The Holy Land “in Natural Color”: German Postcards From 1932

Less than a year before the Nazis came to power, a collection of postcards featuring holy sites and the developing Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel was published in Munich…

Chen Malul
The Jaffa Gate

In addition to the thousands of books that find their way to the National Library of Israel every year, there are also hundreds of other historical items which are added to the collections on an annual basis: photo albums, posters, letters and, once in a while, the occasional mysterious cardboard box.

Such a box was recently donated by Chana and Yoram Harel. On its cover appears a description in German that offers a first clue to its contents. The description reads:  Das Heilige Land: 126 Ansichten in Naturfarbenphotographie. Preiss & Co., Munchen – “The Holy Land: 126 Postcards in Natural Color, Price and Co., Munich”.

When we opened the box, its contents were as we had expected—several dozen postcards featuring landscapes of the Holy Land, two maps of Palestine (north and south), a map of Jerusalem and a booklet in German. A closer look at the postcards reveals that these were created using the photochrome technique.

A young Bedouin


Landscapes of the Holy Land

In 1880, a Swiss printing company by the name of “Orell Füssli” developed a technique for creating color images. This method came to be known as the photochrome technique. Long before the development of analog color photography, which captures original colors of the subject being photographed on a roll of film, the photochrome technique enabled color reprinting of a black and white photo. Orell Füssli’s innovation was the use of the centuries-old technique of lithography to produce these color prints.

Ironically, the photochrome technique gave rise to a strange state of affairs: in the event that the colorists did not have precise instructions concerning the original colors of the image they were being asked to reprint, they had no choice but to use their own imagination and common sense.

This was the case in many photochrome albums, where the relationship between the actual colors of the photographed subject and the colors that were artificially added later on is often purely coincidental. In the postcards we have here, on the other hand, it seems that the “Uvachrom” company that published them went to great lengths to get as close as possible to reality.

The booklet that accompanies the postcards provides the necessary background. The 126 photos in the collection were taken during a “trip to the Holy Land in spring 1931,” a year before the postcards were printed in Munich. The booklet’s title page makes reference to a “High Shepherd”, who gave his approval to the project. It seems this collection of postcards was produced for a German Catholic audience, printed with the approval of a high-ranking bishop, possibly even the Pope himself.

Das Heilige Land: 126 Ansichten in Naturfarbenphotographie. Preiss & Co., Munchen – “The Holy Land: 126 Postcards in Natural Color, Price and Co., Munich”

But don’t let this fact mislead you. Despite the many images of Christian holy sites (including, of course, the Church of the Dormition, which was built following the visit of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Holy Land), many others depict the progress of the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel. There are, for example, pictures of the Hebrew University, the National Library at its former location on Mount Scopus, the tomb of Rabbi Meir in Tiberias, and the electric power station established by Pinchas Rutenberg.

The Tomb of Rabbi Meir in Tiberias

Eighty of the original 126 postcards in the collection remain in their original box. The rest were probably sent by the owners of the collection to friends and family. This leads us to the obvious question: Who was the target buyer of such a collection? While we do not know the identity of the collection’s original owner, the accompanying booklet makes clear who it was meant for. The collection is described as a “precious souvenir for anyone lucky enough to see the land with their own eyes, providing all others with a vivid glimpse of its beauty.”

The 67-page booklet contains detailed information about the Holy Land: general topographical information, an explanation of the perpetual water shortage; a history of Zionism and the Hebrew language; an in-depth discussion of Jerusalem including information about the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; as well as details of the different stations in the life of Jesus in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.  The booklet concludes with a drawing of the Temple Mount Plaza.

The collection’s date of publication is of particular historical significance. It was published in Munich, Germany, in 1932; less than a year later, on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany.

Yohanan Ben Zakai Synagogue in Jerusalem


The Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City. The domes of the Hurva and Tiferet Yisrael synagogues are both visible


Jerusalem children enjoying locally grown oranges


Tomb of Rabbi Akiva


Rachel’s Tomb


This building on Mount Scopus housed the Jewish National and University Library at the time, today’s National Library of Israel


A view from the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus


The Dome of the Rock


Dr. Stephen Litt, Curator of the Humanities Collection at the National Library, contributed to the preparation of this article.


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