The Jewish Woman Who Gave Life to Lady Liberty

In 1883 Lazarus wrote the poem that greets new immigrants to America till this very day.

The 1880s were years of pogroms in Tsarist Russia, giving cause for hundreds of Jews to flee Eastern Europe to the shores of America. With the arrival of the refugees, Emma Lazarus, the Jewish-American poet, felt the call to action and to aid her fellow Jews.

​Emma Lazarus’ poetry was encouraged early on by her father, Moses Lazarus, who recognized her immense talent as a teenager. Moses Lazarus even published Emma’s first book privately, “Poems and Translations Written Between the Ages of Fourteen and Seventeen,” in 1867. This was the beginning of Emma’s illustrious writing career.

She was recognized in her time for her poetry, mentored by Ralph Waldo Emerson from the late 1860s, who encouraged her great potential. This recognition and recommendation propelled her to fame and she was soon running in the elite literary and artistic circles of New York.

Suffice to say the majority of her friends in the art world were Christian. As such, her Judaism was often referenced and remarked upon by her gentile peers. It marked her difference among them.

The undercurrent of anti-Semitism among the wealthy elite was always there, but it became more pronounced with the arrival of the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 1880s.


Emma Lazarus' famous portrait, from the Archives of the National Library
Emma Lazarus’ famous portrait, from the Archives of the National Library

In 1881 when the vicious pogroms struck the Jewish communities of Russia, causing them to flee to America, the anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic backlash did not leave Emma untouched.

The Jewish themes she had never dealt with before erupted in her work. She published “Songs of a Semite” in 1882. In this collection she wrote of Maccabees calling for Jews to rally together in Jerusalem. She also translated poems from the Golden Age of Spain, celebrating her Sephardic roots. She wrote a play “The Dance to Death,” which she dedicated to George Eliot. It is a tragedy in which the raw ideas of Jewish Nationalism are fostered, written well over a decade before Herzl published his vision of Zionism.

But her most famous poem would be published a year later, in 1883.

“The New Colossus”, the poem emblazoned upon Lady Liberty herself, was published for an art auction aimed at constructing the Statue of Liberty. The statue was a gift from France to the United States, as a monument to the shared values between the two republics, chief among them, freedom and equality.


In 1886 the Statue of Liberty was unveiled with much pomp and circumstance. Emma Lazarus was not invited, as women were excluded from the ceremony by the organizers who thought women would be hurt by the celebrating crowds.
In 1886 the Statue of Liberty was unveiled with much pomp and circumstance. Emma Lazarus was not invited, as women were excluded from the ceremony by the organizers who thought women would be hurt by the celebrating crowds. (Picture from I Lift My Lamp)


Emma Lazarus, seeing the suffering of her fellow Jews fleeing the Old World, conceived of a monument welcoming her people to the new world. She envisioned their suffering and their stifled existence. She wanted Lady Liberty to watch over the ships coming into a safe harbor, protecting those escaping the dangers that chased them out Europe.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

With those words, the Statue of Liberty was given life and purpose beyond that of a monument to liberal ideals, becoming a beacon of hope for the refugees seeking freedom from the terror of persecution.

The poem was placed on the Statue of Liberty in 1903.


"The New Colossus" plate on the Statue of Liberty
“The New Colossus” plate on the Statue of Liberty


Letter from Walter Rathenau to Stefan Zweig

Rathenau was a classic example of a German Jew who tried to become integrated into society-at-large, and even contributed to the strengthening of nationalist views

Walter Rathenau (1867-1922) was born in Berlin to a prominent Jewish family. His father was the well-known industrialist Emil Rathenau, the founder of AEG. Walter studied physics, chemistry, philosophy and engineering, and after completing his studies he was integrated into the management of his family’s business affairs. In 1912, Rathenau was appointed Chairman of the Board of AEG, and was on many other boards of leading industrial companies. Due to AEG’s specialization in electrical appliances and technical equipment, Rathenau played an important role in logistical planning, supply of raw material, and industrial contributions to the German war effort. Rathenau was officially appointed by the German War Ministry to be responsible for supplying raw materials to the country’s military industry.

During the war, Rathenau’s open support of Germany grew stronger, and he even demanded that harsh actions be taken against Germany’s enemies. After the war, Rathenau was appointed Minister of Reconstruction and then, in the end of January 1922, he was appointed Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic. To this day, this is the highest position that a Jew has ever filled in a German government. Just six months later, while on his way to the office, Rathenau was assassinated by extremist right-wing activists.

The earliest documentation of the relationship between Rathenau and the Austrian author Stefan Zweig held in the National Library’s collections is from 1907. Rathenau greatly appreciated literature and art, and even tried his hand at writing. The two men were known to have met a number of times and exchanged views about art and politics.

Therefore, the background to the letter presented here from October 24, 1914 is not surprising. The French author Romain Rolland, a pacifist and activist against the war and supporter of aid projects for prisoners of war, had approached Zweig a number of days earlier with the idea of assembling a forum of European public figures from all fields and disciplines in order to work together against the “war madness”. Rolland asked Zweig to recruit additional people from among his acquaintances.

Zweig approached Walther Rathenau, among others, but in October 1914 the latter was no longer interested in preserving the peace, as illustrated in Rathenau’s reply. Rathenau was fully invested in his new post at the German War Ministry and did not want to relate to efforts to stop the war or discuss the activities of the German army in Belgium (the bombing of the city of Louvain) or in France (the bombing of the city of Reims), which had already horrified the world in the first months of the war.

Zweig’s and Rathenau’s positions aptly illustrate a few of the possibilities from which German Jews, in their outstanding position, could choose. Zweig was never enamored of war, and certainly not of the nationalist phenomena that were very common in almost every country that fought in World War I. He saw himself as a citizen of the world, and fervently believed in the capabilities of European culture.

In contrast, Rathenau was a classic example of a German Jew who tried to become integrated into society-at-large, and even contributed to the strengthening of nationalist views. Like his father, as well as the tradesman and collector James Simon and the shipping magnate Albert Ballin (all Jews), Walter Rathenau was friendly with Kaiser Wilhelm II. Like the others, Rathenau even served as an informal advisor to the Kaiser. Nonetheless, this role as well as his political positions during the first years of the Weimar Republic did not ultimately protect him from extremists and anti-Semitism. Herein lies the tragedy of Walter Rathenau and other figures from this period, who, in the eyes of Germany’s extreme right, would always remain first and foremost Jews and as such, the enemy of the German people.


War Ministry, Berlin. 24 October 1914
Leipziger Strasse 5

To the Honorable Mr. Zweig,
Unfortunately, I am unable to fulfill your request. I am able to convey an idea only to the extent that I identify with it, and this is not the case regarding Rolland’s matter. I therefore request that you absolve me of the burden of carrying out your endearing request.

Together with the letter, I received a letter from Von Aiden*, to which I have replied, as you will see in the attached. In it, you will see my arguments.

In this war, people speak and write too much. Be the reasons as they may: now the nations need to speak, and until they become silent – the individual has no word. In my view, what is written and spoken now of Louvain , Rheims and other matters is not important. The bill will be submitted when the war is over, and this bill will be objective.
I would not be able to live had I not created for myself a job that enables me [to wage] an independent battle – a battle that relates to resources. To stand behind the front and to give speeches, this is a matter for clergy and professors – I am unable to act thus.

Rolland’s activity on behalf of military and civilian prisoners is not tainted by these considerations. It is respectable but I am unable to join it, since my day is full of work that extends halfway into the night.

I hope to see you soon and bless you.



Celebrating the Exodus from Egypt Behind the Lines of World War I

Abraham Adolf Fraenkel, a doctor of mathematics, served in the German army during the Great War and organized a Passover Seder for his fellow Jewish soldiers.


During the Great War in the early 20th-century young Jewish men all across Europe joined their peers in enlisting in the military to serve their countries, with over 100,000 Jews joining the German army alone. Included in the ranks of these brave men was the Bavarian soldier Abraham Adolf Fraenkel, a doctor of mathematics, who later recounted his experiences as a Jew in World War I in his memoir, “Recollections of a Jewish Mathematician in Germany.”

In his memoirs, Fraenkel describes the difficulties he faced as a traditional Jew in the military “especially regarding food but also concerning prayer, phylacteries, not shaving and many other things.” Though he was able to maintain his kosher diet, he found himself rarely able to maintain the traditions of Shabbat.

abraham a fraenkel
“Recollections of a Jewish Mathematician in Germany,” by Abraham A. Fraenkel. Edited by Jiska Cohen-Mansfield and translated by Allison Brown. Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016.

In 1915, Abraham found himself serving as a medical orderly for the army, which included such responsibilities as transcribing autopsy reports from dictation and assisting in minor surgeries. During his two years of service in the field hospitals, Fraenkel was also authorized by the Bavarian Ministry of Culture Affairs to serve as the Jewish chaplain to his peers in the military. While this position did not reduce the responsibilities he had in his day to day service, it did offer him a chance to stay connected to his religion and to assist others in maintaining their traditions as well.

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In 1915, Fraenkel was stationed at the military hospital in the French city of Cambrai. Fraenkel explains in his book that he was responsible for the religious affairs of the Jewish soldiers. He filled the gap between their religious needs, and the availability of the army chaplain rabbis, who were not able to always be where they were needed. Fraenkel took his position seriously, arranging for prayer services in the field and ensuring the religious soldiers could celebrate their holidays as in line with the tradition as possible.

Abraham A Fraenkel
Abraham A. Fraenkel, from the National Library of Israel Collections.

At the end of March 1915, Fraenkel prepared to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover and prepared a list of the local soldiers who were interested in joining the Seder, the traditional meal where the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt is recounted, which was set to take place on the 29th and 30th of March.

“Participants are asked to specify if they plan to attend both evening meals or just the first,” read the registration sheet. Participants were advised to request leave for religious reasons so they would be granted a permit to attend the festivities. Registrants were advised that they would only receive their leave on the day of the holiday and it was suggested that if they planned to attend the holiday prayer services, they bring their own prayer books – if they had them of course.

List of Seder participants. From the National Library of Israel collections.

A total of nine soldiers registered for both of the Passover Seder including men serving as medics, logistics officers, combat engineers and one who was serving in the newly formed German air force who did not specify which Seder he planned to attend, perhaps because he knew there was a chance he would be called away at the last minute.

During the second half of World War I, Fraenkel transferred to a weather-forecasting unit, a job that better suited his outstanding talents as a mathematician. At the end of the war, Abraham Frankel returned to Marburg University, and later, went on to serve as a professor of mathematics in the city of Kiel, in northern Germany. In 1926, the mathematician visited the Land of Israel together with his family, and three years later, he moved to the country and was appointed as a professor of mathematics at The Hebrew University. In 1938, he was even chosen to be rector of the university. In Israel, he published mathematical works and devised many mathematical terms for concepts that until that time did not exist in the Hebrew language.

Abraham Adolf Fraenkel, from the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

Fraenkel kept the list of Seder participants in 1915 with his personal belongings and preserved it for many decades. The list of Seder participant arrived at the National Library of Israel together with the rest of his personal archive.

Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Litt for his assistance in writing this article.

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.


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Advertisement for Purchase of War Bonds, 1918

Almost all of the large countries involved in the war appealed to their citizens to help achieve victory by donating their private money through the purchase of the bonds.

First page of a booklet for the purchase of war bonds (ARC. 4* 1776 03 9)

Every war requires tremendous resources. Vast funds are needed to finance the weapons and military equipment, soldiers’ salaries and food, and the various other costs that arise in wartime. Armed conflicts alter the economies of all the nations involved: in order to prepare the national economy for this exceptional situation, the state needs money from loans and bonds, including funds for the purpose of changing the profile of the national economy for the benefit of the war objectives.

In the history of the 20th century, governments were always full of hope that they would be victorious, and thereby be able to return the debts at the end of the war. Defeated countries were expected to pay reparations to the victors, and the money would be allocated to covering the latter’s debts. However, there are losers in every war, and in the case of defeat, it was impossible to repay the banks and individuals who had purchased war bonds. To the contrary, in such a situation, it was necessary to borrow additional funds, i.e. to incur new debts in order to satisfy the demands of the winning side.

During periods of war, propaganda has always played a central role, both in maintaining unity on the home front, but also for garnering civilian support from soldiers on the battlefield. Needless to say, the eventuality of defeat did not come up in the public declarations, and naturally, not in the various materials printed in wartime: placards, pamphlets, etc. Public discussion of such a possibility posed the risk of interfering with civilians’ willingness to harness themselves to the war effort, for example, leading in turn to a drastic reduction in the purchase of war bonds. Therefore, advertisements for the purchase of war bonds usually played on the sentiments of the civilians and their fears of the cruel enemy. Fear is a known sales pitch during war.

World War I was the heyday of war bonds and associated advertisements. Almost all of the large countries involved in the war appealed to their citizens to help achieve victory by donating their private money through the purchase of the bonds.

The German Empire issued war bonds nine different times, in order to fund the tremendous war expenses. Selling these bonds yielded almost 100 billion marks for the war treasury of the German army – some 85 percent of the overall cost.

Approximately every half year during the war, the German government launched a new campaign to raise money from the public. The last was in September 1918, just two months prior to the end of the fighting. The interest rate was set at 5% (more than in ordinary savings plans). It was possible to trade in war bonds, which in principle had a chance of high yield in the event of a German military victory.

However, history took its own course, and Germany was vanquished in 1918. This is how the terrible economic catastrophe occurred: the state was incapable of paying its debts. Moreover, it was forced to commit to paying enormous reparations to the Allied Powers through the Treaty of Versailles agreements. In addition, following the explosive hyperinflation from 1922 to the end of 1923, all of the bonds lost their value. The result was that the state was released of its obligation to its citizens, while the latter irreversibly lost their private capital, which they had invested to finance the German army. This development caused despair among the citizens of Germany, who had been educated to place their belief in the authorities. The authorities, however, had collapsed, leading to defeat in war, and ultimately, an unfathomably large-scale dissolution of private capital.

The placard displayed here was published apparently in 1918, but to date, we do not know with certainty if it was released together with the eighth or ninth (and last) issue. The central motif was the threat to Germany and its forces posed by a new type of weaponry: the British tank. The Mark I tank model entered into intensive use during the last year of the war, and confounded both the German High Command and the soldiers in the trenches. The placard presented here belongs to the collection of Arthur Czellitzer, a Berlin ophthalmologist who collected placards and political and propaganda fliers in Berlin for a period of ten years. Dr. Czellitzer deposited the collection in the Jerusalem library in 1936. Czellitzer met a bitter end: he was murdered in the Holocaust in 1943.