The Journal “Rimon” – “Milgroim”

The first Jewish journal devoted to art

Logo of "Rimon" Publishing House, 1922. Design: Tobias Schwab

In early autumn of 1922, the premier issue of “Rimon”, the first Jewish journal devoted to art, was published. The Hebrew-language readership, which until then had been accustomed to various journals and literary collections printed on cheap paper with cramped lettering, was stunned by the exceptional quality of this innovative journal, not only in terms of its content – serious articles dealing with all aspects of Jewish art – but also from its excellent typographical quality, the fine paper on which it was printed and the abundant colorful, eye-enchanting illustrations it incorporated.

The driving force behind Rimon was a small circle of Russian Jews, headed by historian Mark Wischnitzer and his wife, art historian Rachel Bernstein-Wischnitzer. In late 1921, the couple joined a group of Russian-Jewish émigrés in Berlin. They presented the idea of publishing a Jewish art journal to their friend Leopold Sew, a Russian-Jewish intellectual who was visiting Berlin from Paris, where he had fled after the revolution. Sew was excited by the idea and referred the couple to Eliahu Feinson, who belonged to a group of Jewish-Russian capitalists who supported Hebrew publication projects. Feinson enlisted with fervor in the publication of Jewish art books, and provided the necessary funding for commencing the work. His name appeared on almost all publications of the company as one of its three directors, alongside Dr. Mark Wischnitzer and Alexander Kogan, two of the great Russian publishers who had come to Berlin during this period, and were involved in the production of one of the most esteemed journals to be published in both Russian and German, “The Firebird” (“Jar-Ptiza”).

Cover of the Russian art journal The Firebird, 1921. Design: Sergei Czokhonin

Despite the defeat of Germany in World War I and the lack of political stability that characterized it in the years that followed, the publishing industry recovered rapidly and continued to be among the most progressive and advanced in the world, as it had been in the past. The spiraling inflation in the Weimar Republic at the time severely damaged the local industry and economy, but on the other hand, it gave owners of foreign capital the possibility of producing published materials at a high standard for a very low cost.

Between 1921 and 1923, over thirty different Hebrew publishing houses were active in Germany, many of them in Berlin. These publishing houses succeeded within a very short span to print hundreds of Hebrew titles of a quality unprecedented in the world of Hebrew publishing of that time. During this period, Jewish-German publishers, like their German colleagues, were in the throes of a deep economic crisis. In contrast, the state of Jewish immigrants from Russia was radically different. Most of the financial institutions of the Zionist Movement were located in the United States and Britain. The philanthropists who provided the funding for many Russian refugees to stay in Germany conducted business outside of the Weimar Republic. The small sums (in terms of the dollar or sterling) that were sent regularly to Jewish immigrants in Germany were thus sufficient to enable them to live respectably. Therefore, despite the ostensibly low status of Russian Jews in the Weimar Republic as immigrants and refugees with no legal standing, they had a tremendous advantage over their local German-Jewish brethren.

Emerging from the multi-lingual reality that characterized the society of Jewish-Russian immigrants in Germany was the idea to publish, in parallel to the issues of “Rimon”, a Yiddish edition called “Milgroim”, which like the Hebrew word “rimon,” means pomegranate. Some of the articles on art appeared in identical form in both language editions, while the literary component was different. Although “Milgroim” is one of a long list of Yiddish journals founded by the literary hub of Eastern-European Jews in Berlin at the beginning of the 1920s, it is completely unique in character due to the visual language through which it communicated to its readership.

Cover of an issue of “Milgroim”, 1922, by Böhm and Baruch
The similarity between the twin journals in Hebrew and Yiddish, “Rimon” and “Milgroim”, published by the Wischnitzers, and the Russian journal published by Alexander Kogan, is not only in the covers notable for their bold colors. Like Kogan, the Wischnitzers also viewed the Middle Ages as the “golden age” of art as a source of inspiration, and this can be readily discerned not only typographically (the shapes of the Hebrew letters drawn from those appearing in Ashkenazic and Sephardic Hebrew manuscripts) but also in other motifs in medieval folk art, as well as in the revival of additional motifs that were typical of early manuscripts and printed materials.
Overall, between 1922 and 1924, seven titles were published by the “Rimon” publishing house, some of them in three and even four languages (a total of twelve books), in addition to the six editions of the “Rimon” journal and six additional editions of its Yiddish corollary “Milgroim”. In 1924, following the halting of German inflation and the stabilization of the mark, the economic conditions that enabled the inexpensive publication of books no longer existed, and this original publishing house came to an end, like many of the Hebrew publication establishments that emerged – and disappeared – during this brief and intensive period.
Cover of the first issue of “Rimon”, 1922. Design: Ernst Böhm and Francesca Baruch

Architecture in the “International Style” (Bauhaus) in Eretz Israel

When architect Walter Gropius established in 1919 the Bauhaus art school in the city of Weimar, Germany, he had, it can be assumed, grand plans, but no way of predicting that the tradition born with the establishment of this school would change the face of the world of architecture and in the design of many useful products.

Residential building in Tel Aviv, Frischman Street, 1930s (Archives Department, TMA 5249)

What began as a new idea – the training of artists in a far-reaching integration of theory and practice and the training of artisans – became a widespread worldwide concept, based on the principal of combining simple design with high functionality. Although this school existed for only 14 years and trained only a few hundred graduates, it is considered to this day the cradle of the avant-garde in fine and applied modern art.

Although at Bauhaus instruction was offered in a wide range of arts and crafts, the focus was always architecture, not only because of the profession of the institution’s founder and director of nine-years, Walter Gropius, but also because of his firm convictions. In his view, all of an artist’s skills should be focused on building as an all-encompassing expression of art as a whole. Gropius succeeded in recruiting first-rate avant-garde artists as lecturers: Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Lionel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer, Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy and others.

The modern and avant-garde atmosphere in Bauhaus was ultimately not suitable to the quite conservative environment in the city of Weimar, and the institution therefore moved to Dessau, several dozen kilometers north of Weimar. It was in Dessau that Walter Gropius built the famous Bauhaus building and the series of Meisterhäuser – homes for lecturers, which exist to this day and are considered gems of this style. Design of the buildings was related to the artistic ideas of the school, and set standards that can be found in the construction of many buildings to this day.

Following the growing influence of the Nazis in the Dessau city council beginning in 1932, the school moved a second time, taking up its final residence in Berlin, until ultimately closing in 1933. The last director was the famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Until the closure of the Bauhaus school, its graduates succeeded in disseminating its ideas among a community of modern architects and artists, such that the familiar design style was copied even from architects who never studied at this institution. The Nazis were opposed both to the ideas of Bauhaus as well as to its international atmosphere. Closure of the institution in 1933 was therefore the anticipated consequence of the political changes. Lecturers, students and graduates of the school fled to other countries and continued in this manner to spread Bauhaus’s modernist concepts throughout the world.

Rechavia neighborhood, Jerusalem, during its construction. Archives department, TM 8° 791

The name “Bauhaus” spread quickly even beyond the borders of Europe, and among its students were no small number of citizens of other countries, including students from the Land of Israel. In addition to the four architects who came from Palestine to study at Bauhaus (Shlomo Bernstein, Munio Gitai-Weinraub, Shmuel Mestechkin and Arieh Sharon), a sizable number of Bauhaus graduates or architects and artists influenced by it arrived in (or returned to) Palestine: Erich Mendelsohn, Richard Kaufmann, Genia Averbuch, Mordechai Ardon, Isaac Rapoport and others.

With the activity of these artists, and mainly that of the architects among them, a characteristic building style was created that can be encountered to this day in Israeli cities and even on kibbutzim. The strongest manifestation of this style is in Tel Aviv’s “White City”, which features the largest group of buildings in the International Style in Israel: some 4,000 different structures can today be found in Tel Aviv, for example in the area of Dizengoff Street, Bialik Street and Rothschild Boulevard. This collection was declared in 2003 a World Heritage Site (by UNESCO).

Buildings of this style can be found in other cities as well, including Jerusalem (the Rechavia neighborhood, the Hadassah Hospital at Mt. Scopus, Villa Schocken, Beit Ha-Ma’alot, and others) and in Haifa. The Rechavia neighborhood was planned by the German-Jewish architect Richard Kaufmann, who was also responsible, inter alia, for planning the Tel Aviv’s “White City” and Kibbutz Nahalal. Shmuel Mestechkin shaped the face of many kibbutzim, mainly through their dining halls, such as Kibbutz Na’an, Mishmar Ha-Emek, Mizra, Yad Mordechai and others. The influence of the International Style on architecture in Israel was so tremendous that even to this day we plan and build buildings that have distinctive features from the repertoire of the International Style.

Mt. Scopus and Hadassah Hospital during its construction, 1938. Photo: Zoltan Kluger, Archives Department, TMA 507.2

Rechavia neighborhood, Jerusalem, view of Villa Schocken, 1938. Photo: Zoltan Kluger, Archives Department, TMA 507.2

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The Templers in the Land of Israel and Their Place in Local Society

In the late 1850s, this group, under the leadership of Christoph Hoffman, began exploring the possibility of living according to their spiritual-religious ideal not merely inside Germany, but in close proximity to the location of the Jewish Temple: in Jerusalem

The Fast Family Hotel near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, early 20th century

In the mid-19th century, a number of Protestant families in southwest Germany decided to establish a religious group that was distinct from Lutheran Protestantism. They viewed themselves as “bricks” that made up the ideational temple of communal life based on the principles of Christianity. For the Templers, Jesus was not defined as the son of God, but as a religious teacher and an example and manifestation of the honest life.

In the late 1850s, this group, under the leadership of Christoph Hoffman, began exploring the possibility of living according to their spiritual-religious ideal not merely inside Germany, but in close proximity to the location of the Jewish Temple: in Jerusalem. They chose this path since as Christians they viewed themselves as “the new people of Israel.” In 1868 the group’s first settlers reached the shores of Eretz Israel. They purchased lands in the Haifa area and established their first place of residence, which exists physically to this day (the “German Colony” of Haifa). Over the years, additional settlers arrived and established a number of communities in Jaffa (1869), nearby Sarona (1871), Jerusalem (1873), and later, in Wilhelma (1902, today: Bnei Atarot), as well as at Bethlehem of Galilee (1906). Together with these localities, religious and educational institutions sprung up, as well as businesses of various types. In 1878, some 850 people were living in Templer communities, by 1884 the Templer residents in Eretz Israel numbered 1300, and on the eve of WWI, this number climbed to approximately 2,000 people, which was the peak of their history in Palestine.

A travel catalogue of the travel agency which was part of the Sudanese train and ship company, 1929. The agency had an office in Jerusalem, managed by the Fast family, near the Jaffa Gate.

The Templers worked in agriculture (cultivation of citrus and grapes), established small factories (the iron and tool-making industries), ran a press house, established hotels, published a newspaper (Warte des Tempels – The Temple Guard) and also had a bank, which participated in the Transfer Agreement beginning in 1933. Constructing proper roads between the various localities was extremely significant for the existence of the Templer enterprise. The presence and activity of German Templers in Eretz Israel were therefore of utmost importance for its economic, agricultural and industrial development, many years prior to the impact brought to bear by Zionism. In many realms it was Templers who initiated basic activities that were important to Israel’s development.

Until the end of WWI, when the British forces conquered Palestine, the residents of the Templer communities were deported from the southern localities to a camp near Cairo, Egypt. Some of them were deported from there to Germany, while others continued living in this camp until 1920, and afterwards were permitted to return to their homes. During the Mandate Period, good relations developed between Templers and the Mandate authorities, and between them and the local population, both Jewish and Arab.

One of the proofs of the commercial ties between Jews and Templers in Eretz Israel is the document displayed here, a letter of recommendation from the Director of the Templer Bank, Christoph Hoffman, for the Jewish industrialist Shaul Levi. Hoffman wrote his recommendation from the perspective of his position as director of what was at the time an important bank in Eretz Israel. In the letter, he confirms that for 25 years he has known Levi to be an honest, respectable and solid businessman. Shaul Levi operated a business in the iron industry, with branches in Jaffa and Jerusalem. Hoffman’s recommendation leads us to assume that Shaul Levi managed his business funds through the German Bank in Eretz Israel, which earned a reputation as a dependable, stable institution.

A letter of recommendation by the General Manager of the Templer Bank, Christoph Hoffmann, to the industrialist Shaul Levy, 1926

As is well known, not all of the Germans in the Templer communities were interested in continuing as loyal citizens of Eretz Israel during the British Mandate. Some of them established a branch of the Nazi party, and a significant number of the German settlers joined it. Of course, this move was not warmly received by the Jews of Eretz Israel. The British Authorities, on their part, were not overly concerned, until the outbreak of WWII. From September 1939 the Templers were considered as “hostile citizens” due to the German citizenship that most of them held – and also due to the political views of some of them. As a result, Templer families were concentrated into a number of their localities, and a few were even deported to Australia. The last left in 1948, with the establishment of the state. Today, many of the buildings that the German Templers erected are still standing. In certain cases, the Templer communities became prestigious neighborhoods as in Haifa and Jerusalem. Of late, the case of Sarona in Tel Aviv has become prominent; the area was recently turned into a gentrified Tel Aviv neighborhood and transformed into a locus of leisure and entertainment.

The charter of the Wilhelma-Sarona German Vine Growers Association, 1920
The charter of the Templer Society, 1935

The German Film “Dreyfus” and its Screening in Israel

What was special about this film that made its way from the studios in Berlin to the movie theaters in Eretz Israel?

In February 1931, advertisements were posted in Israel for a new film – one of the first sound films – that was being played in movie theaters. The poster, in shades of red and blue on a white background, suggested that the film had something to do with France. The name of the film left no room for doubt: “Dreyfus.” The poster of the Ein Dor movie theater in Haifa advertised the film in four languages: Hebrew (which takes up approximately two thirds of the poster), German, Arabic and English. This multi-lingual venue was an expression of the multi-cultural reality of Mandatory Palestine at the beginning of the 1930s. Since the film was a product of the Weimar Republic, and since during that time the Nazis had not yet risen to power in Germany, the free use of German on the poster was still not problematic – on the contrary; a point of persuasion for seeing the film apparently included its language. As the poster stated: “100% in German.”

Poster of the Ein Dor Cinema in Haifa for the movie “Dreyfus,” 1931

What was special about this film that made its way from the studios in Berlin to the movie theaters in Eretz Israel? First of all, since the Dreyfus Affair, slightly more than three decades had passed, and it is reasonable to assume that at the time, there were still people who remembered this important incident in Jewish history, which so decisively affected the Zionist movement after Theodor Herzl reported on it for a Viennese newspaper, before he began writing his famous Zionist works. Moreover, the very topic turned the movie into a work that spoke directly to the Jewish audiences. The film’s production in 1930 also was a response to the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Germany, which quickly became dire. In addition, a look at those involved in the film’s production – from the author of the script, to the director and most of the main actors – reveals that most were of Jewish extraction. These circumstances apparently made the movie an excellent candidate for screening in Eretz Israeli movie theaters and granted the Dreyfus Affair the status of a “great national tragedy” as stated in the colorful poster presented here.

Poster for the movie “Dreyfus” after the second purchase of the film by the Ein Dor Cinema in Haifa, 1931

Who, then, were the key figures surrounding this German-Jewish film produced towards the end of the Weimar Republic? The producer and director was the Richard Oswald (1880-1963), a Vienna native who had been living and working in Berlin since 1912. In Berlin, Oswald went on to establish a film production company that produced dozens of films, among them films that were unconventional for the period. For example, after consulting with the famous sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld, Oswald produced films dealing with topics such as homosexuality, abortions, prostitution and sexually transmitted disease. His emigration from Germany in 1933 following the Nazi rise to power significantly reduced his opportunities for producing additional films. Most of the main actors in the movie “Dreyfus” came from the famous acting school of Max Reinhardt, director of the “German Theater” in Berlin: Fritz Kortner (Dreyfus), Grete Mosheim (Dreyfus’ wife), and Oscar Homolka (Maj. Esterhazy) – all were of Jewish origins. Following their emigration to the United States, some of them secured a place in the American film industry (for example, Oscar Homolka, who acted in Hollywood with Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Marilyn Monroe). Others returned to Germany after WWII, such as Fritz Kortner and Grete Mosheim. Acting alongside them in the film was also Heinrich George, one of the well known actors in Weimar Germany, who began his career as a supporter of the political left in Germany, and after 1933 compromised with the Nazis, enabling him to continue his career under their government.

As far as is known, the movie “Dreyfus” was successful in Eretz Israel. There is an interesting incident that is related to the movie “Dreyfus” and its screening in the Ein Dor Cinema (the Hebrew word used for cinema at the time was reinoa, as opposed to the modern kolnoa) in Haifa. Shortly after the first regular screenings, the film reels were stolen and the cinema owners were forced to acquire a new copy. After the second copy was obtained, they re-advertised the film – which they would certainly not have done had the film not been a success in the first round.

Two posters of the Ein Dor Cinema in Haifa advertising the film can be found in the National Library collections, but during the inquiry that preceded the writing of this text, it emerged that the library also owns a single copy of the original script in German. This rare copy reached the library after WWII together with thousands of Jewish books as part of the book rescue operation that became known as “Treasures of the Diaspora”, saving precious library materials to Jewish institutions including the National Library. Other copies of the movie still survive in various film archives around the world.

The cover of the original movie script for the film “Dreyfus,” 1930