From Ben Shemen to the Concentration Camp and Back: The Story of a Family Photo

One photograph. That’s what Sarah Kagan left behind at the concentration camp in Klooga. But sometimes one picture is all you need to have closure on a painful chapter in a family's history.

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The Linkovsky family in Kovno (Kaunas). The photo was found among the ruins of the Klooga concentration camp and is now held at Yad Vashem

Family. Young men and women who share DNA or marital ties, and three little children, all of them smiling for a photographer, frozen in one moment in time and in a single place: Kovno, 1939. Just a few months before the whole world turned upside down. Ostensibly, this is a perfectly ordinary family picture, one of millions kept in the Yad Vashem photographic collections, each commemorating entire worlds which once were and are no more. But behind this specific picture is a broader story, written in part on the picture itself.

Writing on the back of the picture. Photo kept at Yad Vashem

On the other side of the photograph is a brief message written in Yiddish, in Hebrew script:

“A gift for the entire family, from your brother and the granddaughter,




May 18, 1939

Ben Shemen”

How did a picture reach the distant concentration camp in Estonia from a Zionist youth village in the Land of Israel? Who were Avraham and Daliah Linkovsky and what was their connection to the people in the photograph?

To see the big picture, we have to go back a bit.

In the 1920s, a terrible tragedy befell the Linkovsky family living in Kovno: they lost both their parents. The father’s death certificate can be found at Yad Vashem, but the mother apparently also died before the war. The older brothers each went their own way, even if earlier than expected. But the two younger brothers – Avraham and Pesha – were sent to the Jewish orphanage in the city. This fact, which must have seemed particularly tragic at the time, ended up saving their lives.

Children at the Kovno orphanage. From the Ben Shemen Youth Village Archive, IL-BSYV-001-13-0102-02

The Kovno Jewish orphanage, or the Kinderhaus as it was known then, was founded and run by the German-Jewish educator Siegfried Lehman. Lehman came to Kovno at the request of Max Soloveichik – the Jewish Affairs Minister for the Lithuanian government. Lehman was an inspiring figure who dreamt of equal, collective education. He eventually became an enthusiastic Zionist, though he didn’t start out that way, and made Aliyah in 1926 to found what would become the Youth Village of Ben Shemen – an educational institution which served as a home for the children who grew up there.

Dr. Siegfried Lehman. Photo: Ben Shemen Archive, IL-BSYV-001-13-0102-01

He didn’t come alone. With him came the first class of students for this new youth village – the children of the Kovno Kinderhaus. Later, two more groups of children came from Kovno, mixing in with native-born “Sabra” children as well as kids who were later rescued from Europe and brought to Mandatory Palestine by the Youth Aliyah organization.

Avraham Linkovsky’s Aliyah certificate. Photo courtesy of the Ben Shemen Archive

One of the first groups to arrive included the orphans Avraham and Pasha Linkovsky. Avraham was sixteen years old, Pasha fourteen. Pictures from Ben Shemen show them with their friends and teachers who became their family. But they never entirely forgot their old family in Lithuania, and kept in contact via correspondence. Upon completing their studies, Avraham married Sarah (of the Warful family) and they stayed in the country to work at the youth village. They had a daughter, whom they named Daliah.

In the spring of 1939, the young family travelled to visit their relatives in Lithuania. Avraham and Sarah took Daliah to meet their uncles and aunts in distant Kovno, people she would see only once in her life, when she was too small to remember. As a reminder of their trip before heading back, they all took a picture together. A fence passed behind them, behind which was a river or fields. A European landscape. What were they thinking when posing for this picture? Did they think this might be their last meeting?

Picture kept at Yad Vashem

The picture apparently belonged to Avraham, and he took it back with him to the Land of Israel, where he developed the photo and sent it as a gift to his brother back in Kovno, as a souvenir. Did he keep a copy for himself? We don’t know.

Meanwhile, the war broke out. Avraham would never hear from his brother or sisters again, murdered in the Holocaust that engulfed European Jewry. For many years, the family left in the Land of Israel didn’t even know the exact details of when and where they died.

But the picture, the souvenir sent from the Land of Israel to Europe before it went up in flames, survived, and it tells us the story of the family that was lost.

In 1944, the Russians liberated Estonia from the Germans. Among other sites, they reached the remains of the Klooga concentration camp. This camp was established in 1943 as one of the work camps meant to exploit the area’s natural resources. Prisoners were mostly sent from the ghettos of Vilna (Vilnius) and Kovno.

But when the Russians finally came to “liberate” the camp, there wasn’t much to free. A few days before the arrival of the Red Army, as they heard the approaching Russian guns echoing in the distance, the German camp commanders understood that this was the end of the line for them. Together with local collaborators, they murdered all the prisoners, tying them to tree branches to entirely burn the bodies and erase any trace of the horrors that took place there. But perhaps due to haste or the weather, the fire didn’t spread to all the bodies, most of which remained intact.

The Russians found piles of corpses, still warm, a strong scent of burnt flesh, as well as piles of documents and photographs. Within this inferno and the horror covered in ash, pages and fragments of documents remained which would tell, silently, the story of those who perished there.

Among them was this photo, with the writing which clearly tied it to people who were still alive at the time. Those people being family members waiting in the Land of Israel and hearing of the worst from afar. Aside from this picture, other hints were found: Eliyahu Linkovsky’s death certificate (dated to many years before the war, a testament to the early orphanhood of the brothers) as well as the marriage certificate of Avraham’s sister, also named Sarah, and Yehudah Kagan. Sarah Kagan’s name was found on the prisoners’ roster, no. 856.

The connection between the siblings was apparently cut off in 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. From this point on, we can only guess, based on the stories of other survivors from that area, what Sarah went through. The crowding in the ghetto. The hunger. The death. The fear. The orders from the Germans to quickly pack their things: how to choose what to take from home, knowing how unlikely it was they’d return? The nightmarish trip to the concentration camps, the confiscation of everything she brought once she came to the German offices. The certificates. And the pictures.

They came with her, in her pockets or under her underclothes, but they didn’t stay with her.

They were left behind, to tell others a little more of what was and is no more.

Avraham, who was able to raise a model family in the Land of Israel, was never able to see the picture again or hear this story. The Russians eventually passed along the archival material of what is now known as the “Klooga Collection” at Yad Vashem, but only after he passed away.

Among the thousands of documents and pictures, the picture would probably have remained in the shadows, an anonymous item in the Yad Vashem collection. But one scholar, Orit Adorian, did not rest until she succeeded, together with the veteran staff members who run the Ben Shemen Youth Village Archive, in giving the family closure.

The items appearing in the article are preserved at the Ben Shemen Youth Village Archive and are made available thanks to the collaboration between the archive, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel.

Special thanks to Orit Adorian for sharing her part in the story and helping us prepare the article.

Where Did Ben-Gurion’s Piano Disappear To?

When David and Paula Ben-Gurion moved to the Hapoalim (workers) neighborhood on the outskirts of the young city of Tel Aviv, it was clear that there would be a piano in the living room of their new home, even though they didn’t have the money to buy one. Documents in archives show how the family obtained the expensive piano, who played it, where it went after the house was donated to the state, and the story of how it was returned after many years. A story befitting a mystery novel…

David Ben-Gurion (Nadav Man, Bitmuna Collection. From the Degani Collection. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel) and the piano (courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

“I am very sorry for the three unpaid bills. At the moment we are not being paid a salary and the money has not reached me. According to the contract, you have absolute permission to come at any time and get the piano back without any hindrance. With great respect, D. Ben-Gurion”

“…you have absolute permission to come at any time and get the piano back ” Ben-Gurion apologizes for the returned checks (courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

It is December 1931 in Mandatory Palestine – the Land of Israel. The young Ben-Gurion family, father David, mother Paula, and the children: thirteen-year-old Geula, eleven-year-old Amos, and six-year-old Renana, have recently moved to their new home in the Hapoalim neighborhood, not far from the “Education House – The School for the Children of Workers” in the developing western section of the new Hebrew city of Tel Aviv.

The chairman of Mapai (“The Workers Party of the Land of Israel”) which had just gained a great many seats in the Zionist Congress, the most important political institution of the Jewish People at the time, made sure to carefully add up his expenses in his journal. These included the expenses for the construction of his home, number 17 on KKL Boulevard, which later became Ben-Gurion Boulevard. The house is now a museum which recreates the home and daily routine of the first Israeli Prime Minister’s family.

Ben-Gurion summarized the expenses: payment for the architect 11.9 Israeli lira, purchase of cabinets for 20 lira, and a buffet for 5 lira. Transporting and transferring the objects 8 lira, table 1.5 lira, 4 bar stools and 6 low chairs 2.80 lira, and also a piano bench – only 1 lira.

“Piano bench, one Israeli lira.” Ben-Gurion totals the expenses of building his house in Tel Aviv (courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

So Paula and David bought the piano bench themselves, but they rented the piano itself, an expensive musical instrument, from Mr. Hofenko of Tel Aviv, for a monthly usage fee. They gave him future promissory notes (checks), which, due to some difficulty, were regretfully not honored.

“Ben-Gurion had no special affection or sensitivity for music,” says Michael Bar-Zohar, author of the comprehensive biography on Ben-Gurion. “He wasn’t interested in or appreciative of works and he didn’t have a musical ear. Once, after the Six Day-War, they played ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ for him. Ben-Gurion was moved by the words and tried to join in with his voice but it didn’t work out so well…” laughs Bar-Zohar. He explains that Ben-Gurion’s documented visits to concerts were intended for political purposes. “He hosted famous musicians and conductors because it was good for publicity. When the opera in Tel Aviv had its premiere, it was very important for Ben-Gurion to attend and sit in the seats reserved for dignitaries between the American ambassador James McDonald and the Soviet ambassador [Pavel] Yershov. It wasn’t the opera that intrigued him but rather his public appearance alongside the two ambassadors of the bickering superpowers – a gesture of recognition of the young State of Israel by the two important countries. That was more urgent and interesting for Ben-Gurion than all the scenes and singing on stage.”

Ray Charles plays “Hava Nagila” during his visit to Israel. David Ben-Gurion joins in the applause

Despite this, and even though they fell short of paying the monthly rental fees in the early 1930s, the family finally eventually got a piano and it was placed in their house. The eldest child Geula received a score of “excellent” on her certificate of completion for compulsory piano lessons in the second grade, but it seems she didn’t continue to play afterwards.

Geula Ben-Gurion, the eldest daughter, completes her compulsory piano lessons with excellent grades (courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

On the other hand, Renana, the youngest, at the age of 9, wrote to her father abroad: “I will play in a concert soon, in a few days, and for an exam that will take place soon.” As a side note, the little one promised not to desecrate the upcoming workers’ holiday: “My [piano] lesson was supposed to be on May 1st, so I changed it to May 3rd…”

”My lesson was supposed to be on May 1st, so I changed it to May 3rd.” Renana reports to her father (courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

Renana persevered in practicing and studying her music lessons. By the time she was twelve years old, her father, visiting Zurich at the time, bought her a book of Beethoven’s sheet music, a book on the History of Music, and a dress. In his journal, he noted the prices and totaled up the expenses: “Renana, DBG money, gifts.”

“Beethoven, the History of Music, a dress for Renana”. Father Ben-Gurion concludes shopping in Zurich (courtesy: Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

A year passed. In September 1938, her parents were once again abroad for a long trip, and thirteen-year-old Renana sent them a letter: “Hello Mom and Dad… I visited the house. The gardener cut the grass and uprooted all the weeds in honor of Rosh Hashanah… On Wednesday, I’ll start studying at the gymnasium. Since I had to get sheet music, I went to Sara’s and took the house key. The closets are closed, so I ask that you write and tell me where the keys are because I need a raincoat and dresses. It rained in Tel Aviv! And in Haifa, the first rains have already come down.”

Renana went by the house to collect sheet music and reported to her father and mother: “The gardener cut the grass in honor of Rosh Hashanah.” (Courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

How does a piano disappear?

The Ben-Gurion Museum in Tel Aviv recreates how the house looked back when the Prime Minister lived there with his family. The museum staff was enlisted about three years ago to take care of the photo and album collections. While arranging and organizing, an undated envelope was found, and inside it were several photos documenting the interior of the house. One of the pictures showed the living room: the armchairs, the carpet, the coffee table, the pictures on the walls, sculptures, and decorations – all the furnishings and objects that can be found there today. But much to everyone’s surprise, the old photo also showed a grand piano standing in all its glory in the corner of the living room.

The piano was discovered in an old photo (courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and Ben-Gurion Archive)

And here a mystery plot unfolded: on the one hand, the photograph indicated that there was a piano, and based on the other objects in the photo, it appears to have been taken in later years.  On the other hand, the piano was nowhere to be found. How can a piano disappear?

All the documents were rummaged through. In the will that Ben-Gurion wrote about six months before his death, he specifically stated: “I bequeath to the State of Israel my house in Tel Aviv, [the] library and the property inside it with the exception of personal objects and tools, so that they can serve as an institution for reading, study, and research.”

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“”I bequeath and leave to my daughter Renana Ben-Gurion my grand piano as well as my mink cape.” Paula’s will (Courtesy of the Ben-Gurion House and the Ben-Gurion Archive)

If there had been a piano in the house, it was supposed to still be there. Another review of the papers led to Paula’s will. It turns out that Mrs. Ben-Gurion had other plans for the family’s assets: “I bequeath and leave to my daughter Renana Ben-Gurion my grand piano as well as my mink cape,” she instructed in a will written in the spring of 1956. Paula died five years before David, when the couple lived in two homes simultaneously: a house in Tel Aviv and a cabin in Kibbutz Sde Boker.

By the time the museum staff discovered the piano in the photograph, Renana had been dead for over a decade. Her only son, Uri, who never started a family of his own, was living by himself in Tel Aviv and was also no longer a young man. The director of the Ben-Gurion Museum, Nelly Markman, called Uri and asked to visit him. She held out hope that the lost instrument could still be found. After all, Uri lived in the apartment where his mother Renana lived before him, so maybe the piano would be found there. Indeed, her hope was realized, and she recognized the piano in Uri’s living room as the very same one from the photo.

Uri didn’t play piano. He had never played any musical instrument. Aware that when his time would come, the piano could end up in any number of strange places, he agreed and even expressed his desire to return the piano to his grandparents’ house, as a souvenir and a legacy for future generations. Moreover, the grand piano was taking up a lot of room and if it was returned, it would free up some space in the small living room.

That’s when a new problem arose, one that no one could have foreseen: when Renana took the piano as her mother had wished, it was impossible to get it through the stairwell of the shared apartment building, so it was brought into her apartment via the balcony. At some point, the balcony was closed in by a built wall and thus the exit for the piano was now blocked. So what did they do? They knocked on the next-door neighbor’s door and carefully asked: Would you agree to let us move a piano and get it out of the building using your balcony? A little taken aback by the strange request, the neighbors heard the story of this unique piano and its illustrious history and agreed to do their part.

אז אחרי כמעט 50 שנים, הפסנתר של רננה, בתו של דוד בן-גוריון, חזר להאיר את סלון הבית. מוזמנים לראות את תהליך ההרכבה המקוצר, ולקפוץ לבקר כמובן 🙂

פורסם על ידי ‏בית בן-גוריון בתל אביב‏ ב- יום רביעי, 21 ביולי 2021

And so, more or less towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, in an operation that required a Tel Aviv street to be closed down, the cooperation of neighbors in two separate apartments, and one large crane, Renana Ben-Gurion’s piano was brought back to her parents’ house, placed there once again for the complete restoration of the living room of Israel’s first Prime Minister.

סיוון פייבל
The piano is back where it belongs in the restored Ben-Gurion House (photo credit: Sivan Faivel)

A Woman as She Is: The Story of Rachel Katznelson-Shazar

She was a different sort of feminist Zionist leader, establishing an alternative female ideal in the pioneering era of the Zionist Second Aliyah. Alongside widespread social activity, she raised her special child, without shame or concealment, in an era when such a thing was highly unusual. She also found time to edit one of the first Hebrew-language women’s monthlies and win the Israel Prize. Despite this, she is still remembered and commemorated mostly as the “President’s wife.” The time has come to get to know this incredible woman in her own right.


Rachel Katznelson-Shazar. Photo courtesy of Government Press Office

Sixty-six years of a relationship that knew its ups and downs, a daughter with Down’s syndrome, decades of Zionist public activity before and after the founding of the state, ten years in the President’s Residence. Despite this impressive record, the name Rachel Katznelson-Shazar doesn’t mean much to most people, even Israelis, unless she is mentioned alongside her husband – Israel’s third President Zalman Shazar.

But Rachel Katznelson-Shazar was not just “the President’s wife.” She was a woman of many accomplishments and a Zionist leader brave enough to knowingly and deliberately focus on an issue which was then in its infancy and even treated with criticism and contempt: the role of the woman and her importance within the Zionist movement.

Rachel Katznelson was born in 1885 in the city of Bobruisk in Belorussia. This was a city with a clearly Jewish majority, with a rich and varied Jewish life. She herself was born into an established, well-off family that allowed her to acquire a western-style education. But despite a comfortable living, surrounded by a loving family, Rachel was always drawn towards that which was different.

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The synagogue in Bobruisk, Rachel’s hometown. The Institute of Jewish Studies St. Petersburg, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection]

In those days, Zionism was a new, revolutionary movement growing in Europe, attracting younger members of Jewish families. After the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, many Jews were drawn towards the Zionist dream of establishing a Jewish state in the distant Land of Israel, even if the practical realization of that dream remained distant.

Rachel, for whom a long, obstacle-ridden path only served as an incentive, became an enthusiastic Zionist activist, inspiring her relatives to join the cause as well. By the end of the 1930s, all of her close family members had made Aliyah, with the exception of her brother who died before he could leave (his widow and children made Aliyah after his death).

How irregular was this? Rachel said it best: “Of all my 70 cousins, only the children of my father and mother came to the country, another one or two had a peek and left; others did not bother with a peek.”

As befitting the pioneer that she was, Rachel came first, reaching the port of Jaffa in 1912. The country, then under Ottoman rule, was far from a comfortable or easy place to live. The neglected, dusty, and poverty-stricken land was utterly different from any reality she had experienced or known from the wealthy European home she left. But Rachel faced another, no less formidable obstacle in coming to be a Zionist pioneer: she was a woman.

דבר הפועלת, 1948
The spirit of the Hebrew woman – serves as a guarantee for the people as a whole” – A feminist Zionist doctrine? From Dvar Hapo’elet, 1948

On the one hand, it could have been much worse. The pioneers of the Second Aliyah – people like David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharet, and Berl Katznelson – were influenced by socialist ideals that developed almost in parallel to Zionism, and as a result Zionism would become a truly pioneering movement (pun intended) when it came to the status of women.

On the other hand, like any historic change, the struggle of the pioneering Hebrew women for status and recognition was not a smooth one. The female pioneers, most of whom were single and childless, were expected to be completely devoted. Family life and the life of a Zionist pioneer did not go hand in hand. Alongside the Zionist men who believed in women and their ability to become an integral part of the pioneering project, there were many who dismissed them and closed the door in their face. Besides, the men did not want to take an active role in the life of the family and the household, forcing women to face a cruel choice – avoid family life entirely, or leave the rearing of children to nannies or the kibbutz children’s home and entirely disavow the motherly role.

In some places, things were so bad that women took their own lives, unable to cope with the gap between their duties and their desires.

These were Rachel’s first few years in the country, and she experienced every aspect of the pioneering lifestyle: She worked on the farm at Kinneret and other kibbutzim, was a partner in establishing another farm with Berl Katznelson in Jerusalem, and even taught Hebrew at the “Maiden’s Farm” (Havat Ha’Almot) where she was sent shortly after making Aliyah.

This farm was founded by Hana Meisel, an agronomist and pioneer who bought farmland on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, where she trained women in farm labor alongside “normal” household duties.

When Rachel was sent there to serve as a Hebrew teacher, she felt inferior compared to the male immigrants who had also just arrived and who were also teaching Hebrew. She wrote to her close friend Berl Katznelson, who had encouraged her to apply for a teaching position at the farm: “Berl, it’s a hard thing for me to write a letter like the one I wrote to Hana Meisel. I wished her to know that I should not be compared to a real teacher who taught in heder [a traditional Jewish school] and so on. Do it for me. Tell her all this. I’m especially pained at not having gotten around to going over the whole Bible.”

With kibbutz members at the spa at Ma’ale HaHamisha. This picture is part of the Archive Network Israel project, made available thanks to collaboration between the Kibbutz Ma’ale HaHamisha, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

It was in that atmosphere that she started to form her feminist outlook, which differed from those of other women of her generation.

While other Zionist activists like Manya Shochat and Golda Meir believed the ultimate goal was to emulate the successful men around them, Katznelson believed in equal opportunity while also seeing benefit in fundamental differences between men and women, with the idea that it was these differences which would allow female pioneers to contribute even more to Zionist society.

She was especially sad to see how women were pushed aside when they formed families and became mothers: “Is it not absurd that such a young woman, when she enters into a family life, thinks with complete seriousness that she will organize her life as her mother and grandmother did and be happy – serving the children and the husband? Why does her husband organize his life openly and she in concealment? Why is it that he simply lives his life, while she lives only during the breaks – after satisfying the needs of the home, the needs of the child, and his needs? Why is the stream of her life but a side stream?”

Based on that same sense of missed opportunity and public marginalization, the female pioneers of the Second and Third Aliyahs founded the Va’ad Hapo’alot or Female Workers’ Council in 1921, one year after the establishment of the Histadrut or General Organization of Workers in Israel. The council operated under the Histadrut, but with openly feminist goals – with a special emphasis on the image of the Hebrew, Zionist female pioneer.

Meanwhile, alongside her work, Rachel turned to building up her personal life, marrying Zalman Rubashov, the man she loved, in 1920. Her life with Zalman had its ups and downs: Rachel was already in the country as Zalman, who spent much of his life working for the Zionist cause, toured Europe as a Zionist activist and diplomat.

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Rachel with her husband, Zalman. Photo courtesy of Government Press Office

A year after their marriage, Rachel joined her husband in Vienna, where he was appointed a member of the offices of the Poele Zion movement (“Workers of Zion”). It was in Vienna that she gave birth to their only daughter – Roda.

Already from the start, Rachel felt that Roda was not like all the other infants. The “ordinary” difficulties of motherhood combined with Roda’s uniqueness led to a real crisis- for Rachel. “I cannot hide from you,” she wrote Zalman, who was far away on a mission in Berlin. “I live in a nightmare world. Day and also night, there is no rest. My heart is not silent, different thoughts pass and I cannot even let them leave my mouth. I am not afraid of evil, but rather of the hardening of the heart.”

When Roda was three, she was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. The concern and duties of caring for her accompanied the Shazars for the rest of their life. Unlike many others during that period in time, they did not turn their back on their daughter. They did not send her off to be taken care of by someone else, or feel ashamed of her.

Throughout her life, Roda Shazar was treated with love and devotion, but there is no doubt that the difficulties and the sense of missed opportunities left their mark on her mother, Rachel. Although she believed, contrary to most female pioneers of her time, that motherhood was not a handicap but rather a privilege and even a virtue, she was disappointed at the failure of women in getting men to share more of the family burden: “I have long since ceased to see the idyll of the worker’s family life. I see the suffering … the young mother is entirely mired in her private life and she is blind and deaf to the affairs of our lives. This blindness does not mean that she takes excellent care of the child. Every woman feels she is sinning: [not fulfilling her duties] to the child, the home, the floors. She works a great deal and always lists her sins. The woman is an echo of the life of the male comrade.”

The “First Mother”. Rachel Katznelson visiting IDF wounded at Hadassah Hospital. From: the Dan Hadani Archive, the National Library of Israel

In 1924, the Shazars returned home, and Rachel was selected for a position on the cultural committee of the Female Workers’ Council. This was further proof of her uniqueness in the pioneering milieu – she believed culture was an inseparable part of the shaping of Zionist society, just as important as farming and security.

She also consciously chose to remain with the Female Workers’ Council. While other female activists like Golda Meir and Manya Shochat viewed it as nothing but a springboard to the main political arena, Rachel believed that the cause of the female worker was just as important.

After a few years at the Histadrut, she began editing the first edition of Kovetz Divrei Ha’Poalot [“The Collected Words of the Female Workers”]. After its publication, she was even elected to the secretariat of the Female Workers’ Council in 1930. She did all this while she and her husband continued their shared Zionist work in Europe and America.

But in 1934, she left to found a new paper – Dvar Hapo’elet [“The Word of the Female Worker”], and a new era began for Rachel Katznelson-Shazar.

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Already in 1926, Rachel strove to found a paper which would give voice to the women of the Zionist movement, speak in their name and bring more women closer to the Zionist idea and existing institutions in the country.

Journalism and writing were not foreign to the Shazars. Both worked in writing, translating and editing journals or newspapers over the course of their lives. Zalman Shazar wrote the first draft of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, while Rachel edited and collected articles, books, and works of Zionist thought.

In those years, members of the Female Workers’ Council founded Ha’Isha or “The Woman”, an independent publication addressing current events from a female perspective. “The monthly Ha’Isha aims to create a new type of Hebrew woman, who does not see her home and work as an end in itself but rather as part of the public and national building enterprise in general,” read the editorial in the publication’s sixth monthly issue. But the paper did not last long and ultimately closed down.

Now it was replaced by Rachel Shazar’s life’s work – Dvar Hapo’elet. The paper started as a supplement of the leftwing workers’ paper Davar, with the aim of helping it reach new audiences. Only in the early 1950s did it become an independent paper in its own right.

Aside from Rachel, who was the editor-in-chief who brought all the other writers on board, women like Devorah Dayan, Moshe Dayan’s mother, Rivka Aaronsohn, a relation of the founders of the Nili underground, Manya Shochat and more were part of its roster.

All, aside from Rachel who earned a pittance, wrote for free. Rachel considered the paper to be a means for educating women and delivering messages, knowledge, and information to female workers in Israel: “(The female worker) must stress her independence and originality and add to the intellectual culture of the whole movement.”

Rachel speaks at the President’s Residence. Photo: the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Finally, Rachel had found a real home where she felt she could act and express herself freely. After years of public and political activity during which she never felt like she fit in, being forced to adopt male airs or ignoring her feminine traits, she now found her place in the pages of a newspaper, which she would edit for twenty-seven years.

Years passed, and more crises befell the Jewish People at home and abroad. During WWII and the Holocaust, Rachel supported the idea of women enlisting in the British Army, in the hope that their practical participation in the defense of the country and the Jewish community would make its own contribution to advancing their social status.

Once the state was founded, her husband joined the provisional government and served as its Education Minister. He also served in a variety of positions in the Jewish Agency and other Zionist institutions.

Rachel continued to edit the paper while engaging in activism to advance the cause of women. On Israel’s tenth Independence Day in 1958, she received the recognition she so richly deserved when she was awarded the Israel Prize.

Among the reasons for her selection were “…her work among society and its systems, for her work close to fifty years in the field of the educational and cultural absorption of the working woman in the country. She should be seen as the soundboard and the collector of the literary expression of the pioneering woman.”

Rachel Yana’it Ben Zvi (right) speaks to Rachel Katznelson-Shazar at the seventh Workers’ Convention. This photo is part of the Archive Network Israel project and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

In 1963, Zalman Shazar was elected President of Israel, a role he filled for a decade. Rachel continued her public activity alongside him, this time as the President’s wife.

Naturally enough, this role left its mark on how the two were remembered. Rachel Katznelson-Shazar is known today primarily as the wife of the fourth President. But before that, she was an enthusiastic pioneer and Zionist, a journalist and an author, and a staunch feminist in the days when the feminist struggle was still in its infancy. Even if it seems that true equality is still far off, her ideas and writings were the solid foundation from which generations of women set out to pave the path of the Israeli woman for recognition and equality.

The First Night of Captivity: Memories From the Fall of the Jewish Quarter

A text found at the National Library unearthed the story of Aharon Liron, a young soldier captured by the Arab Legion during the battle for Jerusalem's Old City in 1948. Liron was able to document his experiences as he witnessed the fall of the Jewish Quarter.


Aharon Liron is seen in the center of the photograph, on the truck that brought the soldiers from captivity

By Udi Edery

Jerusalem has many names, and even more books have been written about this famous city. When you type the word “Jerusalem” into the search bar on the National Library of Israel website, over a million results come up. Somewhere among them, we came across a Hebrew pamphlet titled “Jerusalem Sinned a Sin” (חטא חטאה ירושלים), containing a manuscript that describes in rare, moving detail the battles for the Old City of Jerusalem during Israel’s War of Independence. It also describes Haganah soldier Aharon Liron’s first night in captivity, following his capture by the Arab Legion when it seized the Jewish Quarter.

The late Aharon Liron was captured by Abdullah al-Tall (sometimes spelled el-Tell), the commander of the Arab Legion in Jerusalem, after the defenders of the Jewish Quarter surrendered on May 28, 1948. An Arab Legion platoon entered the Quarter at about five in the afternoon, to accept the surrender of the Jewish defenders. Aharon was wounded in the fighting. After the uninjured soldiers were transferred from the quarter to “The Kishle” (the old Ottoman police station, built on the ruins of King Herod’s palace), and the residents of the quarter were moved to the area of the Zion Gate, where they were to be handed over to the Palmach, Aharon remained with the rest of the wounded soldiers at “Batei Mahse”, a 19th century apartment complex in the Jewish Quarter. Liron found himself “in a long structure, parallel to the wall [of the Old City]. The building’s rooms and entranceway served as a hospital.”

The Jewish Quarter’s houses on fire

With his memories still fresh, Aharon sat and wrote down everything he remembered from his first night of captivity in the Old City, in extremely vivid detail: “The last rays of the sun have faded on the red-tiled roofs. The walls, gray with age, are shrouded in darkness. The pillars supporting the stone arches cast their shadows on the long entranceway of ‘Batei Mahse’ in Old Jerusalem, and in the shadows of its arches, descending and merging with the walls, we lay on abandoned mattresses, right and left, dozens of wounded soldiers.”

When he opened his eyes and looked outside, he remembered that the first thing he saw was the looting that was taking place in the Jewish houses along the street, and how the soldiers demanded that their captors do something about it. It was at that moment that he realized the Old City had fallen: “First, we protested before our captors and demanded that they disperse the mob. When we saw their indifference, we realized that we had to accept the fact that the houses were no longer in our possession, and what the looters were doing was no longer any of our business.”

The first page of the manuscript “Jerusalem Sinned a Sin” (חטא חטאה ירושלים), written and edited by Aharon Liron

After that, a silence fell on the room, allowing the sounds of gunshots and exploding shells to creep in from the fighting that was still ongoing in the distance. Aside from the wounded soldiers, the others appeared indifferent. Aharon recalled that one of the guards leaned his rifle against the door and seemed to be dozing off. Nurses, in their pristine white uniforms, entered and left the rooms freely as they tended to the wounded. “One of them walked slowly among the injured soldiers and hung an oil lamp on a nail in the wall.”

They began to accept the situation, and even started dozing off, but then they began hearing different sounds coming from outside. Not shelling, but cries of revelry, which seemed to be getting closer. In the beginning, the captives were alarmed: “We thought we were hallucinating, hearing voices, but then they became clearer and louder. Then we heard the clear, monotonous sounds of cheering. The villagers of the surrounding area surged toward the Old City when they heard that the Jewish Quarter had been seized.” The Arab Legion officer shot twice in the air and dispersed the crowd. Then, when Aharon thought they were safe from danger, he noticed a reddish glow outside, which was getting brighter.

“Fighters of the Old City, 1948” – a pin awarded to Aharon Liron

A burning house! Another house was set on fire and then another one! They were setting fire to the quarter. We looked at the light flickering on the walls and were silent. I thought to myself: ‘My mother and father must be standing on the balcony of our apartment on Jaffa Street in new Jerusalem, watching the flames and fearing for my life. Who knows what they’re thinking?'”

As he watched the flames flicker on the wall and thought about his family, several doctors and soldiers suddenly entered the room, bringing with them Rabbi Mordechai Weingarten and his two daughters. They updated the soldiers about the efforts to evacuate the Jews from the quarter, the attacks and the shooting, and told them that the fire was raging throughout the entire Jewish Quarter. By the end of the night, they would also have to evacuate the captives from the area.

Yehudit, the Rabbi’s daughter, then issued a plea: “Anyone who has a hand or a leg to help, let them come and help!” Their mission was clear. During the fighting, the big iron gate of Batei Mahse was blocked up with stone, and if the obstacle wasn’t cleared in time, they wouldn’t be able to leave the quarter in one piece. Aharon documented how they performed the task:

Aharon and the prisoners in the detention camp in Jordan, waiting for their release

By the light of an oil lamp, we carried away the stones, one after another, but we weren’t very strong. And then, the Arab Legionnaires joined the effort. We worked together. But all of a sudden, we heard pounding on the iron gate, curses, and threats of gunfire.” An angry mob outside demanded the Legionnaires hand over the Jews, but the Legion officer in place chased them off through a side alley, firing at them until he succeeded, once again, in scaring them away. “We watched them anxiously. The Legion soldiers alone dealt with the removal of the stones.”

Aharon would never forget the sight of destruction that met his eyes when the captives were led in threes from Batei Mahse. “The Jewish Quarter was illuminated by the flames that destroyed its buildings… The scene looked as though it was taken from ‘The Scroll of Fire’ by Bialik. ‘All night the seas of flame raged and tongues of fire leapt scorching over the Temple Mount.’ We looked at everything, tormented by the destruction we saw, trying to burn in our memories the sight of every house and every corner.”

“The First Night of Captivity in Ancient Jerusalem”, Aharon Liron’s text

Aharon, who was wounded, was taken from the Jewish Quarter to the Armenian school. On Sunday morning, he and the rest of the captives were taken out of the city through the Lions’ Gate, and placed on a convoy of trucks that took them to Amman, and then to a detention camp in Jordan. He described, with profound sadness, the last time he saw Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, on his way to Jordan: “It was three days since our surrender, and from the Mount of Olives, we saw the Jewish Quarter’s synagogues, full of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, rising in flames. I sang in my heart the song of Avigdor HaMeiri, ‘From the top of Mount Scopus, I will bow to you, from the top of Mount Scopus, Shalom Jerusalem.'”

Aharon Liron was a prisoner of war in Jordan for a period of nine months and one week. He was released on March 3, 1949. After being freed, he worked in education and studied the history of Christianity in the Land of Israel. He wrote books about this subject and about the battles for Jerusalem in 1948. Aharon Liron passed away in 2010. After contacting his widow Sarah and daughter Yardena, Sarah sent us his memoirs, while Yardena helped us find the photo of the pin he was awarded and the images of her father as a POW.