Elections Placard for the German National Assembly, 1919

The placard states that this day was "the great day of the German people" and emphasizes that "every vote counts."

Elections Placard for the German National Assembly, 1919

After the end of World War I, with the resignation of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the soldiers’ and workers’ revolution at the end of 1918, the temporary government agreed to hold general elections to establish a national assembly, a kind of preliminary parliament after the collapse of the Second Reich. The elections, set for January 19, 1919, were the first in which women in Germany were given the right to vote. The placard states that this day was “the great day of the German people” and emphasizes that “every vote counts.” Following the political-revolutionary riots in the German capital of Berlin, it was decided that the elected assembly would meet in Weimar, a small and quiet city, “the capital of classical culture,” located in the center of the country. On February 6, 1919, the delegates met for the first time and appointed Friedrich Ebert, representative of the Social Democratic party, as chancellor. Ebert in turn appointed the first government of the young republic. The city where the National Assembly convened was the origin of the informal name for the political entity: The Weimar Republic.

This placard was collected by the Jewish physician Arthur Czellitzer, who ran a private clinic in Berlin until the Nazis’ rise to power. Czellitzer was interested in various historical questions and in Jewish genealogy, but he also had a broad historical consciousness that manifested itself in the collection of announcements and posters he cultivated between 1918 and 1928. His collection contains hundreds of items relating to many political parties and candidates for various elections that took place during the Weimar Republic, and Czellitzer appears to have acquired the items in Berlin. In many cases, he added the date of acquisition and sometimes the location, filing his findings meticulously. In 1936, Czellitzer donated his collection to the National and University Library in Jerusalem. Dr. Arthur Czellitzer was murdered in the Holocaust, at the Sobibor Camp, in 1943.

Source: Archive Department, Ephemera Collection from the Weimar Republic, V 662.

German Inflation 1919-1923

Prices rose to absurd sums: at the end of the period of hyper-inflation, in the fall of 1923, a loaf of bread cost many billions and to send a single postcard from Munich to Prague required stamps worth 36 billion marks

Inflation is the devaluation of a national currency due to a rise in the prices of commodities on the national market, often resulting from the rising price of imports. Mild inflation exists in every modern free economy, and is not considered a worrisome phenomenon, as long as it remains at a low rate. However, if, for political or economic reasons, inflation deviates from tolerable levels to the extent that it has a severe negative impact on the standard of living of many citizens, the phenomenon takes on the attributes of a socio-economic disaster, that also spurs a political disaster when the nation begins to seek individuals on whom to assign responsibility for the economic collapse.

The greatest inflation in the history of Germany occurred mainly from 1919-1923, but in fact it had already started in 1914, with the outbreak of WWI. When the war began, the German governments increased the money supply in order to cover the soaring costs, initially of the war itself, and afterwards, of the heavy reparations that the Allies had imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. One means of increasing the supply of money was the issue of war bonds purchased by many citizens. At the same time, it was decided to cut the linkage between the German mark and the price of gold, a connection that existed at the time in most advanced nations. The result was an expanding gap between the value of gold-based currency (the gold mark, which was actually in use until the end of the days of the German Empire) and paper currency, which could be printed in almost unlimited quantities. Flooding the market with printed money rapidly lowered its value, so that the prices rose disproportionately, while the real wage of salaried workers fell sharply. At the same time, loans and debts lost their value by the same proportion. This was precisely the goal of the German government after the end of the war: to lessen the burden of the reparations and to demonstrate the weakness of the German economy to the allies.

This situation took its toll on the daily life of most citizens. The rise in prices that the consumer was required to pay was not matched by a rise in wages. Since wages rose more gradually, it was more difficult to keep up with the high prices. On payday, employees hurried to reach the stores before the exchange rate of the mark vis-à-vis the dollar which was usually even lower than it had been a few days earlier. Prices rose to absurd sums: at the end of the period of hyper-inflation, in the fall of 1923, a loaf of bread cost many billions and to send a single postcard from Munich to Prague required stamps worth 36 billion marks (see photo). In such a situation, the central bank ceased investing in the design of bills and in their printed elements since it was not worthwhile to produce counterfeit bills, all of the graphic markings that were meant to serve as obstacles to counterfeiting, and some bills were even only one-sided. Often, a denomination – higher than the specified original bills – was overlaid onto existing bills that had not yet entered the money cycle. There are photographs depicting children who had cut out kites from galley sheets of bills that had become obsolete.

In November 1923, the inflation reached a peak: one dollar was worth 4,200 billion German marks. It was clear to all that this trend could not go on. Eventually, a change of government in Germany brought an end to the inflation, after it had achieved one of its main goals: reduction of the debts that were burdening the German coffers. From November 15, 1923, the currency was replaced: instead of the worthless Papiermark, the Central Bank of Germany presented the new mark (Rentermark). In the international arena, the German government reached an understanding with the Allies in the framework of the Dawes Plan, according to which German reparations were adjusted to the country’s economic ability. Following this, the German economy recuperated over the coming years, but millions of citizens lost their capital, which had been deposited in savings plans.

Our display item shows a 50 million mark bill, part of the Means of Payment and Banknotes Collection of the Archives Department of the National Library. This bill was issued in July 1923, just a few months before the inflation peaked. Based on this bill’s physical condition we can conclude that it was heavily used. Originally, the reverse side of the bill was left blank, but in our sample, an informal nationalist, anti-Semitic printing was scrawled on. As in many moments of crisis throughout history, the period of inflation was a time to cast blame for the eradication of private wealth: the anti-Semites were convinced that the “rich Jews” bore all of the responsibility.

Translation of the rhymed lines:

Like the fungus
and the lichens
on the oak’s trunk
The Jew thrives
on mankind’s trunk
Where Jews live in comfort
The majority remains
in poverty’s grip

Architecture in the “International Style” (Bauhaus) in Eretz Israel

When architect Walter Gropius established in 1919 the Bauhaus art school in the city of Weimar, Germany, he had, it can be assumed, grand plans, but no way of predicting that the tradition born with the establishment of this school would change the face of the world of architecture and in the design of many useful products.

Residential building in Tel Aviv, Frischman Street, 1930s (Archives Department, TMA 5249)

What began as a new idea – the training of artists in a far-reaching integration of theory and practice and the training of artisans – became a widespread worldwide concept, based on the principal of combining simple design with high functionality. Although this school existed for only 14 years and trained only a few hundred graduates, it is considered to this day the cradle of the avant-garde in fine and applied modern art.

Although at Bauhaus instruction was offered in a wide range of arts and crafts, the focus was always architecture, not only because of the profession of the institution’s founder and director of nine-years, Walter Gropius, but also because of his firm convictions. In his view, all of an artist’s skills should be focused on building as an all-encompassing expression of art as a whole. Gropius succeeded in recruiting first-rate avant-garde artists as lecturers: Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Lionel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer, Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy and others.

The modern and avant-garde atmosphere in Bauhaus was ultimately not suitable to the quite conservative environment in the city of Weimar, and the institution therefore moved to Dessau, several dozen kilometers north of Weimar. It was in Dessau that Walter Gropius built the famous Bauhaus building and the series of Meisterhäuser – homes for lecturers, which exist to this day and are considered gems of this style. Design of the buildings was related to the artistic ideas of the school, and set standards that can be found in the construction of many buildings to this day.

Following the growing influence of the Nazis in the Dessau city council beginning in 1932, the school moved a second time, taking up its final residence in Berlin, until ultimately closing in 1933. The last director was the famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Until the closure of the Bauhaus school, its graduates succeeded in disseminating its ideas among a community of modern architects and artists, such that the familiar design style was copied even from architects who never studied at this institution. The Nazis were opposed both to the ideas of Bauhaus as well as to its international atmosphere. Closure of the institution in 1933 was therefore the anticipated consequence of the political changes. Lecturers, students and graduates of the school fled to other countries and continued in this manner to spread Bauhaus’s modernist concepts throughout the world.

Rechavia neighborhood, Jerusalem, during its construction. Archives department, TM 8° 791

The name “Bauhaus” spread quickly even beyond the borders of Europe, and among its students were no small number of citizens of other countries, including students from the Land of Israel. In addition to the four architects who came from Palestine to study at Bauhaus (Shlomo Bernstein, Munio Gitai-Weinraub, Shmuel Mestechkin and Arieh Sharon), a sizable number of Bauhaus graduates or architects and artists influenced by it arrived in (or returned to) Palestine: Erich Mendelsohn, Richard Kaufmann, Genia Averbuch, Mordechai Ardon, Isaac Rapoport and others.

With the activity of these artists, and mainly that of the architects among them, a characteristic building style was created that can be encountered to this day in Israeli cities and even on kibbutzim. The strongest manifestation of this style is in Tel Aviv’s “White City”, which features the largest group of buildings in the International Style in Israel: some 4,000 different structures can today be found in Tel Aviv, for example in the area of Dizengoff Street, Bialik Street and Rothschild Boulevard. This collection was declared in 2003 a World Heritage Site (by UNESCO).

Buildings of this style can be found in other cities as well, including Jerusalem (the Rechavia neighborhood, the Hadassah Hospital at Mt. Scopus, Villa Schocken, Beit Ha-Ma’alot, and others) and in Haifa. The Rechavia neighborhood was planned by the German-Jewish architect Richard Kaufmann, who was also responsible, inter alia, for planning the Tel Aviv’s “White City” and Kibbutz Nahalal. Shmuel Mestechkin shaped the face of many kibbutzim, mainly through their dining halls, such as Kibbutz Na’an, Mishmar Ha-Emek, Mizra, Yad Mordechai and others. The influence of the International Style on architecture in Israel was so tremendous that even to this day we plan and build buildings that have distinctive features from the repertoire of the International Style.

Mt. Scopus and Hadassah Hospital during its construction, 1938. Photo: Zoltan Kluger, Archives Department, TMA 507.2

Rechavia neighborhood, Jerusalem, view of Villa Schocken, 1938. Photo: Zoltan Kluger, Archives Department, TMA 507.2

​ ​

The Templers in the Land of Israel and Their Place in Local Society

In the late 1850s, this group, under the leadership of Christoph Hoffman, began exploring the possibility of living according to their spiritual-religious ideal not merely inside Germany, but in close proximity to the location of the Jewish Temple: in Jerusalem

The Fast Family Hotel near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, early 20th century

In the mid-19th century, a number of Protestant families in southwest Germany decided to establish a religious group that was distinct from Lutheran Protestantism. They viewed themselves as “bricks” that made up the ideational temple of communal life based on the principles of Christianity. For the Templers, Jesus was not defined as the son of God, but as a religious teacher and an example and manifestation of the honest life.

In the late 1850s, this group, under the leadership of Christoph Hoffman, began exploring the possibility of living according to their spiritual-religious ideal not merely inside Germany, but in close proximity to the location of the Jewish Temple: in Jerusalem. They chose this path since as Christians they viewed themselves as “the new people of Israel.” In 1868 the group’s first settlers reached the shores of Eretz Israel. They purchased lands in the Haifa area and established their first place of residence, which exists physically to this day (the “German Colony” of Haifa). Over the years, additional settlers arrived and established a number of communities in Jaffa (1869), nearby Sarona (1871), Jerusalem (1873), and later, in Wilhelma (1902, today: Bnei Atarot), as well as at Bethlehem of Galilee (1906). Together with these localities, religious and educational institutions sprung up, as well as businesses of various types. In 1878, some 850 people were living in Templer communities, by 1884 the Templer residents in Eretz Israel numbered 1300, and on the eve of WWI, this number climbed to approximately 2,000 people, which was the peak of their history in Palestine.

A travel catalogue of the travel agency which was part of the Sudanese train and ship company, 1929. The agency had an office in Jerusalem, managed by the Fast family, near the Jaffa Gate.

The Templers worked in agriculture (cultivation of citrus and grapes), established small factories (the iron and tool-making industries), ran a press house, established hotels, published a newspaper (Warte des Tempels – The Temple Guard) and also had a bank, which participated in the Transfer Agreement beginning in 1933. Constructing proper roads between the various localities was extremely significant for the existence of the Templer enterprise. The presence and activity of German Templers in Eretz Israel were therefore of utmost importance for its economic, agricultural and industrial development, many years prior to the impact brought to bear by Zionism. In many realms it was Templers who initiated basic activities that were important to Israel’s development.

Until the end of WWI, when the British forces conquered Palestine, the residents of the Templer communities were deported from the southern localities to a camp near Cairo, Egypt. Some of them were deported from there to Germany, while others continued living in this camp until 1920, and afterwards were permitted to return to their homes. During the Mandate Period, good relations developed between Templers and the Mandate authorities, and between them and the local population, both Jewish and Arab.

One of the proofs of the commercial ties between Jews and Templers in Eretz Israel is the document displayed here, a letter of recommendation from the Director of the Templer Bank, Christoph Hoffman, for the Jewish industrialist Shaul Levi. Hoffman wrote his recommendation from the perspective of his position as director of what was at the time an important bank in Eretz Israel. In the letter, he confirms that for 25 years he has known Levi to be an honest, respectable and solid businessman. Shaul Levi operated a business in the iron industry, with branches in Jaffa and Jerusalem. Hoffman’s recommendation leads us to assume that Shaul Levi managed his business funds through the German Bank in Eretz Israel, which earned a reputation as a dependable, stable institution.

A letter of recommendation by the General Manager of the Templer Bank, Christoph Hoffmann, to the industrialist Shaul Levy, 1926

As is well known, not all of the Germans in the Templer communities were interested in continuing as loyal citizens of Eretz Israel during the British Mandate. Some of them established a branch of the Nazi party, and a significant number of the German settlers joined it. Of course, this move was not warmly received by the Jews of Eretz Israel. The British Authorities, on their part, were not overly concerned, until the outbreak of WWII. From September 1939 the Templers were considered as “hostile citizens” due to the German citizenship that most of them held – and also due to the political views of some of them. As a result, Templer families were concentrated into a number of their localities, and a few were even deported to Australia. The last left in 1948, with the establishment of the state. Today, many of the buildings that the German Templers erected are still standing. In certain cases, the Templer communities became prestigious neighborhoods as in Haifa and Jerusalem. Of late, the case of Sarona in Tel Aviv has become prominent; the area was recently turned into a gentrified Tel Aviv neighborhood and transformed into a locus of leisure and entertainment.

The charter of the Wilhelma-Sarona German Vine Growers Association, 1920
The charter of the Templer Society, 1935