Are the British Descended from the Ten Lost Tribes?

The draft of an article by an important Romanian Zionist leader sheds light on an intriguing organization established in Great Britain in the early 20th century.

פסיפס של שנים-עשר השבטים, בית הכנסת עץ יוסף בגבעת מרדכי, ירושלים

An interesting discovery was recently made in the National Library’s archives. A draft of an article written by Adolf Stern, in which the prominent Zionist Romanian leader criticized a new organization – the British-Israel World Federation.


Adolf Stern (1848-1931)


And the first page of the draft of his article written in the later years of his life


Disputes, divisions and larger groups splitting into smaller groups are familiar phenomena in the Jewish world. However, in his article, Stern wanted to discuss a different grave threat which could be an impediment to many Jews. Despite its ostensibly innocent name, Stern warns at the beginning of his article that “This is a Christian organization from Great Britain and the United States, in other words, from the Anglo-Saxon world, which, by means of Biblical-historical, ethnographical, archeological and linguistic proofs, establishes the presumption that the British (English) are direct descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel.”

Where did such a peculiar idea come from and how did Stern intend to fight it?


Kings of England as Heirs to King David

The belief among the Christian nations that the early European peoples and the British tribes are direct descendants of the ten lost tribes dates back to at least the 16th century. Its principles were used, among other things, as a basis for England’s departure from the Catholic church in the Vatican. The followers of the cult were called the British Israelites.


The symbol of the British Israelites


The book “Israel in Britain” by the English Colonel John Garnier who attempted to bring proofs of the “Israelitish origin” of the “British race”. Published in 1890.


But it was not only the Christians who took an interest in the lost tribes. In 1644, the Rabbi of Amsterdam, Menashe Ben Israel, son of Portuguese Jews in Holland, believed that the natives of South America are descendants of the lost tribes. Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel, who was full of Jewish messianic aspirations, reached these conclusions following his meeting with an apostate Jew from Spain named Aharon Levi (Antonio de Montezinos) who had returned from the rain forests in the Cordillera mountains in the Quito region of Ecuador, where he claimed to have met one of the lost tribes. Some four years later Rabbi Ben Israel published his book “Mikveh Yisrael” in which he presented Aharon Levi’s story as a foreword under the title “What Befell Aharon Levi the Spaniard”.


Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel


His work was translated into English in 1652, published under the name “The Hope of Israel” and eventually presented to the Parliament and State Council in England. Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel intended on the one hand to improve the standing of the Jews in England by indicating a shared origin, and on the other hand to hasten the process of redemption through the ingathering of the exiles. However, Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel’s intentions were taken out of context and the book appears to have given a new impetus and further justification to British imperialism under a different banner. Unification instead of conquest. If the British Isles had previously been the border which the ten tribes reached through conquest, from here on the population of the American continent will be a form of re-unification of the tribes who had dispersed over hundreds of years.


The first page of the foreword “What Befell Aharon Levi the Spaniard” which was published circa 1648. It should be noted that the author, Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel mentioned the Cordillera Mountains in the context of “Western India”, even though the new continent was referred to by the name “America” by Martin Waldseemüller, a geography professor, as early as 1507.


The last page of the foreword “What Befell Aharon Levi the Spaniard” and the first page of “Mikveh Yisrael”


As years passed, due to disputes and diverse genealogical ideas of the different groups of followers of the “British Israelites” cult, the need to institutionalize the idea arose. Therefore, in 1919 the British Israel World Federation was established, which continued the tradition that some of the European nations, and especially the British, are the true Israelites, based on God’s promise to Jacob “And God said to him, I am the Almighty God, be fruitful and multiply and a community of nations will stem from you and kings will descend from your loins” (Genesis, 35:11).

Before revealing the great falsehood at the crux of the Federation, Stern describes the principles of the Anglo-American collaboration: “The kings of England are the heirs of King David, and therefore, the British empire is destined to rule over the redeemed Jerusalem. The fifteen thousand Jews in the world are not the children of (the kingdom) of Israel, but Jews, descendants of (the kingdom) of Judah.”

The British Israel World Federation differentiates between the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. They claim that both those exiled from the Kingdom of Israel to Assyria and the majority of those exiled from the kingdom of Judah to Babylonia, did not return to their birthplace, but made their way to Europe separately, some hundred and thirty years apart. Only a small number of the exiles of the kingdom of Judah returned to their homeland from the Babylonian Exile, where they contributed to the building of the Second Temple. They are the forefathers of the Jewish people. In contrast, the tribes of Israel who are also known as Isaac’s Sons, wandered to Europe and became the Saxon tribes. Here is the linguistic entomological proof of such:

Issac’s Son > Sacs-son > Saxon

The Federation claims that the tribe of Benjamin separated from the tribe of Judah following the destruction of the Second Temple and reached the shores of the British Isles as Normans several hundred years after the Saxons. In this manner, with the unification of the tribe of Dan with the tribe of Isaac’s Sons (the Saxons), the united settlement (Britain) became the true People of Israel through whom the Biblical prophecy was fulfilled “Because I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply your descendants like the stars of the Heavens and the sand on the seashore and your descendants shall inherit the gates of their enemies” (Genesis 22:17).

In justification of the origin of the Kings of England, it is related that the daughter of Zedekia son of Josiah, her father’s legal heir, reached England where she managed to revive the royal house of the dynasty of King David. The nation these kings arose is in the British nation, who expanded over the years to a large confederation of nations who eventually declared the constitution of the empire in the royal conference of 1926. According to this constitution, any nation can unite with the empire while maintaining its independence.

In his article, Stern also discusses the Federation’s attitude to the Land of Israel and to the role of the British in Palestine. While the Balfour Declaration aspired to establish a national homeland and the writer of the Mandate even aimed for Jewish self-rule, the Federation saw itself as the exclusive heir to this territory. Neither the descendants of Ishmael – the Arabs, nor the Jews have any right to the land.

“The religious center of the (Children of) Israel is still in Jerusalem, which is not geographically located in Palestine, but in the British Isles…Zion remains the site of the throne of David and is still in the great city of King David, it is not currently in Palestine, but in the British Isles together with David’s tribe”, thus Stern quoted words written by William Pascoe Goard, the vice president of the Federation, in the National Message and Banner newspaper in October 1929.


In the photograph: William Pascoe Goard (1863-1937)


Stern quotes another article from the same newspaper in November 1929 on the identity of the Jews and the Arabs. Regarding the question of who is a Jew, the writer of the article, David Gilbert, explains: “First of all, all the British are not Jews… the eleven tribes did not return, as described by Ezra and Nehemia. The facial features of a Jew are not Israelite facial features, as the children of the tribe of Judah married idol worshippers, and their features are more Syrian than Israelite. Therefore, the British Children of Israel, descendants of Israel, do not have such facial features.” The same newspaper journalist asks the rhetorical question: “What are we, the British, looking for in Palestine?” and responds “More than we received a mandate from the League of Nations, we received it from a Higher Power! On December 11, 1917, Lord Allenby was stationed on Mount Zion and spoke before the military forces, which most likely included representatives of the Israelite tribes. One thousand two hundred years ago, three crosses were seen reflected in the sky, and the king stood in the center. In Jerusalem, the blue Crusader flag divided Jerusalem, the symbol of the largest empire the world has ever known. We have things to look for in Jerusalem.”

If so, Stern asks himself, what is the implication of the Federation for Zionism? Indeed, on the one hand it is an advantage, and on the other hand, a danger. The advantage is expressed by the liberation of Jerusalem from Turkish rule, and the danger is posed by the Federation’s desire to claim the authority of a mandate. However, Stern casts a doubt on the success of this religious utopia whereby Palestine belongs to the King of England and to the British Empire, and hoped for opposition to the mandate from the British parties. Many people have taken an interest in the Jewish people – Stern writes – from Oliver Cromwell to Lord Balfour. The Federation’s objective is not the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, but building Jewish identity and culture alongside the local residents without increasing the number of Jews in Israel, and thereby takes the Balfour Declaration out of its context.


Lord Balfour and the declaration with his signature

The American Politician Who Would Not Remain Silent in the Face of the Holocaust

How Henry Morgenthau went from mild-mannered cabinet secretary to being one of the greatest advocates for Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust?

Official portrait of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., 1930s, Collection of the National Library

Despite his many virtues, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in short supply of the virtue of religious tolerance. During a meeting with Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., he told the Jewish politician that the United States was a Protestant country and therefore, as President he would never openly petition for either the Catholic or the Jewish minority. He explained that in his choice of Morgenthau for the position of secretary of the treasury – a key cabinet post in the period of the Great Depression and World War II – he was looking for the best man for the job. However, his aides claimed, even when he was still alive, that he had asked them to find him “the most talented Jew for the position.”

Nevertheless, the Secretary of the Treasury still considered the President a very close friend. Roosevelt’s relationship with Morgenthau however, was no different than the relationships he had with his other subordinates – the President specialized in provoking a basic insecurity among those who worked under him. Due to his independent wealth, Morgenthau would have had no problem buying a fancy home for his family to live in while he was working in Washington, DC, but instead, he moved his family from one rented apartment to another because. “I never felt that my work could wait until morning,” Morgenthau remarked years after Roosevelt’s death. This fear made the Secretary of the Treasury (along with most of the President’s advisors), into a submissive employee who did his best to not provoke the President’s ire.

The Three Great Leaders at Yalta: Joseph Stalin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill

This all changed with a phone call to Morgenthau’s office toward the end of 1943. That fateful day, the Secretary of the Treasury picked up the phone in his office and was surprised to hear a familiar voice – it was none other than the Rabbi and close friend who had officiated at Morgenthau’s own wedding. The agitated Rabbi pressured Morgenthau to tell him everything he might know about what was happening in occupied Europe. The baffled Secretary of the Treasury asked his friend to explain the meaning of his request.  Over many minutes, the Rabbi related in great detail the long list of atrocities the Nazis were perpetrating against the Jews, the emptying of the ghettos, the trains to the East and the concentration camps. “Henry, do you know that lampshades are being manufactured out of the skin of the slaughtered Jews?” his friend asked. Reeling from all he had heard, Morgenthau asked to end the conversation before he fainted.

The more he learned and heard from the many reports coming from survivors who had managed to escape the inferno,  the more Morgenthau felt himself changing from a mild-mannered man into a man with a mission. He felt it his duty to save as many Jews as possible.  Determined to force Roosevelt to act even at the price of his job, he met with the President in 1944 and presented him with a detailed report titled “Report on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of Jews.” He then spread the facts before the President (which Roosevelt had known already since the start of 1942), and demanded that the American government take every action to stop the systematic and industrialized killing of the Jewish People. He did not stop with a moral demand, but appealed to the President’s base interest. He called upon Roosevelt to reveal publicly what was happening in Europe and to condemn the Nazi atrocities in no uncertain terms, lest the discovery lead to a scandal which would seriously damage Roosevelt’s chances of re-election to a fourth presidential term.

The chance Morgenthau took paid off: within weeks a refugee commission was formed, whose purpose was to unite the efforts to smuggle Jews out of Nazi occupied areas. An agreement was signed allowing for the unrestricted admission into the US of Jews from Europe, and considerable aid was sent to Raoul Wallenberg to help in his heroic rescue efforts. Less than two months after their encounter in the Oval Office, Roosevelt made his first speech acknowledging the Holocaust that was raging in Europe. Morgenthau did not stop there. He formulated a plan of action against Germany: the plan called for the destruction of all military and civil industry in Germany at the end of the war. “The Morgenthau Plan” was rejected by Harry Truman, Roosevelt’s successor to the presidency after the latter’s death in April 1945 (only weeks before Germany’s surrender).  In the end, the efforts of Morgenthau and of other American activists led to the rescue of 200,000 Jewish refugees from the jaws of the Nazi killing machines.

After the war Henry Morgenthau was fired by President Truman. He became an enthusiastic and loyal supporter of the fledgling State of Israel, and was appointed chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in America.

Letter from Morgenthau to Dr. Yehuda Leib Magnes, congratulating him on the achievements of the Hebrew University, and showing Morgenthau’s support (even during the war) for the “state in the making.” From the Yehuda Leib Magnes Archive, The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel

“If Judaism is a tragedy, let us live it” – Stefan Zweig’s Letters Revealed

26 letters and 6 postcards, previously unknown, all by Stefan Zweig, one of the greatest writers of the first half of the twentieth century, have been given to the National Library of Israel.

The author Stefan Zweig in a photograph from the 1920s

The letters shed new light on Zweig’s personality, his attitudes toward Judaism and Zionism, and his political prophecy, as he alludes to the rise of Nazism 12 years before Adolf Hitler seized power.

​In 1921 a 16 year old fan of Stefan Zweig, Hans Rosenkranz, sent him a letter, seeking advice on becoming a writer. Zweig wrote back to Resenkranz beginning the long correspondence between the two that blossomed into a mentorship. Zweig offered professional, moral, and even financial support for years – right through 1933, when the Nazis rose to power.

A letter the author Stefan Zweig sent to Hans Rosenkranz. Donated by Hannah Jacobson

The letters have been given to the National Library of Israel by Hannah Jacobcon, Rosenkranz’s step daughter, a resident of Bat Yam in Israel,  are remarkable. It was unusual for authors to write back to their fans in such a way, but Zweig even referred a number of his writer friends. Zweig also went so far as to give Rosenkranz the right to print and market the German version of Anatole France’s “Joan of Arc”, which had been translated by his first wife, Friderike Zweig. This was certainly great help to the young publisher.

Throughout their longstanding correspondence, and contrary to his usual practice, Zweig discussed Jewish topics, writing in his first letter, for example, “There is nothing I hate more than the self-worship of nations and their refusal to recognize a variety of forms of peoples and the types of human beings and to experience them as the beauty of being. In terms of history, it is simply clear to me that certainly Judaism is now thriving culturally and flourishing as it has not flourished for hundreds of years. Perhaps this is the flare up before extinguishment. Perhaps this is nothing other than a brief burst in the eruption of the world’s hatred…”  Zweig continues, “The Jew must be proud of his Judaism and glorify in it – yet it is not appropriate to brag about accomplishments you have achieved with your own hands, not to mention the accomplishments of a mass and homogenous body to which you belong… anti-Semitism, hatred, internal strife are all ancient elements of our historical destiny – always problematic… we must therefore look for a way out; we must be brave to remain within our destiny. If Judaism is a tragedy, let us live it.”

The author Stefan Zweig in a photograph from the 1920s

In another letter the young Rosenkranz wished to know Zweig’s opinion regarding the possibility of moving to the Land of Israel. Zweig, who was well travelled, but never to Israel, did not support the idea, citing the death of the son of a friend who had moved there, leaving the father “a broken vessel”.

Despite the fact that Zweig had reservations about the Zionist enterprise, Zweig admired Theodore Herzl, and wrote, “In recent days I have read Herzl’s diaries: so great was the idea, so pure, so long as it was just a dream, clean of politics and sociology… we, who were close to him, were hesitant to hand all of our lives over to him… I told him that I cannot do anything which is not complete  … art and the world as a whole were too important for me to devote myself to the nation and nothing else… go there only if you believe, not out of disgust from this German world nor due to bitterness seeking an outlet through escape.”

Dr. Stefan Litt, who is responsible for handling Zweig’s archival materials at the National Library, explains that these letters provide important new information about Zweig as a writer and an individual with a critical eye. The letters contain fascinating insights into the beliefs and mindset of the renowned author, who offered many pieces of advice for aspiring writers throughout the decade-long correspondence. Zweig notes that it is important to study in university, as a broad education is essential for anyone wanting to be a writer and that it is important to get to know other countries and cultures, and especially to learn additional languages. In Zweig’s words, “Learn languages now! That’s the key to freedom. Who knows, maybe Germany and Europe will become so stifling that the free spirit will not be able to breathe within them”.

Despite Zweig’s advice, literary support and financial assistance, Rosenkranz was unable to fulfill his literary ambitions. In the early 1930s, he married Lily Hyman, a divorcee and mother of a very young daughter. The family immigrated to Palestine in December 1933 and several years later Rosenkranz joined the Jewish Brigade of the British Army as an officer in a unit that fought in Italy during World War II. During the war, he contracted lung disease from which he never fully recovered.

After the war, he divorced, changed his name to Chai Ataron and began writing for the Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. On October 25, 1956, Rosenkranz committed suicide, as Stefan Zweig had 14 years earlier. His stepdaughter Hannah Jacobsohn kept in touch with him over the years, even after he separated from her mother. Jacobsohn, who served as an officer in the Israel Police, told National Library archivists that her stepfather had a very broad education and vast knowledge of literature and art. Findings in archives across Europe indicate that Rosenkranz also corresponded with other writers, including Thomas Mann, Klaus Mann, Franz Goldstein and others, though it is not known what happened to these letters.

Photograph of Hans Rosenkranz

“Jacobsohn’s contribution to the National Library is exciting and significant, as it helps us to become more familiar with the work, personality and writings of Stefan Zweig, whose archive is in the National Library of Israel. For the research community and the general public interested in Zweig, these letters open another window into the tempestuous and fascinating life of one of the world’s most important and well-known writers,” said David Blumberg, Chairman of the National Library of Israel Board of Directors.


The Renaissance Woman Who Documented the Scientific Revolution

During the Reign of Terror Marie-Anne Lavoisier never surrendered in the face of persecution and kept the Scientific revolution alive and safe.

Marie-Anne and Antoine Lavoisier by Jaque-Louis David

When Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze was 12 years old, she was already courted by the men of her social milieu. Precocious and self-confident, she rejected their advances. Though her father supported her in this, there was an understanding that in order to protect herself from ill-suited men, like her 50 year old great-uncle, she would have to marry someone rather soon.

Knowing this, at 14 she accepted the match to one Antoine Lavoisier who was only 28. Lavoisier was a colleague of her father’s in the pre-Revolutionary office, the “Ferme générale”, the most hated tax collectors of the crown. Antoine Lavoisier, by chance, was also one of the great revolutionaries of chemistry, credited with the discovery of the function of oxygen in combustion.


“Traite elementaire de chimie organique” (Elements of chemistry : in a new systematic order) by Antoine Lavoisier, Paris: Chez Cuchet, 1789

Marie-Anne Lavoisier was the one who arranged her husband’s laboratory life, of which she was an active participant. She was fascinated by his research from the start and helped with his endeavors, detailing his equipment and chronicling the processes of his chemistry experiments..


Lab equipment drawn by Marie-Anne Lavoisier from “Traite elementaire de chimie organique” (Elements of chemistry : in a new systematic order) by Antoine Lavoisier, Paris: Chez Cuchet, 1789


Her sketching was not simply secretarial work for her husband, nor was her art a hobby she did in her spare time. But rather it was the work of a skilled and talented artist. While Antoine Lavoisier worked his day job at the “Ferme générale”, Madame Lavoisier studied under the tutelage of renowned painter Jaque-Louis David, the man who would become the portrait painter of Emperor Bonaparte.

Madame Lavoisier cultivated her talents of art, languages, and science with equal fervor, translating scientific texts from English to French, all of which were part and parcel of the chemistry breakthroughs Antoine Lavoisier came to in the 1770s.
However, after the Revolution and the start of the Reign of Terror in France, Marie-Anne’s family suffered greatly and it seemed everything she had worked for with her husband had fallen apart.

In 1794 Antoine Lavoisier and Messer Paulze, Marie-Anne’s father, were guillotined. All her possessions were confiscated, including the books and journals in which she and her husband documented their experiments. She herself was imprisoned for 65 days after her husband’s execution.

After her release she continued to write protest letters, demanding the return of her books. Her efforts were not in vain and she eventually got back everything the authorities confiscated in the name of the Revolution.

She went on to publish Antoine Lavoisier’s final writings on chemistry in 1805 under the title, “Mémoires de physique et de chimie” (Memories of Physics and Chemistry) – thus keeping the scientific Revolution alive.

Lab equipment drawn by Marie-Anne Lavoisier from “Traite elementaire de chimie organique” (Elements of chemistry : in a new systematic order) by Antoine Lavoisier, Paris: Chez Cuchet, 1789


This article was written with the generous help of Chaya Meier Herr, curator of the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel.