The Man Who Would Be King: Delusions of (Royal) Grandeur in Mandatory Palestine

Samuel Solnik, who claimed descent from King David, sought to convince the US and Britain to restore the ancient Kingdom of Israel and place his son on the throne

Samuel Solnik created a coat of arms for himself, featuring the Lion of Judah

Samuel Solnik was an ambitious fellow. But then, you can’t really go about reestablishing an ancient biblical dynasty without a little good old-fashioned chutzpah.

This dapper young man looked rather out of place in the simple, unassuming scenery of Mandatory Palestine with its modest buildings, narrow dusty streets and dirty bazaars.

Solnik though, was a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of guy. He carried himself with an air of European aristocracy – fancy suits, combed back hair and an expensive automobile, at a time when cars were a rare commodity in Jerusalem.

Samuel Solnik claimed to be heir to the throne of the ancient kingdom of Israel. Image taken from his book The Kingdom of Israel: The Kingdom of the House of David in Light of Our Current Reality (Hebrew, Shraga Weinfeld Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1942)

Born in Kalisz, Poland in 1910, Samuel’s father was Herman Solnik, an author and a local Zionist activist, his mother Gitel was a school teacher. With the outbreak of World War II, Samuel made his way to Paris to study dentistry at the Sorbonne. Soon enough though, the Nazis rolled into the French capital and the young Jewish medical student was off to Switzerland to continue his studies.

He finally arrived in the Land of Israel in the early 1940s, settled in Jerusalem and began working as a dentist. It was during this period that Solnik came across documents which he believed proved a long standing family rumor – that the Solniks were in fact descended from the family of Don Isaac Abarbanel, the great Jewish statesman, philosopher and biblical commentator who had served as treasurer to King Afonso V of Portugal during the 15th century.

The Abarbanels in turn had claimed to be of the line of King David himself, and here, Samuel Solnik saw his great opportunity.

Solnik drew a line connecting his family all the way back to Don Isaac Abarbanel, who lived in the 15th century and is said to have claimed descent from the House of David

It was a time when a political divide was already very apparent between the left wing Labor Zionism of David Ben Gurion and the right wing revisionist Zionism of Ze’ev Zabotinsky and his protégé Menachem Begin.

Solnik set about attempting to convince his fellow Hebrews that they had been wasting their time with their endless political bickering and partisan nonsense.

After all, why bother? They had before them the perfect candidate to oversee the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the ancient homeland – No less than a living, breathing heir to the throne of King David!

In 1942, he set out his case in a book: The Kingdom of Israel: The Kingdom of the House of David in Light of Our Current Reality (Hebrew, Shraga Weinfeld Printing Press, Jerusalem).

The first section of this rambling tome resembles the biblical genealogies found in the Book of Genesis and the New Testament, systematically laying out a brief history of each of Solnik’s ancestors – beginning with Rabbi Samuel Abarbanel, Don Isaac’s grandfather – and showing how each generation of Abarbanels begat the next. It tells of a certain branch of the family which eventually settled in Saloniki in modern day Greece (the origin of the name Solnik) before their descendants made their way to Eastern Europe, finally producing Samuel’s father Herman.

A few pages later, Solnik modestly wrote:

To this day there are families who live among us, with papers proving their lineage that reaches back to the time of the kings of Israel. As an example, I must note the Solnik family, descended from the family of the Sephardic Don Abarbanel, and it is known that he was in possession of a certificate confirming he was a descendant of King David […] Despite the expulsions and the riots this lineage remains unbroken, and the Hebrew people proudly carries the royal crown in its blood!”

Solnik’s book even featured his own royal sigil – the roaring Lion of Judah, striding forward menacingly with bared teeth beneath a regal crown topped with the Star of David. Not the most subtle of symbols perhaps, but this man wished to be king, after all.

Beneath the sigil in his book, Solnik wrote: Let the "Lion of David", on a field of blue and white, this symbol of national unity and honor, fly amongst the flags of the nations
Beneath the sigil in his book, Solnik wrote: Let the “Lion of David”, on a field of blue and white, this symbol of national honor and unity, fly amongst the flags of the nations. Image taken from his book The Kingdom of Israel: The Kingdom of the House of David in Light of Our Current Reality (Hebrew, Shraga Weinfeld Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1942)

Solnik’s presumptuous claims made him something of a curiosity in Mandatory Jerusalem. He and his wife Sima hosted lavish parties for the Hebrew elite at their home in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood, with government ministers reportedly among the many guests. The local press found Solnik and his ambitions rather amusing, and he would often be featured briefly in various gossip columns. Yet despite these minor brushes with fame, it seems he was not terribly successful in convincing his fellow Jews that they had any need of a king.

History is full of monarchs who came to power on the back of widespread popular support thanks to their overwhelming charisma, but Solnik was not of that sort. Nor did he command any armies that could win him a crown by way of the sword, though he once claimed to have convinced a few soldiers to get on board following a drunken Purim celebration (see below).

A short news item in The Palestine Post from March 17th, 1949. This drunken episode turned out to be less than “a turning-point in Israel’s history”…


There was another potential path to kingship, however, which at this stage seemed to him the most plausible.

In early 1946, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry began its work in the region. This body consisting of British and American officials had come together in Jerusalem to examine and make recommendations on the question of Jewish immigration in the post-war era as well as the future of Mandatory Palestine.

David Ben Gurion speaks before the Anglo-American Comittee of Inquiry. Photo courtesy of the David B. Keidan Collection of Digital Images at the Central Zionist Archives
David Ben Gurion speaks before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. Photo courtesy of the David B. Keidan Collection of Digital Images at the Central Zionist Archives

Samuel Solnik realized that this was his chance to convince the great powers of the world that his family deserved to be sat on the ancient throne of Israel. By this point, however, he had changed his tune a bit. Perhaps realizing that his previous pitches may have come off a little self-serving, Solnik now put forward another candidate for the crown – his son, Emmanuel I, who had been born three years earlier.

An early draft of Solnik’s typed letter to the Anglo-American Committee was recently found in the archives of the National Library of Israel, complete with penned-in additions and corrections of various typos and mistakes.

Samuel Solnik’s letter to the Anglo-American Committee, requesting that his son Emmanuel be placed on the throne. The National Library collections

Solnik, who clearly was simply looking to make life easier for everyone involved, pointed out the simple practicality of his idea in the opening paragraphs (while also emphasizing the drawbacks of representative democracy):

“…the whole world and especially the Anglo-American one will more easily be able to establish common ground with the Royal Dynasty in various and economic problems, than with dozens of Jewish factions, groupings and parties.”

Solnik explains why a royal monarchy represents a simpler, more practical solution for all…The National Library collections

It seems Solnik hoped to convince any Christian Zionists who happened to be among the British and American officials to get behind his monarchist plan…

“…Christendom supports the ideology of the KINGDOM of ISRAEL. The idea is especially supported by the Anglican Church basing its liveliness fundamentally on the Bible and recognizing the connection of the KINGDOM of ISRAEL with the HOUSE of DAVID.

Therefore that Church would continue to support and recognize the JEWISH KING EMMANUEL I thus giving fullest satisfaction to the Jewish Nation.”

Solnik promised to protect Western interests and attempted to appeal to Christian Zionists. The National Library collections

As for the actual running of the kingdom until the coming of age of the boy king…

“… the Committee – in accordance with the promise given us by God and the Prophets will seriously take into their consideration the creation of a Jewish Kingdom of the HOUSE of DAVID headed by a temporary Regency. The Regency which would consist of 3 members, would take over their functions from the actual Palestine Mandate Governement. [sic]

[…] The following should be appointed to become members of the Regency of the KINGDOM of ISRAEL:

  1. Dr. Chaim Weizman [sic]
  2. Arie Altman
  3. Samuel Solnik

DAVID BEN GURION should be made Prime Minister.”

Solnik signs off, not before naming himself a member of a proposed three-man regency to rule in the name of his son Emmanuel. The National Library collections
Solnik signs off, not before naming himself a member of a proposed three-man regency to rule in the name of his son Emmanuel I. The National Library collections

Alas, the Committee remained unimpressed by Samuel’s arguments in favor of a monarchic system – not only did their final recommendations not  include the foundation of a Jewish kingdom, the committee avoided recommending a Jewish state altogether, though things worked out differently in the end.

By 1949 it seems Solnik had given up, and the local press reported that the pretender to the throne sent a telegram to Chaim Weizmann congratulating him on his appointment as President of the young State of Israel, an act which was perceived as a relinquishing of all claims to the crown.

A photograph of the proposed heir, Samuel Solnik’s son Emmanuel I, appeared in an edition of the Hebrew daily Maariv on March 1st, 1949

The prospective King remained but a simple dentist, and now withdrew from Jerusalem, moving his clinic to the seaside town of Netanya, and indulging in his other hobby: stamp collecting.

Solnik would soon leave the country for Canada where he would spend nearly two decades and where much of his family still lives. He returned to Israel in 1969 but passed away two years later following a stroke.

The dream of a Jewish kingdom under his family’s rule remained just that.

Amy Simon, a cataloguer in the National Library’s Foreign Languages Department, contributed to this article.


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A Special Back to School Project: Recognize Yourself in These Photos?

Identify and tag your friends, family members, and yourselves in these rare photos of school children from the National Library collections, taken between the 1950s and the 1990s

חזרה ללימודים

Photo by Danny Gottfried, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The National Library and Facebook Israel have continued their partnership by introducing a new project ahead of the start of the school year. More than a thousand historical photographs of school children will be made available to the public through the assistance and funding of Facebook Israel.

The National Library’s collection of rare photographs contains millions of pictures, and in many cases there is very little information available about them. Often, the information includes only the time and place that the photograph was taken– for example, “Taken in Tel Aviv, 1974.” It is because of this that we have decided to, once again, turn to the wider public, and with the help of Facebook Israel, spread the photographs to as many Israelis as possible so that they can help and contribute the most important information about any photograph – the identity of the person featured in it as well as the story behind the image.

In honor of the back to school season, we will upload photo albums spanning several decades of Israeli history and invite the wider public to identify and tag their friends, family and themselves in the photographs. This means their names will be preserved in the archives of the National Library of Israel for generations to come along with the cultural treasures of the State of Israel and of the Jewish nation.

The photographs will be presented on the National Library of Israel Facebook page and will allow for everyone and anyone to experience these special moments that were captured in time by professional photographers who were active in the first few decades following the foundation of the State of Israel.

The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel includes nearly 2.5 million photographs of the Land of Israel and of the State of Israel. Spanning the course of 150 years, it is the largest collection of photographs of Israel in the world. It includes a large number of smaller collections within it, but the Dan Hadani Collection stands out in particular. An archive of over a million photographs, the Dan Hadani Collection contains images from nearly every important moment in Israel’s history. Dan Hadani and his team of photographic journalists captured political developments, wars and cultural events over the course of several decades. These photographers also accompanied young students on their first days of school, were there as they met with a range of different interesting figures, were present at the end-of-year school ceremonies as well as for various celebrations held for the children throughout the calendar year.

Yaron Deutscher, Head of the Digital Department at the National Library: “The treasures that are preserved at the National Library are relevant to each and every one of us, and these adorable children who were photographed in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and those of us looking at the photos are one and the same – Israelis living here today. Thanks to our wonderful partnership with Facebook and Instagram we can reach all of these Israelis and bring them into our collective national memory.”

Adi Soffer Teeni, CEO of Facebook Israel: “Facebook Israel and the National Library have been in partnership for nearly a year and each successful project manages to move me all over again. Our ability in today’s digital world to bring pieces of history to life, to tell the story of the country through the lens of a camera, is a great privilege. The photograph collection at the National Library tells the story of the State of Israel at every stage of history and connects us to the people who were there. I hope that this project will allow us to give names to the faces in these special and unique photographs.”


Have fun at school!

Photo albums:

Children of the 1950s and 1960s

Children of the 1970s

Children of the 1980s and 1990s

Captives in Lebanon: The Story of the “Marine Carp”

How Israel’s declaration of independence shaped the fate of 69 Jews on an American passenger ship


In May 1948, a new regional order took hold in the Middle East. In a single moment, metaphorical walls were erected and routes were cut off. Jerusalem was still under siege and the road to the Negev desert was blocked. International routes that were once used freely by the inhabitants of Mandatory Palestine were now shut down as a result of the war that had broken out. Damascus and Cairo were no longer accessible. In the midst of this new order, just one day after the establishment of the State of Israel, a maritime drama began which would last for a month and a half. This is the story of the American ship, Marine Carp.

This article was written in collaboration with the Toldot Yisrael Collection, dedicated to documenting the testimonies of the State of Israel’s founding generation. This collection is now deposited in the National Library.

The USNS Marine Carp was originally built for the purpose of transporting military forces to Europe and back. Following the conclusion of World War II, the vessel was repurposed as a  passenger ship and set on a regular, commercial route. She embarked out of New York, crossed the Atlantic, and docked in Athens, Beirut, Haifa, and Alexandria. At the end of the route, she returned to New York via Italy. During the post-war period, the Marine Carp transported many American Jews to the Land of Israel in order to volunteer on kibbutzim, attend youth gatherings, or simply immigrate to the Land of Israel legally (if they were able to make it past the various obstacles successfully). The ship set out from New York every five weeks. On May 4th, 1948, Marine Carp embarked on its regular route. There were many Jewish travelers aboard, including Jews from the Land of Israel studying or living in the United States who were answering a general enlistment call put out by the Hebrew Yishuv which was already fighting for its life in the War of Independence.

A picture of some of the Marine Carp passengers before embarking on a fateful voyage. From The Jewish Daily Forward Yiddish newspaper. May 22, 1948.
A picture of some of the Marine Carp passengers before embarking on their fateful voyage. From The Jewish Daily Forward Yiddish newspaper. May 22nd, 1948

One of the passengers on the Marine Carp was David Sidorsky, who would later become a professor of philosophy at Columbia University. While a young student in New York, he was in attendance at the UN building during the vote on the partition plan. Following its acceptance, and the ensuing threats of war by the Arab states, the idea of volunteering for combat was planted deeply in his mind. After a brief meeting with Teddy Kollek, then a representative of the Haganah, he received permission to join the division of overseas volunteers and boarded the ship.

But the plans of the volunteers would be halted in their tracks.

David Sidorsky testifies:

When the ship reached Beirut, a stop on its regular route, 400 Lebanese soldiers were waiting for the passengers at port. The Lebanese authorities did not want to allow Jewish men of military age to continue on to Israel. Indeed, 69 passengers, all Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 50, were forcibly removed from the ship. Among the detainees were 41 American citizens, 23 fresh Israeli citizens, 3 Canadians, and 2 others. Some of the Israeli citizens aboard had, in fact, been training in the United States to operate radar systems for the newly formed IDF.

Another passenger on the ship was Muriel Eisenberg, later Muriel Arens when she married future Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Arens. According to her testimony, the Lebanese forces searched the ship, in which weapons were hidden, and threatened the radio operator not to send any kind of distress signal.

Muriel Arens testifies:

Courtesy of Eliza Arens, Muriel’s daughter, we received pictures taken by Muriel on the deck of the ship, as well as images of the docking at the port of Beirut.

On the ship’s deck. Courtesy of the Arens family


At the port of Beirut. Courtesy of the Arens family

The ship’s crew tried to resist, but their efforts were in vain. Daniel Doron, another passenger (and a great-grandson of Zerah Barnett, co-founder of the city of Petah Tikva). testified:


“Most of the ship’s crew were black. We made friends with them. We would sing with them, drink with them and eat with them. They refused to leave Beirut. They said, ‘We are not leaving, not moving the ship. We are not leaving Beirut without the Israelis.’ It was only when the ambassador convinced them that the incident would be resolved within a week that they agreed to continue on their way.”

The detainees were taken by truck to the city of Baalbek, where they were held in an abandoned French military camp. Daniel Doron reflected on the drive to the camp:

“We drove all night. We departed at 10 o’clock or 12 o’clock at night. That was the most dangerous part because the trucks – Lebanese military trucks – were in bad shape. The brakes did not work very well. They bounced up and down, you know…”


Some of the passengers complained about how the U.S. was handling their detention, and even accused the U.S. consulate in Beirut of anti-Semitism. The United States condemned the refusal of the Lebanese to release the detainees, causing a minor diplomatic incident between the two countries.

While the detainees were transported to Baalbek, the ship continued on to Haifa. Among the passengers on board were the families of the detainees – women and children who were allowed to continue on their journey. It was at this point that a separate drama began to unfold on the ship. Israeli authorities demanded the removal of 25 Lebanese civilians from the ship, hoping to leverage a prisoner exchange. These attempts were apparently unsuccessful, and did not contribute to the efforts to release the detainees in Lebanon. Telegrams sent to the Marine Carp captain on that day are stored in the Israel State Archives.

Letter to the captain of the Marine Carp, asking him to condone the arrest of 25 Lebanese on board. Courtesy of the Israel State Archives


List of the 25 Lebanese passengers aboard the Marine Carp, whom the Israeli authorities requested to detain in response to Lebanese actions. Courtesy of the Israel State Archives

Once the incident in Beirut became public knowledge, it aroused great interest in the new State of Israel. The local press covered the events extensively throughout the episode.

So, what was the catalyst that eventually led to the liberation of the captive Jews? What finally contributed to stepping up U.S. efforts to end the affair? The official answer has never been revealed.

According to testimony from Daniel Doron, a family member was able to speak to then-US President Harry Truman about the issue. Truman was, apparently, able to find a solution to the crisis over the course of the two weeks that followed the meeting.

“Truman said, ‘What?!’ Then he told him the story. Truman fumed and went to the red phone. He picked it up, and the head of covert services was on the other end. He said, ‘Listen, my friend, either you free these people within two weeks or you can look for another job.’”

The American detainees refused to accept the release that had been arranged for them without their Israeli counterparts. Lebanese attempts to separate the populations had failed. Finally, on June 30th, almost a month and a half after the incident, the Lebanese agreed to release all of the detainees. They were sent back to New York, but many of them were unable to obtain a visa and were forced to stay on Ellis Island. From there, they again departed with the Marine Carp. Some of the passengers, anxious to return to Israel, had not waited to arrive on American shores. They chose to hop off the ship at other ports and found creative ways to get back to Israel. One of the liberated detainees who fled the ship in Italy was Shabtai Teveth, who later became the biographer of David Ben-Gurion. Another well-known passenger was Oded Burla who, over the years, became one of Israel’s most well-known and beloved children’s poets.

The National Library’s Toldot Yisrael Collection contains interviews with four passengers who were on the Marine Carp. Do you know other people who were aboard the ship during that fateful voyage? If so, please let us know.


A Late Expressionist-Literary Critic-Literary Scholar

The Estate of Rudolf Kayser

Rudolf Kayser, who died on February 5, 1964, is not necessarily known today, even among experts on literary history. This is despite the fact that Kayser was one of the most influential figures in literary circles in the Weimar Republic prior to his emigration in 1933. He was the chief editor of the literary journal Die Neue Rundschau, in publication to this day by S. Fischer Publishers in Germany. In addition to his role as an editor, Kayser authored literary compisitionsworks, including treatises on the history of literature and philosophy.

Rudolf Kayser was born on November 28, 1889 in Parchim, a small city northwest of Berlin. He passed his matriculation exams successfully in 1910. During the four years that followed, he studied German literature, literary history, philosophy and art history in Berlin, Munich and Würzburg, where he completed his studies in 1914 with a doctorate in philosophy.

Kayser married Ilse Einstein, one of the step-daughters of Albert Einstein. The marriage brought Kayser close to Einstein himself, a relationship that was intensive and far exceeded the closeness within the family. The relationship between the two also continued after Ilse’s death in France in 1934, after ten years of marriage. Kayser wrote a biography of Einstein, which was published under the pseudonym Anton Reiser, and only in an English edition.

Already as a student, Kayser composed literary texts. One of the important works of the young author was the novel Moses Tod (“The Death of Moses”), published in 1921 in the expressionist book series, “The Last Day” (Der jüngste Tag) under the auspices of the well know publisher Kurt Wolff. Kayser’s works as an editor are considered more significant – for example, the anthology of expressionist poetry, “The Tiding” (Verkündigung) (1921). His books on the history of philosophy, such as his biography of Barukh Spinoza, as well as his contributions as a literary critic – including in the journal Die Neue Rundschau – received much attention.


פרו של קייזר, מות משה, שיצא לאור ב-1921 ככרך האחרון בסדרה האקספרסיוניסטית "היום האחרון" אצל המו"ל קורט וולף
Kayser’s book, Moses Tod, published in 1921 as the last volume in the expressionist series Der jüngste Tag published by Kurt Wolff

In his role as chief editor of the journal, Kayser occupied a key position in the world of German literature, which is manifested in his intensive correspondence with authors of his day. His estate includes many letters from Gerhart Hauptmann, Herman Hesse, Oskar Loerke Heinrich and Thomas Mann, and Stefan Zweig. In many cases the relationship with these authors continued after Kayser left the editorial board of the journal in 1932.

As the brother-in-law of Albert Einstein, who was hated by the Nazis, as a Jew and as a liberal literary critic, Kayser had not choice but to emigrate from Germany after the Nazi rise to power in 1933. Initially, his path took him to Holland, but following the death of his first wife Ilse, Kayser resumed his flight, arriving in the Untied States. There, he was married for the second time, and was employed as a lecturer in literature in various colleges, ultimately securing a professorship at Brandeis Universeity. In the early 1960s, Kayser visited Israel and wrote about his visit. The text was distributed among his acquaintances and friends. In February 1964, Kayser died of a heart ailment in his apartment in New York.

Already within a year of Rudolf Kayser’s death, , Kurt David Wahrman, then Director of the National and University Library, contacted Kayser’s widow and arranged the transfer of the estate to the library in Jerusalem. The material reached the library only after the decease of Eva Kayser in 2000. Of late, all of the material has been arranged and catalogued, and is now available to scholars.


Rudolf Kayser in the 1920s
Rudolf Kayser with his first wife, Ilse Einstein, c. 1921
ספרו של קייזר, מות משה, שיצא לאור ב-1921 ככרך האחרון בסדרה האקספרסיוניסטית "היום האחרון" אצל המו"ל קורט וולף
Kayser’s book, Moses Tod, published in 1921 as the last volume in the expressionist series Der jüngste Tag published by Kurt Wolff
האנתולוגיה "הבשורה" של שירה אקספרסיוניסטית שנערכה על ידי קייזר, 1921
Kayser’s personal dedication in his book about the philosopher Immanuel Kant to Eva, who wold later become his first wife, 1936
הביוגרפיה של ברוך שפינוזה מאת רודולף קייזר, 1932
Frontispiece of Kayser’s book about Immanuel Kant, 1935
זכרונות על אשתו הראשונה אילזה (אינשטיין), 1936
Biography of Baruch Spinoza by Rudolf Kayser, 1932
עמוד השער של ספרו של קייזר על עמנואל קנט, 1935
Biography of Baruch Spinoza by Rudolf Kayser, 1932
הקדשה אישית של קייזר בספרו על הפילוסוף עמנואל קנט לאווה, לימים אשתו השנייה, 1936
Memories of his first wife, Ilse (Einstein), 1936