An SS Man, an IDF Officer and a Spy: The Story of Ulrich Schnaft

Ulrich Schnaft was a former member of the SS, who posed as a Jew and joined the Israeli army after WWII


The history of the State of Israel is rife with riveting tales of spies, espionage and subterfuge. Perhaps the most thrilling of these are the ones involving Nazis.

Gavriel Weissman arrived in Israel in 1949 after an exhausting journey which included a trek from Germany to Marseille, an illegal voyage to Mandatory Palestine, a detention period in Cyprus which lasted over a year, as well as enlistment in the underground military organization, the Haganah. Naturally, when he finally made it to the newborn state, the young Weissman joined the recently established Israel Defense Forces and quickly completed a squad commander’s course. He later passed an officer’s course, reaching the rank of second lieutenant, before being transferred to the Artillery Corps.

It was in 1952 that Weissman’s promising military career came to an abrupt end. An anonymous tip revealed that while intoxicated, Weissman showed his friends a photo of himself wearing an SS uniform and told them he was living under a false identity. Years later, it was discovered that Weissman was actually Ulrich Schnaft, born in Germany in 1923; he was a Nazi who had served with the SS on the Russian and Italian fronts during WWII. After the war, he learned from the Jewish roommate with whom he shared an apartment that Jews were being provided financial aid and food – commodities which were in great demand in post-war Germany – through American charity organizations. Schnaft decided to pose as a refugee and travel to Israel, with the intention of continuing on to another destination soon after.

Ulrich Schnaft in his IDF uniform

The rest of the story is no less fascinating than Schnaft’s unbelievable deception. Disappointed with his dismissal from the IDF, Weissman-Schnaft remained in Israel and worked the occasional odd job while renting a room in the home of a Jewish immigrant couple from Germany. During his stay, he began an affair with his landlady, and the two considered leaving the betrayed husband behind and moving back to Germany together. To Schnaft’s regret, at the time Israel did not permit Israeli passport holders to enter Germany. These difficulties led Schnaft to offer his services to Egyptian intelligence; He was flown to Cairo, where he handed over extensive information on the IDF and its units.

Reserve Officer Arrested for Espionage’, Ma’ariv, April 18th, 1958

The story of Schnaft’s capture by the Israeli security service is worthy of a feature film. The details of the events were released to the public only years after they occurred. According to the Israeli media of the time, Schnaft was sent to Israel once again by his Arab handlers in order to collect intelligence and was arrested upon his arrival. But the real story is even more incredible: Mossad agents located Schnaft in Germany (thanks to, among other sources, a letter sent by the betrayed husband, who revealed his story). The agents fooled Schnaft into returning to Israel, by leading him to believe that he would be spying for Iraq. When he landed at Lod airport he was immediately arrested and soon brought to trial. The whole story, including all the incredible details, can be found in the book “The Spies: Israel’s Counter-Espionage Wars” (HaMeraglim) by Yossi Melman and Eitan Haber (Hebrew).

Second-Lieutenant Schnaft on a Mission for Egyptian Intelligence’. The story was first published in the IDF’s BaMahane magazine


In the end the Egyptians agreed to Schnaft’s conditions and gave him 170 thousand Italian Lire. He reached Germany using an Egyptian passport


The Bamahane article included illustrations of the story’s key events

After his parole, Schnaft was expelled from Israel and returned to Germany. There has been no trace of him since. Whether or not he is alive is unknown. If you have any information regarding his whereabouts – please let us know in the comments below.


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Nathan Yellin-Mor: The Underground Fighter Who Became a Peacenik

Nathan Yellin-Mor: The Underground Fighter Who Became a Peacenik

The incredible life story of the former leader of the Lehi underground movement, whose personal archive is preserved in the National Library

At the Bernadotte murder trial with Mati Schmulevitz, 1949. Photo: Yellin-Mor Family Album

A week after the outbreak of the Second World War, two couples left Warsaw—Aliza and Menachem Begin and their friends, the newlyweds Frieda and Nathan Friedman-Yellin. Following an arduous, month-long journey by train, horse-drawn cart and mainly on foot, they reached Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, which was still a free country. There, they parted ways. Begin, the head of the Beitar movement in Poland, was soon arrested by the Soviets when they took control of Lithuania, while the cautious and wary Friedman-Yellin managed to make his way to Mandatory Palestine. Here they eventually met again.

Begin arrived in British-controlled Palestine as a soldier in the Polish force known as Anders’ Army following his release by the Soviets. He was soon appointed commander of the Irgun underground movement. Twenty-six-year-old Nathan Friedman-Yellin, who would later become Yellin-Mor, joined up with Avraham (“Yair”) Stern’s Lehi organization, otherwise known as “The Stern Gang”. After Yair’s murder, Yellin-Mor would form part of a triumvirate command along with future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Israel Eldad.

Another young leader of Polish Jewry who also reached Vilna around the same time, on his way to Palestine, Dr. Moshe Kleinboim-Sneh, was appointed shortly after his arrival to be head of the national military headquarters of the Haganah – the de-facto Defense Minister of the country in the making. Once World War II had come to a close, all three met again (Begin, Yellin, and Sneh), and founded the Jewish Resistance Movement, an umbrella group for the three underground movements, with the goal of expelling the British from the Land of Israel.


A “Wanted” Poster for Yaakov Eliav, Yitzhak Shamir and  and Nathan Friedman-Yellin

“How often does one meet someone and upon parting, feel and know that he is no longer the same person? That from now on his life will take another course, different from the one taken so far? That all that has transpired is only preparation for that which is to come?” writes Yellin-Mor in the introduction to his memoir Shnot be-Terem [“The Years Before”], about his meeting with Avraham “Yair” Stern.

Yellin-Mor’s life changed after meeting Yair in the summer of 1937. Then a member of the Irgun’s leadership, Stern was in Poland organizing recruits for the underground. Yellin-Mor, despairing of the gap between the declarations and actions of the Revisionist movement, enthusiastically adopted Yair’s new prospect: a war of independence against British rule and establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Yair’s vision was to build a forty-thousand strong army of trained young men who would invade the country by ship and join forces with the members of the Irgun who would declare a revolt against the British.

That same evening, Yellin-Mor joined the war for the liberation of the country. As Yair’s emissary, he traveled the length and breadth of Poland by train, recruiting Beitar members to the Irgun. Some succeeded in immigrating and joining the struggle, but the gates of the country remained shut to most of the members of the vibrant mass youth movement, and they were murdered in the Holocaust. In 1938, Yellin-Mor, along with his lifelong friend Shmuel Merlin, was appointed editor of the newspaper Die Tat, which reported the position of the Irgun on the news from Palestine to the Jews of Poland, while calling on them to flee the country before it was too late. As noted, with the outbreak of the war, he reached Vilna and a year later, in January 1941, he and his wife Frieda arrived in Tel Aviv and immediately joined the Lehi.

Yellin-Mor, whose underground name was “Gera,” became the close aide of Yair, who six months earlier split the Irgun on the grounds of his opposition to ending the war against the British and established what would come to be known as Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel). The British saw them as a “fifth column” that sabotaged the war effort against the Nazis, while Yair searched for a way to reach an alliance with the Germans, using the mindset – “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” He believed that an agreement could be reached that would save Jewish lives and achieve Jewish independence with German support.

Yair sent Yellin-Mor to meet with the leaders of the Balkan countries in an attempt to attain permission for Jews to leave. Under the guise of an engineer, Yellin Mor left for Aleppo, where he was arrested by the British after they searched his home in Tel Aviv and discovered his address in Syria. His wife Frieda was arrested and imprisoned in the women’s prison camp in Bethlehem for five years. She was released only at the end of 1947. In the Yellin-Mor archive in the National Library is a small notebook in which he wrote down his daily schedule as an engineer tasked with building a British army camp until his arrest.

“February 9, 1942, Monday… I was brought to Prison in Aleppo” Pages from Yellin-Mor’s daily diary with reports of his work and his arrest in Syria

It was then he also learned of Yair’s murder. Although the underground had been all but wiped out, its members and commanders retired, arrested or in despair, Yellin-Mor decided to keep up the struggle. There were now three at the head of the underground: Yitzhak Shamir, known as “Michael,” was responsible for operations, Israel “Eldad” Scheib, in charge of propaganda, and Yellin-Mor, the political brains of the underground movement and the man responsible for its external relations. Throughout the remaining history of the organization, at least one of the three was in jail and contact between them was maintained through notes or letters written in secret code.

He published the article “Breaking the Prisons,” in the renewed Lehi newspaper, calling on members of the underground to do everything in their power to return to the fight. He would later order members to carry a pistol and fight to the last bullet in order to avoid arrest. Shamir escaped from prison and began to rebuild the underground. On November 1, 1943, the guards at the Latrun detention camp awoke to a scene that was straight out of the movie The Great Escape. That night, twenty Lehi members, handpicked and headed by Yellin-Mor, escaped from the camp though a 75 meter tunnel they had dug underneath one of the shacks, disposing of the earth by moving it to the garden they tended at the shack’s entrance.

Yellin-Mor was a partner in Lehi’s major decisions, including the use of terror tactics against individuals, including the attempted assassination of High Commissioner Sir Harold McMichael, and the murder of British Colonial Minister Lord Moyne on November 6, 1944 in Cairo by underground members Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri. The two turned their trial into a propaganda platform through which they promoted Lehi‘s objectives, winning sympathy and even demonstrations of support from Egyptian youths.

In Israel the organization began to gain sympathy among youth from the Labor movement, in including members of the elite Palmach force.

It is possible that this was the reason Yellin-Mor remained unharmed during what was known as “The Saison” or “The Hunting Season” (November 1944 to February 1945), when members of the Irgun were hunted down and arrested by a special unit of the Palmach before being handed over to the British. Yellin-Mor himself offered a different explanation.

While Begin ordered his people not to resist, Yellin-Mor arrived with a pistol in his belt to his meeting with the commander of the Haganah, Eliyahu Golomb. Placing his pistol on the table, he announced that any attack on a Lehi member would be met with a response. “For us the British are foreign rulers. It is our duty to fight them, not to ask for their help… There will be no more one-sided civil war. Since we do not benefit from the same conditions as you do, we have only one response available to us: to execute those responsible for harming our people” This was the threat he issued to Golomb, as described in his book Lohamei Heirut Yisrael (“Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”). Later on, he also was in contact with members of the Irgun and Haganah regarding the establishment of the Jewish Resistance Movement. The three underground groups cooperated for approximately nine months, until the bombing of the King David Hotel by the Irgun.

When Shamir was arrested in 1946 and exiled to Africa, he entrusted Yellin-Mor with Lehi‘s operations.  By then, it was already a mixed organization of the left and the right, religious and secular, former Beitar and Irgun members alongside socialists who had served in Hashomer Hatzair. What they all had in common was the belief that independence was achievable only through war with the British. He outlined a new path for Lehi – that of an armed political organization which aspired to “naturalize the Middle East,” while sending his men to establish cells and ties abroad.

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 it was decided that Lehi would be dismantled. Yellin-Mor surveyed a final honor guard of his men at Sheikh Munis. They were now emerging from the underground to enlist in the newborn Israel Defense Forces. The group was still active however, in Jerusalem, and it was there that the UN diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte was assassinated by Lehi gunmen.

Yellin-Mor was tried in a military court together with Matityahu Schmulevitz, later director general of the Prime Minister’s Office. After spending a year in prison, he was released in a general amnesty and was elected to the first Knesset as the head of the Fighters’ List (Reshimat Lohamim), founded by Lehi veterans. At the first national assembly of the young party it became clear that the majority identified with Yellin-Mor and Yitzhak Shamir who tended toward a socialist platform. The right-wing minority headed by Israel Eldad withdrew and the party quickly faded into obscurity.


The cover of the final edition of Etgar, featuring IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, on the eve of the Six Day War, 1967

“If you had asked someone at the beginning of 1949, which of the three key members of Lehi has the best chance of being prime minister of Israel, they would have answered without hesitation: Nathan Yellin-Mor,” wrote Uri Avneri. But Yellin-Mor did not fit in with the existing parties, and like many of the veterans of the underground who had a hard time finding work in the young state, he turned to private business.

Due to his opposition to Israel’s alliance with Great Britain and France in the Sinai campaign of 1956, Yellin-Mor, along with Uri Avneri and his friends from Lehi Boaz Evron, Shlomo Ben Shlomo, Yaakov Yardor and others, founded the political group “Semitic Action” (HaPeulah Hashemit), and worked diligently to publish a platform under the title “The Hebrew Manifesto(Haminshar Haivri ), which for the first time presented the option of establishing a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. The group published Etgar, a bi-weekly political-literary magazine which ran until 1967. Yellin-Mor, as editor, recruited young writers such as Meir Wieseltier, Dalia Ravikovitch, Mazim Gilan, Dan Almagor, Ehud Ben Ezer among others. Avneri said that Yellin-Mor, with his enviable mastery of Hebrew, was the best editor he has ever met. He also noted his remarkable talent for raising money from donors, which kept the paper afloat.

In 1960, at the height of the honeymoon period between Israel and France, Yellin-Mor and his friends from Semitic Action established the “Committee for a Free Algeria,” and contacted underground fighters who were fighting against French colonial rule in the North African country. Lehi, the infamous “Stern Gang,” had garnered respect among members of the world’s underground movements and the Algerians were interested in knowing if they could receive help and guidance from its veterans.


A letter from David Ben Gurion, who agreed to meet with Yellin-Mor personally, but not with the editorial staff of Etgar.


With Ben Gurion at Sde Boker, at a family event for Yehoshua Cohen, a former Lehi member who served as the prime minister’s personal bodyguard, early 1960s. Cohen was also the man who fired the shots that killed UN diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte. Photo: Yellin-Mor Family Album


 After the Six Day War, Yellin-Mor became one of the leaders of the Israeli peace camp, calling for the return of the captured territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. He was not afraid to act with the reviled members of the Israeli Communist Party (Rakah) and sign petitions against IDF actions in the territories, which raised strong opposition among the public.


Visit to the Soviet Union, Yellin is in the bottom row on the right. Next to the monument to Pushkin in Odessa

In September 1971, he traveled to the Soviet Union, which had forbidden Israelis to visit, in a special six-member delegation sponsored by Rakah.

During this period, Yellin-Mor made his living by editing a daily financial newspaper published by his friend from the underground, the advertiser Eliezer Zurabin. He wrote political columns and personal memoirs in Haaretz and was a popular writer in a Yiddish newspaper in New York that was close to the Chabad movement, Der Algemeiner Journal.

Those same years the estrangement between Yellin-Mor and his friends from Lehi grew into a hatred on their part for their former commander. He was vilified, ostracized and persecuted, while a minority remained true to him throughout. With Eldad and his followers it was a rift that never healed. He and Shamir maintained a strong friendship for years. When Shamir was elected Speaker of the Knesset, Yellin-Mor came to his office and the two shared a long embrace. When he died on February 18, 1980, Shamir eulogized him at the grave: “The heart weeps for the great talent that did not find the right channel.”

Yellin-Mor was a man with a healthy sense of humor who could hold his liquor, and who enjoyed good food and good conversation. Nevertheless, throughout his life, he was a tough and loyal warrior to his cause, who did not bend or give in but also avoided holding grudges. When it was decided to recognize the service of Lehi members in the underground for the purposes of pension funds, it was Yellin-Mor who had to issue each one of them, even those who had attacked and slandered him, a certificate of membership, a task he completed without hesitation.


“Holding the Territories – Bad for Israel” – A poster for a political gathering in Tel Aviv against the continued control of the territories, 1969

Yellin-Mor did not understand those who were unable to comprehend his shift from revisionism to communism, from the extreme right to the extreme left, from his support for a Greater Israel controlling both banks of the Jordan River to his adoption of the principle of “two states for two peoples”. In a letter from September 9, 1974 to the journalist Yossi Ahimeir which was published in the journal Ha-umma, Yellin-Mor wrote:

“In my opinion, every person must always fight for the cause he sees as central to the life of his society. More than thirty years ago I believed with all my heart that the achievement of freedom, independence and political sovereignty was the determining factor for our future. I was sure that if we failed in this mission, there would be no revival of our people, not in Israel or the Diaspora … I therefore would have given my life to achieve this greater goal. We succeeded. We have in our hands the tool to do much for our future. On the condition that this achievement is not a brief episode. I therefore believe, once again, with all my heart, that in our time, the greatest and most sacred goal is to register the existence of the State of Israel as a fact, acceptable to the world, an indisputable fact. This we can achieve only through peace with our neighbors, through a historic reconciliation with them. For the achievement of this goal, – on which I believe, the life of my people and country depends – I am willing to sacrifice a great deal, as I was then …Therefore it is not I who must answer the question, why do I follow the path I follow. Others, must answer: Why have their brains become overgrown with rust? What has polluted their minds?  Why has their understanding frozen in time?”


Nathan Yellin-Mor’s personal archives are preserved at the National Library of Israel


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When Heinrich Heine Revealed His Thoughts on His Conversion to Christianity

Several months after he was baptized, the poet Heinrich Heine wrote to his friend about the frustration, disappointment and remorse that this action had brought about.

Portrait of Heinrich Heine by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1831

It was his “entry ticket”. He saw it as a necessary step to open the gates of the German cultural world. It would serve as his seal of approval, certifying unconditional Germanism, the full and complete removal of all obstacles. If he could have written his own story, he probably would have chosen a simpler path for the hero’s role he was forced to play. One can assume with a high degree of certainty that, given another option, he would not have chosen to convert.

In his youth, he believed that stubbornness paid off, and indeed this turned out to be the case on more than one occasion. His father and uncle insisted that he enter the thriving family business, but he was intent on a life of art and creativity. Eventually, his obstinacy won out over that of his family, and they agreed to finance his higher education. In 1819, Heine began studying law at the University of Bonn.

Six years later, after three different universities, a semester-long suspension and even an invitation to a duel that never took place, Heine finally graduated from Göttingen University. A doctorate of law was not the only thing awarded to the 28-year-old in July of 1825. That same month he was also given his new name – Christian Johann Heinrich. Heine received the name after being baptized in a Protestant church in the nearby town of Heiligenstadt. Using this name, he would come to be recognized as one of the greatest poets and writers of the nineteenth-century.

As part of the continued discussion of Heine’s Jewishness, his writings have been poured over in search of every trace and reference to Jewish culture and religion. The references found were combined to create a 300-page volume. From the volumes of writings Heine produced during his life, only a single letter of his is preserved in the National Library of Israel. As you will soon see, it sheds a great deal of light on the feelings of the poet in regard to his conversion to Christianity.

On January 9th, 1826, less than a year after his conversion, Heine sent a letter to his classmate and confidant, Moses Moser. The letter was composed in the Heine family house in Hamburg and is full of secret references and codes between friends. It even mentions the name of a certain publisher (“the bastard Govitz”) on whom Heine sought revenge after the delayed the publication of a story Heine sent him. Toward the end of the letter, Heine proceeds to address the true source of his own distress: his baptism. He felt torn and confused, and expressed to Moser his difficulty in writing or thinking about “external things.”

Heine believed that German-Christian society, which demanded that its Jews abandon their religion in order to ascend its ranks, had exposed its true nature in light of his sacrifice. From other sources we learn that Heine expected that his conversion would help him win a coveted academic position, an expectation that was ultimately dashed. “Isn’t it strange,” he asked Moser, “I just converted to Christianity and already they are angry at me for being a Jew?”

There is a certain note of irony in Heine’s words that dulls the sting of the situation. “Now I am hated by both Christians and Jews. I am very sorry that I converted to Christianity, and I have not felt better since. Quite the opposite actually, since I seem to be surrounded by bad luck – but enough of that, you are too enlightened not to smile at it.” He added, “I think I’m better off than I know.” The likely truth is that his harshest critic was, of course, himself.


Heinrich Heine’s letter to his friend Moses Moser, the National Library collections. Click to enlarge

Thoughts on German

By 1831, almost six years after his baptism, Heine had had enough of German censorship and repeated criticism of his work and moved to Paris. Two years later, all of his works (including those not yet finished) would be confiscated due to a decision reached by the states of the German Confederation. The converted writer would become something of a refugee, who spent the rest of his life in exile in France.

In his new residence in Paris, Heine would make the most of his new life. He was able to mingle in the most sought-after circles, socialize with great personalities such as Alexander Dumas and Frederic Chopin, his name would become ever more famous, and his works (those that were written in Germany and those that he would write in Paris) would eventually become renowned the world over.

Neither the feelings of rejection nor the fear of a nationalist takeover of German politics could overcome Heinrich Heine’s longings for his native land. His homesickness would remain with him until his death on February 17th, 1856.

This article was written with the assistance of Dr. Stefan Litt, of the Archives Department at the National Library of Israel , and Chaya Meier-Herr, Director of the Edelstein Collection at the National Library.


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Vanished Streets – Unseen Photographs of Lost Jewish London

Shloimy Alman's collection of photographs of Jewish London from the 1970s survive as a unique record of a disappeared world.

Robotkin Butcher Shop on Hessel Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman

In May of 2019, during an extreme heatwave that hit Israel, a forest fire near the town of Modi’in forced Manchester-born Shloimy Alman and his wife Linda to evacuate their home in Moshav Kfar Daniel where they have lived since making Aliyah in 1978. Fleeing for safety, Shloimy grabbed just three items: passports, family photo albums and 7 boxes of color slides of London’s old Jewish East End that he’d taken in the mid-1970s.

The slides had sat inside Alman’s cupboard for more than 40 years but, during that week, I had visited from London to interview Shloimy and scan these previously unseen images. The images have since been printed and were displayed in an exhibition titled ‘Vanished Streets’, at London’s oldest Ashkenazi synagogue Sandys Row, on Sunday, the 6th of October, 2019 as part of the European Day of Jewish Culture.

I work at Sandys Row as the resident archivist and historian. The president there, Harvey Rifkind, is a great friend of Shloimy’s and told me about this unique collection of images from the 1970s of a world that has now largely disappeared.

Shloimy started taking these pictures in 1977. He was in his early twenties back then, living in Manchester and attending a Jewish Youth Workers’ conference in London. He arranged to meet the Yiddish poet Avraham Stencl who he had heard a great deal about growing up – his father, Moishe, had previously contributed many articles to Stencl’s monthly Yiddish magazine, Loshn un Lebn.

Avraham Stencl, 1977. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

On their first walk, Stencl led Shloimy to Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in London that was established by Sephardi Jews in the seventeenth century. “He walked very quickly for an old man, I had trouble keeping up with him. As we walked and talked, in Yiddish of course, he pointed out places on the way, where the Jews’ Free School had been, the site of the Jewish Soup Kitchen, Bloom’s restaurant on Whitechapel High St and the many small synagogues, which were still operating.”

Shloimy was amazed by the amount of Jewish institutions, shops, and people still evident. “People kept telling me the Jewish East End was dead but for me, coming from Manchester, it was buzzing with life and activity.”

They passed run-down tenement blocks and stopped briefly at Whitechapel Library, known as ‘the university of the ghetto.’ After their walk, Shloimy went with Stencl to a “Friends of Yiddish” meeting. There were about twenty people there who were all very welcoming. After this first visit Shloimy began attending these meetings regularly whilst visiting his parents-in-law in London. “I wanted to be in that atmosphere that my parents so loved, to hear Yiddish literature being spoken and talked about again. It was most important.”

After his initial walk around Whitechapel with Stencl, Shloimy started exploring by himself, often drifting around the streets coming across things by accident. “Knowing that places like Commercial Road were important, I’d wander along and see a Jewish shop name and photograph it.”

He spent days recording Jewish life, from shuls to delis, shops, market stalls, and traders. He recorded the textile-trimming merchants. He recorded kosher poulterers on Hessel Street. “Shop after shop, stalls with chickens plucked and hanging from a barrow, they were all surviving, all doing business, it was still a rich Jewish landscape.”

Kosher chickens. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He took photographs of kosher wine merchants, the Grand Palais Yiddish Theatre and the Kosher Luncheon Club. He took slides of the Jewish bakeries – Free Co., Cohen’s, Kossoff’s, Grodzinski’s and bagel shops in East London. “They were all friendly, loved me coming in and chatting in Yiddish and taking a picture.”

Bakery shop windows. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He went into the Soup Kitchen on Brune Street, which was sending out pre-packed food to elderly Jews living in the area. On Brick Lane, he photographed Jewish booksellers, newsagents, textile merchants. “All these places existed, everything the community needed – it told me how large the community still was.”

Textile traders. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

On Cheshire Street he saw the work of Jewish cabinet makers outside their workshops and during one visit he managed to get inside the Cheshire Street Synagogue, “which was the most remarkable find, it was a Shabbat and the door was slightly open so I went inside and saw all this beautifully lathed woodwork done by the cabinet makers of the street.”

A stall on Petticoat Lane. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He photographed the entrance to Black Lion Yard, once known as ‘the Hatton Garden of the East End’ because of all the jewelry shops there, although most of the street and shops had been demolished by then. He took pictures of the Whitechapel Waste, of the market stalls and street life, of Stencl selling his magazine to an alter bubby (old grandmother), the London Hospital, the nearby Brady Street dwellings. He explored the back streets, visited little shops, tobacconists, market stalls and Jewish delis. “Roggs was my favorite, he’d always be in that old vest, sticking his great hairy arms into a barrel of cucumbers he pickled himself.”

Roggs on Canon Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman

He photographed the window of the room on Tyne Street where “Sholem Aleichem stayed on his way to America from Odessa.” Most of the time Shloimy walked alone but sometimes Stencl would join him.

A butcher on Hessel Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

Shloimy fell in love with the area and documented what he saw. He said, “I am not a photographer, I make no claim. The reason that I started this is I wanted to be able to show my children about Jewish life in England before I immigrated to Israel. It was obvious to me that what I was looking at was soon to vanish. It might be because I was an outsider that I saw this so acutely or because I had already witnessed this disappearance of Jewish life in Manchester. For an intense period of time, I photographed what I considered important landmarks and eating places of Jewish London.”

His photographs capture the era absolutely and survive as a unique record of a disappeared world.

A catalog of the exhibition photos can be ordered direct from Sandys Row Synagogue here.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.


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