A Diary from Jerusalem Under Siege

“I’m very thirsty and there isn’t a drop of water in the house. I must go down to the street, perhaps I'll find something to drink, and thus I must cease my writing.” A peek into the siege diary of Menachem Zvi Kadari, a resident of the Old City during Israel's War of Independence.


Menachem Zvi Kedari's diary, the National Library of Israel

Today the residents learned that the Jerusalem front suffered a new heavy blow: the Old City has fallen … the defenders surrendered after half a year of resistance and heroic defense, when few stood against many, without weapons and equipment in the face of a well-equipped enemy. It is indeed interesting that the fall of the Old City didn’t make as much of a sad impression on the city as the previous difficult blows (Gush Etzion, Sheikh Jarrah, etc.), as if there was even a certain sense of relief: finally, it’s over, the women and children were spared, most of the defenders also remained alive, even if they will spend some time in captivity; Thank God, for that too—such are the thoughts, more or less, of a simple Jerusalemite.

With these words, Menachem Zvi Kadari describes one of the most difficult and desperate moments in the battle for Jerusalem during the Independence War. The 23-year-old, Hungarian-born Kadari, a student of Bible Studies and Hebrew at the Hebrew University, kept a diary detailing the sequence of events throughout the period of the siege of the Old City. In clear and beautiful handwriting, on the back of small index cards, accompanied by delicate illustrations, he provides a vivid and authentic account of public opinion among the people of the besieged Old City, and from the cards, colorful and fascinating Jerusalem characters spring to life. Here are some of them:


At the corner of HaRav Kook Street I suddenly see the old Yemenite man sitting by the wall and reading from the holy Zohar with amazing diligence; everything remains the same with him, he sat and read here before the siege and continued in times of danger, through the heaviest bombardment, and continues to sit here even now.

The boys in the student dormitory on Jaffa Street had a private laundress, a Kurdish woman who always came to collect the laundry and two days later, she would return it clean and neat. […] Every time she heard about young people who died, her heart seemed to sink. She has no children of her own, but all of Jerusalem’s youth are hers and she feels pain and sorrow over the loss of each of them […]  When we asked her “When will you bring our clean laundry,” she answered, looking up with her eyes: “Can one say today when I will come? God knows when I will be able to come.” […] The last time, a few days before the cease-fire, she took the laundry, but did not bring it back again … a wicked shell hit her … her husband brought our clean whites, which her own hands were not favored to bring back [to us] … Many have been your casualties Jerusalem; all have fallen in the fulfillment of their duties, who in defense, who at work … May they atone for our sins!

(Entry from June 15th, 1948)


On August 8th, during the second break in the fighting, Kadari sees:

Four young men with beards and sidelocks, dressed in caftans and beaver hats, walking in front of me along the street—they were Neturei Karta Hasidim—and behold the wonder, a truly strange and unusual sight: they are holding rifles in their hands! […] Can this really be true? Parading about the streets of the city of Jerusalem are young men in hasidic garb carrying guns and other weapons of destruction! Who could have prayed that something like this would ever happen? 


But beyond the characters, Kadari best describes Jerusalem shifting between despair and hope. He tells of the eyes turned to the great powers, the ambivalence of the Jerusalem street towards the offers of the U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, the reactions of the Arab countries, the rationing of food, and the tense hours of waiting – for bread and sustenance, but even more so – for news and information about what was going on in the rest of the country. Thus, for example he describes his own dismal situation, while reporting on the announcement from Tel Aviv:

This Sabbath was especially eventful, a historic day in Jewish history: the State of Israel was declared and immediately recognized by America and 38 other countries. Yet, there are two sides to every coin: the armies of the Arab countries began their invasion from all directions and there are already bitter consequences: they have conquered several settlement points […] the battle in Gush Etzion is completely over. The entire area has been captured and the fighters taken captive. Oh! Ten years of hard work have come to nothing! Three settlements of the religious Kibbutz movement , to which the eyes of the youth in the Diaspora were drawn, were wiped off the map […] Oh, what has befallen us!  (“I’m very thirsty and there isn’t a drop of water in the house. I must go down to the street, perhaps I’ll find something to drink, and thus I must cease my writing.”).

(Entry from May 16th, 1948)


Entry from Kadari’s diary
Entry from Kadari’s diary

The siege of the Old City lasted until the 11th of June, during which there was a terrible shortage of food (“the bread ration was reduced to one hundred and fifty grams and in a few days will be reduced to one hundred grams per person; oh well, this is real hunger, but one can suffer a bit more!” [June 6]. Following the end of fighting in Jerusalem, the situation improved significantly, (“In exchange for work they pay forty grush along with breakfast and dinner every day. By this arrangement, after just two days I have already been able to loosen my belt buckle and I can’t complain about hunger” [June 25th]).


It is not only existential distress that emerges from the pages of Kadari’s diary, but also his personal thoughts about his future and studies, which were interrupted by the war. He attends political meetings and cultural conferences, keeps himself busy with matters of language (“This afternoon I decided to go home, despite the danger of bombardment—they have already invented a new word for the concept: hafgaza [shelling]; indeed, this is the Jerusalem spirit!”). And once in a while he visits the Jerusalem homes of his teachers Gershom Scholem, Moshe Zvi Segal and others. One of the topics woven throughout the journal is the growing gap between Tel Aviv, the city where the declaration of the State had just been celebrated, and Jerusalem, which is under siege:

It truly seems from the papers that there is still life in Tel Aviv, despite everything. Only today was the public prohibited from going to the beach; the theaters and cinemas are running as usual […] only in Jerusalem we sit for months on the watch, on the frontline. The first to be tested is the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps it will be the first to be redeemed? 

(Entry from June 9th, 1948)

The institutions of the young state and the IDF (which until the day before was the “Haganah”), are concentrated in Tel Aviv, while Jerusalem is still sympathetic to members of the underground. With the outbreak of the fighting, Kadari, the native of Tel Avivi, was “stuck” in Jerusalem, and throughout the diary, he describes attempts to return home. His description of one of the most famous affairs of the period—the firing on the Irgun ship Altalena as it approached the shores of the coastal city, is mixed with a dose of racism:

There is explosive news on the internal political front: the Irgun, which declared its joining the ranks of the Haganah and full obedience to the Jewish government  institutions, brought an arms ship for itself and began unloading it, with the clear intent of violating the truce […] war is these people’s life, war for the sake of war. Internal danger awaits the Yishuv, heaven forbid, from these ne’er do wells, and careless adventurers. […] No wonder that most of the members of the Irgun and Lehi come from the Sephardic communities, and if so, it is clear from whence the fanaticism and blind enthusiasm for their actions, good or bad.

(Entry from June 23rd, 1948)

Kadari’s diary ends with his departure for Tel Aviv on August 18th. After the fighting ended, he renewed his studies at the university. Kadari submitted his doctoral dissertation in 1953 and later was appointed a lecturer at Bar Ilan University. In 1971 he became rector of the university and a member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. In 1999, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Study of the Hebrew Language.


“The opinion of a simple Jerusalemite”


Menachem Zvi Kadari died in 2011. His personal archive was recently deposited in the National Library and includes, besides this diary, fascinating documents about underground rescue activities in which he took part in Hungary and Romania after the Nazi invasion, in addition to drafts of his research papers and lectures, as well as personal documents and correspondence.

Kadari’s full diary is held in the archives of the National Library of Israel.


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The Nazi Guide to Finding the Proper Spouse

These "10 commandments" for building a good relationship were found in a pamphlet distributed to all students graduating from a trade school under the Nazi regime.

nazi relationship guide

“I found this on the shelf and thought you might know what to do with it,” she said as she handed me a thin paperback pamphlet with a German title and a swastika embossed on the cover.

Apparently, spring cleaning in the office can lead to some interesting discoveries when you work in the National Library of Israel Digital Content Department.

The book I now held in my hand was a copy of “Du Und Dein Volk,” or in English, “You and Your People,” a widely spread piece of Nazi propaganda that was published in early 1940 and distributed by the Reich Education Ministry to young adults finishing their education. Thousands of copies of this pamphlet were printed and distributed across Nazi Germany, providing the young graduates with an easy to read, condensed version of the Nazi doctrine that all Germans were required to know.

Du Und Dein Volk

This particular copy of the pamphlet found on our shelves was bestowed to a graduate of the “Berufsschule für Tischler,” vocational school for carpentry in Vienna, named August Feigel. His name was written in cursive in blue ink on the first page of the book. It appears there alongside the name of his school, the date the book was gifted (July 6, 1940), and the signature of the school’s headmaster, suggesting this book was given as a gift to all graduating students.

Du Und Dein Volk
The opening page of the book showing that it was gifted to August Feigel, a graduate of the “Berufsschule für Tischler,” vocational school for carpentry in Vienna.

Upon further inspection, and with a lot of help from my German-speaking colleagues, I understood that this “light reading” contained a general summary of Nazi ideology that outlined the responsibilities of the average German citizen, encouraging the youths to marry and have many children while warning them of the dangers of marrying someone improper, including those without the proper German mindset or someone who is not of Nordic blood.

In a section entitled, “Your Marriage and Your Children,” the text emphasizes the importance of marriage and of bearing as many healthy children as possible, to maintain and strengthen the right racial components for the good of society.

Du Und Dein Volk
Adolf Hitler’s portrait included at the center of the pamphlet.

“Your genetic line is like roots underground. When two such roots meet and unite, a person grows like a plant and breaks through the soil,” reads the text. “The sun smiles upon it, rain falls, it’s blown by storms, it wilts and withers, and finally dies a human death. Yet the genetic stream flows on long after the sun and rain and storms of that one life have passed.”

The section goes on to discuss the importance of maintaining a clean genetic pool and the critical nature of choosing an appropriate spouse who has within them the appropriate racial ancestry, as well as the responsibility that lies with every individual to strengthen the Aryan race by producing healthy children. The chapter concludes with a summarized and condensed list of the ten key commandments to follow when choosing a spouse with which to build and strengthen German ideals.

Du Und Dein Volk
The 10 commandments of Nazi doctrine for finding a spouse.

“You now know how to choose your spouse and understand the meaning of the following principles from the Reich Office for People’s Health,” reads the text. It then goes on to list the 10 commandments for finding a spouse:

  1. Always remember that you are a German.

  2. Be sure to marry if you are genetically healthy.

  3. Ensure that you keep your body clean.

  4. Keep your soul and spirit clean.

  5. As a German, you should only take a spouse of German or Nordic blood.

  6. When deciding on a spouse, investigate his or her ancestry.

  7. Physical health is the prerequisite for outward beauty.

  8. Marry only for love.

  9. In relationships, do not seek a temporary plaything, look for a partner for marriage.

  10. You should want as many children as possible.

This emphasis on maintaining the proper bloodline and increasing the pure German population was a key point for graduating students as they moved out of the structured environment of their education to the real world where they would fend for themselves.

After listing the ten initial commandments, the text adds an important warning to the reader: “People of absolutely pure blood are rare among us.” Just because someone matches the external criteria of the Aryan race, “that does not mean that he necessarily possesses all the spiritual characteristics that correspond to the physical appearance.”

“Enough advice and warnings,” concludes the section. “If you understood these rules, you can be assured that your instincts will lead you in the right direction. You should not marry out of the calculation, but rather from love!”

Du Und Dein Volk
The ideal German family according to Du Und Dein Volk.

A few pages later, the pamphlet includes a photo depicting the ideal family, featuring a blonde woman surrounded by her children. The text goes on to describe the importance of family before switching to a discussion of “The Jewish Question” and preventing the birth of genetically ill offspring.

The final pages in the pamphlet include a template for the student to fill in his own family tree, leading back to his great grandparents, so that he could prove his pure lineage. August Feigel, the recipient of this book, did not take advantage of this opportunity.

Du Und Dein Volk
A family tree template for the student to fill out.

“Woe to the generation that is given clarity and does not make use of it,” concludes the text. “There are only two options: to climb to liberating heights or to decline. We choose the first path, though we know it brings sacrifices and challenges, though it is difficult and will take more than one or two or three generations.”

Looking back over the last three generations, the Nazis did not achieve their goals in “purifying” the genetic pool but this pamphlet, now preserved in the National Library of Israel, stands as a witness to the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism that are still apparent today.

Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Litt for his help in writing this article.

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.

German Police Transfer Max Brod Papers to the National Library of Israel

Among other items, the collection includes a diary of Brod's, written when he was Kafka's closest friend in Prague. Thought to be lost in recent years, the diary has drawn interest from literary scholars around the world.


מקס ברוד ושירים בכתב ידו

On Tuesday, May 21st, 2019, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA) handed over thousands of stolen, previously unknown papers from the Max Brod Archive to National Library of Israel officials at an event at the Israeli Ambassador’s residence in Berlin. Max Brod was a close friend of Franz Kafka, and the man responsible for bringing his famous works to light.

Max Brod
Max Brod

The event is part of the renewal process undertaken by the National Library and the expansion of the Library’s international cooperation initiatives, including a range of joint projects with German research and cultural institutions.

The National Library Chairman David Blumberg and CEO Oren Weinberg arrived in Berlin in late May, 2019 to present the the Library’s collections and goals to leading members of German society. As part of this special visit, the two participated in an event at the residence of the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, during which Mr. Weinberg presented the renewal process underway at the Library, including the ongoing construction of the new National Library of Israel Campus adjacent to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), to a group of German public figures as well as cultural and media personalities.



The culmination of this event was the handing over of thousands of papers, including letters, drafts of plays, diaries and other manuscripts written by the author, composer and playwright Max Brod, by a senior representative of the German police to the heads of the National Library.

Max Brod in pictures

Back in 2013, the documents were offered for sale to the German Literature Archive in Marbach and other potential buyers in the country.  Following the attempted sale, the authorities were notified and it became clear that the some 5,000 pages of documents were part of Brod’s private archive, and had been stolen from the home of his secretary. Alongside Brod’s personal papers, the collection includes a 1910 postcard signed by his close friend Franz Kafka.

Brod, an accomplished writer and composer, was a confidant of Franz Kafka and is primarily responsible for Kafka’s success as one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, having published many of his works after the author’s death in 1924.

Legal proceedings in Israel and Germany resulted in a verdict by the regional court in Wiesbaden declaring that the stolen papers should be transferred to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem where they will be made publicly available. Three large suitcases containing the materials were transferred to Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) for temporary safekeeping. These are the documents that are now being handed over to the National Library of Israel.



In accordance with Max Brod’s own wishes that his collections, including Kafka’s writings, be made accessible to the public and kept in a public archive, the National Library has been working in recent years to make this a reality. As part of this activity, many of Brod’s manuscripts were collected, including personal diaries. Among these is a diary written when Brod was Kafka’s closest friend in Prague. In recent years, the document was thought to be lost and had drawn interest from literary scholars around the world. Other diaries in the collection describe Brod’s extensive relationship with members of the Prague Circle (a group of Zionist students in Prague who surrounded Franz Kafka and who were the first in the Zionist movement to formulate the idea of ​​a bi-national state in the Land of Israel). Many of the personal archives of the members of this group are also preserved in the National Library. Over the years the Library had become aware that items from the Brod estate had made their way, one way or another, to Germany, with the purpose of eventually selling them.



According to National Library archivist and Humanities Collection curator, Dr. Stefan Litt, who is tasked with reviewing the materials, “The correspondence found in the archive is extensive and impressive. It can be characterized as a type of ‘who’s who’ of the European cultural world in the first four decades of the twentieth century.”

The Chairman of the National Library’s Board of Directors, Mr. David Blumberg, said: “We are pleased that even after so much time has passed since these papers were stolen, there is now some closure and they will be coming to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, in accordance with Max Brod’s wishes. Brod was a prolific writer, composer, and playwright and his personal papers will now fittingly join the hundreds of personal archives held among the National Library collection, including a number belonging to figures from the famed “Prague Circle”, of which Brod and Kafka were members.”


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Columbus’ Crusade

A letter unearthed 500 years after Columbus' famous journey hints at an extraordinary venture that never materialized…


Columbus claims ownership of the New World. Print from 1893.

The rising waves pounded against the holds of the two ships that had embarked on their voyage a month earlier. They were now rocking from side to side and dipping in and out of the chilly waters of the Atlantic. The sailors working topside tethered themselves to the deck in order to avoid being thrown overboard into the depths. In his small cabin, the captain sat at his desk. He had already lost one of his ships, and now he feared for her two sisters. In an effort to stem the bad fortune that seemed to have befallen them, the captain decided to cast lots, in an effort to appease the will of God. Those selected by divine fortune would don traditional religious garb and make a pilgrimage to Santa Maria de Guadalupe.

The lots decreed that the captain himself would embark on the trek to the famous monastery, if they ever made it back to Spain. He thought of his two sons in Cordoba who might soon become orphans, but one fear rose above all others: that word of his astonishing discovery would never reach the ears of the king who had sent him on his important mission in the first place. And so, he dipped his quill in ink, unfolded the piece of parchment, and began writing the story of the long and challenging journey he had begun the previous summer. When he finished, he stamped the parchment with wax and sealed it in a barrel. He threw the watertight barrel into the sea with a prayer that it would somehow reach its intended destination.

The barrel was never discovered, but Christopher Columbus and his crew somehow survived the storm and reached the port of Lisbon several weeks later.

Upon his return to European shores, the captain sent four long letters. First, he wrote to the Portuguese king, explaining the reason for his anchorage in Lisbon while he rested and resupplied for the continued voyage to Spain. Next, he sent a letter to the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, who had sent him on his journey (and who were responsible for the expulsion of Spanish Jewry just a year earlier). The final two letters were sent to Luis de Santángel and Gabriel Sánchez, key figures in organizing and financing the excursion.

None of the original letters have withstood the ravages of time, but we know of their existence from various sources. Columbus kept a daily log, detailing the voyage westward, his stay in the Caribbean (he believed he had reached the islands east of China and India), and the treacherous return voyage to Europe. In the log, he told of the letter in the barrel that he had cast out to sea. Later in the diary, he noted that he had arrived in Lisbon on March 4th, 1493, and that he had sent his first letter to the King of Portugal.

At one point, the diary was copied for Queen Isabella. But, the manuscript has since been lost. An edited version was composed by Bartolomé de las Casas, the Spanish historian and Dominican friar who gained fame as a social reformer in the 16th century. This version was also lost, and then rediscovered at the end of the 18th century. Until the rediscovery, all that was known of Columbus’ inaugural voyage to the West came from the letters written to Santángel and Sánchez.

In 1989, almost five-hundred years after the epic journey, a copy of a letter composed by Columbus was published. The letter was copied by an unknown source, but it most likely dates back to the 16th century. Some speculate that the copy was based on Columbus’ letter to Ferdinand and Isabella.

The letters to Santángel and Sánchez have been well studied, due to the fact that they were printed a few weeks after they were sent by Columbus. The letter to Sánchez was translated into Latin and titled Epistola de Insulis Nuper Inventis (“A Letter from the Newly Discovered Islands”). It was printed in Rome by Stefan Plannck in May, 1493. That year, the letter was also printed and circulated in Paris and Basel. The Basel copy also features woodblock prints, probably created by Columbus himself.


A woodblock print of Columbus’ ship from an edition of the letter printed in Basel in 1493

A short time ago, I received a message from a researcher in England who wanted to know if there was a watermark in a particular book in the National Library catalogue. Watermarks are a type of logo embedded on a page that can identify the paper manufacturer and the period in which it was printed. I found the watermark (a figure in the shape of a dragon or pegasus) and then had a closer look at the book itself.

Opening page of Epistola de Insulis Nuper Inventis, from the National Library collections. Click on the picture to view the complete book
Opening page of Epistola de Insulis Nuper Inventis, from the National Library collections. Click on the picture to view the complete book

If this relatively thin book, written in dense gothic letters, had not been an incunable, I probably would not have given it more than a few moments. An incunable is a book printed before the year 1501, during the first few decades following the invention of the printing press. When one of these incunabula comes your way, you give it the respect it deserves. I decided to look into the origin of the title and found that this was a printed copy of the very same Sánchez letter. This rare item had, apparently, reached the National Library in the early 1960s.

The letter began with Columbus summarizing the voyage on which he had been sent on behalf of King Ferdinand of Spain. The printer seems to have forgotten to mention Queen Isabella. This error was corrected in subsequent editions. Another mistake was the misprint of Raphael Sánchez as the finance minister’s name. It was later amended to Gabriel Sánchez.

The letter describes Columbus as having arrived in the Indian Ocean thirty-three days after leaving the Canary Islands. Today we know that it was not the Indian Ocean, but the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas. Columbus gave Christian names to the islands and continued on his way. At first, when he arrived on the island of Juana (today known as Cuba), he did not immediately realize that it was an island because of its vast size. When the locals informed him that he had yet to reach the continent, he continued his search until he landed on the island of Hispaniola (today known as Haiti). On arrival, he claimed the island in the name of King Ferdinand.

Columbus described Hispaniola as a veritable paradise, with many rivers, towering mountains, diverse vegetation, fields, birds of song, and precious metals. Columbus went on to record that the residents of the island were healthy and highly-skilled, but easily frightened. Only after the Spanish crew offered them fabrics and other gifts did the residents agree to approach them. In return, the islanders gave Columbus and his team an abundance of gold and cotton. Columbus did not think the inhabitants were idolaters. They believed that goodness came from heaven, and saw Columbus and his crew as angels who came to them in unfathomably large vessels.

The locals moved from island to island in small rowboats. They carried goods to their neighbors on the other islands. They all spoke the same language, and Columbus noted that this could assist the Spaniards in their later attempts to convert the islanders to Christianity.

If Columbus considered the people of Hispaniola frightened and naive, the inhabitants of the nearby island of Quaris seemed particularly violent to him. He wrote that they enjoyed eating human flesh and robbing the inhabitants of neighboring islands. They armed themselves with bows and arrows and allowed their hair to grow long, a direct contrast to the residents of the largest island in the area, whose heads were completely shaven. This island was described as having more gold than any other.

Columbus ordered that a fort be constructed on the island of Hispaniola. There, he left some of his crew with enough food for a year. He added that he had left one of the ships with them (the Santa Maria), but “forgot” to mention that the ship was no longer seaworthy due to the fact that it had run aground while its crew and captain had fallen asleep.

Columbus concluded the letter by praising God for the success of the mission. He proposed the idea of organizing religious festivals to celebrate the discovery of the “lost souls” overseas.

Columbus’ official goal was strictly economic – to discover a shorter maritime route to India. A shorter route would have saved money on long and dangerous commercial excursions to the East. But what did the Spaniards intend to do with the surplus funds? The answer is found in the lost letter that Columbus sent to the King and Queen of Spain upon his arrival in Lisbon.

In the letter, Columbus promised that, thanks to the planned commercial success of his new route, in just seven years time he would be able to finance 5,000 cavalry and 50,000 infantry to embark on the conquest of Jerusalem. He adds, “That was the goal for which I took on this project.” If so, Columbus and the King of Spain planned a crusade to Jerusalem – a conquest unlike any attempted since the 13th century. This startling fact was revealed only after the discovery of the letter in 1989.

With the exception of the First Crusade, which reached Jerusalem in 1099, the conquests that followed all resulted in failure or only partial successes. What would have happened if a Spanish armada, armed with cannons and gunpowder, had sailed to the Land of Israel? One can only imagine, as the plan never came to fruition. Following Columbus’ discovery, the peoples of Europe became captivated with an even more fascinating destination – the New World, America.


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