“Israel is a graveyard for Jewish languages”: An Interview With Dr. Tamar Eilam Gindin

The culture of Iranian Jews in Israel is bound up with a language that is nearly lost: Judeo-Persian. According to Dr. Tamar Eilam Gindin, a linguist and scholar of Iran, Judeo-Persian is not just one language. It is rather like a tapestry woven over thousands of years of Jewish history in Persia, so that sometimes different dialects were even found in the same city. In this interview, Dr. Eilam Gindin discusses the fate of Judeo-Persian in Israel as well as the secret language of Persian Jewry…


A story written in Judeo-Persian, 17th-18th century. Courtesy of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, accessible through the National Library of Israel’s Ktiv project

When was the last time you heard someone speaking Judeo-Moroccan, Ladino or Judeo-Persian? You may be familiar with a few words that come up in conversations at home with family members, but the truth is that most Jewish languages are no longer spoken, certainly not on a daily basis. Yet, these languages carry a great deal of cultural baggage, each one telling the story of a whole community, stories that for the most part have disappeared into the mists of time.

One of these Jewish languages that has been nearly forgotten ​​in Israel is Judeo-Persian, which is why we turned to Dr. Tamar Eilam Gindin, a linguist and scholar of Iran, who is herself fluent in quite a few languages. We wanted to focus on the story of Judeo-Persian but we very quickly learned how mistaken we were in making such a generalization. “It is highly inaccurate to speak about Judeo-Persian as one language. In fact, there are many Iranian-Jewish languages, not all are even Persian, and all of them have undergone quite a few changes. What began as Judeo-Persian is today a language very similar to Persian and is not written in Hebrew,” she explains with a smile.

Dr. Tamar Eilan Gindin. Screenshot courtesy of Kan Broadcasting Corporation

How did this group of languages we call Judeo-Persian come about?

[Dr. Tamar Eilam Gindin]: “In general, wherever Jews settled, as with any immigrant community, the first generation probably spoke Hebrew, but the second generation spoke the local language. What preserved the language was the desire to maintain a Jewish identity and this was expressed in the preservation of the “family slang”, that was spoken in Grandma’s house. In addition, given the sacred status of Hebrew, there was always a scholarly elite that continued to speak Hebrew, which remained the common language (Lingua Franca) of all the Jewish communities in the world. Through that elite, Hebrew words continued to permeate the local Jewish language. Specifically in Iran, there are many dialects. Some imagine it like the branches of a tree, but in fact it’s more like patterns on a carpet—between neighboring villages there are small differences, but a few villages away, it’s a completely different dialect. Anywhere with a large enough Jewish community, a Jewish language developed. In Yazd, the language was different from one Jewish neighborhood to the other, so that while the residents of the northern neighborhood understood both languages, the residents of the southern neighborhood didn’t understand the northern one.”

Do the Jewish languages share any characteristics?

“It was once common to speak of the three characteristics of a Jewish language—it had to be written in Hebrew script, it had to have a Hebrew element, as well as archaisms. Yet we now know that none of these are necessary nor sufficient. Most of the Jewish languages ​​today, including Judeo-Persian, are written in local script but are still Jewish and used mainly by Jews. The other two characteristics are not always present either. Take for example, Jewish-American English, we can’t claim that it’s archaic. Also, the Hebrew component in it is not exclusive to the language: Hebrew words have permeated common English. Likewise, today’s Judeo-Persian is not archaic. Contact between Jewish society and the general society in Iran grew closer during the mid-20th century, so that today Judeo-Persian is almost indistinguishable from Persian and the Hebrew component in it is very minimal.”

A manuscript of a Judeo-Persian piyut (liturgical hymn), late 19th century. National Library of Israel, a gift of the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, from the estate of his father Prof. Yosef Yoel Rivlin

What singles out Judeo-Persian among all the Jewish languages?

“What’s beautiful about Judeo-Persian is that because it’s been around for so long, you can see different stages in its development. You can see the first stage in books like the Book of Esther, which is Hebrew with a Persian element. The Talmud contains a lot of Persian words, but it’s still Hebrew and Aramaic with a Persian element. This is the beginning. In fact, the books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah also contain a Persian influence, and in modern Hebrew there are quite a few words that derive from Persian and are deeply rooted in the Hebrew language, such as pardes (orchard), egoz (nut), zman (time) and handasa (engineering).”

When was the first written documentation of Judeo-Persian?

“Ancient Judeo-Persian is recorded from the 8th century CE. In fact, it is the earliest recorded writing of New Persian. The Muslims, who spoke Persian at home at the time, wrote in Arabic, so there is no record of their spoken language. The Zoroastrians were still trying to write in Middle Persian, which reflects a phase before New Persian. The Jews wrote in the language they spoke, using the letters they knew—the Hebrew alphabet. This is equivalent to Israeli Arabs writing in Arabic in Hebrew letters, or “Penglish”, Iranians writing Persian using the English alphabet.”

A manuscript of a poem in praise of Moses, written in Judeo-Persian, 19th century.  National Library of Israel collections

“The same early Judeo-Persian documentation also contributed to the study of Iranian languages ​​in general. The earliest document in Persian in Hebrew letters, from the 8th century as mentioned, is an inscription found in Afghanistan. Researchers were unable to decipher it. They tried all kinds of Middle Persian scripts and were unsuccessful, until they realized that the letters were Hebrew written in a script that was something between Rashi script and square script. And voila! They were then able to decode this Persian text. In fact, the different languages ​​of the Jews in Iran make it possible to study the history of the Iranian languages, because while the local population was already speaking a different language, the spoken Jewish language remained faithful to the original local dialect. As mentioned, there were many local Jewish dialects in Iran and most were descended from the Median language. Few of them have been studied, mainly those of Isfahan, Yazd, Kerman, Shiraz, Hamadan and Kashan.


How did all these languages ​​develop?

In Iran, the Jews first adopted the local language and then preserved it in a changing environment, which was relatively easy within a closed community. It turned out that like many small and closed communities, they preserved the original language while the Muslim communities around them advanced linguistically. In the Muslim communities, the language was lost in favor of Persian or changed in another direction. The Zoroastrians, for example, are also a minority in Iran, and there are other ethnic minorities and not just religious ones. Every minority in Iran, even in different villages, has different dialects. This is possible because these are closed communities and these dialects remain more archaic, that is, more similar to the original language. So often times, when we want to understand what Iran looked like linguistically, we have to go to the Jewish languages ​​and the local languages ​​and to see through them. What’s also interesting is the Jewish secret language that developed there.”

Judeo-Persian tales. Courtesy of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, NY, accessible through the National Library of Israel’s Ktiv project

A secret Jewish language in Iran?

“Yes, Loterāʾi is a Persian dialect that uses a Hebrew lexicon which developed at the same time as Judeo-Persian, and was designed to prevent Iranians from understanding what was being said. A whole jargon of a hidden language developed, which Iranians usually could not decipher. Only those in the know, meaning the Jews, could.

The Jewish community in Iran maintained its Jewish language, but after most of the community immigrated to Israel, the Iranian-Jewish languages ​​suffered a severe blow. I call the unique phenomenon occurring to the Jewish languages in Israel “sandwich languages”: the bottom layer, which we call the substrate language, is the language of the conquered—not necessarily in a military or political sense, but it can certainly be cultural—and affects the language from the bottom up. The top layer is the superstrate language, that is, the influence of the conqueror on the conquered to the point where the language of the conquered is lost and a new language forms. Hebrew was the substrate of all the Jewish languages ​​around the world and the need to maintain a distinct identity is what preserved the Jewish languages ​​in the Diaspora. Jewish language, which was created everywhere, was the product of the dialogue between Hebrew and the local language. With the immigration to Israel, the superstrate of Israeli Hebrew went into action. Because of the melting pot policy, Israel became a giant cemetery for Jewish languages, because not only is there no longer a reason to preserve these languages. The need to remain separate has been removed as well and in its place is the need to come together and unify in the melting pot.

A manuscript of Judeo-Persian piyutim, 19th century. National Library of Israel, a gift of the President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin, from the estate of his father Prof. Yosef Yoel Rivlin

In Israel today, the Judeo-Persian language of those who emigrated from Iran is heavily influenced by everyday Hebrew. It’s a similar situation to that of the Persian communities in the US, who preserved their Persian heritage but who have also assimilated into society, so that Persian has naturally disappeared over time.”

An Inimitable Talent: The Qanun Player Yusuf Za’arur

Yusuf Za’arur was a talented musician and expert qanun player who served for many years as the musical director of the Radio Baghdad Orchestra. When he immigrated to Israel, he had to fight for recognition, but his great talent led him to renewed success in Israel as well

Yusuf Za’arur at the International Congress of Arab Music in Cairo, 1932

One day, during a rehearsal of the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Iraqi Maqam Orchestra, the qanun player Yusuf Za’arur saw a fellow qanun player, Avraham Salman, sitting outside the door trying to imitate Za’arur’s wonderful technique. Za’arur approached Salman and said to him jokingly: “What are you doing, young man? Trying to imitate my playing? Copying from me?” The joke was an attempt to diffuse the inherent tension that is palpable whenever a student tries to outdo his master. After all, Za’arur knew Avraham Salman from their days back in Iraq, when Za’arur had been the musical director of the Radio Baghdad Orchestra. Za’arur would promote talented young musicians, mainly from among the Jewish community. Avraham Salman was one of them.

The Baghdad Radio Orchestra, 1936

Yusuf Za’arur was born in 1902 to a wealthy family in Baghdad. He displayed musical talent from a young age, and at 18 bought himself his first qanun. He also played the violin and cello. In 1932, he participated with other Iraqi musicians (all Jews) in the First International Congress of Arab Music in Cairo. A rare recording from this event can be found in the collections of the National Library of Israel. On track five, one can hear Za’arur’s virtuoso playing on the qanun. His talent earned him a medal and first place in the Congress.

Za’arur joined Radio Baghdad in 1936 and by 1941, he was appointed the station’s musical director. He held this position until his immigration to Israel in 1951. While working at Radio Baghdad, he promoted many Jewish musicians, among them the singer Salim Shuwat, Albert Elias, Avraham Daoud, Avraham Salman, Daoud Akram, Haki Ovadia, Shuweh Yehezkel, Elias Zebida, Sasson Abdu, Yosef Yaakov Shem Tov and the young singer Saleh Alshabli.

The Radio Baghdad Orchestra, 1938

Za’arur did not just promote Jewish singers. When the Iraqi singer Nazem Al-Ghazali came to audition for him, he sang a song in an Egyptian style. Za’arur then asked him to sing an Iraqi song and told him that the Iraqi maqam was better suited to his style of singing. After the audition, Za’arur told Ghazali that he was very talented and he predicted a great future for him, which indeed turned out to be true.

During the years he worked at Radio Baghdad, Za’arur composed many popular tunes and worked with the great Arab singers of the time, from the respected composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab to the great singer of the Arab world Umm Kulthum.

Although he was a much sought-after musician, as a civil servant he gave private performances only to a limited number of personalities, among them King Faisal of Iraq and Prime Minister Nuri Al-Said.

The famous violinist Sami al-Shawwa performing in Baghdad in 1931, at the Cinema Royale, with Yusuf Za’arur on the qanun and Ezra Aharon Azouri on the oud

Immigrating to Israel inevitably brought a sharp decline in Za’arur’s status, and he went from managing singers and orchestras to playing private concerts for families from the Iraqi community in Israel. Although having fallen from his revered status in Iraq, he continued to try and include other musicians. His family says that when he was offered to play at a family celebration, he would ask the hosts if they were also interested in having a violin or oud player accompany him on the qanun. The hosts generally declined his offer because they only wanted to hear him play. However, out of appreciation for his great talent, they paid him as if he were an entire orchestra.

The 1932 International Congress of Arab Music in Cairo. All the Iraqi musicians were Jewish with the exception of the singer Mohammad al-Gubenchi. Yusuf Za’arur was among the senior members of the orchestra and won first place in the qanun

His great talent brought him renewed recognition in Israel and he founded the Chalery Baghdad maqam orchestra which was part of the Arab Orchestra of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Many of Yusuf’s recordings from his time with the Israel Broadcasting Authority can be found in the collections of the National Library of Israel. However, he had to fight for his place among established musicians in Israel, some of whom he had promoted and cultivated in Iraq.

Yusuf Za’arur in his home in Israel, 1966

The story with which we began this article demonstrates the struggle for recognition between newer and older immigrants and Yusuf Za’arur’s unique and inimitable talent. Many musicians have tried to achieve his level of skill, including his great-grandson, the qanun player David Regev-Za’arur, who says that he tries to play like his great-grandfather, and hopes that he will one day succeed.

Many thanks to David Regev-Za’arur for the stories and photographs

How a Diamond From the UK’s Imperial State Crown Ended Up in an Israeli Engagement Ring

Set in the center of the Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom is an enormous diamond. A part of the original stone is in the possession of an Israeli family. How did this happen?


Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation wearing the Imperial State Crown with the diamond at its center. Photo: Cecil Beaton. Source: Wikipedia

In the Imperial State Crown that Queen Elizabeth II wore at her coronation, the same crown that has now passed to King Charles III, you will find 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies. Embedded in the center of the crown is a huge diamond. A piece of the original stone from which it was cut is in the hands of an Israeli family. This is the story of that diamond’s fascinating journey:

The Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom. Some of you may recognize it from the opening credits of the Netflix series The Crown. Source: Wikipedia

In 1907, an unusual diamond was mined in South Africa. At the time, it was the largest diamond ever found, weighing 3,106 carats, the size of a human heart. It came to be known as the Cullinan Diamond. The new government in South Africa, which only five years earlier had gained independence from the British Crown, decided to give the stone as a gift to King Edward VII, Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandfather, on the occasion of his birthday.

The unpolished Cullinan Diamond. Source: Wikipedia

A good diamond requires top diamond cutters who can bring out the stone’s brilliance, so King Edward looked for someone to entrust the job to. He found the Asschers—a Dutch family known for its supreme diamond cutting skills. This is my grandmother’s family.

My grandmother Elizabeth (Elisheva) and her older sister in Amsterdam before WWII. Photo courtesy of the family

From London to Amsterdam – A Bold and Discreet Operation

How does one securely transport such a precious treasure from London to Amsterdam without having it stolen? In 1908 a British battleship left London for Amsterdam. In its belly it carried a secure box with the unpolished diamond inside—or at least that is what many were led to believe. This operation was actually a cover up, because at the same time, the real diamond was in the pocket of one of the sons of the diamond cutter family. Abraham Asscher set sail from London to Amsterdam around the same time on an ordinary ship traveling without baggage – only a large coat to protect himself from the cold and to disguise his precious cargo.

Queen Elizabeth II with her husband Prince Philip on her coronation day, 1953. The Queen is wearing the Imperial State Crown with the large diamond at the center. Source: Wikipedia

The operation was a success and the diamond arrived safely in Amsterdam. But then a new problem emerged—the Asscher family discovered that the huge diamond could not be cut. The chisel broke with the very first blow! It would take another two years, and the invention of a new diamond cutting patent—which to this day is called the “Asscher Cut”—for the Asscher family to finally cut the treasure as requested.

The nine diamonds cut from the original Cullinan Diamond. Source: Wikipedia

Finally, some two years later, the Asschers were able to return the diamond to King Edward, after it had been cut into nine polished diamonds and 96 smaller stones. The same year, 1910, the central diamond, weighing 530 carats, was placed in the scepter of the King of England and given the name “The Great Star of Africa.” This diamond alone was then valued at £2.5 million, which is about £52 million today. The second largest diamond was named “The Second Star of Africa” ​​and was set in the center of the Queen’s crown.

The nine diamonds cut from the original Cullinan Diamond. Source: Wikipedia


When Cutting Diamonds, Expect the Chips to Fly

How much were the Asschers paid for their work? When diamonds are cut, chips fly. In this case, the chips turned out to be reasonably sized diamonds, which were given to my great-great-great-grandfather, Joseph Asscher, as payment for his work. Shortly afterwards he also received a knighthood from the Queen of Holland.

The Queen of Holland bestowed a knighthood upon Joseph Asscher, a report from January 22, 1909 in the Hebrew Standard newspaper

The Asschers decided that the diamonds would be passed down from generation to generation by the men in the family, who would give them to the women they married in their wedding rings. Many members of the Asscher family were murdered in the Holocaust, but my grandmother, Elizabeth Asscher, survived. After the war, she was able to retrieve two of the diamonds that somehow managed to be hidden from the Nazis.

My grandmother’s family. From right to left: Jul was murdered in the Holocaust; Jap survived and lived to the age of 100 in the United States; my grandmother Elizabeth (Elisheva) survived the Holocaust and lived in Israel until her death a few years ago; Betty who is still alive and lives in Israel, just celebrated her 103rd birthday a few months ago. Photo courtesy of the family

One of these diamonds adorned my Grandmother Elizabeth’s ring for 65 years—a royal diamond set in a cheap metal ring, in the best thrifty Zionist-Dutch tradition.

One of the diamonds was given to my brother, who, with the help of an amazing jeweler on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv, set it on a ring and gave it to his beloved Nynke, who happens to be both adorable and Dutch.

The family diamond ring my brother gave to his fiancée Nynke. Photo courtesy of the family

And so, a piece of the magnificent Imperial State Crown diamond ended up in Israel, by way of my family’s connection to the British royal family. Who knows how the diamond’s journey will continue?

Revealed: Immigration Documents Filled Out by Austrian Jews During the Nazi Occupation

A trove of documents from Vienna’s Jewish community during the Anschluss period has been revealed to the public for the first time thanks to a collaboration between MyHeritage and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel. The collection contains 228,250 records, including scanned original documents submitted by Jews hoping to emigrate from Vienna. These documents, available on the Library’s website, provide extraordinary insights into the life of Vienna’s thriving Jewish community in the years 1938–1939

هجرة جماعية ليهود فيينا، تشرين الأول 1941 (تصوير: موقع بلدية فيينا)، على خلفية وثائق الهجرة المحفوظة في الأرشيف المركزي لتاريخ الشعب اليهودي في المكتبة الوطنية

A photograph showing Jews leaving Vienna, October 1941 (photo: Vienna Municipality website), against the background of immigration documents preserved in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel

On March 12, 1938, Nazi Germany invaded Austria, an event euphemistically known by the German term “Anschluss”—meaning a territorial annexation.

This was no ordinary invasion, and when Hitler arrived three days later for a triumphal march across Vienna, hundreds of thousands of Austrians gathered to cheer him along his route. According to various testimonies, there was not a single rose left in Austria that hadn’t been picked for the occasion.

The Austrian crowds at the Heldenplatz cheering Hitler’s arrival. Source: The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People

For Austria’s roughly quarter of a million Jews however, it was not a cause for celebration. The abuse against the community’s leaders and rabbis began immediately after the Anschluss with many arrested and sent to the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. The Nazis also closed the community’s offices in Vienna.

The Austrian crowd give the Nazi salute as Hitler passes by on route along the Ringstrasse. Source: The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People

Two months later, the offices re-opened, and now contained a new department: “The Vienna Jewish Community Welfare Department – Immigration Office.” Every Jew who wanted to emigrate from Vienna—meaning more or less all of the city’s Jews, from the Hasidic to the assimilated, had to fill out forms, in duplicate, which were submitted to the office.

The Vienna Jewish community archive is one of the largest and most important community archives in the CAHJP. The collection, which dates back to the 17th century, from the period before the expulsion of Vienna’s Jews, was sent to Jerusalem by the community in Vienna after the Holocaust. The immigration forms are part of this important archive.

The forms included the applicant’s first and last name, his or her exact address, date of birth, place of birth, personal status (married, single, etc.), personal information, citizenship, the date from when the applicant had resided in Vienna, where the applicant resided before arriving in Vienna; the applicant’s profession, occupational history, languages, financial situation and monthly income, as well as information regarding the desired immigration destination. The information regarding the immigration destination included the names of relatives and friends abroad (as well as their address and degree of kinship), and passport and immigrant visa information. The questionnaires included information not only about the applicant, but also about the applicant’s household members, mainly their spouse and children, but often also parents or in-laws.

The forms were submitted in duplicate with additional attachments inserted at various stages in the immigration process. Each form was assigned a serial number. At first, the forms were arranged only by serial number, but later, the immigration department separated the duplicate copies, keeping the numerical system for one, and arranging the other (incomplete) alphabetically by German surname. The immigration department maintained three indexes for the forms: numerical, alphabetical and one by profession, which was extremely pertinent for immigration applications. As early as 1938–1940, the community’s research department and international Jewish aid organizations such as HIAS prepared reports based on the important data gathered from the forms to optimize the emigration process.

However, in those first years of the Nazi occupation, the community was not working in a vacuum. The Gestapo was supervising its operation, with this effort led by Adolf Eichmann. In this first stage, as Eichmann had been tasked with emptying Vienna of its Jews through emigration, the Jews and the Nazis shared a common interest. In the later stages, when emigration was no longer allowed, the Gestapo used the information from the transmigration forms to optimize its euphemistically termed policy of “relocation to the East” of Vienna’s Jews, effectively sending them to concentration and extermination camps.

The two sets of immigration files kept by the Vienna Jewish community’s immigration office arrived in Jerusalem along with the rest of the community archives. Both sets have been preserved in their original order: the set according to serial number from 1-400, 401-800, etc. and the alphabetical set according to last name. Given this system, it was not possible to know whether a certain individual’s form was included in the alphabetical set without physically going to the archive and inspecting the relevant folder’s contents. Similarly, the numerical set was not easily searchable because it was impossible to guess the serial number of a particular individual.

To extract the information hidden in this historically important trove of documents, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People and the National Library teamed up with MyHeritage. As a leading commercial genealogy company, MyHeritage understood the value contained in these forms. Beyond comprehensive documentation of Vienna Jewry, one of the largest Jewish communities in the Jewish world on the eve of the Holocaust, the collection could also provide information about relatives living on other continents, a missing link that was not readily available in the databases generally used for researching family roots.

As part of the project, the Central Archives team separated the contents of the binders into the individual forms, which were then sent to the National Library of Israel’s state of the art digitization center for scanning. The scans were linked to entries in the archive’s catalog, which at this stage contained no information and were still inaccessible to the public. A digital copy of the hundreds of thousands of scanned pages was also sent to MyHeritage, which engaged a large international team that set to work developing a detailed key of the main data points contained in the forms. The result was a huge Excel file, with over three hundred thousand lines, spanning 129 columns. A copy was sent to the CAHJP, and the data was simultaneously processed and uploaded to MyHeritage’s systems.

The archive team processed the millions of data points into catalog records adapted to the archive’s own data structure. Great effort was invested in unifying various terms, such as the hundreds of different ways personal status or the nature of the kinship of family members and relatives abroad was recorded. We also had to correct quite a few errors, many of which were made on the original forms. We all make mistakes when we have to fill out endless forms like this. We enter our place of birth instead of our address, switch a date of birth with the date on which we are filling out the form, and we might even get confused about the century we were born in. For example, in 1938, some people wrote that they were born in 1988, when of course they meant 1888. It is easy for people in a terribly stressful situation to make mistakes like these, even more if you were an immigrant from regions of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (Galicia, Bohemia, Moravia, Bukovina, Hungary, etc.) and didn’t have a very good command of German. A great deal of work has taken place and the effort is still ongoing to unify and standardize the names of the applicants’ birthplaces and of places where their relatives lived. It is fascinating to see how Galician Jews in Vienna imagined the geography of the United States, and the dozens of different ways New York and its boroughs were written on the immigration applications.

After resolving the various data errors, we created coherent information from the fragments of details, according to computer algorithms, to produce the following sequences: applicant: last name, first name, date of birth (day/month/year), place of birth (geographical place) and personal status. We created other sequences for the family members listed on the application and for relatives listed as living abroad.

Sometimes the original form is missing, and a note was inserted indicating that the form had been removed for various administrative purposes and not been returned. In cases where these notes included useful information, such as the applicant’s name and the form’s serial number, we left the information to indicate that there was once a form here, even if it is not extant today.

The catalog information was uploaded to the (initially) hidden catalog entries created at the early stages of the project, and these were then made accessible to the public, along with the scans.

The collection is accessible on the Library and CAHJP’s website and it is accessible to MyHeritage users as well. The MyHeritage platform is also able to compare the information with that contained in other databases available on their website, yielding further insights from various sources about the individuals mentioned in the records.

In the weeks since the collection went online, many have managed to learn more about their family history and fill in unknown details. If your family resided in Vienna on the eve of World War II, there is a good chance that they also filled out a form, and you can find it on the National Library of Israel website, or at the following link.

If you are experiencing difficulty with the site, please contact us at [email protected]

Vienna Jewish Community Welfare Department- Immigration Bureau form, filled out by Siegmund (Zsigo) Wertheimer on August 11, 1938. Zsigo Wertheimer was a well-respected professional women’s swimming coach. He was married to swimmer Hedi (Hedwig) Bienenfeld who excelled at the breast and backstroke and who became famous in 1924 for winning first place in an “Across Vienna” open-water swim competition

This one-of-a-kind source contains more than personal information and family stories. From it, one can learn not only about those terrible days, but also about the richness of Jewish life in Vienna between the two world wars. You can discover the exact addresses of writers, playwrights, musicians, Rebbes and Torah scholars, or map out the streets and neighborhoods where Jews lived or the places from which they immigrated to Vienna, their occupations and the many languages they spoke.

But above all, the collection tells the story of how the Jews of Vienna woke up one morning to find themselves under Nazi rule. It tells of their desperate attempts to secure the sums that would enable them to leave and the bureaucratic nightmare of validating passports, obtaining an immigration visa as well as a “transit” permit to an intermediate country.

In her novel Transit, Anna Seghers, herself a Jewish refugee who attempted to leave Europe, tells a joke that circulated among the refugee community trying to emigrate via the port of Marseille, which was under the control of the French Vichy government:

A person gets to heaven and arrives in a waiting room where there are two doors, one to heaven and one to hell. For half a year, he is shuffled from one clerk to another in an endless pursuit of forms and signatures. At some point he turns to the clerk in charge and tells him that he can’t deal any longer with all this waiting. He is giving up his chance to go to heaven and prefers instead to be sent to Hell. ‘I’m sorry for having to tell you this,’ says the clerk, ‘but you are in Hell.’