Who Was the Soldier Who Pleaded for His Life in David Grossman’s Classic Book?

A signed copy of David Grossman's book, "To the End of the Land", reveals the link between the author's pain over the death of his son and a tragic event that happened fifty years ago. This is the story of how Grossman made use of rare recordings from the Yom Kippur War in an attempt to ease the burden of a harsh reality

David Grossman (photo by Kobi Kalmanovich) and a soldier praying during the Yom Kippur War (photo by Avi Simchoni) courtesy of David Grossman and the IDF Archives

David Grossman’s note to Yossi Rivlin, in the book Isha Borakhat Me-Bsora (To the End of the Land)

To Yossi –

With fond memories from the radio –

And in great friendship

David Grossman

May 4, 2008


At first glance, this handwritten note scribbled by David Grossman in a copy of his novel, To the End of the Land, appears unremarkable. A few words from an esteemed author to a former colleague at the Kol Yisrael radio station. But behind this seemingly ordinary dedication hides an extraordinary story. Its beginning goes back to the first terrible hours of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and it ends with Grossman’s epilogue in his masterpiece To the End of the Land, published thirty-five years later, after the death of his son Uri in the Second Lebanon War.

While sitting at home and reading Grossman’s book shortly after its release, Yossi Rivlin was struck by a passage that sounded very familiar to him, but he couldn’t remember from where:

“Hello, hello? Anyone left? […] Why doesn’t anyone answer?…What is this, are you playing with me? Over, over, over,” Avram mumbled hopelessly.


“And I need clean water and bandages,” Avram mumbled, exhausted. “This thing stinks. It’s a rag…Hello? Hello? Can’t hear. Why would you hear, you assholes. Well, if you don’t hear, you’ll soon smell, with this wound. Gangrene for sure, fuckit.”


“Plant, this is Peach.” A new voice rose dimly over a rattling engine sound. “We’ve been hit on Lexicon 42. We have casualties, requesting evacuation.”

“Peach, um, this is Plant. Copy. Sending evacuation momentarily, over.”

“Plant, this is Peach. Thanks, waiting, just hurry ’cause it’s kind of a mess here.”

Peach, this is Plant. We are handling, we are handling, out.”


“Hello, hello, answer me, you sons of bitches, you quislings. You left me here to die? How could you leave me to die?”


In the background, Avram sang vigorously, “My sukkah is a delight – with greenery and lights!” and the radio operator hummed along with him, bobbing his head to the rhythm. “Listen to him. Thinks he’s on Sesame Street or something.”

The song broke into a groan of pain.

(David Grossman, To the End of the Land, trans. Jessica Cohen, New York: Vintage International, 2010, p. 549-552)

David Grossman, To the End of the Land, trans. Jessica Cohen, New York: Vintage International, 2010

For hours Yossi racked his brain until he finally recalled the event that took place two decades earlier.

It was back in the 1980s, when Yossi was working as a reporter for Kol Yisrael radio. He was tasked with doing the research and then handing over the material to more senior journalists who would turn what he had found into a news item. Always on the lookout for a good story, one day a co-worker mentioned man named Avi Yaffe. Avi was a recording technician who lived in Jerusalem and had some rare and interesting recordings in his possession. In late September of 1973, Avi was called up for army reserve duty and he brought along a large Nagra tape recorder thinking that he would be able to listen to music and maybe also document the unique atmosphere that prevailed in the military outposts Israel had erected along the Suez Canal.

But Avi had no idea that within a few days war would break out and that he would find himself at the frontlines of the fighting, stationed at the “Purkan” outpost on the banks of the canal. The Egyptian attack began with an intense artillery barrage directed at these Israeli military positions, as Egyptian soldiers began to cross into Sinai. Instead of listening to music, Avi used the machine to record the communications during the war’s first few hours between the headquarters in the rear and the heavily bombarded frontline outposts, including his own.

Avi Yaffe with his Nagra tape recorder, from a personal photo album

Yossi went to see Avi. In a long and painful interview, he listened to Avi’s chilling stories about the early days of the Yom Kippur War on the southern front, and how he had managed to save himself and the four tapes he had recorded.

From among Avi Yaffe’s stories about that frightening time, Yossi could not shake off one story in particular – about Sergeant Max Maman, a reservist trapped in one of the outposts that was being battered by Egyptian artillery and his pleas over the radio for backup. Those at the headquarters tried to calm him knowing that there was nothing they could do. The helplessness in his voice, his pleas that went unanswered – it was unbearably hard to listen to. So much so that Avi eventually turned off the tape recorder because he simply couldn’t continue listening to the voice of the soldier begging to be rescued, knowing that his fate was already sealed.

Sgt. Max Maman

Here is a transcript of that recording from the “Hizion” outpost. Sergeant Max Maman, codename “Troublemaker”, is in communication with the contact post, codename 22:

“22, Troublemaker here, urgent, over.”

“22 here, over.”

“Troublemaker here. They’re firing at the outpost with artillery, we have to destroy them, over.”

“Endless tanks, endless, need immediate assistance, urgent, aerial, artillery cover, help us, over.”

“Everything will be OK, hang in there, things are a bit difficult but it’s not too bad, over.”

“Troublemaker here, over. I hope you are right, I also hope you get here fast with the air support, because there is no possibility to even lift up our heads here, over.”

“Attention, they’re coming at me through the gate, I’m asking, uh… artillery through the gate…”

“Voices from the Inferno” – part one of a special program produced by Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, based on recordings from the Yom Kippur War (Hebrew)

It’s a gut-wrenching experience to hear Sergeant Maman’s trembling voice over the radio transmitter asking over and over again for help, and the evasive response from the headquarters.

In another recording, from Avi Yaffe’s outpost, one can hear singing. One of the soldiers starts off with “Hava nagila, hava nagila, hava nagila venis’mecha” – let us rejoice and be glad – and the others join in. The singing sounds almost macabre against the background of gunfire, explosions and calls for help coming from the outposts around them. But, when you think about the impossible reality they found themselves in, this song must have provided some kind of relief from the tension and sense of helplessness.

What does all this have to do with David Grossman? Yossi and Grossman worked together in the 1980s at Kol Yisrael radio’s Reshet Bet station, where Grossman was a broadcaster. Grossman used Yossi’s research and Avi’s recordings for a special report about the Yom Kippur War and the difficult decisions those few soldiers were forced to make while under heavy fire in the outposts along the canal. The program, broadcast on the eve of Yom Kippur 1987, was very well received.

Yossi eventually left his radio job, became a writer and published a number of works of fiction. David Grossman went on to become one of Israel’s most celebrated authors.

Years later, David Grossman’s son, Uri, was killed together with his entire tank crew in the last few hours of the Second Lebanon War, in August of 2006.

Grossman wrote To the End of the Land years before his son’s death.  But in the epilogue, he writes about the book’s close connection to Uri and his death:

Uri was very familiar with the plot and the characters. Every time we talked on the phone, and when he came home on leave, he would ask what was new in the book and in the characters’ lives. (“What did you do to them this week?” was his regular question) […] At the time I had the feeling – or rather, a wish – that the book I was writing would protect him. […] After we finished sitting shiva, I went back to the book. Most of it was already written. What changed, above all, was the echo of the reality in which the final draft was written.

David Grossman’s epilogue in To the End of the Land

While reading To the End of the Land, Yossi remembered that broadcast about the lone soldier stuck in the outpost, begging for help during the Yom Kippur War. He decided that he had to ask Grossman about it.

But Grossman rarely discussed his new book in public, and even if he was able to attend an event with the writer, Yossi wasn’t sure Grossman would even remember him.

When Yossi heard that Grossman was scheduled to appear at the Tmol Shilshom café in Jerusalem, he decided to try his luck and meet with him. At the end of the event, Yossi sheepishly raised his hand and asked Grossman whether it was possible that a certain section in the book was based on the broadcast they had both worked on many years before. Shading his eyes from the glare of the lights, Grossman looked out into the audience, then stood up and walked over to Yossi, a giant smile on his face:

“’Yossi?’ he asks me. ‘Yes,’ I answer… and he says: ‘Yes! Of course! It’s from your broadcast!’”

Both of them were overcome with emotion, and at the end of the evening, David Grossman inscribed the copy of the book that Yossi had brought with him, a memento from a uniquely tragic yet oh-so Israeli story.

To the End of the Land tells about the reality of life in Israel. A reality that cannot be avoided, a reality in which war, bereavement and PTSD are an inseparable part of life. Grossman’s story had proved prescient in a most personal way.

In the story about a woman trying to escape bitter news, a scenario which haunts everyone who lives in this country that has known its fair share of wars, Grossman included his and Yossi Rivlin’s broadcast about those rare recordings from the early days of the Yom Kippur War. At the end of the book, the reader is left not knowing whether she succeeded or not. What we do know is that Grossman could not escape his own tragic news, the death of his son Uri, killed on the last day of the Second Lebanon War.

Uri Grossman, son of author David Grossman, killed on the last day of the Second Lebanon War together with his tank crew (family photo album)

But perhaps Grossman was able to do for Ora, the book’s heroine, what he was not able to do for himself and for his own son. He did the very thing that all the soldiers who listened to Max Maman’s pleas from the outpost on that day and those who listened with dread to the tapes years later could not do. In the book, he chose to save the character Avram, the soldier stuck in the outpost. Yet while Avram survived, he was not spared the post-trauma that many of those who made it through the war suffer from.

On the last page of the book, Grossman does one more thing – perhaps the only thing one can do for those who are gone. He offers the possibility of the existence of hope:

“(…) I thought that if we both talked about him, if we kept talking about him, we’d protect him, together, right?”

“Yes, yes that’s true, Ora, you’ll see –”

“But maybe it’s the exact opposite?”

“What? What’s the opposite?” he whispers.

[…] She grips his arm: “I want you to promise me.”

“Yes, whatever you want.”

“That you’ll remember everything.”

Yes, you know I will.”

(David Grossman, To the End of the Land, trans. Jessica Cohen, New York: Vintage International, 2010, p. 650)


Grossman’s decision not to shelve the book after his son’s death, may also have been a decision to choose hope.

For more on the rare recordings from the Yom Kippur War, and what transpired in the outposts in its first few days, watch the series produced by Kan 11 (Hebrew): part one, part two and part three. Information about those recordings is also available on Avi Yaffe’s website, and in his recently published book (Hebrew) documenting the complete story: Shovakh Yonim (“dovecote”, the codename for the outbreak of the war).

The two volumes of Shovakh Yonim, Avi Yaffeh’s book on fighting in the Suez Canal outposts during the Yom Kippur War

Crowdsourcing History: Moshe David Gaon’s Efforts to Document Sephardic Jewry

Moshe David Gaon realized that the contributions of Sephardic Jews had been overlooked by historians, well before it dawned on others. He dedicated his professional life to making things right. His personal archive, a collection of critical significance to Jewish history and culture, is preserved today at the National Library of Israel

Scholar Moshe David Gaon in 1907

When imagining a historian, people might think of a lone individual hunched over old documents, fragile archives, or ancient manuscripts. There is some truth to this generalization, but it does not do justice to the collaborative work that makes historical writing possible. Historians build on what has been written by experts before, and they maintain ongoing communication with peers in the field or laypeople with information. Moreover, historians participate in ongoing conversations, sometimes conversations that occur over generations. Today’s historian attempts to answer a question raised by one of her teachers by gathering information from a wide range of people and sources.

This is doubly true for scholars who work to create a new field of study. One such scholar is Moshe David Gaon (1889-1958), a pioneering but underappreciated researcher who revolutionized the study of Sephardic Jewry in the Land of Israel as well as the history of the Ladino language and its journalism. Born in Bosnia, he spent much of his life in the Land of Israel, as an educator, publicist, scholar, and communal leader.

Moshe David Gaon dedicated his professional life to documenting Sephardic Jewry. His archive is preserved at the National Library of Israel.

His contribution is more impressive given the context and history of academic Jewish studies, which began in the 19th-century in German-speaking lands. This tradition – known as Wissenschaft des Judentums – worked to present Judaism as on par with the greatest aspects of European culture, and it tended to emphasize the contributions of Judaism to the West and to Europe. Modern Sephardic Jewry was often ignored or looked down upon as unsophisticated. The Zionist historians, mostly from Eastern Europe, who began working in the first half of the twentieth century, emphasized the contributions of European Jews to the nascent Zionist movement, but tended to downplay the continuous history of Sephardic Jewish settlement in the Land, as well as Sephardic contributions to the modern renewal of Jewish life in Palestine.

Gaon, among others, insisted on a correction. But that correction was hard to implement. After a century of work, Wissenschaft had already created a basic infrastructure for the study of the past, including bibliography, networks of scholars, and journals. But Sephardic Jewish studies were way behind the curve.

Central, then, to Gaon’s project was gathering and creating new sources of knowledge, and this meant reaching out to sources of information far and wide. His extensive archive reflects the work he did in creating a bibliography, particularly of important Ladino newspapers. It documents his groundbreaking work on the influential Ladino Biblical commentary, Me’am Loez. Gaon published works of Sephardic Hebrew poetry, and he gathered biographies of influential Sephardic Rabbis. His most important work is Yehudei HaMizrah BeEretz Yisrael (1928), a compendium of information on Sephardic Jewry in the Land of Israel. It remains an important reference work today, and it has been reprinted several times. In that work, he emphasized the importance of Sephardic Jewry in the establishment of an economically productive but religiously observant Yishuv in the land of Israel.

He could not have done any of this alone, and part of what he set out to accomplish was creating a network of scholars, knowledgeable laypeople, and community members who would all contribute to an ongoing conversation that would give Sephardic Jewry the pride of place it deserved. His archive is full of his ongoing correspondence, some of which was haphazard, but some was a more systematically designed effort to gather information and share ideas.

A letter sent by Moshe David Gaon to “the distinguished author and journalist Mr. Joseph Anjil”, requesting him to provide the names of editors of various Ladino newspapers, 1953, the Moshe David Gaon Archive at the National Library of Israel


Abraham Recanati provides names of newspaper editors, after he was asked a series of questions similar to those seen in the above letter, 1953, the Moshe David Gaon Archive at the National Library of Israel

Some of Gaon’s efforts focused on making connections with those who shared his agenda, for example several written exchanges with an older contemporary, Shlomo Rosanes, who likewise believed that Sephardic Jewry had not been researched adequately. Gaon asked Rosanes for help with publishing and publicizing his own work, but more importantly used Rosanes as a source of information, particularly about Ladino newspapers and the lives of Sephardic Jews who had moved to the Land of Israel in the 19th century.

Gaon also wanted to document information held by the general public, and in the 1930s he systematically sent questionnaires to hundreds of public figures of Sephardic background, asking them about their own lives, the path that their families took to the Land of Israel, and the communities they came from. Some responded briefly and laconically, while others provided elaborate personal and family histories. These questionnaires provided important background for Yehudei HaMizrah Be’eretz Yisrael. In one exchange in late 1930, Rabbi Joseph Haim Illos of Tiberias provided a complete life history of his own illustrious father, the recently deceased Rabbi Eliyahu Illos (1860-1929), who had come to Tiberias from Morocco as a young man. Gaon was particularly interested in figures who moved to Palestine prior to the Ashkenazi Zionist movement.

A letter written by Rabbi Joseph Haim Illos to Moshe David Gaon in 1930 in which he provides a complete life history of his own illustrious father, the recently deceased Rabbi Eliyahu Illos, who had come to Tiberias from Morocco as a young man, the Moshe David Gaon Archive at the National Library of Israel

Gaon’s posthumous Bibliography of Ladino Periodicals (a basic reference work today) was itself a kind of crowdsourcing project. Letters from around the Ladino-speaking world, whether from communities in the Balkans or from dentists in Tel Aviv, provide names of editors, information on the number of issues of each paper, or documentation of dates on which publications began or ceased. As he insisted in his Introduction to the Bibliography: “I avoided relying on rumor, trusting instead only eyewitnesses. I wanted to base this work on facts and documents that could not be questioned.” After Gaon’s death, completing the work and bringing it to publication continued as a group effort, by staff at the Ben-Zvi Institute, the National Library of Israel, and by Gaon’s friend and colleague Moshe Kattan.

Gaon also kept his finger on the pulse of current events, asking colleagues for documentation of their own experiences in real time. When, in 1934, a man in the city of Basra in Iraq claimed to be the Messiah, Gaon immediate brought his letter-writing skills to bear on documenting the event.  Writing in the name of the Sephardic Community Council, Gaon insisted on getting as much information as possible about the man, his motivations and the community’s response to his messianic pretentions.

What is his name, his age, his birthplace, who are his parents, and what was his job? The man’s habits interest me greatly. It is important to clarify the factors that led him to reveal himself as Messiah, and how did he prophecy. Do some believe in him, and how did the Jews and the community leaders respond to him? Have government officials gotten involved?

He was not asking only out of curiosity. With a sense of urgency, he saw this correspondence as key to his role as historian. “I hope that you do not disappoint me and as soon as you receive this letter you respond so that we can fully document this event and determine the place of this man in the history of Israel, whether for praise or blame.” If the community responded, I did not find that response in the archive, leaving us less knowledgeable of this event and its aftermath.

Which only demonstrates the value of wide-ranging communication in documenting history. Scholars operating alone know what they know. People with knowledge sharing and communicating create a community of knowledge and change how people view the world. As the Mishnah states (Avot, 4:1): “Who is wise? One who learns from every person”.



The Moshe David Gaon Archive is being cataloged and will be made accessible thanks to the kind donation of the Samis Foundation, Seattle, Washington, dedicated to the memory of Samuel Israel.







Drawing a New Life in the New Jewish State

Refugee boats, transit camps and immigrant neighborhoods – Artist David Friedmann arrived in Israel in 1949 from Czechoslovakia after surviving harrowing experiences during the Holocaust. In celebration of Israel’s 75th Birthday, his daughter Miriam, who was born in the Jewish state a year later, shares his stories and artworks documenting those early months in Israel

"A Street in Hadar Yosef", by David Friedmann

My father David Friedman(n) 1893-1980, a prolific artist and Holocaust survivor, recorded his experiences in words, artwork and albums. He is renowned for his most important contribution — an art series depicting scenes he witnessed from deportation with his family from Prague to the Lodz Ghetto, further to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the death march to liberation at Blechhammer in January 1945. His wife Mathilde and young daughter Mirjam-Helene did not survive. He returned to Prague to begin a new life, one without family. The strongest will of mankind, the will to live, gave him the power to start again from scratch.

He immersed himself in drawing and painting the scenes torn from his memory and held exhibitions to show his art to the world. Then a communist coup was carried out in February 1948, and shortly thereafter Czechoslovakia became a brutal communist dictatorship. The State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948. David Friedmann married fellow survivor Hildegard Taussig two weeks later at the Old-New Synagogue in Prague. Their marriage began at a refugee’s pace as they planned to flee.

Friends and family, mostly survivors of concentration camps, celebrate the Jewish wedding of David and Hildegard Friedmann on May 27, 1948. Karl Taussig, Hilde’s father stands left of the bride. Roman Chudy, who made the wedding rings, is right of the groom. Directly behind them is author František Kraus wearing a white hat, and his wife Alice.

I was born in Israel and named after my half-sister. My father made it his business to ensure his daughter would know her history. Several days after I was born in 1950, he wrote a diary for me, Tagebuch für Mirjam Friedmann (Diary for Miriam Friedmann). One senses his joy when compiling a photo album with handwritten and typed captions about his new life in a new country with Hilde and baby Miriam. The photo album also reflects a significant part of Israel’s founding history — the emigration of survivor immigrants starting over again with nothing but their strong will to survive and build a new life after the Holocaust. The immigrants were brought to an absorption center and crowded into tents without electricity and running water. The sanitary conditions were poor. They were exposed to rain and cold during the winter months and heat in the summer. Nevertheless, the survivors were free and eager to move forward.

Thus, the photo album was no ordinary creation. My father displayed artwork and typed stories of the first year in his new country. The drawings depicted three scenes after arriving in July 1949 in the tent city Shaar Ha’Aliyah by Haifa, and then Raanana. He enjoyed producing portraits and painting throughout Israel from 1950 to 1954, when our family left for America. David Friedmann captured the colorful landscape and experiences from the beginnings of the Jewish state. I hope to preserve my father’s artwork in an Israel museum for future generations to enjoy as much as me.


“After the Hasty Departure From Prague to Israel in July 1949”

(The following text was written by David Friedmann. It has been edited compiled and translated from German by his daughter Miriam Friedman Morris)

I was elated to read in the Prague Jewish newsletter that the State of Israel had been founded and that all Jews were called to immigrate as soon as possible, it was a land of freedom and many possibilities. Indeed, many of our friends and acquaintances immigrated. After experiencing more than our share of aggravation with the communists in every regard, Hilde and I decided to do the same.

The War Museum committee wanted to buy some of my paintings and they offered a good price. I was sitting down with high-ranking military men at the desk, and they told me how proud I could be that my works would be displayed in their museum. But my answer was no, I needed the works to be on exhibit in Israel and as they heard that, they jumped from their chairs so fast I became terrified. I said I am very sorry, but I cannot sell my paintings. A few minutes later they told me it would be all right for me to take my paintings home. However, by the look on their faces I could tell they were very angry.

I got into trouble over the artwork and the Czech government ordered an “export prohibition”. But I found an important official, himself an artist, and for 1000 Kc all the works were marked with a government stamp and this is how I was able to save my paintings for Israel. I arranged for a lift (a large wooden storage container) with a transport agency and the paintings along with furniture and belongings were shipped to Israel. Meanwhile we were registered for emigration.

Although we had prepared for a year, our hasty departure from Prague in July 1949 to Israel felt like fleeing. We had to leave an apartment with three rooms plus kitchen and hall, all with the most modern comfort. The Czech government permitted us to take only the equivalent of 2½ Israeli pounds, so you can imagine how difficult it was to start all over with nothing. However, our strong will to survive gave us enormous strength. After certain difficulties we reached the Czech border. The officers asked me where my paintings were and I told them they were in Prague. They searched all through our luggage, but finally believed me and let us go. We were joyful to have escaped the communists and had to sign that we renounced our Czech citizenship and never would return to this country. We changed to an Austrian train with Russian guards with extended bayonets. When the train passed the border, headed for Vienna, we fell to our knees, we were so happy to be free again, this time from the communists. On the Italian train soldiers bolted the doors. We were not allowed to leave the train for drinking water at the stops. The Italians behaved disgracefully towards us.

Therefore, not until Naples when we boarded the Israeli ship Eilath did we truly feel free.

On board the Eilath July 17, 1949, a drawing from the David Friedmann series, My Journey from Naples to Israel July 12, 1949 (with the ship Eilath) and my Journey from Israel to New York Oct. 22, 1954 with the SS Jerusalem


On the Eilath, on the way to Israel July 12, 1949, a drawing from the David Friedmann series, My Journey from Naples to Israel July 12, 1949 (with the ship Eilath) and my Journey from Israel to New York Oct. 22, 1954 with the SS Jerusalem

I earned my first Israeli pounds making some portrait drawings. The ship machines made a deafening noise. At night it was impossible to sleep a wink and our hammocks swung considerably. Most of the people slept on deck. The view of Haifa harbor was fantastic and I only wished I could paint it, regretfully this never came about. Then came the registration formalities. We were asked by an official if we belonged to a political party and we answered, “Zionist” and then he asked my age, and I replied 56 years, at which point he pronounced “not employable”. This astounded me and I said to Hilde in Czech, “How stupid this fellow is, he has no idea of my ability”.

Then we were loaded with our baggage on trucks and brought to the reception camp for newcomers “Shaar Ha’Aliyah” (The Gate of Immigration), a few kilometers from Haifa. Guards opened the gates and closed them behind us. Astonished, we saw we were surrounded by high barbed wire fences. Nobody was allowed to leave the camp without permission. We were strongly reminded of the Nazi concentration camps.

Two Inmates of the Lodz Ghetto Walking by the German Fence, charcoal, 1947. From the David Friedmann art series, Because They Were Jews! Copyright © 1989 Miriam Friedman Morris


Feeding Time in Auschwitz, charcoal 1964. From the David Friedmann art series, Because They Were Jews! Copyright © 1989 Miriam Friedman Morris

However, we were happy to no longer be exposed to communist antisemitism. As in the First World War and the Hitler years, I knew in advance I would survive. Each time I started over with nothing and now in Israel, I was sure I could succeed again with Hilde’s help. I still had ample reserves of energy at that time, as well as the necessary knowledge and ability in my profession as artist, painter and craftsman.

Shaar Ha’Aliyah by Haifa, charcoal, July 1949, drawing placed in a family album

In Shaar Ha’Aliyah we were registered again, then examined for lice, powdered with DDT. Furthermore, we had to go barefoot through a milky liquid, probably also this DDT substance. I was very angry about all of this, however, we had to hold out. In the camp we searched for a free tent and there were plenty. The camp was dirty, stinking, and the food was terrible. We got food out of giant pails, standing in long rows, like with the Nazis. But the State of Israel was hardly one year old, and we knew over the years all would become better. We persevered with the help of Hilde’s sister (Else Taussig Löwy) and after one week we were transferred to the Beth Olim camp near Ranaana, where we also obtained a free tent. We received two iron bedsteads and straw sacks, which had been urinated on, one linen sheet for each, as well as an old gray blanket. We brought our baggage into the tent – and so began our new life.

The second day after our arrival in Shaar Ha’Aliyah, I found an opening in the barbed wire fence. Cautiously, I crawled my way out to freedom, having arranged with Hilde that I would be back some days later. In Haifa it was imperative I look up an old friend I knew from Berlin. I climbed on the bus to Haifa and looking at the advertising signs there, found his name written underneath. I went into the shop and the owner gave me the home address. I found him and he was very surprised and I became his guest. He gave me work and paid for sketches and portrait drawings. Wiser and with more money, I returned to my beloved Hilde, who was quite worried about me.

Out of the Transit Camp, Shaar Ha’Aliyah by Haifa, drawing placed in a family album

Now, Hilde could not stand it any longer. After ten years she finally wanted to see her sister who was living in Tel Aviv. Hilde knew where Else worked and the next day she took the bus there and immediately found Café Katz, on Ben Yehuda Street, known across Tel Aviv. Hilde sat herself down by a table. As Else began to pass her by carrying a tray of cups full of coffee, she recognized Hilde and let the whole tray drop to the floor, making a mighty crash. As the sisters kissed and held each other, the guests all clapped.

The Beth Olim tent camp. The town of Raanana is concealed behind the hills in the background. August 1949, drawing placed in a family album

Beth Olim was a lively place full of screaming children. New immigrants from all over the world streamed into Israel, for example from Czechoslovakia alone there were 15,000. Everyone was crowded together because space was lacking and so a Belgian couple joined us in our tent, though they were pleasant people. Our new camp also had a fence because of the many children; however, it was without barbed wire and everyone could go in and out. For this reason, we often went to the city of Ranaana and met very nice people who ordered portraits or posters from me. We also went to the café where we could dance and have a wonderful time. After weeks of living in tight quarters a tzrif (wooden shack) became available. The tzrif was lightly constructed of crude planks. We were ordered by the administration to move in and we were very happy and finally, we also became Israeli citizens.

Hilde’s father Karl Taussig and second wife Elza, and child Judita immigrated to Israel before us — but only because of my urging did they register, otherwise they would still be in Prague today. Through an agency, his daughter Else found him a position in his vocation as chemist at the well-known company “Mekorot” where he worked as a water specialist until he retired. For all of us a very good beginning.

Karl Taussig, Hilde and Miriam Friedmann, Judita and Elza Taussig, Ramat Amidar, March 1952


Karl Taussig, Miriam and Hilde Friedmann and Judita Taussig, Ramat Amidar, March 1952

I can no longer recall all we experienced in Raanana, yet I would like to mention one occurrence that happened during a terrible rainstorm. The storm surprised us in the night, it poured in buckets, something like this we had never experienced. The rain washed under the barracks, the water flowed inside, and we all sprang up, because it reached the rim of the bed. However, this was not the end of it, as in charged a new heavy gale and the barracks tipped over on the side of another barracks. Now we ran out in our nightclothes and got soaking wet of course, before waiting out the rest of the storm with one of our neighbors. After a few hours we were able to return to our wet home. It was no longer possible to think of sleep, everything was drenched. In the early morning we carried our things to dry out in the sun.

For the long run, we did not want to live in a tent or shack. We looked at various possible apartments, but none pleased us. Then we were told in a short time a new village near Tel Aviv was planned and we could register if we had the 250 pounds down payment and the monthly rent of 6 pounds. However, we needed to hurry because a great number had already been sold. We were shown the building plans and the name of the place: Hadar Yosef, only 20 minutes from Tel Aviv.

At last, after a seven-month waiting period, we received news from the building administration we could claim our home. This was again a wonderful moment as we were loaded on the truck together with our luggage and we began the trip to Hadar Yosef.

Hadar Yosef. 1950 Pen-and-ink drawing. From 1950 to 1954, the Friedmann family lived in this residential neighborhood of Tel Aviv, in the northeastern part of the city. The artist produced drawings and painted landscapes in and around Hadar Yosef and the nearby Yarkon River


View from the Friedmann family one-room apartment at Amidar 1, Hadar Yosef. Oil.

I telephoned Haifa and authorized the movers to transport our lift from storage in Tel Aviv to Hadar Yosef. In the meantime, we had to sleep on the bare floor, but this did not bother us at all. In the container was furniture for a one-room apartment with kitchen appliances and dishes, my pictures painted after liberation in 1945, including a large amount of (artist’s) material and my violin. After unpacking, we moved forward to the next phase of our life in Israel.

A street in Hadar Yosef, survivors from Europe and those who spent the war years in Shanghai lived in Hadar Yosef. Oil.


A Street in Hadar Yosef. Oil.


Jaffa Beach. Oil. In the background is Tel Aviv, 1952.

I had spoken with Hilde about having a child even back in Prague. This wish was not fulfilled until a year later in Israel. This completed our happiness because a child was yet missing.

Our wish became reality, for our beloved Miriam was born!!! Then together with our Miriam, life truly began in our new home, giving a new meaning to our life cycle, and this experience seems to have no end! These baby and childhood years were the most beautiful of our lives!!!

Miriam with her father David Friedmann, Hadar Yosef, 1952


Miriam with her mother Hildegard Taussig Friedmann, Hadar Yosef, 1952


Recognize the girl portrayed by David Friedmann in 1954? This is among numerous portraits he painted and sketched in Israel


David Friedmann in a commercial art studio in Tel Aviv, 1951. He contributed to the founding of Israel’s advertising industry. Every spare moment he painted for himself producing a large collection of paintings, drawings and portraits in Israel.


The Nazi regime nearly eradicated every trace of David Friedmann, but they did not succeed. Searching for lost art is gratifying and a priceless view into his life. I carry-on with my father’s mission to show his Holocaust art to the world. My goal is to continue to publicize his work through exhibitions, books and film to preserve his legacy for future generations. A new Holocaust documentary by Emmy Award Winner John Rokosny is currently in production with the working title, The Art and Survival of David Friedmann.

Photographs and artwork: The Miriam Friedman Morris Collection, New York

For more about David Friedmann and to provide information you may have about existing works, please visit: www.davidfriedmann.org or the “David Friedmann—Artist As Witness” Facebook page.

Moments in Time: A Journey to the First Days of the State of Israel

As Israel’s 75th Independence Day approaches, we take a look at the achievements and challenges of the young country, portrayed through a variety of moments: first steps on Israel’s soil; water pipes breaking through the heart of a desert; meetings between languages and cultures. Moments of joy and creation, difficulty and coping, but mostly seeing how so many individuals joined together to create something beautiful: Israel

Ulpan Lesson with Efraim Kena'an, Photographer: Yosef Drenger, Nadav Mann, BITMUNA, from the collection of Joseph Dranger, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

When the Visitor’s Centre at the National Library of Israel decided to put together a photographic exhibition in honor of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, everyone was excited and eager to share their ideas. Each member of the team, a native Israeli or someone who has chosen to live in this country, had different aspects of society that they wanted to show off in the photographs. The big question was how to make something that represented each person’s love and reverence of Israel while also creating something collective and whole.

This desire to preserve the needs of the individual while also creating something coherent, is a necessity that doesn’t only exist in the meeting rooms of the National Library of Israel. In fact, this dichotomy is actually the key theme hidden throughout the pictures of the photographic exhibition.

After lots of back and forth, negotiations and additions, the team knew that if they wanted to make something that truly represented how far Israel had come, they had to take it back to the basics – the building blocks of what makes Israel, Israel. So they went back to the beginning, the conception of Israel and its first two decades as a state.

As the curators started looking for photos in the National Library Collections and Archives, they encountered some recurring themes. The building of society was of course one of these – the brave pioneers who planted, toiled, grew, bricked, plastered and planned intricate cityscapes and communities. It was important to include the building of each society within this exhibition but during the photo selection process, some groups seemed to be conspicuously missing. Not wanting to exclude these communities from the final picture, the National Library curators started thinking about the minority groups arriving in Israel just as the Sabras were building their own state.

Immigration. The second group of images simply had to represent the many people arriving in Israel at the end of the 2nd World War and the Holocaust, as European refugees lost their entire villages and sought out their indigenous homeland, and Arab countries expelled Jews from their territory, seeing them arrive at Israel’s borders. As many such groups arrived at Israel’s doorsteps – from Iraq, Romania, Morocco and more – each with their own culture, clothing, language and customs, the aforementioned challenge presented itself once again: how to combine all of these different peoples into a collective nation?

The images on display certainly document this struggle. As much as the exhibition was erected to celebrate Israel and the immense and impressive strides that the country made in its first 20 years, the challenges of society are evident in the images selected, which tell a story of overcoming barriers that is worth listening to.

“Look at this picture” one of the Visitor Centre staff tells me. She says that it is one of her favorites. It depicts a family arriving from Iraq in 1951 – just moments before their new life in Israel was about to begin. Tens of thousands of Jews were rescued from deep persecution in Iraq, and brought to Israel to start a new chapter. In this image, they are dressed in typical Iraqi clothing, long sidelocks and hats, formal dress and coats for the women. To their left is an Israeli man sent to welcome them from the Jewish Agency, in typical Israeli light casual clothing, cotton trousers and loose shirt, comfortable and smiling. The difference in posture, clothing and demeanor is so clear – how was Israel to ever glue these groups together so that they may live as one?

In the rapid process of building a state, thoughts were not always spared to preserve heritage. This would be the job of parents and grandparents, should they wish to pass on their old country customs to the next generation. The job of the sapling state was to create a melting pot, mixed enough to have a society full of people who not only got along but would be able to fight, pray, live and work side by side.

So, they set about trying to ingrain this mentality in their citizens: Israeliness. Language could therefore be the only possible third category in the photographic exhibition. A number of posters serve to elucidate this point, boldly illustrating the narrative of Israel in the 1950s. The posters encouraged new immigrants to discard their native mother tongue, and adopt Hebrew as the common language instead. Some posters offered a straight and narrow path only open to those willing to learn the Modern Hebrew language, others promised to lift off the burden of the hardships of Europe if only the new immigrants could learn to speak Ivrit. They depict strong Israelis lifting the load of other languages off the backs of olim (newly arrived immigrants)– the new idea of brave and heroic Sabras ‘saving’ the unfortunate Europeans from their past. One image shows new refugees from Morocco gathered around a textbook in an Ulpan in the Northern Negev desert where they had been placed in a temporary settlement until they could be more permanently housed. Here, they learnt Hebrew by lantern light as resources were scarce, while trying to master a language to unite this new Babel that they found themselves in.

The mid-1900s was a time of immense change across the world and in Israel this was confounded by the need to build a new state, as well as keeping up with modern advances in technology, infrastructure and medicine. This exhibition is thus not only a time capsule from the first two decades of Israeli history, but also of a post-war world rebuilding itself into something new and exciting. The visitor’s center explains that the photos were meant to represent what people loved about this new and exciting age, what resonated with individuals and stuck in their minds.

As these photos were affectionately chosen, a new theme seemed to appear pretty much on its own. This segment wasn’t engineered but was so evident as a theme in the images that the exhibition team had no choice but to add a section in its honor: water. Water is and always had been one of Israel’s biggest projects. One of the goals of this exhibition was to encourage the public to truly understand the miracle of Israel’s conception. To see not only its challenges, but also its successes, and feel a sense of pride at how far we’ve come. There is nothing that better encapsulates the accomplishments and victories of young Israel than the fact that a society built on a desert managed to grow crops, generate clean drinking water and thrive.

The idea behind this exhibition was to keep the nostalgia of those first few years of Israel’s new statehood without delving too far into topics that would have been too difficult to summarize in an exhibition with just 52 items.

But there is some controversy to be found in the images that were chosen. It would be disingenuous not to show and reflect the complexity and challenges of Israel’s first decades. Of course, there was always going to be a struggle, as Israel fought to absorb so many new citizens. In less than 4 years the population of Israel had more than doubled. In Israel’s first 3 years alone, the population rose from 650,000 to 1 million people! In a sense, this exhibition relegates these struggles to the past, as looking back today we have the benefit of hindsight to tell us how this should have been dealt with differently; but even now, some of the challenges of those years pervade. Immigrants are still often expected to leave behind their old mannerisms and languages and adapt to life in Israel as if their past wasn’t a relevant factor in their life story. But at least now it is a conversation that is open to being spoken about with integrity, and we strive, as a society, to work together and create a welcoming and inclusive culture.

This is not the final iteration of the exhibition. Soon, a book of 21 additional photos will be available to the public, chosen by a plethora of people who work at the National Library, from the newest interns to the most senior of bosses. In addition to curating a look back on the first 20 years of the State of Israel, this will be a tribute to the elements of this country that are loved by the spectrum of people here at the National Library of Israel. Each employee who picked an image to contribute also explained exactly why they chose it – why it means so much to them. Because ultimately Israel is so many things for so many people, and despite the challenges portrayed in the exhibition, there is a lot here to love.

But for now, in these 52 items, an Israel of the past comes alive. Though no story of Israel can truly be told without mentioning the hardships which inevitably arose when more than half a million new immigrants showed up on Israel’s doorstep just months after the state was established, this exhibition is a testimony to Israel’s success: a small desert which managed to rebuild itself from the ground, and create a space that millions today call home. This is no small achievement, and this exhibition is witness to how far Israel has come on its 75th birthday.

The National Library invites you to visit “Moments in Time – A Journey to the First Days of the State of Israel” – an exhibition in honor of the 75th Independence Day of the State of Israel. Experience the wonder of these moments of joy and creation, difficulty and coping, but mostly – hope and a look to the future.

The exhibition is displayed in the Library building at the entrance to the reading rooms next to the  work of art -“The Ardon Windows”.

You are welcome to come independently during the Library’s operating hours or sign up for a free guided tour, which takes place on Thursdays at 11:00.

For further inquiries: visitors@nli.org.il

Happy Independence Day!