Donating Pocket Money for Jewish Refugees in Cyprus

In 1947, Britain was still holding tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants in camps in Cyprus, many of them Holocaust survivors. The children of the Yishuv joined in the aid effort, donating their pocket money and clothing so that the displaced children could stay warm in the cold winter months.


Children donate clothing for Jewish refugees in Cyprus, 1948. Photo: Benno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Ships packed with refugees make their way to the shores. The authorities do their best to locate and capture the boats before they anchor. The intelligence services collect information about the movement of the illegal immigrants. Coast Guard destroyers try to block the rickety and overloaded vessels. When a boat is captured, the passengers on board are sent to detention camps…

Though the above could easily be a description of recent migrant crises in the Mediterranean, it actually refers to the period of Jewish immigration to the Land Israel after the conclusion of World War II and the Holocaust. The British directed considerable resources to counter unauthorized, illegal immigration during this period, an enterprise that the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine worked hard to renew after World War II. The goal was to bring as many Jewish survivors as possible to the Land of Israel.

Once a ship had been captured, the passengers on board were sent to detention camps in Cyprus set up by the British. These camps operated from 1946 to the beginning of 1949—that is, they continued to operate even after the establishment of the State of Israel.

Many Holocaust survivors—men, women and children—found themselves among the detainees in Cyprus. Some had already survived the concentration camps and then lived in DP camps in Europe. These homeless refugees took incredible risks to reach the place that promised to be their homeland, and instead of a refuge, they found themselves once more surrounded by barbed wire fences. The conditions in the camps in Cyprus were not easy and while the British took care to provide basic food and services, both were insufficient.

Detention camp residents in Cyprus being freed from the camps, photo by Benno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Jews already in the Land of Israel did not forget their fellow Jews in the detention camps.  After the establishment of the state, the struggle for the release of the detainees intensified, but even before, the Jewish Agency and other pre-state institutions had been working busily on their behalf. Hebrew language instruction was provided, all the underground movements sent representatives to recruit and train the camps’ residents, and in April 1948, an illustrious cultural delegation including poet Nathan Alterman and singer Shoshana Damari visited the camps.

The “Committee for the Cyprus Exiles” was the chief body set up by the Jewish Agency, the National Committee, and the JDC, to assist the detainees. The committee mainly collected donations—money, food packages and other items. Packages with the various items were sent regularly through the committee, which also organized deliveries of toys, books, newspapers, and tools. Before the holidays, they would send special foods and other necessities required for the holiday’s observance. The committee organized regular cultural activities in the camps and provided employment for the occupants, as well as many other activities designed to ease the lives of the refugees.

A harsh winter threatens our brethren in the camps – Bring forth clothing and shoes!” reads this Hebrew Poster published by the Committee for the Exiles of Cyprus for a “Winter Clothing” drive in 1947, the Ephemera Collection, the National Library of Israel

The committee also organized special fundraising campaigns. One of the largest was Operation “Winter Clothing”, which began in the fall of 1947, immediately after the committee had completed its work for the Jewish High Holy Days. This latest campaign was the third winter fundraising drive the committee had conducted. All the newspapers carried stories on the operation, whose goal was to provide blankets and clothing for about 50,000 refugees in detention camps in Cyprus, the DP camps in Europe, and also for refugees from the Aden riots in Yemen. Women’s organizations and youth movements mobilized for the two-week-long effort.

Hundreds of collection depots were set up in the larger cities for citizens to deposit clothes, blankets, food or other items. The announcements in the newspapers called on residents not to wait until the collectors came to their homes but instead to go the collection points with their donations. The Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, whose own resources were quite limited, rallied to help its fellow Jews imprisoned abroad.

The processing center for donations during Operation “Winter Clothing”, 1947. Photo: Benno Rothenberg, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

When the operation was over, the committee did not rest on its laurels, and immediately began a campaign to supply holiday necessities and matzah for Purim and Pesach.

Operation Winter Clothing was one of the largest and most successful of its kind at the time. And not only adults lent a hand, but so did the country’s children. In the photos accompanying this article you can see children bringing clothes to collection points. The local children’s newspapers also addressed the issue. An editorial in one of these newspapers called on its young readers to ponder the question: “As we prepare our own winter clothes here in Eretz Yisrael, we should ask ourselves: Do our brothers and sisters in Cyprus have what to wear?” The same children’s newspapers also regularly reported on children who chose to donate their birthday money to the children of Cyprus: one child donated one Palestine pound or lira, another gave three, and another donated 300 mil (1 Palestine pound = 1000 mil). In one case, an entire class collected money for the benefit of the displaced children.

Children donating clothing during Operation “Winter Clothing”, 1947. Photo: Benno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel


For the Chidren of Cyprus – Aza Tel-Tsur (of Afikim) donated 300 mil of her pocket money on the occasion of her 9th birthday”  – Children’s newspapers were filled with announcements about children’s donations for the benefit of the refugees in Cyprus. Davar LeYeladim, October 9, 1947


For the Children of Cyprus – David Tirza (of Motza Elit, on his 11th birthday – 1 Palestine pound“, Davar LeYeladim, November 13, 1947, from the very days of the clothing drive

The donations continued throughout 1948. The last of the detainees were finally released in the first months of 1949, a full nine months after the establishment of the State of Israel. Their release was only obtained after considerable Israeli efforts – the British had curiously insisted on holding onto the detainees, almost 4 years after the end of World War II. At last, the story of illegal Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel had come to an end

All the photographs in this article, and many more documenting Operation Winter Clothing in 1947 were taken by the photojournalist Benno Rothenberg and are now part of the Meitar Collection at the National Library of Israel.  Click on the link here to view them all.

His Way: Frank Sinatra in the Service of Israel

How Ol' Blue Eyes managed to trick the FBI, make a special delivery down at the docks and help the Jewish state-in-the-making...

Frank Sinatra watching an IDF parade during a visit to Israel in 1962, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photograph Collection, the National Library of Israel. Colorization: MyHeritage

And now, the end is here
And so I face that final curtain
My friend, I’ll make it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

(My Way, lyrics by Paul Anka, famously performed by Frank Sinatra.)

It was March, 1948 – in a few weeks, the State of Israel would declare its independence.

The Haganah organization was working back channels in order to arm the Jewish population in what was still officially Mandatory Palestine. Fighting was already underway.   At a room in a New York hotel that served as the Haganah’s de-facto local HQ, Teddy Kollek planned his next moves: His mission, on David Ben-Gurion’s orders, was to transfer funds to the captain of an Irish ship, docked not far away and loaded with ammunition. Once the transfer was made, the ship was set to sail to the Land of Israel.  But Kollek, who years later would become famous as an iconic mayor of Jerusalem, faced a difficult problem: as a known Haganah operative, U.S. federal agents were monitoring his every move. Every member of his team was being watched as well. He knew there was no way he could get the money out of the hotel on his own to pay the captain. The fate of the arms delivery the Haganah so desperately needed was unclear.

Next to the Haganah’s secret headquarters, in the very same building, was the famous Copacabana nightclub. Haganah agents would sit at the bar and drink alongside the cream of New York’s entertainment scene. One of the establishment’s frequent visitors was none other than Frank Sinatra.

“I went downstairs to the bar and Sinatra came over, and we were talking,” Kollek later recalled. “I don’t know what came over me, but I told him what I was doing in the United States and what my dilemma was.”

Frank Sinatra (right) and Teddy Kollek (left), who by then was mayor of Jerusalem, an AP photo published in Davar, June 19, 1980

The next day, in the early morning hours, Teddy Kollek left the building holding a bag. FBI agents followed him. At the same moment, Frank Sinatra left out the back exit, carrying a million dollars in a paper bag. He went down to the pier, made the delivery to the captain, and waved goodbye to the ammunition ship as it sailed on its way.

“It was the beginning of the young nation, I wanted to help.” Sinatra later told his daughter Nancy.

Well after Israeli independence was declared, Frank Sinatra would continue to accompany the young country for many years. And everything he did, he did with love. His way.

And here’s a special bonus treat – this short film produced by the “National Comittee for Labor Israel” documented Sinatra’s 1962 visit to the country, in color!

Further Reading:

Sinatra: The Life – Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan

Friends in Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, Yossi Melman, Dan Raviv

Stuart Davidson – Full interview about Frank Sinatra and Teddy Kollek, Jimmy Hoffa (Associate) – Toldot Yisrael

How France Nearly Snatched Half of Jerusalem From Britain Over Lunch

If not for a crucial lunchtime intervention by General Edmund Allenby, who apparently had his mouth full, half of Jerusalem could have come under French control. In fact, had Allenby remained silent, there might never have been a British Mandate in Palestine, not to mention a State of Israel…

It could have all been very, very different, if things had actually gone to plan…

In late 1917, Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, received urgent orders. He was to immediately put aside his work in helping to stir up the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks, and join General Edmund Allenby in Palestine.

It was the late stages of the Great War – within days Jerusalem would fall to the conquering British Army, after nearly three grueling years of fighting against the Ottomans and their Imperial German allies in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

General Allenby rides at the head of the procession down Jaffa Street. He would dismount upon entering the Old City through Jaffa Gate. This photo appears on a souvenir postcard found in the Postcard Collection at the National Library of Israel


This was a landmark event in history – the Holy City was changing hands. The international press, who had paid little attention to the Palestine Campaign until now, were caught up in the excitement. After all, General Allenby had succeeded where even Richard the Lionheart had failed.

Comparisons to Richard the Lionheart and thoughts on the “Zionistic Dream”, J. The Jewish News of Northern California reports on Allenby’s capture of Jerusalem, December 21, 1917


Lawrence managed to secure an invitation to the highly anticipated handover ceremony on December 11. He was lacking the proper attire for such an event, needing to borrow a clean uniform and a brass hat, but he entered the Old City through Jaffa Gate, several steps behind Allenby who strode on foot as a mark of respect. Lawrence was present as the general announced to the dignitaries gathered in front of the Tower of David that the city was now officially under martial law. Though he wrote little else about the ceremony, Lawrence noted that, “for me it was the supreme moment of the war”.

The ceremony outside the gatehouse of Jerusalem’s Tower of David, December 11, 1917. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


Allenby speaks to the gathered dignitaries. His declaration of martial law signaled the beginning of British rule in Jerusalem. This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.


In his classic book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the Englishman did however elaborate further on a peculiar exchange that unfolded in the immediate aftermath of the ceremony, over a fairly impressive lunch (by military standards) in the quaint, nearby village of Ein Karem.

The aides pushed about, and from great baskets drew a lunch, varied, elaborate and succulent. On us fell a short space of quiet, to be shattered by Monsieur Picot, the French political representative […], who said in his fluting voice: ‘And tomorrow, my dear general. I will take the necessary steps to set up civil government in this town.’

[…] a silence followed, as when they opened the seventh seal in heaven. Salad, chicken mayonnaise and foie gras sandwiches hung in our wet mouths unmunched, while we turned to Allenby and gaped. Even he seemed for the moment at a loss. We began to fear that the idol might betray a frailty. But his face grew red: he swallowed, his chin coming forward (in the way we loved), whilst he said, grimly, ‘In the military zone the only authority is that of the Commander-in-Chief – myself.’

Picot protested further, but was cut short by Allenby, who made clear that the civil government would only be established when he saw fit.

It seems that François Georges-Picot was under the impression that France and Britain would share administrative authorities in Jerusalem, now that the city had fallen to the Allied Powers. Allenby was clearly having none of it.

T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia”, photographed by Lowell Thomas in 1919. Lawrence was present at both the ceremony at Jaffa Gate, as well as the lunchtime diplomatic incident


It’s possible that the exchange was even worse than Lawrence described. Another eyewitness, a French officer by the name of Louis Massignon who was part of Picot’s delegation, later wrote that “Allenby threatened Picot harshly with arrest if he interfered”. The British general, nicknamed “The Bull”, stood 6 foot 2 and was known for his unpredictable temper and imposing appearance.

General Allenby, “The Bull”, depicted in a sketch from 1917


The truth was that Picot had a point. The French diplomat, along with his British counterpart Mark Sykes, had been one of the chief formulators of the famous “Sykes-Picot Agreement”.

François Georges-Picot was appointed France’s High Commissioner in Palestine and Syria in 1917, but never held any effective authority in Palestine due to Allenby’s objections


According to the terms of this secret agreement signed in January 1916, Jerusalem and most of what had been Ottoman Palestine was to come under international administration with the conclusion of the war. Until then, according to Picot, all conquered sections of Palestine were meant to be ruled by a joint Anglo-French administration.

At this stage however, the British had other ideas. After all, they had fought and bled in this region for years. There were major setbacks along the way, including two military defeats at Gaza. They would suffer over 60,000 battle casualties with nearly 17,000 killed over the course of the campaign (it’s worth noting that much of the rank and file came from the far reaches of the British Empire, including India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand). The French contribution in Palestine was minimal in comparison. The British had no intention of now ceding control of the great prize because of a confidential agreement that was not even public knowledge.

With Allenby’s declaration of martial law, any serious talk of joint or international administration was put off indefinitely. British martial law effectively remained in place until the summer of 1920, when a civil administration was finally established, under the British Mandate, with no French or international involvement.

A Hebrew Hanukkah greeting card from 1917 celebrating the “Liberation of Jerusalem”. It features Allenby in colonial attire, soldiers from the Jewish Legion and a depiction of Mattathias, the Jewish priest credited with helping to spark the Maccabean Revolt. This item is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.


The brief and rather informal diplomatic tussle described above by Lawrence may very well have changed the course of Middle Eastern history. What would an Anglo-French Jerusalem have looked like? One can only imagine…

If not for General Allenby’s verbal resistance, raised as he chewed on his fois gras sandwich, there might never have been a British Mandate in Palestine. If an international administration had indeed been established in Palestine as per the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, would the State of Israel have ever come into existence? Arguably not.

The name of Edmund Allenby (who was later raised to the rank of Field Marshal and given the title “Viscount of Megiddo and of Felixstowe in the County of Suffolk”) today graces countless streets, bridges, parks and city squares across Israel. These honors celebrate the officer’s considerable military exploits, but his lunchtime stand against French intervention may have been just as crucial.




Further Reading:

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence, Dell Publishing, 1926

The Fantasy of an International Jerusalem, by Martin Kramer, Mosaic Magazine, 2017

Heinrich Himmler’s Books at the National Library of Israel

Even a mass murderer can have a personal library. Some of the books from Heinrich Himmler’s private collection, containing his signature, can be found today at the National Library of Israel. How did they get here?

Shlomo Shunami, a former senior staff member at the National Library of Israel, devoted his life to locating Jewish libraries that remained scattered across Europe after the Holocaust, and bringing these books to Israel. Over decades, he managed to transfer hundreds of thousands of books to the Jewish State, many of them ended up at the National Library of Israel.

In an interview conducted in 1977, Shunami recounted that among the books that had come from Germany were some from the private collection of none other than the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi regime.

I set out to find them.

Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS

Himmler was a talented administrator who successfully ran many complex governmental and policing systems while raining terror down on the citizens of Germany and the rest of Europe. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for the deportation of the Jews to ghettos in Eastern Europe, the establishment of concentration and extermination camps, and the murder of six million Jews and millions of others. Unlike other senior Nazis like Joseph Goebbels, Himmler did not have an extensive academic background. Yet he spent a great deal of time developing dubious racial and pseudo-scientific theories intended to “prove” the supposed superiority of the Aryan race and the inferiority of other peoples. It is easy to imagine him surrounded by books on history, folklore and science written by German and other scholars.

Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS

Adolf Hitler’s personal library, discovered after the war, was transferred to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The library of the antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer was deposited at the Yeshiva University Library in New York. But what ever happened to Himmler’s books?

Himmler was very interested in mysticism and the supernatural, and many of his books dealt with these subjects. Some of these books, collectively dubbed “the witch library,” were discovered a few years ago in the Czech Republic.

But what of the more traditional, classic antisemitic material that he most likely owned?

As luck would have it, this intriguing question has been solved. After years of searching, I stumbled upon a book from Himmler’s personal library in the collection of the National Library of Israel.

The book Der Aufstieg der Juden by the journalist Ferdinand Fried is a historical description of the Jewish people from the destruction of the Second Temple to the Roman period. Fried joined the SS and was promoted within the organization by Himmler himself. What’s more, the copy of Fried’s book in the National Library contains his own dedication to Himmler, who Fried described as his loyal partner in their joint struggle.

A year and a half after Fried penned the dedication, Himmler signed his name at the top of the page in large letters in green ink, with the date 28.12.38, probably the date on which he finished reading the book.

Ferdinand Fried’s book, featuring the dedication to Himmler. Himmler signed his name at the top of the page

I have held many of the library’s treasures in my hands, but the thought that 84 years ago, the blood-soaked hands of the architect of the Holocaust also held this very book was chilling, to say the least.

This book led me to another title from Himmler’s library. This time, it was the book Schriften für das deutsche Volk, by the Orientalist and antisemitic biblical scholar Paul de Lagarde, on the subject of government and politics. Himmler had signed his name at the top of the book’s title page.

The next book I found was Die Vererbung der Geistigen Begabung, which deals with issues of heredity and race and their impact on character and intelligence. Himmler signed his name as usual, with the date 22.1.39.

Two other books I discovered on that occasion did not belong to his personal library, but were sent by Himmler to the Nazi movement’s branch in the city of Haifa. Yes, there was indeed such a thing!

The first of three pages detailing the books kept in the library of the Haifa branch of the Nazi party in Palestine. Himmler’s book is the twelfth on the list. Photo: Israel State Archives

Before World War II, less than 2,500 German citizens were living in Mandatory Palestine, most of them in the Templer colonies. The Templers (not to be confused with the medieval Knights Templar) were a religious group with roots in the Pietist movement of the Lutheran church in Germany whose members immigrated to Ottoman Palestine in the mid-19th century. Karl Ruff, an architect born in Haifa to Templer parents, founded the Palestine branch of the Nazi party. Nazi groups were established in the Templer colonies of Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Sarona (Tel Aviv), and by the end of 1933, they had 121 members. The Palestine branch continued to expand, and members were emboldened to march through the city streets in Nazi attire, carrying flags emblazoned with the swastika. To encourage the members of the branch, the Nazi movement in Germany sent pamphlets, books, and even cheap radios for listening to propaganda broadcasts from Berlin. Towards the outbreak of the war, some of the men were drafted into the German army and returned to Europe. The rest of the Germans in the country were imprisoned or deported by the British Mandatory authorities (you can read more here).

These flags were used by the Nazi party branch in Mandatory Palestine

Among the books that reached the Nazi library in Haifa were those sent by Himmler himself. Eventually, the British dismantled the organization in Haifa, and the books found their way to the National Library in Jerusalem. So far, I have located only two of them. The first, Bauernbrauch im Jahreslauf, describes the country life, nature, customs and folklore of Germany. The second book, Die Schutzstaffel als antibolschewistische Kampforganisation, is Himmler’s own book on the history of the German people, the founding of the SS, and the racial and mental qualities required of its members.

Both books open with a short dedication to the Nazi group in Haifa from November 9, 1937. Both also feature Himmler’s personal signature along with his rank, Reichsführer-SS.

Himmler’s book, donated to the Nazi library in Haifa

I carefully closed Himmler’s books, returned them to the National Library’s rare books storeroom, and went to look for some hand sanitizer…