In Color: Amazing Photos of Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land From 1900

The then-revolutionary photochrom method gave the world its first color pictures — based on the imagination of the employee working the printing plates.

An Ashkenazi Jew in a rainbow-colored striped gown, center

The National Library’s photo collections include several albums of pictures produced at the end of the 19th century using the process known as photochrom. What was this method and why do the photos resemble oil paintings more than the black-and-white originals?

The first color photo was taken in 1880 by Thomas Sutton, a student of the mathematician and inventor James Clerk Maxwell. It was a picture of a scarf.

The Western Wall at the end of the 19th century. Men and women are seen leaning on the wall.
Rachel’s Tomb.

Even though the technique for making color photos was developed within decades of the invention of photography, it would take more than 100 years for color photography to relegate black and white to the art world. The mass shift towards color happened in the 1970s. Until then, color photography involved expensive techniques used almost exclusively by professional photographers. In its first few decades, it was considered unreliable.

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Twenty years after the creation of the first photographic image, a Swiss printer named Orell Fussli developed photochrom. Unlike color photography that captures the object’s original colors, the photochrom technique involved coloring black-and-white photos. Fussli’s innovation was to use lithography, a printing method that had been around for centuries.

Within a few years, photochrom became widespread. Its main advantage was its low cost and relative ease of producing multiple copies that could be sold.

In 1888 the company Fussli worked for opened a subsidiary called Photochrom Zurich. From its inception to the 1920s the company used its patent to dominate the global market for color photos. Zurich was the place to go to for anyone wishing to splash color in a photograph.

The entrance plaza at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem.
The Foundation Stone in the Dome of the Rock.
The Jordan River.

The Swiss company’s monopoly led to an interesting twist. In the absence of specific instructions, company employees had no way of reconstructing the original colors in a black-and-white photo. So they simply had to rely on their imagination.

This brings us to those two albums in the National Library in Jerusalem.

The first album, produced in 1900, is a collection of photos from a pilgrimage by a group of Austrians to the Holy Land. But it wasn’t the tourist-pilgrims who took the photos. At that time there were several professional photographers in Ottoman Palestine. The pictures were taken by the professionals, and the coloring was done by Photochrom Zurich.

The pilgrims, like other clients who were interested in photos from the Holy Land, selected their favorite pictures, apparently of places they had visited on their tour.

An Ashkenazi Jew in a rainbow-colored striped gown, center.
The Lions’ Gate, Jerusalem.
A woman from Bethlehem.
Muslim worshipers. The picture was apparently taken at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Therefore it is no surprise that most of the photos in the first album show key locations in Jerusalem and nearby areas. The only other location shown in the photographs is the coastal town of Jaffa. In that photo, Jaffa longshoremen are seen rowing the boat of renowned tour guide Rolla Floyd.

Tour guide Rolla Floyd shows tourists around the Jaffa harbor

In this album, the entrance plaza to the Al-Aqsa Mosque was adorned with wonderful colors, while Jaffa Gate, the Lions’ Gate and the Foundation Stone in the Dome of the Rock also recieved the photochrom treatment. It’s possible that the way these photos were colored reflects the conceptions the Swiss employees had of the land’s inhabitants. In all the photos they are shown wearing heavy garments with loud color combinations.

An Arab tailor.
The Dome of the Rock (from the second album).

We know very little about the history of the second album, which was produced earlier. We do know that on every cardboard page there is a stamp of ownership belonging to a Swiss evangelical school. It’s possible that the owners actually visited the Holy Land, but it is also possible that they simply purchased the album from another source.

The 36 photochrom prints in this album show landscapes in Ottoman Palestine and Syria. Several photos in the first album are found in the second one as well, and in some cases the photos show the same scenes at a slightly different moment.

In any case, this album illustrates several examples of the artistic freedom of the Swiss company’s employees. One example is a photo of an Ashkenazi Jew in a rainbow-colored striped gown – most likely not faithful to the original.

And this article cannot end without mentioning the beautiful photo of the Western Wall from the end of the 19th century. Men and women are seen leaning on the wall attired in a vivid array of black, white, red, green and brown.

“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.

Was This Ad Published by Franz Kafka in a Zionist Newspaper?

A discovery by an archivist at the National Library sheds new light on Kafka’s connection with the Zionist movement.

A photograph from the famous “Prater” amusement park in Vienna. From left to right: Franz Kafka, Albert Ehrenstein, Otto Pick, Leisa Waltsch, photographed in 1913. The photograph is taken from the Albert Ehrenstein Archive at the National Library.

In the fall of 1911, Karl Hermann proposed to his brother-in-law, Franz Kafka, that he join him in managing the asbestos factory he had recently established. The offer of extra income appealed to Kafka, who worked in the “Governmental Company for Insuring Workers from Accidents”; even though he regarded his duties in the factory as an additional bureaucratic nuisance to a life already rife with bureaucracy. This fact caused many of Kafka’s biographers to minimize his contribution to the factory’s success and to state that the author took advantage of any opportunity to avoid his professional responsibilities as a lawyer.

An advertisement discovered by Dr. Stefan Litt, an archivist at the National Library of Israel, sheds new light on Kafka’s work in the factory and on the surprising connection between the asbestos factory and the Zionist movement.


Insurance, Asbestos and Zionism at the Vienna Congresses

Two years after joining his brother-in-law in managing the asbestos factory, Kafka’s life had reached a new low point. Battling insomnia, preoccupied with fears stemming from his recent engagement to Felice Bauer, and grappling with a persistent case of writers’ block; Kafka left his fiancé in Berlin and boarded a train.

His destination, along with his travel companion, author Otto Pick, was Vienna.

It was September of 1913.

Franz Kafka and Felice Bauer, a photograph from 1917. Source: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images.

Kafka wanted to kill two birds with one stone in Vienna. Firstly, he had to participate in the Second International Congress for Rescue Services and Accident Prevention as part of his governmental work. Secondly, he was hoping to take part in the Zionist Congress which had begun a week earlier.

Kafka and Pick arrived in Vienna several days before the beginning of the insurance congress. They spent their first day in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire visiting their friend, the influential expressionist author and poet, Albert Ehrenstein. Even if he would have preferred to spend his first hours in the city alone and in complete anonymity, Kafka knew that he had to visit Ehrenstein – who was the first critic to read his literary works.

After spending several days of leisure in the city, Kafka took part in the debates of the 11th Zionist Congress. Almost ten thousand participants from across the Jewish world attended the Congress. If Kafka had previously considered Zionism a vague and elusive expression of Jewish nationalism, he now encountered the Zionist movement as an orderly and active force, even if not one that he perceived to be particularly positive.

Until Dr. Stefan Litt’s discovery, the only information we possessed about Kafka’s activities at the Zionist Congress was the little Kafka himself recorded in a letter to his fiancé on September 13th of that year.

Kafka’s testimony from the Congress shows an attitude which is, to say the least, not complimentary: “Endless shouting”, petty disagreements and a description of the typical Zionist activist as a person with “a small round head and frozen cheeks”. The author was singularly unimpressed by what he saw.

However, it seems that Kafka’s contribution to the Congress did not end there. During an incidental perusal through a special issue of the “Die Welt” Zionist newspaper published in honor of the Zionist Congress in Vienna, Dr. Litt discovered a notice which drew his attention: an advertisement for the asbestos factory owned by “Hermann & Co.” – the same factory established by Kafka’s borther-in-law Karl Hermann, and for which Kafka himself worked from 1911 onward. As no one in Kafka’s family had any real connection with the Zionist movement, and in light of the fact that Kafka participated in the meetings of the Congress to which this special edition of the newspaper was dedicated, it is a reasonable assumption that he himself purchased and ran the advertisement in the well-known Zionist newspaper

The advertisement for Karl Hermann and Franz Kafka’s asbestos factory, which appeared in the Zionist newspaper “Die Welt”


Supporter or Opponent? Kafka’s Attitude to the Zionist Movement

During the decades since Kafka’s death from tuberculosis on June 3, 1924, many scholars have attempted to provide a conclusive answer to the question of Kafka’s Zionism: What did he think about the Zionist movement at different points in his life? Did he support it? Did he oppose it? We know that in 1917, the same year his illness was diagnosed, he began to study Hebrew. In the period prior to his death he even expressed his desire to visit the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel – a dream which his severe illness prevented him from realizing. And still, we do not claim to provide unequivocal answers, and it is possible that no such answers exist.

The advertisement discovered in such an important Zionist newspaper, a newspaper established by non-other than Theodore Herzl himself, teaches us that just like many others before and after him – one of the great modernist authors of the twentieth century was not loathe to combine his personal curiosity about the Zionist movement with his professional occupation.

The article was written with the help of Dr. Stefan Litt, from the Archives Department of the National Library of Israel. 


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