How Anti-Semitism Robbed the Jewish Miss Europe of Her Crown

Erzsébet Simon faced extreme anti-Semitism despite the glory she brought to her homeland.

Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon

Erzsébet Simon, image from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

With the conclusion of the First World War and the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary underwent a period of extreme instability and political unrest.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved and Hungary was reborn as an independent republic, bringing about a period of tremendous upheaval. The country struggled politically, economically and culturally to rebuild and regain its status and position among its neighbors. After years of dramatic changes, in 1929, Hungary finally enjoyed a taste of normalcy, hosting the first-ever Miss Hungary beauty pageant with the hopes that, after years of ugly political unrest, the nation could return to its former beauty.

There was a spark of excitement in the air as the competition kicked off on January 6, 1929. Two hundred and eighteen candidates stepped forward to compete in the first ever nation-wide beauty competition to take place in the country. Among the crowd of beauty queens stood Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon, a young Jewish girl born in 1909 to Sándor Simon, a prominent man and the chief physician of their small town of Keszthely. Böske took to the stage and immediately captured the spotlight, standing out from the crowd of contestants with her bright blue eyes and striking blonde hair that made up her classic beauty. She quickly rose to the top of the competition, winning the hearts of the audience and the judges. Erzsébet Simon was crowned Miss Hungary and declared to be the most beautiful girl in the country.

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Along with the glory and honor that came with winning the top prize in her homeland, the crown of Miss Hungary granted Böske entry into the Miss Europe pageant. She traveled from Hungary to Paris where, on February 18, 1929, she competed against sixteen other beauty queens from across the continent. Fighting against the odds, the most beautiful girl in Hungary was crowned the most beautiful girl in Europe. Hungary returned to center stage with Böske bringing great honor to her country. She was congratulated by the highest of society in France and was showered with praise by the President of the French Republic, artists, celebrities and diplomats.

Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon
Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon, Image from the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

A month after taking the crown of Europe, Simon finally returned home from Paris. She was greeted by cheering crowds as thousands came out to see her and celebrate her triumph in the name of Hungary. She was congratulated by the Mayor of Budapest who thanked her for sharing her beauty and reclaiming the glory of her nation from its opponents in the Great War.

Unfortunately for Böske, not everyone was pleased with her victory. Simon quickly discovered that no level of success could win over the hearts of the anti-Semites. During the welcoming ceremony at the train station, she was heckled by several anti-Semitic members of the crowd who called out “Miss Palestine,” and “filthy Jew,” though their shouts were largely ignored.

Erzsébet (Elisabeth) “Böske” Simon
Erzsébet “Böske” Simon, image from the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

Simon chose not to do many public events and instead decided she would host only one autograph signing appearance to be held on March 17, 1929, an event that was interrupted by crowds of anti-Semitic demonstrators who arrived to protest. She was verbally attacked by the crowd who jeered and booed her calling her an “ugly Jewess” and an “untrue Hungarian.” Later that same day, a group of nationalist students protested outside Böske’s apartment, shouting anti-Semitic slurs against her and the Jewish people as a whole.

The crown of Miss Europe granted Böske entry into the Miss Universe pageant scheduled to take place in Texas that year. Due to political pressures and continued anti-Semitism, she gave up her spot in the competition along with several acting job offers she had received from the United States. The severe anti-Semitism she faced drove Erzsébet Simon to retire from public life giving up a future of fame and fortune.

After a whirlwind entry to the world stage, Erzsébet quietly exited stage left in favor of a more simple and quiet life as a citizen of her country. She married a young man named Pál Brammer who worked in the textile industry but they divorced shortly after. Erzsébet married for the second time a little while later. Her second husband, Daniel Job, was a theatre director and the couple survived the Holocaust together in Budapest. They were spared from the deportations and the violence though other members of their families were not as fortunate.

Daniel Job died in 1950 and Erzsébet Simon, the most beautiful woman in Europe, died on October 8, 1970 from health complications.


More on the subject: The Year of Jewish Beauty Queens

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.

Are You a Sadist? The Historic Role of a Controversial Psychological Test

Whose test results led Dr. Szondi to declare that “this man has murderous tendencies?”

The Szondi Test

The “Szondi Test” is undoubtedly one of the strangest items found in our collections at the National Library of Israel.

What is so strange about the test developed by the Jewish-Hungarian psychologist Leopold Szondi? And whose test results led Dr. Szondi to declare that “it is crystal clear that this man has murderous tendencies?”

In January 1961, Dr. Shlomo Kulchar, the manager of the psychiatric department at the Tel Hashomer Hospital, was summoned to an urgent meeting with Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecutor of the Eichman trial. Hausner presented Dr. Kulchar with a sensitive task – to carry out a psychiatric evaluation of Adolf Eichmann.

Dr. Kluchar met with the subject of the examination multiple times over a period of two months. One of the tests he administered to Eichmann was the “Szondi Test.” Without stating the name of the examinee, Dr. Kulchar submitted the results of the examination to the creator of the test, Leopold Szondi. Szondi had originally refused to perform what he referred to as a “blind diagnosis,” but after a quick review of the results, he simply could not ignore what he saw. He quickly sent a response to the Israeli psychiatrist in which he stated that he had never seen such disturbing results. In a later telephone conversation, Szondi related that, based on the test results, he received the impression that this “man has uncontrollable murderous tendencies (according to an article published in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper on March 10, 2000).”

Eichmann at his trial in Jerusalem (Photo: David Rubinger). From the National Library of Israel collection

So, who was Leopold Szondi and what was the test he developed?

Tell Me About Your Genes and I Will Tell You Who You Are

The 20th century was a period of intensive research of the human psyche and its flaws. It was in this century that psychology became a scientific discipline, the subconscious became a research category and childhood became a punching bag –something to blame for almost any adult behavior or weakness.

Sigmund Freud, 1921

One of the most wide-spread and controversial psychological tests of this “psychological century” was developed in 1937 by the Hungarian-Jewish psychologist, Leopold Szondi. Throughout his life, Szondi grappled with questions of fate and genetics. In contrast with Sigmund Freud who saw childhood as the period in which a person’s personality is formed and in which his mental neuroses develop, Szondi constructed a theory which gave a person’s genetic make-up a definitive role. Szondi believed that the structure of a person’s psyche – and not only his external appearance – is predominantly determined by his genetic material.

Szondi saw human life as a complex game between freedom and restriction – between the freedom given to a person in his personal choices and preferences and his genetic predisposition to certain mental illnesses. In order to precisely diagnose a person’s natural-genetic tendencies, and, no less important, hir or her placement on the scale of each illness, Szondi developed a simple test.

The Szondi Test. From the National Library of Israel collections

Construction of the medical-psychological history of a patient is a complex task which Szondi attempted to simplify by means of the following test. He collected 48 photographs of patients who suffered from what he (incorrectly) defined as eight different mental illnesses, divided into four pairs of opposites:

  1. Homosexuality versus sadism
  2. Epilepsy versus hysteria
  3. Catatonia versus paranoia
  4. Depression versus mania


Examples of possible series of photographs in the Szondi Test. From the National Library of Israel collections

Szondi determined that the examinee must go through a set of eight photographs each day for six consecutive days and from each set the examinee must must select two photographs which he or she finds attractive and two which he or she finds repulsive. At the end of the six-day testing period, the subject would have selected 12 favored photographs and 12 detested photographs from which the doctor compiled an in-depth profile of the examinee, establishing his or her place in each category. The entire test is based on a theory which claims that mental illness is expressed in a person’s facial features and that the level of attraction or repulsion a person feels enables diagnosis of which illness is “stored” in his or her genes and at what stage.

The form the examinee was required to fill out after examining the eight photographs on the Szondi Test. From the National Library of Israel collections


The majority of Szodi’s theories along with the test he developed were disproved decades ago. Today, we know that homosexuality is not a mental illness. Additionally, the theory that mental illnesses are expressed in facial features was also refuted. However, the debunked Szondi Test does present us with an unsolved mystery: assuming the story told by Dr. Kulcher is indeed true, how was Dr. Szondi able to diagnose Eichmann’s murderous personality so accurately?

The book that accompanies the test. From the Gershom Scholem Collection at the National Library of Israel

Revealed: How Hanukkah Was Celebrated a Thousand Years Ago

We collected a few greetings and well-wishes for the holiday that were found in the famous Cairo Genizah

A letter written in Judeo-Arabic reads "Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa (These days the honorable ones), al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim (well-known and recognized for miracles)... He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time…"

Even though it is not one of the biblical Jewish holidays, the festival of Hanukkah held an important place for the Jews of medieval Cairo who wrote a majority of the documents in the Cairo Genizah. This famous collection of Jewish manuscript fragments was originally stored in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue. It contained around 300,000 items, some of them over a thousand years old.

The Genizah reveals that even in the Middle Ages, the Jews of Cairo (then known as Fustat) would send Hanukkah letters and greetings to one another. One such greeting contained a variation of a well-known Hanukkah blessing which is still in use today: “He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days and in this month, will perform miracles and wonders for us and for your people”. We have collected a few more greetings and wishes that can be found in the Cairo Genizah to share with you this holiday season.

Part of a letter in Judeo-Arabic. The author sends greetings to the addressee and other relatives. “Afchal al-salam” (peace be upon him), and wishes to send his peace (‘salami’) “Le-lamuli (to my master) al-Sheich Ya’qub Shatz, al-Sheich Taher, ve-seir al-sahab (and the rest of the members).”


One of these dates to the mid-11th century: an invitation sent by a man to an honored friend for a Hanukkah event: “…that we shall meet tomorrow in the synagogue.” He added, “God will put the days of Hanukkah upon him and all that he has, as a sign of good and a sign of blessing.”


“God will put the days of Hanukkah upon him and all that he has, as a sign of good and a sign of blessing.”


Another fragment of a letter, written in Judeo-Arabic, reads, “Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa (During these honorable days), al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim (well-known and recognized for miracles)…He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time…”


“Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim…” (During these honorable days well-known and recognized for miracles…)

It was a great sin to allow anyone to spend the holiday alone, without family. In a letter sent by a man by the name of Yosef to one of his relatives, he wrote: “V-ana akool anani etzel el-eichem alei el-Hanukkah (and I say that I will come to you in honor of Hanukkah).”


“V-ana akool anani etzel el-eichem alei el-Hanukkah” (And I say that I will come to you in honor of Hanukkah).”


Happy Hanukkah!


The first two letters are currently part of the Cambridge University collections – TS10J 14.9 & TS8J22.7. The third is located at the JTS Library- ENANS 2.5. The letter which mentions the Hanukkah family visit is part of the Lewis-Gibson Collection, LIT2.140

The Story of the Chanukah Classic “I Have a Little Dreidel”

The classic song about the traditional four-sided top has become a staple in early childhood Jewish education.  

Illustration by Iza Hershkovitz

For those who grew up within Jewish tradition or for those familiar with Jewish music, there are several songs that seem to have been around forever. Included on that list is one song that is often taught to children ahead of the holiday of Chanukah to get them into the spirit of the season.

The song “I Have a Little Dreidel” describes the creation of the four-sided spinning top that is used to play the traditional game of dreidel during the Festival of Lights. With its catchy, cheerful and spirited tune and simple to remember lyrics, the song quickly became a holiday classic.

The Lyrics:

I have a little dreidel,  I made it out of clay.
And when it’s dry and ready, oh dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel I shall play.

It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it is all tired, it drops and then I win.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel I shall play.

My dreidel’s always playful. It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreidel, come play now let’s begin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel I shall play.

Interestingly enough, according to research by Professor Eliyahu Schleifer, this song was composed by Shmuel Eliezer Goldfarb, the brother of the famous Conservative Rabbi Israel Goldfarb who composed another classic and seemingly timeless Jewish melody, “Shalom Aleichem,” that is traditionally sung on Friday nights to welcome in the Shabbat.

Rabbi Israel Goldfarb was a rabbi and educator in New York who worked for the Young Israel movement. His mission was to renew Jewish liturgy and ceremonies in America using traditional musical motifs. Shmuel Eliezer Goldfarb, his brother, served as the Director of the Music Education Ministry on the Jewish Education Council in New York. This gave Shmuel the opportunity to promote the teaching of music in local schools. The two musical brothers collaborated to promote the teaching of Jewish music and from 1918 to 1929 they published books and pamphlets that compiled different songs to use for various holidays and occasions.

Hanukkah celebrations in Raanana in 1948. From the PhotoHouse archive. Photo taken by Rudi Weissenstein.
Chanukah celebrations in Raanana in 1948. From the PhotoHouse archive. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein.

Their joint effort came to an end with the start of the Great Depression. Israel stayed in his rabbinical position, but Shmuel Eliezer moved across the country to Seattle where he served for 38 years, from 1930 to 1968, as music director and choir conductor at the Reform synagogue, Temple De Hirsch Sinai.

Shmuel is most famous for his composition of the song “I Have a Little Dreidel.” The melody was first taught in Seattle schools and then spread across the country, becoming a fixture in early childhood Jewish education and a classic part of the Chanukah repertoire in North America.

Shmuel Eliezer Goldfarb passed away ten years after retiring from his position at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in 1978, leaving behind a legacy of poetry and music.

drediel dance
Chanukah celebrations in Raanana in 1948. From the PhotoHouse archive. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein.

“I Have a Little Dreidel,” is also available in Yiddish. The Yiddish version entitled “Ich Bin a Kleyner Dreydl,” was written by Shmuel Shlomo Grossman. While the melody of the Yiddish version of the dreidel song is similar to the English version, the lyrics differ with the Yiddish song describing a dreidel made of lead instead of clay and as the dreidel spins, the people join in and spin as well.

The Yiddish version reads:

Ich bin a kleiner dreidel, gemacht bin ich fun blai.
Kumt lomir ale schpilen, in dreidel – eins zwei drai.
Oi, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oi, drei sich, dreidel, drei.
To lomir ale schpilen, in dreidel eins un zwei

Un ich hob lib zu tanzen, sich dreien in a rod
To lomir ale tanzen, a dreidel-karahod.
Oi, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oi, drei sich, dreidel, drei.
To lomir ale schpilen, in dreidel eins un zwei.

Which in English reads:

I am a little dreidel, I am made from lead.
Come let’s all play dreidel – one two three.
Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh, dreidel, dreidel, spin.
So let’s all play dreidel, one and two.

And I love to dance, to spin in a circle.
So let’s all dance a dreidel-circle.
Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel, dreidel, spin.
So let’s all play dreidel, one and two.

Both versions of the song express the fun and happiness that comes with the annual celebration of the Festival of Lights and the joyful experience that awaits all who sit down for a good rousing game of dreidel.

Special thanks to Dr. Gila Flam, Head of the music department: music collection and sound archive and music reading room, for her help in writing this article.