation to the interior, which returned the synagogue to its prewar glory. In front of it is a school, just like when my father was a child.

Exterior of the renovated Rykestrasse Synagogue. From the Center for Jewish Art Collection; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

In photos, the synagogue looks beautiful, showing no signs of Kristallnacht or the dark years of Nazi occupation. My father would have been thrilled that the restoration brought it back to the time of his Bar Mitzvah.

The rebuilt Rykestrasse Synagogue (Photo: Michael Hunter Ochs)

I am in awe of the synagogue’s splendor and at the same time I am reminded of Holocaust survivors and the irreparable damage they suffered.

Like the synagogue, they had been brutalized, tortured, and desecrated by the Germans and emerged from the ashes in various states of disrepair. While the numbers branded on their arms and the physical scars were visible, the damage to their psyche was often never as apparent. Many appeared okay on the outside, but it was often a veneer that could not cover up the destruction deep within.

Unlike the synagogue, they could not be made whole again.

My father’s birthday this year fell on Yom Kippur, only the third time since his birth in 1925. I planned to go to Berlin and be at the Rykestrasse Synagogue for Parshat Haazinu and my father’s birthday, Yom Kippur. I wanted to be in the synagogue where my father was Bar Mitzvahed and envision him standing proudly on the bima with his impish smile.

I wanted to feel his presence.

Ruth and Fred Bachner, 2005 (Courtesy: Ellen Bachner Greenberg)

With COVID-19 restrictions, travel from the United States to Germany was not permitted so I was unable to go.  Ironically, I cannot get into the country my father and his family tried desperately to get out of in the 1930s.

Hopefully I will be able to travel to Berlin next year for Yom Kippur to honor and remember my beloved father, stand in the place he became a Jewish man and listened as his rabbi spoke of unforeseeable darkness – and redemption.


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 Kaiser’s Favorite “Carmen”? A Jewish Star from Budapest

After years in the Berlin Royal Opera, an aging Teréz Rothauser was sent to Theresienstadt

A few months ago, I came across a beautiful portrait photograph on the website of an online auction house.

I decided to try my luck and bid a small amount of money for the photo. Fortunately, it seemed that no one else was interested, so I got it for a good price and a few days later the photograph was in my hands.

On the back of the portrait, which was taken at the Lovag Mertens és Társa photography studio in Budapest in 1888, I managed to decipher a name: “Teréz Rothauser”.

After a bit of research, I found out that Teréz Rothauser was a world famous opera singer. She was 23 years old in 1888 when the photograph was taken, 55 years before she was murdered in the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

Born in Budapest to a Jewish family, her father was a trader who encouraged his three children to become artists. She gave her first concert in 1886 in Budapest and performed the same year in Vienna and Berlin. She then spent two years in Leipzig where – among other roles – she played Inez in the premiere of the comic opera “The Three Pintos”, originally composed by Carl Maria von Weber and finished 65 years later by Gustav Mahler.

She later moved to Berlin where she joined the Royal Opera House.

Berlin Royal Opera House, 19th century

With her first name Germanized to “Therese”, the public enjoyed her Mezzo-Soprano voice and she quickly became very popular, even playing the female title role in Berlin’s first production of nineteenth-century composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel”.

Richard Strauss liked her voice and Kaiser Wilhelm II told her in 1892 that she “was the best Carmen I have ever seen”. Five years later, the Kaiser personally gave her a sapphire brooch “with diamonds, a small crown and the monograms of the Kaiser”.

Teréz retired from the stage in 1914, staying in Berlin where she gave private lessons.

Over the course of her career, she came back to Budapest a number of times, performing in front of adoring crowds, yet since most of her career was in Germany, the majority of sources about her life and performances are in German, with only a handful in Hungarian and little in English.

Nonetheless, during her lifetime, Hungarian newspapers regularly wrote about Teréz’s performances, revering her as a local hero of sorts. A number of examples of these can be found via the Historical Jewish Press (JPress) project, part of the National Library of Israel’s Digital Collection.

One such article – published a year after the photograph was taken under the headline “Success of a Hungarian Singer Abroad” – provides a summary of Rothauser’s farewell concert in Leipzig before she moved on to Berlin. According to the article, the public loved her so much that “flowers were raining on her” at the end of the concert.

“Success of a Hungarian Singer Abroad” article about Teréz Rothauser, published in the newspaper Egyenlöség on June 9, 1889

After 1933, her life became more and more difficult, but she stayed in Berlin. Her brother Eduard, who had been a famous actor there, emigrated to Spain with his wife.

Teréz apparently didn’t have enough money to follow him there and shortly before her deportation to Theresienstadt, she sent a letter to Hermann Göring asking him to save her by adding her to his list of “protected Jews”. A terse response assured her that there was no reason for someone her age to fear.

Teréz Rothauser was murdered in Theresienstadt in 1943 at the age of 79, followed by her 80 year-old sister Katalin the next year.

Stolpersteine (“stumbling stone” memorial plaques) located in front of their apartment at 11, Konstanzer Straße in Berlin keep their memories alive.

As Teréz was taken away, the Kaiser reportedly gazed down upon the events from a prominently placed portrait on her wall.

Kaiser Wilhelm II. From the National Library of Israel archives

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.

“It Could Never Happen Here”: Before the Bolsheviks Came

Most in Nikolaevsk-on-Amur had felt safe in one of Russia's most isolated corners

In the fall of 1919, rumors of approaching Bolshevik partisans circulated through the city of Nikolaevsk-on-Amur in the far eastern corner of  Siberia…

“We are not moving to Japan,” Ilya threw off the sheets and sat up, shrugging his wife off as if she were a snowflake on his collar. The tender mood of their morning tryst had evaporated.

“But…once the Amur freezes, there’ll be no getting out until May.” Luba pulled the cover back over herself. “It’s September and the river’s already covered with a layer of ice some mornings. Once the Amur freezes, we won’t be able to get out.” She swallowed hard. “My brother thinks it would be best if we move to Japan for the winter.”

Ilya sighed and shook his head. “What will I do in Hakodate? I have no business there. I barely speak the language.”

Luba knew he was right on one level, but their safety was more important to her. “Meyer’s offered for us to live with him. He has plenty of room in the house he rented. The two of you can work together.” With political tension on the rise, many of their friends talked of moving, but Ilya didn’t feel the need.

“I don’t want to be his lackey.” He scowled.

“What are you talking about? Meyer’s my brother.” Luba tugged on her husband’s shoulder. “And your closest friend.” She pressed her lips into a firm line. Why did Ilya always have to be in charge? His take-charge nature impressed her when they first married, but why couldn’t he at least consider her opinions?

Ilya pulled away. “Yes. When we’re here, on equal footing. But I don’t want to be beholden to him.” Confronted by his back, Luba grazed her fingertips lightly across it as she knew he liked. Ilya turned toward her.

Ilya Kaptzan just before the Nikolaevsk Massacre in 1920

“I know you’re used to being your own boss, Ilya moy.” She raked her hand through his chest hair and played with the brown tufts that sprouted in different directions. “But it would only be for the winter months. Until the trouble blows over.”

Luba hoped her touch would assuage her husband. Ilya leaned in and she thought he was capitulating; but then he pulled away, resisting the urge to soften. “The winter months make up more than half the year. And nobody else is moving away.”

“Nobody else has a place to go,” Luba pointed out.

Her husband rubbed his neck. “The trouble’s not here. It’s in the west. In St. Petersburg. Moscow.”

“Not anymore. You yourself told us the revolution was moving east.”

“A little. To Irkutsk…”

“You said Vladivostok. That’s about as far east as you can get.” She pictured the layout of the country on the globe in Ilya’s study.

“Vladivostok is 500 miles south of here. And Vladivostok is not Nikolaevsk.”

“Why is Meyer moving if there’s no cause for concern? Don’t you read your own newspaper?”

“Meyer and I have spoken. With his boys of high school age, he thinks they’ll get a better education abroad.”

Luba huffed in frustration.

“Stop being silly,” he whispered into her ear.

How she hated when he said that. She faced him squarely. “What if they take over, the Bolsheviks?”

Leon Trotsky and other members of the Bolshevik leadership, early 1920s. From the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection (Publisher: YIVO)

“What if, what if…!”

Luba’s blood pulsed like a volcano in her core. She took a deep breath. “Stop treating me like a child. I’m—”

Ilya lay back down and stared at the ceiling. “You sound like a child. You worry too much.”

Not another lecture. Why did they always have to argue lately? Once Ilya started, there was no stopping. The lawyer in him took over. She wished she could plug her ears.

“Haven’t I told you that our way of life here in Nikolaevsk represents what the revolutionaries are seeking? Freedom, business opportunities. Why would they want to cause trouble?”

Leaning on one elbow, Luba looked into her husband’s eyes. “Because we’re Jews?”

“The Jews hate the Tsar as much as the revolutionaries. Nobody’s going to take over our city.” Ilya threaded his fingers through his wife’s falling tresses, pushing some curls behind her ear. She could tell he wished she were still the adoring girl he married.

“How do you know?” Luba wanted him to convince her, to hush the whirring that rushed through her veins making her hum like a telegraph wire.

“We’re nestled way up here in the north. Like bears in a cave.” Ilya nudged his wife and tented the comforter over themselves. “Hibernating for the winter,” he joked as he nuzzled her neck.

Luba was tempted to succumb. “But what about the rumors? All the upheaval everywhere?” How could her husband be so blind?

“That’s been going on for years now. Up and down, up and down. In recent months, things have calmed considerably. Remember last year? It looked like the Reds were going to take over. And then, poof! We expelled them like that!” He snapped his fingers in Luba’s face. She flicked them away. He lay next to her on the pillows, and ran his finger softly down her arm.

Couldn’t he tell that she knew he was trying to distract her?

Luba with her five children after surviving the 1920 Nikolaevsk Massacre and the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake in Yokohama

Finally, he gave up. “If you’re so worried,” he said, “why don’t you take the children and move to Hakodate yourself?”

That caught her off guard. “Without you?”

“If it makes you happy.” Oh, was she tempted. She pictured the family living in surroundings akin to their dacha, but far from the reach of encroaching partisans. Could she live without Ilya for seven months? What would people say? And to leave him behind with his mother who surely would not desert her son like her? Luba would never hear the end of it.

Ilya got out of bed. “I have to get to work. You wouldn’t have me arrive late, would you?”

“Of course not,” she grumbled under her breath. She watched him dress and leave, then plunged into her feather pillow. She didn’t really want to move to Japan where none of them spoke the language and the only people they knew were her brother and his family. She just didn’t want to remain in Nikolaevsk.

Luba shook herself.  Was she being silly after all? Could Ilya be right that the threats would melt like snow in Spring? That nothing bad would ever happen here?


Nikolaevsk-on-Amur, ca. 1900

The account above is a fictionalized exchange between my grandparents, Ilya and Luba Kaptzan, in the midst of a violent and unpredictable time. It appears in Red Winter, a novel inspired by the true story of what happened to my grandmother Luba during the winter of 1920. Her family was living in Nikolaevsk-on-Amur, a thriving city on the far eastern coast of Siberia.

My grandfather Ilya was a businessman, lawyer and editor of the local newspaper, The Amursky Liman. He and Luba were born and raised in the city which was known for its natural resources—salmon, lumber, furs and mines—and also for its lack of religious persecution. The town had its own synagogue, mosque, church and cathedral and because it was frozen from the rest of the world for half of every year, all the occupants celebrated one another’s holidays together.

The residents were aware that trouble was brewing in the west since the Russian Revolution of 1917, but most felt safe in their remote location. Because my grandfather refused to leave, he ended up being one of the first to be imprisoned—and ultimately murdered—by the Bolshevik partisans who entered Nikolaevsk once the river froze, cutting the city off from all possible aid.

“Russians were murdered by the Bolsheviks in the thousands, their property plundered. Hundreds of human corpses were strewn outside the city, unburied.” From a description of the Nikolaevsk Massacre published in the Haaretz newspaper shortly afterwards. Click for the full article

Luba was left on her own with five young children, her mother-in-law and epileptic sister-in-law. At first, the family lived under house arrest when the Reds conscripted their home and relegated them to servant status. Later, they managed to escape, only to spend the winter months hiding in pigsties, warehouses and opium dens while the bloodthirsty intruders tried to track them down. By the end of the winter, ninety percent of Nikolaevsk’s population had been killed.


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.

For more “Jewish Journeys”, check out our online exhibition launched in collaboration with AEPJ as part of European Days of Jewish Culture 2020.