Though there is no doubt that the Chinese were initially ahead of the curve when it came to printing technology, the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg took Europe by storm in just a few short years. Initially Gutenberg printed only single sheets of paper, leaflets containing poems, games, and short stories, but once he managed to convince investors to fund his invention, he printed the first edition of the first printed book in history in 1455: 180 copies of the world’s all-time best seller – the famed Gutenberg Bible.
There may have been earlier attempts at developing a quick and efficient way of copying text, but Gutenberg’s method was the one that caught on in Europe and is still the basis of printing technology today, even in the electronic and digital era. In 1500, less than 50 years after the first printed book made history, there were already millions of printed books available throughout the European continent – some of which were printings of the Bible and other works that pre-dated the printing press, along with other, brand new works.
The Gutenberg Bible, the first printed book, deserves an additional title: The First Printed Work of Art. It’s a 1,286-page masterpiece written in Latin using artisanal engraved Gothic script. Additionally, it features illustrations and decorated letterheads that were engraved and painted by hand. Of the initial 180 copies printed by Gutenberg, only 49 have survived over the centuries. The National Library of Israel doesn’t have a full copy in its possesion, but does hold two pages from an original copy of the Bible.
The invention of the printing press changed the world entirely. It enabled unprecedented distribution of knowledge and information, intrigued and intimidated authoritarian regimes, was a contributing power behind the Protestant Reformation, brought about the common layout of the Talmud, jump-started literacy, and was, according to historians and other researchers, a major enabler in the rise of nationalism in the modern era.
Though you may be reading this article on a digital screen, even now, 600 years after the first publication of the first printed book – print is far from dead; the same can be said about the first work brought to print by Gutenberg: The Bible itself.
At the Eichmann trial: Yaacov Maimon speaks with a police officer in the courtroom. Also seen: Prosecutor Gideon Hausner and defense attorney Dr. Servatius
A few meters from the glass cell in which Adolph Eichmann sat in the courtroom at the People’s House in Tel Aviv, a team of shorthand stenographers labored to document what became known in the Israeli media as “the trial of the century.” The pressure imposed upon the members of the team, the many hearings and the scrambling for data that followed, took a heavy toll, almost sabotaging the course of the trial of one of the worst murderers of the Jewish people in history.
Preparations for the “Trial of the Century”
Five months before Adolph Eichmann, Head of the Jewish Department at the SS, went on trial, Police Superintendent Yitzchak Shapira invited Yaacov Maimon to his office and asked him a single question: How should the most important trial in the history of the State of Israel be documented? Maimon, inventor of the Hebrew shorthand and a veteran Aliyah activist, laid before Shapira the advantages and shortcomings of recording the trial on tape and instead recommended the deployment of a team of stenographers. During that initial conversation Maimon raised the difficulties the team of stenographers would face. First, the right stenographers would have to be found (among those whom the Knesset had yet to recruit). Second, they would have to contend with the amalgam of languages expected to be used at the trial.
At the second meeting between Shapira and Maimon, the latter was informed that his proposal had been accepted and he was asked to provide a detailed list of the equipment he would need. For the first time in his career as a stenographer, Maimon signed a multi-section contract detailing the obligations of the stenographers’ team, to be headed by Maimon himself.
During Maimon’s long career hitherto, he often had to contend with difficulties and complications stemming from the fact that his chosen field of occupation was in its infancy. In 1948, as a resident of Jerusalem under siege, he was tasked with creating a team of stenographers from scratch to document the work of the newly-formed Knesset. To meet the challenge, he started an expedited course in which he taught the tricks of the trade for 12-13 hours per day, five days a week. Fears that the course would fail due to the immense pressure proved false because, as he explained, “the work was too important.” But even that experience couldn’t prepare him for the hardships that the stenographers would face at the Eichmann trial.
Yaacov Maimon’s archive, which is kept at the National Library, provides a peek at the preparations for the start of the trial. Two documents dated February 1961 (both signed by Superintendent Shapira) approve Maimon’s request to borrow three books from the Israeli Police library: “The Final Solution,” “The Case Against Adolph Eichmann,” by Henry A. Zeiger, and “The Nuremberg Trials.” In the second document the Superintendent permits Maimon “to write notes and translations in the margins of the book’s pages.” These books (and probably others) were borrowed by Maimon for two purposes: to prepare a list of shorthand designations for approximately one hundred names and places, terms from Nazi Germany and the Holocaust era (such as various ranks in the SS and the German military) and other words in foreign languages which he anticipated being used during the trial. The second purpose was to help the stenographer team he was forming to study the dark period into which they were about to plunge – along with the millions who would follow the trial in Israel and around the world.
Early that month several candidates were summoned for “a day of tests for typists in the Hebrew language” – with the feminine form being used, betraying the gendered perception of the profession at the time. The four stenographers chosen were Gentila Bardo, Mina Eisenberg, Miriam Yardeni and Osnat Degani – all Knesset stenographers. Also joining the team was Benzion Maimon, son of Yaacov Maimon. Later the team was supplemented by Rafi Rubinstein, Malka Glassberg and Zvi Maimon – Yaacov’s brother – after some of the stenographers felt that the emotional toll of the trial was too heavy a burden, and asked to resume their more mundane duties at the Knesset alternately with the trial work.
The four stenographers, along with Maimon’s son, were summoned for training days in the month of March. During those four training days they practiced the strenuous working conditions expected in the hall where the trial would take place, memorized the shorthand notations which Maimon had prepared beforehand and coordinated their work procedures with the various interpreters. The training was held from nine in the morning to one in the afternoon, then resumed following a lengthy lunch break from three-thirty till six in the evening. The stenographers could expect to receive “full pay,” for each day of work, specifies the letter sent by Shapira to Maimon. Although he couldn’t know it at the this early stage of preparations, the many hearings of the Eichmann trial would come to equal and even surpass the long days of training.
About two weeks before the beginning of the trial, Maimon received a letter from Mr. M. F. Birnbaum, editor of “The Transcript,” the official publication of the Stenographers Association in New York City. Word of the upcoming trial had reached the distant shores of New York, (as they had almost everywhere else in the world) and aroused vast curiosity as to the technical aspects of the trial as well. Would Maimon – or anyone on his team – be interested in writing an article about the preparations for the trial?, Mr. Birnbaum inquired. Any information Maimon was willing to provide would be most welcome.
The option of presenting one of the lesser-discussed aspects of such an exceptionally resonant trial must have been significant to Maimon, and three days after the trial began he sent a minutely detailed reply (seven pages long) to the editor. In his archive we find the draft Maimon composed after it had been proofread by a woman who remains anonymous (“Correct it a little and tomorrow I will collect the documentation from you,” Maimon added in his own handwriting). This letter, along with another one sent later, formed the foundation of two articles which appeared in the stenographers’ journal in June and October of that year.
Fighting for Justice (for the stenographers crew)
Maimon’s sincere concern for the team of stenographers which he headed led him into repeated clashes with the court and the police department – the entities overseeing the work of the stenographers at the trial. In response to “errors in the minutes, announced at hearing no. 16”, Maimon sent a letter of clarification on April 28th to the lead judge on the panel, Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau. At the start of the letter Maimon stressed that “each stenographer is but human, and may err.” Any stenographer would find it difficult to produce a perfect transcript, but as in this trial “we are making a special effort to achieve perfection.” Maimon and his colleagues expressed their thanks to the presiding judge for the “great help” he was giving them by “occasionally instructing people speaking at the trial to speak clearly.” After these words of praise Maimon turned to refute the claim regarding the stenographers’ error. The word is Michaelovich, which had supposedly entered the minutes by error, did not do so due to a stenographer’s mistake. “Proof of my assumption is to be found in the following facts: The French and German transcripts, which have no connection to the Hebrew transcript” also feature this word, and therefore “it is hard to assume that four people” (the fourth being the interpreter) “sitting apart from one another, all made the same mistake and heard a name that was not spoken.” Maimon ends his letter with an interesting comment regarding the confused and excited speech of more than a few of the witnesses and Holocaust survivors at the trial, writing that “the errors we ourselves make are enough, and we should not be tasked with the slips of tongue made by others. In any event, there is no basis to assume this was a stenographer’s slip.”
Further proof of Maimon’s devotion to his employees and his full commitment to defending their dignity and their rights is to be found in two separate letters sent on the same day (May 15th) to Major-General Yekutiel Keren. In both Maimon harks back to a hearing held ten days prior. In the first letter Maimon justifies in writing for a demand he had until then made only verbally: “to increase the pay of the stenographers to 40 Israeli Pounds for days on which two hearings are held.” The main reason Maimon gives for this irregular demand stems from the irregularity of the Eichmann trial itself: In other trials “it is customary to hold two hearings on the same day only very rarely.” “And yet here we are, five weeks into” the Eichmann trial, “and other than on Fridays, two hearings are held every single day.” In other trials, he continued, the stenographers are from time to time afforded “long breaks due to judges’ consultations,” whereas at the Eichmann trial “breaks for judges’ consultations are brief, and usually held before or after the hearing itself.” But it seems that what adversely affected the work of the stenographers the most, causing them to leave “each hearing exhausted not only that same day but into the next” was the fact that following each hearing they were forced “to scramble in search of foreign expressions and materials.”
““The issue of continuing of canceling the stenographic transcript in Hebrew,” was at the center of the second letter, in which Maimon states that “I can no longer continue keeping the minutes under these conditions.” At this point Maimon dwells at length on the supreme effort of the trial’s stenographers team in comprehending expressions in foreign languages and in searching for documents “which sometimes have no Hebrew translation and which the prosecutor,” meaning Attorney General Gideon Hausner, “sometimes garbles expressions and names of people and places and numbers while spontaneously translating.” Added to all these issues is the unfortunate fact “that the judges forget that officially they are not supposed to know German” and they use it freely at times in a manner detrimental to the work of the stenographers. Despite all this, Maimon opposed canceling the transcription and switching to tape-recording because “errors in the material will be less frequent in the work of the stenographers, for in addition to mechanical work there is also mind work at play, and sections copied by voice recording and compared to the work of the stenographers have proven this.” He ends this letter with a stern, yet respectful reprimand: “You may decide not to accede to my demands and to switch to another form of documentation, but you cannot leave the matter hanging and reply half-heartedly or not at all to the points I have raised.”
Four days after these letters were sent, victory was announced. “To the honorable Mr. Maimon,” wrote the Deputy Administrator of the trial, Commander Koppel, “in response to your aforementioned letter we are pleased to inform you that although a work contract exists for all stenographers, and in fact this contract is binding upon both parties; but on the other hand, we must accept the truth of your claims, that the workload as we have experienced during days of this trial was unanticipated when these contracts were signed.” Therefore, the daily wage of the stenographers was raised to thirty-five pounds per day – rather than the forty which Maimon demanded.
The fight for a pay raise wasn’t the only campaign waged by Maimon on behalf of his workers. In a letter dated April 5th he asked the security team to refrain from “the constant searches on the workers’ persons,” as most of them were “stenographers who document meetings for the government, the IDF Chief of Staff, the Security and Foreign Relations committee and such. Places where security is just as paramount as at the trial.”
Throughout the trial, Maimon let everyone know the difficulties he and his team had to face. The professional work of Maimon and his team, despite all hardships, did not go unnoticed by the judges at the Eichmann trial. In a letter dated December 22nd, the presiding judge expressed his sincere appreciation “to you and your assistants… for your excellent work in documenting the minutes of the trial and preparing them for print.” Landau went on to wax poetically about Maimon’s skills, stating that “if not for your superb professional abilities and indefatigable dedication, this trial could not have been held as it has. I trust that you feel, as I do, that your labor has not been in vain.”
We know that this was not just empty praise, for when Eichmann appealed, Maimon was invited once again to run the stenography effort – an invitation which he accepted. Keeping faith with the professional team of stenographers he had assembled, he asked to extend the contract of three of the original team members and relieve them temporarily of their work at the Knesset.
Added to the praise from the presiding judge and being chosen to keep the minutes at the appeal, was a letter from Superintendent Shapira sent on behalf of the entire Eichmann Trial Administration, in which Shapira expressed “our full appreciation – for your help in recruiting the team of stenographers and typists to keep the official transcript in Hebrew and training them; for your profession, dedicated and efficient work in the ongoing management of the team, and in carrying out the more difficult portions of the transcript.”
Despite the challenge and great interest Maimon found at the “trial of the century,” he was glad to end his part in it upon the rejection of Eichmann’s appeal. This was not so much because of the strenuous work, but because the Eichmann trial took away much of the time and energy he preferred to devote to what he saw as his life’s mission: volunteering in the absorption of new immigrants to Israel and teaching them the Hebrew language.
How the German-Jewish Refugees Flourished in the Kenyan Farmlands
These rare photos show the story of the Jewish refugees who settled in Kenya in the 1930s.
When the first Kenyan Jews settled in Nairobi in 1903, it didn’t take long before they became a proper community, but they remained a small community of just a few dozen people for several decades.
All that changed when the Nazis took power in Germany and an exodus of German Jews found themselves seeking refuge in places they never would have expected.
Granted, the influx of Jews to Kenya was small, but that didn’t stop them from having to go through the British Colonial Office that was in charge of immigration to Kenya. In order to gain immigration status in Kenya, one had to be registered as a farm manager- something that was hard to come by for the Jewish immigrants and which limited their ability to settle. The local Jewish community worked hard to encourage Jewish immigration, but found much resistance from white European settlers and from the Indian community in East Africa that had backing from the British Colonial Office. Obviously, the opinion of the indigenous black population was not considered.
While the Jews of Nairobi were working hard on the local immigration initiative, British Jewry in England started their own widespread settlement campaign for thousands of Jews to relocate from Europe to the Kenyan Farmlands. They would settle in the White Highlands, which had already been designated for colonial farms.
In August 1938 the British initiative was registered as a private company limited by shares under the title Plough Settlements Association LTD that had an initial capital of 25,000 pounds. One of the partners for the British company was the JCA – Jewish Colonization Association – or as it is commonly known by its Hebrew initials: יק”א.
The initiative was presented as a colonial and financial enterprise and the hidden idea of rescuing Jews from the European continent was kept under wraps. The immigration activists met with established farmers in Kenya, the British Colonial Office officials, and other officiants in order to study and ready the ground, and gain traction and support for the immigration initiative.
The Jewish immigrants were not able to purchase farms upon their arrival, nor could they find ways to work on the farmlands where they could train as farm hands in order to eventually become farm managers. Many of the requests, and their rejections, were kept in the initiative’s archives.
This article is based on the Jewish Colonization Association archive kept in the Central Archive of the Jewish People.
Photographs courtesy of David Lichtenstein, Sydney, son of Henry (Heinz) Lichtenstein, a farmer in Kipkarren, Usain Gishu province, Kenya.
How a Man Named Saul Became King for a Day in Poland
This is the legend of how a tiny Torah was commissioned by a Jew who served as king of Poland for just one day.
A Jewish King in Poland? An oxymoron if ever there was one. Yet, at the National Library of Israel, we have a small and rare Torah scroll, no taller than 10 centimeters, dedicated to one Saul Wahl, the crowned Jewish King of Poland- for just one day.
Saul Katzenellenbogen was born in 1541 into a well-off Jewish family from Venice. His father, Rabbi Samuel Yehuda Katzenellenbogen, was the chief rabbi of the prosperous Venetian Jewish community. After growing up and receiving his education in Italy, Saul was sent to Poland to teach in one of its prestigious yeshivot.
Saul’s religiosity did not prevent him from entering more earthly business ventures. He entered the trade business and in 1580, Saul moved to Krakow to run the salt mines of the King of Poland that were leased out to make a profit for the monarchy. Saul was extremely successful in his time in the salt mines and quickly became a close and loyal adviser to the king.
However, this is not the whole story. How could it be? Well, when you combine the real story behind the man, and the legend of the man, the combination makes for a story so fantastic, it is almost unbelievable.
When the king of Poland died, a painful war of succession began. The holy constitution of the Kingdom of Poland determined that a new king can be coronated only after he is elected by the lords of the court – a process that must not take more than 21 days. The Polish lords sequestered themselves and tried to make sense of the process, but the deliberations went on and on and instability reigned. There was no hint of a resolution on the horizon and the deadline to crown a new king was coming due.
In order to uphold the sanctity of the constitution and to keep the kingdom from falling to anarchy, an ingenious idea was proposed: Saul Katzenellenbogen, the late king’s trusted adviser and loyal friend, would be crowned temporary king for one day. They reasoned that, because everyone knew Katzenellenbogen to be an honest man, he would not consider usurping the throne nor would he stay upon it longer than was necessary. Thus, Saul Katzenellenbogen became Saul “Wahl,” which means “The Chosen” in Polish, and he was crowned king.
As the newly minted king of Poland, Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen wasted no time. While the lords continued agonizing over the selection of a new king, King Saul put out multiple decrees aimed at improving the status of the Jews living in the Kingdom of Poland.
At the end of his first and only day as king, King Saul was asked to decide between the final two royal candidates and it was his choice that brought about the coronation of King Sigismund III Vasa of Poland.
The tiny Torah in the National Library’s collections dedicated to King Saul Wahl gives veracity to the idea that there really was a temporary Jewish King.
However, there is no true historical evidence to support this. The legend of the Jewish King of Poland comes to us from non-Jewish sources and may indeed be a fabrication, but does that truly matter?