In the Shadow of Death: The Revival of the Jerusalem of Lithuania

Rare photographs newly revealed by the National Library of Israel document the cultural life of the Vilna Ghetto in the years 1942-1943.

Wolf Durmashkin with the Ghetto Symphonic Orchestra, Vilna Ghetto, September 5th, 1942 (photo: Vilna Ghetto collection, the National Library of Israel).

The wanderings of the Jewish People, especially during the last century, have brought some incredible life stories to the National Library in Jerusalem packaged in very unusual ways. One example is this suitcase, donated to the National Library of Israel in May 1994, by the famous Yiddish poet, Avraham Sutzkever.

Avraham Sutzkever's unique suitcase
Avraham Sutzkever’s unique suitcase (photo: Vilna Ghetto Collection, the National Library of Israel). Click to enlarge.

A closer look at this suitcase reveals that it is not a typical piece of luggage. It was not manufactured in a factory or even a proper workshop and it certainly wasn’t purchased in a fancy department store. The suitcase has a rather crude appearance, but the story behind it makes up for it all.

This suitcase was made in the Naroch forest in Belarus, not far from the border of Lithuania, exactly 50 years before it was deposited in the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. It was made of tin fragments from the wings of a crashed airplane and contained, among other archival materials, a small but astonishing collection of photographs saved from the Vilna Ghetto.

Parts of the collection compiled by Avraham Sutzkever have been digitized at the National Library of Israel

The failure of the German “Blitzkrieg” against the Soviet Union and the creation of a permanent state of war created a serious problem for the Nazi economy, including a deficit in manpower. The thousands of Jews who lived in the Vilna Ghetto and in other ghettos in Lithuania, were an important source of labor for the German occupiers. The Nazi regime elected not to murder the remaining Jews in the area and to instead use them as slaves to bolster the dwindling work force. This is how the Jews of the Vilna Ghetto gained some semblance of stability and peace from the start of 1942 into the spring of 1943. During this time there were no mass killings, though numerous murders did take place. Most of the Jews worked in various factories and workshops in and around the ghetto. The internal organization of the ghetto became very developed as cultural, educational, health, and welfare institutions were established.

Avraham Sutzkever, then a 28-year-old poet, had an important role in the cultural activity of the ghetto. “As long as I live a poet’s life in this valley of death,” he wrote later, “I shall be redeemed from my misery.”

Sutzkever became the artistic director of the ghetto theater, translating and adapting various pieces for the stage, and his poetry, written in the ghetto, was a central part of the popular reading evenings which took place there. Cultural activity flourished among the residents of the Vilna Ghetto, with the establishment of schools, a theatre, Yiddish and Hebrew choirs, an orchestra, opera, ballet, a children’s puppet theatre, an active library, a newspaper, and even sports competitions. Lectures and literary events were also a common occurrence. “The Jerusalem of Lithuania,” one of the most important Jewish communities in Europe, was revived under the shadow of death.

A handwritten poster advertising the Vilna Ghetto Theatre line up for the last week of October 1942. It included symphonic concerts and a jazz performance of “The Six” (Vilna Ghetto collection, The National Library of Israel).
A handwritten poster advertising the Vilna Ghetto Theatre line up for the last week of October 1942. It included symphonic concerts and a jazz performance of “The Six”(Vilna Ghetto Collection, the National Library of Israel). Click to enlarge.

Sutzkever wasn’t just creating culture in the Ghetto; he was actively saving significant cultural treasures from the Nazis. Along with his close friend, the poet Shmerke Kachergionski, he joined the “Paper Brigade,” headed by Zelig Kalmanowitz, Dr. Hermann Kruk and the famous librarian Chaikel Lunski. The story of this group dedicated to the preservation of local Jewish culture was wonderfully described by David Fishman in his research, “The Book Smugglers.”

Avraham Sutzkever (right) and Shmerke Kaczerginski in the Vilna Ghetto. Berl Kacherginsky photographed the two friends on the balcony of their apartment on Strashun Street, on the 20th of July, 1943. They look as if they were just a group of friends, not inmates of the Ghetto, starving laborers under a cruel regime, condemned to death. (Photo: Avraham Sutzkever Archive, the National Library of Israel)
Avraham Sutzkever (right) and Shmerke Kaczerginski in the Vilna Ghetto.
Berl Kacherginsky photographed the two friends on the balcony of their apartment on Strashun Street, on the 20th of July, 1943. They look as if they were just a group of friends, not inmates of the Ghetto, starving laborers under a cruel regime, condemned to death (photo: Avraham Sutzkever Archive, the National Library of Israel). Click to enlarge.

Within the various materials Sutzkever managed to gather, the photographs are especially interesting. Only a few dozen survived and reached us at the Library, but they all wonderfully reflect the spirit of the Jews in the Vilna Ghetto during that time. Surprisingly, some of the residents of the Vilna Ghetto managed to dabble in photography. Based on the photographs, we can assume that none of them were professional photographers and that these images were likely developed in difficult conditions.

There are not many known photographs of the Vilna Ghetto. Holding a camera or dealing with photography was, of course, strictly forbidden by the Nazis. The photographs from the Sutzkever Collection are, therefore, a rare documentation of everyday life in the ghetto as shown by some of its inmates, who were likely amateur photographers.  Most of these pictures are anonymous. We have found Sutzkever’s inscription, with the photographer’s name – B. Kaczerginsky – on the back of only one of the photos. The inscription likely referred to Berl Kaczerginsky, one of the Jewish policemen of the ghetto, who owned a camera. Many of the pictures were likely taken by the same policemen, as a relatively large number of photos feature the Ghetto Police and the Head of the Ghetto, Jacob Gens.

Jacob Gens (in the center), Head of the Vilna Ghetto, 1943 (photo: Vilna Ghetto collection, The National Library of Israel).
Jacob Gens (center), head of the Vilna Ghetto, 1943 (photo: Vilna Ghetto Collection, the National Library of Israel). Click to enlarge.

Some of those photographs were staged, and it is quite clear that the subjects of the photos were very much aware of the camera in front of them. In some pictures, they even look directly into the camera lens. A parade of the Ghetto Gate Guard, a group photograph of the guards and photographs of their commander, Moishe Levas, give us a glimpse of one of the most hated institutions among the ghetto inmates. On the other hand, the ghetto guards were those who enabled Sutzkever and his colleagues in the “Paper Brigade” to smuggle books, archival materials and various works of art into the ghetto. Moishe Levas was very much aware of the activity of Sutzkever and his friends, and he assisted them in smuggling those materials into the ghetto in various ways.

Parade of the Ghetto Gate Guard with Moishe Levas in the center of the image (photo: Vilna Ghetto collection, The National Library of Israel).
Parade of the Ghetto Gate Guard with Moishe Levas in the center of the image (photo: Vilna Ghetto collection, the National Library of Israel). Click to enlarge.

Sutzkever managed to collect photographs which reflected the daily life in the ghetto from various aspects: simple street scenes, various advertisements on the walls, and pictures of cultural and educational institutions.

Without knowing the circumstances in which the photographs were taken, one could think they were created in a typical European city during peaceful, normal times. The clock on the ghetto’s main street, the morning advertisements hung up on the ghetto walls, and of course, the cultural activities of the Jewish community, all stir up a feeling of amazement at the simplicity and banality of the images, considering all that is happening around them.

Opening Ceremony of the Sports Yard in the Ghetto, July 10th, 1942 (photo: Vilna Ghetto collection, the National Library of Israel).
Opening Ceremony of the Sports Yard in the Ghetto, July 10th, 1942 (photo: Vilna Ghetto collection, the National Library of Israel). 
“If in years from now, someone will look for the traces of our life in the ghetto, and won’t find a single document, this sports yard will be the most truthful testimony to our endless vitality and to our desire to live.” -Gregori Gochman, Vilna, 10.07.1942. Click to enlarge.

The most incredible photograph in the bunch is that of the Ghetto Orchestra with its conductor, Wolf Durmashkin. This renowned musician, who before the War was the conductor of the Vilna Symphonic Orchestra, is seen standing strong and dignified wearing tuxedo tails, as the other musicians around him smile for the camera. The shining shoes of the first violinist leave no doubt as to the mood  these people were in. This photograph proves the strength of the human spirit, even in the most difficult of times. The orchestra’s piano, though not included in the photographs, was smuggled into the Ghetto piece by piece and then rebuilt by a specialist.  It is important to recognize that, just as Sutzkever never stopped writing poetry, Durmashkin and his musicians always continued playing and creating music, dedicated to preserving their art and their human dignity.

Wolf Durmashkin with the Ghetto Symphonic Orchestra, Vilna Ghetto, September 5th, 1942 (photo: Vilna Ghetto collection, the National Library of Israel).
Wolf Durmashkin with the Ghetto Symphonic Orchestra,
Vilna Ghetto, September 5th, 1942 (photo: Vilna Ghetto Collection, the National Library of Israel). Click to enlarge.

To paraphrase Hanna Arendt’s controversial concept, “the banality of evil,” these photographs reflect how the ghetto inmates desperately tried to hold on to the “banality of life under evil,” and to pretend they could keep living normally despite the death and misery that surrounded them. The photographers were full partners in creating this illusion. Since there was a need for cooperation between the photographer and the subjects, it can be assumed that the maker of the images also sought to transmit a banal and normal picture of life, by creating a visual image using the most ordinary of methods.

Unlike photographs from other ghettos, and even from ghettos in Lithuania itself, none of the true horrors that were experienced are captured in the photographs in the Sutzkever Collection from Vilna. There are no photographs of children dying in the streets, starving people or the many other miseries faced by the ghetto inmates. The terrible reality of the ghetto, as Sutzkever described in detail in his testimonial book, was not reflected at all in the photographs he had collected during his stay there. It seems that, in real time, the ghetto inmates wanted to stay as far as possible from the abnormal circumstances in which they lived, and tried to reflect a stabilized, ordinary way of life, which was, of course, just an illusion. Sutzkever’s photographs therefore, do not document the life of the ghetto as it really was, but rather life as its inmates wanted it to be. By the power of their spirit, these Lithuanian Jews miraculously escaped from reality and created an alternate universe for themselves.


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Rare Items: A Glimpse into the Lives of Max Nordau and His Only Daughter, Maxa

A poem denouncing anti-Semitism, correspondence with Zionist leaders, and a ledger documenting important events at the Nordau household are just a few of the items in the collection.


Max and Maxa Nordau

By Dr. Stefan Litt

In November 2016, personal documents, letters and photographs from the estate of French painter Maxa Nordau (1897-1993) were auctioned off in a little-known location, north of Paris.

If her name sounds familiar, it is for a good reason. Maxa was the only daughter of Zionist leader, journalist and physician Max Nordau (1849-1923). She was born in Paris, where she lived for much of her life. The small family was forced into temporary exile for several months during World War I, when her father (an Austrian citizen), was expelled from France as a “hostile resident.” After the war, they were able to return to Paris. Later, throughout the duration of World War II, Maxa lived in the United States. Due to these temporary moves to foreign countries, she became fluent in several languages- French, Spanish, German, English and even Hebrew. Her father was also fluent in German, Hungarian, French, English and Hebrew. Maxa’s archive includes documents in all of these languages.

Among the items of the estate sold at auction were letters, notes and manuscripts which had once belonged to Max Nordau. His personal archive had, in fact, been entrusted to the Central Zionist Archives in 1949. Yet it has since come to light that a considerable number of documents remained in the family’s possession. Thanks to the generous support of donor Mr. Ori Eisen, part of Maxa Nordau’s estate was purchased at the auction, including many of her father Max’s letters and manuscripts. These materials were brought to the National Library of Israel for safe-keeping, but they had been kept in complete disarray. Over the span of several months, the large collection was meticulously organized and catalogued. The manuscripts were restored, the pages having been scattered amongst the entirety of the collection. Now, post-restoration, the collection has been organized into five parts:

1) Correspondence sent and received by Maxa Nordau.

2) Correspondence sent and received by Max Nordau.

3) Personal documents, notes and manuscripts belonging to Max Nordau.

4) Correspondence of members of the Nordau family, including that of Anna, Max’s wife.

5) Other various documents

In all, the list compiling the items of this collection includes 312 entries.


A childhood photograph of painter Maxa Nordau, August 1903. From the Schwadron Collection at the National Library.


There are some particularly interesting items found within the collection. For example, a poem scrawled out in Nordau’s own handwriting:  “To the Anti-Semites” (Den Antisemiten). This poem was published in an 1893 anthology of texts and poems opposing the rising wave of anti-Semitism at the time. Max Nordau’s handwritten manuscript of the poem was mounted on the stationery of the publishing house that published the anthology, and this manuscript is now preserved in the collection. In his poem, Nordau compares a rotten barrel that spoils wine by turning it into vinegar, to a poisoned soul that turns Christian love into hate. In the poem’s second verse, the author appeals to the reader to remember Jesus (forgotten in the heat of Pagan anger towards Jews) and calls for forgiveness towards Christians with the words, “You know not what you do”.


“To the Anti-Semites” (Den Antisemiten) by Max Nordau


The cover of the anthology

Another interesting item in the collection is a letter from Nahum Sokolow to Max Nordau, written in London in December of 1915. The letter indicates that there were stark differences of opinion between the two Zionist leaders on a number of topics. Sokolow proposed not to discuss their philosophical deviations through letters, but rather in face-to-face conversations when he arrived to visit Nordau (who was then living in Madrid).


Nahum Sokolow’s letter to Max Nordau


Two previously unknown letters from Vladimir Jabotinsky to Max’s daughter, Maxa Nordau, were also unearthed in the collection. Written in 1930, the latter of the two letters offers congratulations on the birth of Maxa’s daughter, Claudy. In the letter he also made sure to add well-wishes for the New Year. The letter is quite linguistically unique, as the author switches freely between two languages- English and French.


Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s letter to Maxa Nordau

Among the Nordau family’s internal correspondence is a large collection of hundreds of letters written by Anna Nordau to her daughters between 1914 and 1918. In these letters Anna, originally an opera singer from a Danish Protestant family, reported to her daughters from her previous marriage who were still living in Paris, about her life with Max in the Spanish capital. In most of the letters, she wrote about everyday goings-on. Here and there she boasted about hosting important guests at the Nordau house. Among them were South-American government ministers, as well as the Jerusalem-born orientalist Avraham Shalom Yehuda, a close friend of Max’s.

One of the most interesting items in the Nordau collection is a ledger, kept by Anna Nordau, listing daily expenses, important Nordau events (such as visits and travel) and letters received and sent daily. Between 1907 and 1925, 12,000 incoming letters and 10,000 outgoing letters were recorded in the 406 pages of the ledger. This vast amount of correspondence entering and leaving the Nordau residence impressively illustrates Max Nordau’s central role in the Jewish-Zionist community and, beyond that, his importance as a famous writer and journalist of his time.


A page from the ledger


This collection is also accompanied by an item that has apparently resided at the National Library for quite some time: a compilation of manuscripts which record speeches given by Max Nordau at the Zionist Congresses between 1897 and 1911. Nordau was prone to writing his speeches down in his own handwriting. At one point, all of his manuscripts were collected, bound and handed over to the National Library. It was decided that this item’s rightful place was alongside the other materials in the Nordau collection, which now awaits scholars in the Archives Department of the National Library of Israel.


From Max Nordau’s handwritten speeches to the Zionist Congress


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A Life Story in One Picture: The Photographer Who Fell in the War of Independence

Love on the Wings of a Paper Airplane

A timeless love story cut short by the horrors of the Holocaust. 

A photo from the wedding of Imre and Ilona Kinszki in 1925.

The following story was collected by Centropa in an interview with Judit Kinszki, the daughter of Ilona and Imre Kinszki. Judit’s full oral history interview can be read here.

Ilona Gardonyi was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary.  She came from a large Jewish and religiously observant family that was determined to secure good careers for their children. Though the family came from a modest economic background, two of Ilona’s brothers went on to become doctors.

Ilona graduated from middle school, then a one-year commercial trade school, before getting a job working as a shorthand typist in an office. She worked very hard, taking on overtime and extra projects. Working in the same office was a very skinny, shy young man named Imre Kinszki.

Imre was a highly educated young man who spoke five different languages.  Ilona caught Imre’s eye and he began teasing her, throwing little paper airplanes onto her desk. Ilona, who was a very serious worker, found this to be frustrating and told him off, calling Imre “a stupid little kid.”

Ilona Gardonyi in 1922.
Ilona Gardonyi in 1922. Image courtesy of Centropa.

For Imre, not only did this not deter him, it only encouraged him to continue. Being too shy to ask her face to face, he wrote a note, folded it into another paper airplane and flew it over to her desk. The note read, “Would you like to meet after work?”

The coworkers met outside of office hours in the Farkasret Cemetery. Imre, still working to overcome his shy nature, sat down on a bench and put his hat down next to him, so that Ilona couldn’t sit too close. The couple spent hours together, chatting about science. When he got home that night, Imre announced proudly to his family that he was going to marry Ilona Gardonyi.

Not everyone was pleased. The Kinszkis were upper-middle-class, highly educated, and did not observe many Jewish traditions – if at all. When Imre Kinszki announced that he wanted to marry Ilona, the family expressed their horror – how could their son marry a girl so far beneath his class?

Imre Kinszki. Image courtesy of Centropa.

The Kinszki family gathered together to decide how to handle this new scandal. They determined that their best course of action was to use their connections and have Ilona fired from her job.

Ilona did not let this bring her down. As a talented typist, she was able to quickly find a new position. When Imre found out what his family had done, he went over to Ilona’s new place of employment and proposed marriage on the spot. After a bit of encouragement from her family, Ilona and Imre were married in 1925.

They had nearly 20 years together. In that time Imre and Ilona had two children–Gabor was born in 1926, Judit in 1934. Imre showed a true talent for photography and was quickly becoming one of Hungary’s great modern photographers.

Gabor and Imre Kinszki, 1930. Image courtesy of Centropa.

But history got in the way. Imre never came back from the war.

Like all Jewish families in Hungary at the time, the family suffered tremendously in the Holocaust. Imre was taken for forced labor, first in Hungary and then in Germany. Gabor, who had just turned 18, was deported to Buchenwald. Ilona and little Judit survived the horrors of the Budapest ghetto. Judit, who was just 10 years old, held on to her father’s photographs, keeping them safe for when he would return.

Judit Kinszki. Image courtesy of Centropa.

The Budapest ghetto was liberated on January 17, 1945. Immediately after the violence subsided, Ilona and Judit began visiting the train station every day where they would watch the trains come through, hoping and desperately waiting for the train that would bring Imre and Gabor back to them and dreaming of a reunion that would never come.

There was no news of Gabor for a long time until one day, Ilona found a young man who had known and worked with him. The friend reported that, when the group arrived in Buchenwald, they were was forced off the train and were asked what skills they had. Gabor answered honestly and said he was a student. The young man explained to the women that the Germans immediately tied him up, and, in the cold December morning, hosed him down with water just to watch him freeze to death along with all the unfortunate souls who did not have a practical trade.

A man who had known Imre found Ilona and gave her what little information he could about her husband’s fate.  He said that the train car he and Imre had been traveling in had been unhooked and that the train then left and continued on towards Germany without them. The group then got off the train car and was taken by their Nazi guards on foot towards Sachsenhausen. Imre’s acquaintance explained that the men were taken to spend the night in a barn. He had hidden by burying himself in the hay, unable to continue on due to the severity of his injuries. The Nazis didn’t find him and he managed to survive. The rest of the group, including Imre, marched on to what is now known to have been a death march – but the acquaintance was not aware of this and Ilona held on to her faith that her husband would return.

Ilona Kinszki passed away in 1983. Image courtesy of Centropa.

Even with the later revelation of the facts of what happened on those marches, and despite everything showing otherwise, Ilona refused to declare Imre’s death and waited anxiously for his return, until the day she died in 1983.

Imre Kinszki’s pictures are now considered modernist masterpieces. His daughter, Judit, is an active member of the Cafe Centropa programs and she regularly meets student groups to talk to them about her experiences.

Judit Kinszki at a Cafe Centropa event. Image courtesy of Centropa. Photographer: Róbert Bácsi.

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


A Life Story in One Picture: The Photographer Who Fell in the War of Independence

The discovery of an obscure picture in a family photo-album led Adva Magal-Cohen to embark on a journey to piece together the life story of the mysterious Moshe Weizmann.

A picture of a young man wearing short trousers, with a brief caption scribbled on the back: “Moshe Weizmann. He came with the Youth Aliyah organization and lived with the Teuber family. He was killed in the War of Independence in the Battles of Jenin.” This one image discovered by Adva Magal-Cohen while leafing through a family photo album, is what set her on a journey to trace the life story of a man she had never heard of before, who was killed decades earlier when he was only 26 years old.

“A young man in three-quarter-length trousers. In the background is a tent. Cypress trees on a hilltop. An unknown relative. I turn the picture over and the backside reveals a short explanation in my grandmother’s handwriting.”

This is how Magal-Cohen describes the moment she discovered the picture, completely coincidentally, while going through the family’s notebooks and albums to research and document the story of her grandmother, Rachel Teuber.

The Hebrew caption on the back of the mysterious photograph: “Moshe Weizmann. He came with the Youth Aliyah organization and lived with the Teuber family. He was killed in the War of Independence in the Battles of Jenin.” Click to enlarge.


The photograph of Moshe Weizmann discovered in Rachel Teuber’s photograph collection. Click to enlarge.

Rachel, who fled the pogroms in Podolia, built her home in Balfouria, a Jewish farming community in Mandatory Palestine. There, she opened her home to the young Moshe Weizmann, who arrived in Israel without family through the Youth Aliyah organization. Adva’s older family members knew that Moshe was a photographer and that he had photographed Adva’s father when he was a little boy. It was a picture Adva knew well, but it had never occurred to her to search for the photographer’s identity. Now, the thought would not leave her. Adva continued to investigate, but apart from the limited details provided by her family, she did not know anything else about Moshe’s life.

Adva’s continued search took her to the memorial archives for fallen soldiers of Israel. There, she was able to locate the memorial page dedicated to Moshe Weizmann.


Moshe Weizmann. Click to enlarge.

The page tells that Moshe Weizmann was born on July 9, 1922, in Vienna. There, he learned the art of photography from his father who was a reputable professional. Moshe immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1939 and underwent agricultural training in Balfouria for two years. Later, he was assigned a post as a guard at the British base in Ramat David. Moshe’s father Zvi managed to reach Mandatory Palestine and open a photography shop in the northern city of Afula. After his father died, Moshe continued to run the store until he was drafted into the Golani brigade and mobilized to the Jenin front. On July 10, 1948, the day after his 26th birthday, he was hit by an enemy bullet and died. His body and the bodies of his comrades remained on the battlefield for ten days or more, until they were finally recovered. He was buried in the military cemetery in Afula.

Yet this was just the beginning of the story.

Try as she might, Adva could not stop thinking about Moshe and she continued to dig deeper into the story of the young man she had never known. Little by little, she discovered details in the archives and managed to document Weizmann’s life and the lives of some of his family members.

Her research first led her to the story of Moshe’s father, Zvi Weizmann, a Viennese photographer, who died in April 1941.

In Vienna in 1938, the Weizmann family suffered at the hands of Nazi abuse. In one markedly difficult event, Zvi was forced to lift a heavy motorcycle, an incident which seriously damaged his health.

In the Zionist archives, Avda was able to discover Moshe’s Youth Aliyah file. It revealed that he immigrated on board the ship “Galil” in April 1939, after bearing witness to the riots in Vienna. Four months later, he wrote a desperate letter (in German) to the Youth Aliyah offices at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, asking for permission to travel to the town of Rishon LeZion. In the letter, he explained how his mother had died in Vienna a month earlier and that he was trying to enlist the help of a relative in Rishon LeZion to rescue his father from Austria (which was already under the control of Nazi Germany). And so he wrote: “Now it is in your hands, to grant me permission to save my father, therefore, I urgently request to give me permission to embark on this critical journey …” He signed the letter: “Maximilian Weitzmann, Moshe Weizmann, staying with the Teuber family, Balfouria”. The special leave was granted and Moshe successfully helped his father escape to the Land of Israel.

Zvi Weizmann boarded the illegal immigrant ship “Sakaria” in early February 1940. The ship was subsequently stopped by the British and Zvi was sent to the Atlit detention camp for six months. In August 1940 he was released, allowing him to join his son in the Jezreel Valley. He would spend less than a year in Afula, where he would reside until his death.

Aboard the “Sakaria”, the ship that brought Zvi Weizmann to Palestine, February 13th, 1940.

Later, Adva was able to locate people who knew the father and his son. They told her about the boy Moshe, who was the only Betar (a right-wing Jewish youth movement) supporter in a group of socialist youth. They told her of Moshe’s move to Afula with his father and that the two had established a photography shop. They worked there successfully for a few months. However, at the age of 55, only a short time after he arrived in Israel to begin a new life, Zvi passed away due to complications from the injury that had compromised his health years prior. Moshe was left alone and continued to run the photography shop without his father.

A friend of Moshe in Afula, related that he received a camera from him for his 18th birthday. Slowly, the story of the photography shop began to unravel. Magal-Cohen next discovered photographs taken by Zvi Weizmann. The photographs were taken in Vienna and were now being sold at auction. She also discovered photographs taken by Moshe Weizmann, on the back of which he stamped the words: “Photo-Weizmann, Afula.” The photographs are of Afula during the British Mandate, a demonstration against the White Paper, a pro-British rally during the war and a few pastoral photographs of palm trees in the city. Magal-Cohen also found photographs of a group of boys from the Youth Aliyah organization, with Moshe Weizmann appearing among them.


A photo of a Zionist march by Moshe Weizmann. Click to enlarge.


In the Afula municipal archives, Magal-Cohen found a handwritten letter by Moshe Weizmann. In July 1943, he requested a waiver for a fee required by the local council to maintain a signpost for his shop. Weizmann had been drafted by this time and was serving as a guard. His father had died two years earlier and it was difficult for him to pay the fee.

Adva also found a list of those who were called upon to be drafted from Afula. The name “Weizmann, Moshe” appears on the list as number 22. A document of those who reported for service was also published. Moshe Weizmann is number 36 on the recruitment list.

In December 1949, the secretary of the Afula Council wrote to the district officer and listed residents of the Afula area who had recently fallen in the war. Under the number 7 is written: “Weizmann, Moshe”. A note was added stating that the exact date of death was unknown. The location was listed as “near Zir’in.”


A letter in Hebrew by Moshe Weizmann to the Afula city council, requesting the waiving of a signpost fee. Click to enlarge.

The journey that began with one photograph revealed not only the image of Moshe Weizmann, a fallen soldier of the War of Independence, but also a complex family history and the story of a man whose family was shattered to pieces.

Finally, Magal-Cohen learned that Siegfried, Moshe’s brother, immigrated to London from Vienna around the same time Moshe arrived in Palestine. He was also a photographer and established a thriving event-filming business. He even photographed weddings of the British nobility and royal family. Siegfried and Moshe had planned to meet at the London Olympics after the war, but this reunion enver took place. Siegfried visited Israel once and went to see his brother Moshe’s grave. One of Moshe’s friends bestowed upon him two albums of photographs taken by Moshe during his years in Balfouria and Afula.

During her investigation, Magal-Cohen was able to contact Siegfried’s children – Moshe’s nephews. They told her that their father had continued to engage in photography and became the first importer of Japanese cameras to England. The family eventually shut down the photography business; today they run a successful real-estate agency. Siegfried’s children plan to travel to Israel soon and visit their uncle’s grave. They also hope to find more lost photo albums.

Thus, the story of the life and death of the late Moshe Weizmann, one Israel’s fallen heroes, was discovered in all its richness and history. Were it not for the persistent research that eventually became the book: “A Woman Sits and Writes – Rachel Teuber” (which can be found on the shelves of the National Library), Moshe Weizmann would be just another name, another number. A man killed at the age of 26, who today would be well over 90 years old.

For further reading (in Hebrew): “Memory on the Margins of Memory: Moshe Weizmann – An Oleh, a Photographer, a Casualty” from the bi-monthly periodical “Et-Mol,” Issue 243

"A Woman Sits and Writes - Rachel Teuber" by Adva Magal-Cohen
“A Woman Sits and Writes – Rachel Teuber” by Adva Magal-Cohen (Hebrew)

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