Graffiti in Budapest: The Mystery of Renée Nadler

A young girl, her soccer star brother, tragedy and the unknown

In June 2018, I started a project called “Budapest Téglái” (“The Bricks of Budapest”) to document old graffiti on the walls of Hungary’s capital. People used to write their names, sometimes dates and even short stories on the buildings in which they lived, worked or even just passed by, often offering enough information to identify them and begin exploring their stories. These prewar works of graffiti left written on the walls of Budapest are my favorite signs from the past to discover.

In the early 1900s, Budapest’s Place de Berlin – now known as Nyugati tér – was home to numerous Jewish businesses (Publisher: Divald Karoly György Monostory; from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection)

One of my favorite spots to find old graffiti is the Anker Palace (Anker-palota in Hungarian), a huge building located in Terézváros, the 6th district of Budapest. The Anker Palace was designed by the architect Ignác Alpár and built in 1908. Many Jews bought or rented flats in this huge building located in the center of the city. Of the people who lived there before the war, the most famous was probably Léopold Szondi, the psychiatrist who developed the Szondi test and fate analysis.

Budapest’s Anker Palace today (Photo: Vincent Vizkelety)


Looking down into the Anker Palace (Photo: Vincent Vizkelety)

When I see this old graffiti, I always wonder about who the people were who wrote it and what happened to them. During my last visit to the Anker Palace, I found graffiti left by a girl called Renée Nadler who used to live there.

Renee Nadler’s “graffiti” on the Anker Palace in Budapest (Photo: Vincent Vizkelety)

I did some research using various databases and I managed to find some information about her. Like many of the Anker’s inhabitants, the Nadlers were Jews. Her father, Izsák, made and sold suitcases and passed away in 1935. Her Mother, Roza Acht, was the daughter of Lazar Acht, a tailor from Lemberg (today Lviv in Ukraine) who settled in Budapest in 1902. Renée had 6 siblings: Gizella, Emma, Rozalia, Henrik, Illés and Bertalan.

I found a picture of Renée in an old Hungarian magazine called Szinházi Élet from 1932 where she sent her greetings from the town of Héviz to her friends in Pest:

Renee Nadler sending greetings to her friends (Image from Szinházi Élet magazine, available online through the Hungarian National Library, CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

Renée had a brother called Henrik. His nickname was “Pubi” and he was a famous football (soccer) player on the MTK football club, with whom he became a 7-time Hungarian champion. The MTK used to be considered to be a “Jewish football club” since most of its founding members and players were Jews. The team still exists.

Soccer star Henrik Nadler during his playing days

Tragically, Henrik was murdered in May 1944 either as a forced laborer in Austria or at the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was not the only MTK football player to be murdered; József Braun, Antal Vágó and Imre Taussig were also victims of the Holocaust.

Renée was very interested in football and she was a supporter of MTK where her brother played. The Sporthirlap newspaper, which specialized in sport, reported on how Henrik, Henrik’s wife and Renée had some passionate debates about the performances of certain football players while riding the 38 line tram in June 1933.

Henrik’s murder was not the only tragedy to strike the Nadler family. Renée lost a second brother, Illés Nadler, who was also murdered during the Holocaust. Renée’s sister, Gizella, wrote to all leading Hungarian newspapers in 1945 in order to find more information about Henrik and Illés’ fates.

Unfortunately, I could not find much information about the fate of Renée. It seems that she probably survived the Holocaust and married a man named Árpád Weisz. Her husband was a leather trader and he changed his name to “Varga”. They apparently left Hungary and settled in Israel or the United States.

It is incredible to see how simple graffiti written by a little girl in the 1920s helps us explore the past and honor the memory of people who where murdered and suffered during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, this old graffiti is endangered, with much of it disappearing when the buildings are renovated. I do my best to document it while we can, posting the results of my research on the Budapest téglái (in Hungarian) or Buildings Tell Tales (in English) Facebook pages.


Anyone with information about Renée or the rest of the Nadler family is invited to email: [email protected].

This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.


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New Effort Launched to Identify and Catalogue Every Hebrew Book in Italy for First Time Ever

Some 35,000 volumes from dozens of communities and institutions across the country will be included

A ground breaking collaborative effort to create a unified listing of all Hebrew books in Italy for the first time ever has been announced by The Union of Jewish Communities in Italy (UCEI), the Rome National Central Library (BNCR), and the National Library of Israel (NLI) in Jerusalem. The “I-Tal-Ya Books” initiative is being made possible through the support of the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe.

Jewish communities have existed in Italy for more than two millennia and over the centuries it has played a critical role in global Jewish history, particularly as a significant center for manuscript production and printing.

Today in Italy, thousands of uncatalogued rare Hebrew books dating back hundreds of years are held among collections belonging to local Jewish communities, as well as libraries owned by the state, the Italian Church Institutions (CEI) and the Vatican.

Some of the collections have been partially catalogued; however, there is no single integrated and standardized listing of these holdings and so while many of these books have significant historical importance and hold tremendous potential for scholars, they are often difficult if not impossible to find.

The “I-Tal-Ya Books” initiative will ensure the protection, preservation and provision of access to these cultural treasures as never before using technology developed specifically for the project. The Union of Jewish Communities in Italy (UCEI) will oversee the project, with the Rome National Central Library (BNCR) hosting the catalogue, and the National Library of Israel (NLI) providing the relevant training, support and expertise related to Hebrew books.

Dr. Yoel Finkelman, Curator of the Haim and Hanna Salomon Judaica Collection at the National Library of Israel commented: “As the national library for both the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide, we are honored to partner in the I-Tal-Ya Books initiative, sharing our expertise with colleagues in order to help identify and catalogue thousands of texts that would otherwise essentially be lost to history.”

An initial pilot phase has just concluded, and the full-scale project starting now will include an estimated 35,000 volumes from 14 Jewish communities and 25 state institutions. It will take approximately three years to complete.


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Revealed: Photos of Macedonian Jews Who Perished in the Holocaust

A collection of photographs received by the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People documents the lives of thousands of residents of the town of Bitola, who were sent to Treblinka in 1943

Macedonian Jews who were murdered during the war: Hanna Nachmias and her daughter Boina

It has been seventy-seven years since disaster struck one of the world’s last Ladino-speaking Jewish communities. The National Library of Israel’s Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) have revealed a unique collection which serves to commemorate the members of this historic community. The collection includes photographs and written information relating to thousands of residents of the town of Bitola (still known to many Jews by its former name, Monastir), which during the war was home to 810 Jewish families (3,351 people). The Sephardic-Jewish community was a vibrant one, and in the interwar period, the Zionist movement played a key role in its cultural and political life. Many members of the community aspired to reach the Land of Israel.

Issik Mushon and Lanna Issik Casarula

The Jews of Macedonia comprise one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. The first Jewish settlers arrived in Macedonia in the 3rd and 4th centuries. At the time, the Jews settled in the cities of Skopje, Stobi, Bitola, Strumica, and others. However, most of that glorious community, which at its height included approximately 8,000 people, was annihilated in the Holocaust. During the war, Macedonia was annexed as a province of Bulgaria, a state that cooperated with the Nazis. In March 1943, Bulgarian policemen and soldiers conducted raids all over Macedonia, rounding up Jews and sending them to the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland, where 7,144 of them were murdered. The only surviving Jews were several dozen young men who, shortly before deportation, fled to the mountains and joined the partisans who fought the Bulgarian army.

David Buchur Hasson
Sara Avram Hasson

Bulgarian government officials were the ones who prepared the tidy photo albums, ahead of the rounding up of the Jews pictured in them and their later transport to Treblinka. On the back side of each photo, information was jotted down, such as family ties, occupations, professions, residential addresses, and more. Somehow, the photographs found their way to Israel after the war. The pictures and personal information, written in Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian, gave faces and names to the victims. They were preserved in the Eventov Collection, founded by The Association of Immigrants from the Former Yugoslavia. Today, the albums are stored in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP). Among the many family names documented, are the names Elbuchar, Aroesti, Ashkenazi, Bachar, Versano, Chazan, Cohen, Moreno, Kalderon, Kimchi, Russo, and more.

Moiz Yaacov Ovadia
Raphael Russo

According to Dr. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia, the director of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, this is important and exciting documentation of a Jewish community with almost no survivors left. “The photographs were recently scanned and were uploaded to the website of the Descendants of Macedonian Jewry in Israel, managed by Yael Unna. All personal information was translated into Hebrew by Chaim Pekovic from the archives team. We are pleased to help preserve and provide access to the memory of a glorious, Zionist Jewish community with so few survivors.”

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An 18th-Century Washing Machine

In the National Library of Israel's Edelstein Collection, we discovered evidence of one of the world's first modern washing machines, dating back to the 18th century


“Question: How can we bleach laundry under the following conditions?” This is how the first page of our pamphlet begins, in which we will discuss… laundry. The question is quickly followed by a list of sixteen conditions, which must have sounded farfetched to readers of the period – the mid-18th century.

  • No laundry soap
  • No boiling water
  • No special heating, and occasionally no wood nor fire
  • No boilers
  • No drainpipes
  • No water jugs nor laundry tools
  • Minimal preparation
  • No washerwoman
  • No noticing that you’re even doing laundry
  • No human contact
  • No tearing, nor dirt nor damage to the laundry
  • No more than 120 square centimeters of space required for laundering
  • No getting the entire area wet
  • No getting a cold in the winter nor suffering from heat in the summer
  • No repeated soaking of clothes in soap
  • And finally, laundry dries within approximately fifteen minutes

So how could this wonder be achieved? Was it really possible to wash laundry without standing knee-deep in a river, while scrubbing clothes on a metal washboard? French readers who received this pamphlet must have had endless questions… “To do all this, you must use the newly invented washing machine, and here is its description,” the pamphlet continued.

The more up-to-date readers of the time may have heard of an English patent for a similar device issued in the late 17th century. Or perhaps they came across an illustration of an early washing machine, published in 1752 in “The Gentleman’s Magazine“. But it’s more likely that they had never heard of such a thing, taking into account the world of the 18th century, which was experiencing only the first hints of globalization. Most readers were probably surprised to hear about this newfangled invention, and perhaps even dismissed the claims as nonsensical fabrications.

Illustration of a washing machine from the January 1752 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine. “Of reducing the Starch Duty”, the title read, next to the rather offensive (by today’s standards) name given to the invention – the “Yorkshire Maiden”

Our pamphlet was printed in French in Strasbourg in 1767. As mentioned on the cover, it was in fact translated from German. The pamphlet’s title promised, “A description of the machine invented in England and perfected in Germany, for washing laundry – with greater convenience and at lower cost than you have been used to.” In Germany that same year, the original English washing machine received an upgrade thanks to a man named Jacob Christian Schäffer.

Jacob Christian Schäffer, 1718-1790

Schäffer was a theologian, inventor, and scientist. He researched the plants, birds, fungi, and insects found in the vicinity of his city – Regensburg. His research was extensive and covered many fields of knowledge, and he also drew wonderful illustrations of the animals and plants he researched. The aforementioned washing machine wasn’t his only invention. He also experimented with color pigments and optics, created lenses and invented paper-making methods.

An illustration by Schäffer for one of his books

From Germany, the washing machine pamphlet made its way to Strasbourg – the capital of the Alsace region, which throughout history has changed hands many times between Germany and France. And there, as described in the beginning of the pamphlet, a “clever mechanic” managed to construct the machine successfully. The pamphlet goes on to describe the various machine parts. As we see in the accompanying illustration, the device consisted of a large container into which the clothes were thrown, as well as a rod, which was inserted into it and which generated the spinning motion that we are familiar with in modern washing machines. The pamphlet also contained technical instructions, essentially providing an answer to the booklet’s opening question.

As with any self-respecting pamphlet, the text concluded by detailing the various advantages of using the machine, including: saving wood, soap, and time, as well as maintaining the health of those doing the laundry. In summary, Schäffer wrote, “I think my work here is done. What I have stated here proves that we can rightfully describe the new invention as a convenient, efficient, and lucrative machine in every way.”

The illustration of Schäffer’s improved washing machine

The next development was the invention of the “drum,” in which clothes were inserted and rotated with a handle. It took another hundred years for the next significant improvement: the use of a steam engine that could rotate the device without any human assistance whatsoever.

In the early twentieth century, the electric washing machine came into existence.

If you’ve read this far, you probably want to know how this French translation of a German text about an improvement on an English invention found its way to Israel’s National Library. We won’t leave you hanging: the copy found in the National Library is a small, green book which includes essays about different washing machines, with a particular focus on those operated by steam. The book is part of the Edelstein Collection, a large collection of books donated to the National Library of Israel by the Jewish-American chemist, Sydney M. Edelstein and named after him. Edelstein studied the history of fabrics and their dyes, and is especially famous for his contribution to the research of archaeological textile in Israel. His collection of books is the foundation of the National Library’s scientific collection. We invite you to visit this collection and have a look at this fascinating book.


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