Rare Photos: The Persian Princess Visits the Jewish Fashion Designers

This photo collection of Iran of the 1950s and 1960s shows the story of a world lost in history.

צילום: הארכיון המרכזי לתולדות העם היהודי

These pictures are from the global headquarters of ORT in Geneva, an organization founded in 1888 and focused on professional and vocational training in Jewish communities worldwide. The organization worked in the former Soviet Union, Germany, France, and many other European counties, not to mention, of course, their work in schools in Tehran, Shiraz, and other cities in Iran.

In this collection of photographs found in the NLI’s Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, some of which are published here for the first time, there are dozens of pictures of Jewish teenage girls learning to sew and studying to join the world of fashion design in Iran.

These young fashion designers learned the basics of sewing, measuring, and pattern making, but the school also boasted a curriculum of the history of fashion, as well as other creative workshops.

The prestige bestowed upon the Jews of Iran at that time is clear when you consider who came to see the final projects of this fashion design school. Among the many politicians and VIPs were the wife and daughter of the Persian Shah.

The School that Helped Children Heal from the Holocaust

In the Avigdor School magazine, dreams of becoming a princess stand alongside memories of starvation. The magazine offered an outlet for the memories of Jewish children after World War Two.

Jewish children arrive in London with the Kindertransport, February, 1939

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the need for Jews to flee from Europe became increasingly urgent. Following the violence and destruction of Kristallnacht in 1938, the extent of the threat to the Jewish people became even more clear.

A group of Jewish community leaders in the UK approached the British government with a plea to help the Jews of Europe. Among them were Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, a community leader and one of the unsung heroes of that dark time, who saved countless lives before, during, and after the Holocaust, at great risk of losing his own.

After the approval of the Kindertransport by the British government, thousands of refugee children were quickly removed from danger and put on trains bound for England. The Jewish children were taken in by volunteer foster homes across the country. Jewish, Orthodox children found themselves suddenly living in non-orthodox or non-Jewish homes, their own culture and heritage slowly fading into distant memory.

Concerned for the heritage of these children, Rabbi Schonfeld took it upon himself to find alternative housing options for the orthodox children where their religious practices and traditions would be followed.

A group photos of the Jewish Secondary School in Shefford, 1941. Photo from “Throw Your Feet Over Your Shoulders- Beyond the Kindertransport, (2008)” by Frieda Stozbeg Korobkin.

As London prepared for war, children were sent from the city to the countryside to ensure their safety. Rabbi Schonfeld sent many of the Orthodox Kindertransport children to the Jewish Secondary School (JSS), which had moved to Shefford after the start of the war, to provide them a safe haven where they would be surrounded by Jewish life, culture and studies.

After the war, the children and the Jewish school moved to London where the JSS was renamed the Avigdor School. It was at this time, in 1946, that Rabbi Schonfeld began helping child survivors in displaced persons camps in Europe. The Avigdor School became home to these children who had survived the horrors of the Nazis and needed a place to start over and begin to heal.

Illustration of the Avigdor School included in the school magazine.

Already home to British children and the German refugee children, the addition of the Polish refugees created an entirely new dynamic at the school. Frieda Stolzberg, one of the children who escaped on the Kindertransport and later met Rabbi Schonfeld, described the experience of the melting pot that was the Avigdor School after the arrival of the refugee children in her memoirs, “Throw Your Feet Over Your Shoulder”:

“We old-timers referred to the newcomers as ‘the Polish children.’ Some of them were wild and unmanageable because of their wartime experiences. Many of them suffered from nightmares and were often found sleepwalking,” she described.

“Our feelings towards the Polish children were somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, we regarded ourselves as British by now and felt superior to these foreigners who spoke an ugly, guttural language. Their arrival upset the equilibrium and routine of our lives causing tensions and resentment.”

The staff and administrators struggled to find a way to contend with the trauma that came to the school with the child survivors. They decided that, as a method of healing, the children would be allowed to express and share their experiences and their stories, to let out the pain they were experiencing, in an attempt to begin to heal. The children would not be stifled- rather encouraged to remember, to write, and to tell their story.

The Avigdor School Magazine published ahead of the Jewish New Year in 1947.

The Avigdor school magazine became a space for students to express themselves and share their experiences. The issue prepared ahead of the Jewish New Year in September 1947 shows the dichotomy and contrast of experiences between the different groups of children living and studying together following the Holocaust.

In the section of the magazine dedicated to original articles and poems written by students, a poem written by a young girl who dreamed of being a princess, feasting with her valiant prince stands alongside articles by survivors of the war writing of their fears and experiences. Another article written by Frieda Stolzberg related the great successes of the Avigdor teams at sports day: “Well done Avigdor! The shield is ours again this year”. Just a few pages after it, we find a testimony written by an author identified only as G.S.:

“We could not stay any longer in Italy because it was very dangerous for us, now that the Germans had overrun the country and would take us to concentration camps….Now we are in England but I think I shall never forget our troubles which we had to bear for nearly 8 years.”

“The Jewish Tragedy,” an excerpt of testimony from the Avigdor School Magazine.

The stories of the horror faced by these children came to life in their writing. In a piece entitled, “The Jewish Tragedy,” another student wrote of the experience of being transferred to the camps in a cattle car.

“I shall never forget the scene, when one early morning, German offices came to us, into the Ghetto. We were ordered to pack a parcel…Ten minutes later we were taken to the station and put into a cattle-wagon in which there were already 95 persons… Three days and three nights we could not sleep even standing; children were crying all day long; they cried for thirst, hunger, sleeplessness and wariness until we reached our destination, Auschwitz, many people died.”

Pages 18 and 19 from the Avigdor School Magazine

On the opposite page of a poem penned by a girl named Edith on her love for the glorious season of winter, where snowballs and sledding are a source of joyful cheer, an unknown author shared a painful poem entitled, “The Death of a Rose,” in which a flourishing rose was ruthlessly plucked from a blooming bush and left for dead.

“When with quick step from that spot he hastened,
The rose dropped to the ground unknown
Where it lay quite crushed and broke, all its beauty gone.
 Longing-longing for the rose bush where it had happily grown.

A wild thing destroyed by the hand of man,
His fault that it now lay in this everlasting sleep
From which it never again would wake on huge and dirty rubble heap.”

The seamless juxtaposition of these realities, from the excitement of a child ahead of the jolly days of winter to the crushing memories of another who had been stripped from their source of life, exhibits how the school magazine provided the children with an outlet – regardless of their history or experiences.

The magazine became a place for the child survivors to share their memories, their experiences, the horrors they faced and to, on some small level, begin to heal. The administrators at the Avigdor School worked to create a unique and open environment of solidarity and understanding that brought the children from the different corners of Europe together all working towards the same goal of recovery from loss, pain, and trauma following the worst tragedy ever faced by the Jews of Europe.

For more on the experiences of Frieda Stolzberg, read, “Throw Your Feet Over Your Shoulders- Beyond the Kindertransport, (2008)” by Frieda Stozbeg Korobkin.

This article was written with the assistance of Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the Judaica Collection in the National Library of Israel.

When Romeo and Juliet Became Ram and Yael

The original translations of Shakespeare’s works from English to Hebrew have a curious past and may be older than you think.

The portrait as known as the 'Chandos portrait' of William Shakespeare

The continued popularity of William Shakespeare’s plays is such that it is as though the Bard never died. Immortal and timeless are his words- in Elizabethan English at least- but the translations of Shakespeare’s works are not to be disregarded.

One of the most famous and notorious translations of Shakespeare’s works is the Isaac Edward Salkinsohn Hebrew translation of “Romeo and Juliet.” Many believe this translation to be far more modern than it actually is, assuming that it was produced in the era of the Hebrew Yishuv and the burgeoning state of Israel when localizing the classics was an extremely popular practice.

This is not so!

Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, translated into Hebrew by J.E.S, 1878

Isaac Salkinsohn translated “Ram ve-Yael,” the Hebraicized names of the protagonists of Shakespeare’s famous tale of star-crossed lovers, in 1878 during what is considered the time of Jewish Enlightenment. The Haskalah, a period of Jewish secularization and modernization in Europe, took place long before the first Zionist congress in 1897 and long before Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of Modern Hebrew, began his project of standardizing the Hebrew language to become the mother-tongue of the modern Jewish people.

The revolution of the Hebrew language was brought about by people like Salkinsohn who sought to make the masterpieces of the non-Jewish world accessible to Jews who were not literate in the Gentile languages that surrounded them. During this period, the revolutionary Maskilim (the purveyors of the Haskala movement) were also working to transform Hebrew from a language of religion to a language of literature.

This transformation was not readily accepted by all the Jews of Europe as there were groups who viewed the Haskala not as modernization, but as an attempt to assimilate. These Jews were especially skeptical towards Isaac Edward Salkinsohn who was not merely secular, but had left Judaism in its entirety in favor of conversion to Christianity.

Yitzhak Salkinsohn was born in 1820 in to a Lithuanian Jewish family in Belarus and following his conversion in 1849 in London, the community he left behind slandered and disowned him.

It was in London that he met Peretz Smolenskin, one of the revivers of the Hebrew language and fellow Haskalah revolutionary. Smolenskin encouraged Salkhinsohn to translate the great works of Western civilization because these works were potential masterpieces that deserved to be written.

In addition to the aforementioned “Romeo and Juliet,” Salkhinsohn also translated “Othello” and changed “Othello, the Moore of Venice,” to, “Iti’el Ha’Kushi Mi’Venezia.” Salkhinson took great care in his work, preserving the iambic pentameter famously used by Shakespeare in his original plays.

Shakespear’s The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, translated into Hebrew by J.E.S., 1874

Despite the difficulties he faced bridging the worlds of Romeo & Juliet to Ram & Yael, and Othello to Iti’el, Salkinsohn managed to successfully transmit Shakespeare’s work from the English world to the Jewish world, giving Shakespeare his voice in Hebrew.

The Story of a Dying Community: A Diary from the Amsterdam Jewish Community at the End of WWII

An anonymous Jew describes the last months of World War II in Amsterdam. This city, once a large and vibrant Jewish center, turns into a ghost town before his eyes, while he and a handful of Jews try against all odds to survive.

In the pages of a diary, we come face to face with the perseverance of an anonymous author and his fellow survivors who, even in the most difficult of times, work to give their fellow community members a decent burial. Hidden between the lines of this unknown writer’s diary is the story of their great strength and bravery as the writer prays for one thing: “That peace will come soon so that I may finish writing this diary and present it to the community secretary. Amen. So be it.”

But who is the author? What happened to him? We have no answers to these questions. Perhaps our readers will help us discover his identity.

On the eve of World War II, the Jewish population of The Netherlands numbered approximately 140,000. The mass deportations of Jews to the concentration camps began in mid-1942 and continued until the end of 1944. In less than two years more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.

This anonymous diary, which we are presenting here for the first time, offers a detailed, first-hand account of the final months of the war at a time when very few had survived the liquidation of Amsterdam’s Jewish community. In these few pages, we are exposed to the courage of those who survived.

“Nothing could prevent us from burying the dead”

One of the subjects that the writer describes at length is the great difficulty of burying the dead. At that time, it was impossible to get hold of a horse and wagon or any vehicle for transporting the dead and it was nearly impossible to find wood for a casket. Nevertheless, this writer, with the help of a few remaining friends, made enormous efforts to overcome those difficulties.

“Nothing could prevent us from burying the dead,” writes this survivor in his diary.

He describes one incident in January 1945, when the snow was so high that “it was impossible to remove the dead.” He writes an update two months later, that he was able to procure a hand-wagon on which to lay the bodies and bring them to burial.

“I hope that peace will come soon”

These were indeed the last days of the war, but the reality, as noted, was extremely harsh. The writer describes in brief the events unfolding around him in the Jewish neighborhood that was almost completely uninhabited. One day the windows of the Jewish orphanage were shattered and another day citizens broke into the abandoned homes of the Jews in order to take their furniture to use for firewood. The heavy snow had collapsed the roof of the synagogue, and by the end of January the writer prayed for just one thing: “I hope that peace will come soon so that I may finish writing this diary and give it to the community secretary. Amen. So be it.”


In the midst of all this horror, we learn about a few people who somehow tried to live their lives. In entries written at the end of 1944, the writer tells that the few remaining people tried to gather in the Great Synagogue and adjacent study house but were prohibited from doing so. He also tells of how the Jews, who numbered less than the ten necessary for a prayer quorum, decided to gather for communal prayer in a private home. He also describes a pleasant coffee break enjoyed by all.

Help us solve the mystery of the author’s identity:

It is difficult to determine the identity of the writer who chronicled the lasts glimmers of Jewish life in Amsterdam on the eve of liberation, but there is no doubt that he survived the war as he continued to write up to, and even after that day. The only clue in the diary that may help identify him is the information that he was “appointed in place of Jacobson.” We know nothing about this Jacobson, except that he was in all probability an Ashkenazi Jew, and that he was sent “to the East” on 3 September 1944.

Feel free to browse the rest of the pages of the diary presented here and perhaps you – the readers – and especially members of the Dutch community, will help us to solve the riddle of the author’s identity.

Update: Has the identity of the author been discovered?

In November 2018, we received an email from one of our readers, Yochai Copenhagen, who wrote to us on behalf of his mother Channa who is 94 years old. Yochai wrote as follows:

“We tried to go over the diary and based on the bit we managed to read (and the information included in the article), my mother has a good feeling (though she is not certain of course), that the man in question is Mr. Salomon Coutinho who was the administrative director in the Portuguese Synagogue (Esnoga) in Amsterdam before, during, and even after the war. He left behind no children when he died. My mother remembers that her husband, may his memory be a blessing, (Yakov Copenhagen, my father) who in the 1960s was a librarian in the Etz Haim Library in the community. He met Salomon and learned about his background. Yakov told her that Coutinho was an undertaker during the years of the war and survived the war (even I met him after the war during my childhood) thanks to his wife who succeeded in convincing the Nazis that she was English or not Jewish. With this explanation in hand, the couple managed to travel freely in Amsterdam and was not forced into hiding (the diary shows that he continued to work as an undertaker even during with winter of 1944 when most of the Jews were already deported to concentration camps. The dead seem to be Jews who died in hiding. Some of the names of the dead listed are familiar to my mother).

At the request of Yochai and Channa, we have sent them a high-quality scan of the diary. With this, maybe- just maybe- as Yochai wrote, “we will find more clues.”