Samuil Polyakov: Life as a Jewish Tycoon in 19th Century Russia

Samuil, the second of the brothers Polyakov, lived an interesting life, balancing his identity as a Jew with his position in the Russian business elite.

Letter of Mary Poliakov to Kurt Grunwald, 20 December 1967, with the photograph of the statue of Samuil Poliakov (CAHJP, P77-22.2)

Letter from Mary Poliakov to Kurt Grunwald, 20 December 1967, with a photograph of the statue of Samuil Poliakov (CAHJP, P77-22.2).

Samuil Polyakov and his brothers, Yakov and Lazar, were anomalies in mid-19th-century Russia. Samuil was the second of three brothers who were part of a Jewish banking family of Russian nobility in the mid to late 19th century. His older brother, Yakov Polyakov, was one of Russia’s greatest Jewish tycoons who built up the railroads across the country. Yakov kept a detailed diary of his thoughts, business dealings, and activities that are now preserved in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People. His diary gave us much insight into his world but uncovering the thoughts and actions of his younger brother Samuil took a bit more work.

Kurt Grunwald
Jerusalem Resident ID of Kurt Grunwald, The Central Zionist Archives, A343/3

Kurt Grunwald, a native of Vienna who moved to Ramban Street in Jerusalem, wrote a vivid biography of Baron Maurice de Hirsch, one of the biggest Jewish philanthropists, whose business model was just like that of the Poliakov brothers in that he combined banking with obtaining concessions for railway construction. Baron Maurice de Hirsch most famously sealed the deal for building the railway connecting Vienna and Istanbul, and despite the fact that this vision was only partially realized because of the shaky political situation, it nevertheless became the major railway in the Balkans and for many years hosted the famous Orient Express.

Grunwald’s research naturally led him to the Polyakov family. As it turns out, these two families were in fact related as the brother of Maurice de Hirsch, James (Jakob) de Hirsch de Gereuth married the daughter of Samuil Polyakov, Zinaida. In the 1960s, Grunwald got in touch with the descendants of the Poliakov family who were scattered across post-war Europe. Mary Polyakov, a granddaughter of Yakov Poliakov, was a fiction writer who spent time living in Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. Mary provided Grunwald with some insight into her family:

Mary Polyakov Letter
Letter from Mary Polyakov to Kurt Grunwald, December 20, 1967 (CAHJP, P77-22.2).

“I know that Jacob and Samuil lived in St. Petersburg. Each had a palace. The first entertained politicians, diplomats and such like. Samuil’s house was open to artists and writers. There must be somewhere a bronze statue of his, the work of the known sculptor Antokolsky, a fine work.”

Photograph of the statue of Samuil Polyakov made by Mark Antokolsky (CAHJP, P77-22.2).

Samuil Polyakov and Horace Günzburg

The palaces of the brothers Polyakov were situated on Galernaya street near the Hermitage, which is still one of the most luxurious in the city. At the end of the 19th century, multiple buildings on Galernaya street belonged to the two most prominent clans of Jewish bankers and entrepreneurs – the Polyakovs and their neighbors the Günzburgs, the most famous Russian Jewish family of the time. Several banks were also located nearby.

Historian Ben-Zion Katz collected information about Samuil Polyakov and Horace Günzburg from persons who knew them and presented it in his memoirs. He writes that Samuil was religious and prayed with his tallit and tefillin every day, but did so in secrecy. Samuil also kept a kosher kitchen though he was insistent that his non-Jewish guests not know that he kept his food kosher. Horace Günzburg’s guests, including the Russian royal family members, knew they would receive only kosher food in his home. Count Shuvalov, a Russian noble who often dined at Günzburg’s, used to eat cheese for dessert after dinner, like most of the Russian nobility who had adopted French culture. Günzburg’s maids would promptly clear the table and replace meat dishware with a dairy set.

Not a Jewish Philanthropist?

Samuil was actively criticized among his Jewish compatriots as his philanthropy was geared only toward Russian organizations and never toward the Jewish organizations. Samuil’s reasoning, it seems, was the wish to assimilate, to be favored at court, and to gain a much desired noble title. Henrich Sliosberg, a famous Jewish lawyer, said the following:

“He avoided the Jews of St. Petersburg, stayed somehow apart from them, but very cordially accepted all sorts of dignitaries, princes, counts, who sought his favor for their material interests. They kneeled before him, they considered him a business genius, but I never heard any of the high-ranking officials who knew him closely say that Polyakov was loved and that even those whom he had helped were attached to him. His business reputation did not have any beneficial results for the Jews; it irritated people more than it appealed to them.”

Samuil donated large sums of money toward education and to many provincial theatres and museums. Paradoxically, Samuil also happened to make a certain accidental contribution to the Russian revolutionary movement which was, of course, absolutely against his wishes. This is how it happened.

Samuil donated 200 thousand rubles to the construction of the student dormitories of Saint Petersburg University. The administration decided to host a celebratory assembly and present Polyakov with a letter of thanks for his donation. While we don’t know exactly what was written in this letter, many of the students who were asked to sign the address found the tone of the text too servile. When the administration refused to change the text, the students decided to object to the ceremony since the letter was composed as if coming from the entire student body. The students called a meeting in the university lobby and staged a protest.

Dorms for the students of Saint Petersburg University constructed by Samuil Poliakov
Dorms for the students of Saint Petersburg University constructed by Samuil Poliakov

The whole situation could have been resolved easily and quietly, but the administration decided to bring the police and the mayor to the building where the protest was being held. Several students were arrested and, in the end, about one hundred students were expelled from the university. This incident provoked additional student demonstrations in other cities. Among the students who took part in the initial ‘uprising’ in Saint Petersburg was Sergey Nikonov, a future revolutionary, who later took part in the preparation of the assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander III. In his memoirs he writes:

“I can say for myself that the “Polyakov Story”, which played out before my eyes and with my modest participation and was essentially insignificant, completely determined my position in relation to the autocracy and its organs — administrations, police etc. From now on, I could only be an ardent opponent to this system, and for me the question was brought up to how I can be more productive in the fight against it.”

Crafts versus Agriculture and the Rabbis’ Conference at Polyakov’s Palace

Samuil’s policy of philanthropy started to change in the 1880s: he began taking interest in Jewish initiatives and became the major promoter of the establishment of ORT: Obschestvo Remeslennogo Truda, ‘Association for the Promotion of Crafts.’ The change in his philanthropic perspective came due to the strong influence of Professor Nikolay Bakst, a physiologist, writer, and Jewish activist. Bakst strongly believed that the condition of Russian Jewry could be drastically improved by developing their skills in various crafts, enabling Jews to find work as artisans. This view contradicted the view of Horace Günzburg who invested, like Maurice de Hirsch, in putting Jews to work in agriculture.

List of the allowances given to craftsmen for relocation to the cities of the internal provinces if the Russian Empire. Inside of the book of protocols of ORT sessions, published in Saint Petersburg in 1882. From ORT collection at CAHJP (ORT-465).
List of the allowances given to craftsmen for relocation to the cities of the internal provinces of the Russian Empire. The protocols of the ORT sessions, published in Saint Petersburg in 1882. From the ORT collection at CAHJP (ORT-465).

Bakst and Polyakov both believed that, in order to improve the lives of the Jews, they should be taught secular disciplines. Willing to help this cause, Polyakov got involved in the fate of the most famous Jewish religious school of the time – the Volozhin Yeshiva. Russian authorities tried to enforce the teaching of the Russian language and arithmetic in the yeshiva, but the head of the institution, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, thought that his yeshiva was not the place for these subjects and there was a serious risk that the yeshiva would be closed due to his stubbornness.

Volozhin Yeshiva

Albert Harkavy, a former student of Berlin’s, went on to become a librarian at the Imperial Library and a renowned scholar in Saint Petersburg. Berlin traveled to see him and Harkavy introduced Berlin to Polyakov and Günzburg who interceded for him with the famous liberal Count Pahlen, who was privy to the secret affairs of the ministries. The Count managed to arrange a license to open a yeshiva that would only teach religious subjects without having to teach the national language.

The question of secular studies came up again in 1887. On the initiative of Bakst, the Congress of the most prominent rabbis in Russia was convened. The Congress met in Saint Petersburg in Samuil Polyakov’s house, and, after a long and stormy debate, the attendees drew up a protocol that established that yeshiva pupils in Volozhin would learn Russian and arithmetic, but that these subjects would not be taught in the hall of the yeshiva, but rather in a separate room.

Unfortunately, this outstanding event and document did not prevent the closure of the yeshiva which happened soon afterward, but for reasons unrelated to the teaching of new secular disciplines.

Two Tragic Deaths

Samuil Polyakov had a close friend named Abram Moiseevich Varshavsky who was also in the railway business. His son married Rozalia Polyakov, Samuil’s daughter. Varshavsky was famous for his kindness and he was known to help everyone who turned to him. Perhaps this generosity is what led to his financial difficulties. Unable to face the humiliation of declaring bankruptcy, Varshavsky committed suicide. Samuil Polyakov died of a heart attack at his friend’s funeral.

polyakov diary
A page from Yakov Polyakov’s diary. Sad events are marked with a blue pencil including the death of Samuil and the death of Ernestina Rubinstein, mother of the famous ballet dancer Ida Rubinstein. A red pencil marked a happier event -The graduation from the universityof Yakov’s son, Boris (CAHJP, P238).

Here is how his brother Yakov describes that sad day:

“On April 7, my brother, his wife and I went in his Landau [automobile] to Varshavsky’s funeral (how many times did his wife and I plead with him not to go to the funeral, It led to nothing). The three of us left Varshavsky apartment following his coffin and immediately at half past ten in the morning my poor dear brother fell and died of heart failure. He fell near me on the street next to the apartment of Varshavsky and only thanks to the urgent orders of Mayor Gresser my unfortunate brother was lifted and brought into a shop near this apartment. Otherwise, he would have been trampled over for there were several thousand people attending the funeral of Varshavsky, and when they found out about what had happened to my brother they all rushed to this place and only Gresser was able to stop this crowd. I cannot give any other details about our great misfortune.”

A local newspaper reported from Samuil’s funeral:

“Along the route of the funeral procession, a countles multitiude gathered. All balconies, windows and even some of the rooftops along Nevsky Prospect were littered with the curious. Behind the coffin, marched crowd of several thousands of Jewish artisans, who arrived to pay their respects to the founder of the ‘Jewish craft fund.'”

Special thanks to Moshe Goncharok from the Central Zionist Archives and to my grandmother Ksenia Guzeeva. 


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A Diary from Jerusalem Under Siege

“I’m very thirsty and there isn’t a drop of water in the house. I must go down to the street, perhaps I'll find something to drink, and thus I must cease my writing.” A peek into the siege diary of Menachem Zvi Kadari, a resident of the Old City during Israel's War of Independence.


Menachem Zvi Kedari's diary, the National Library of Israel

Today the residents learned that the Jerusalem front suffered a new heavy blow: the Old City has fallen … the defenders surrendered after half a year of resistance and heroic defense, when few stood against many, without weapons and equipment in the face of a well-equipped enemy. It is indeed interesting that the fall of the Old City didn’t make as much of a sad impression on the city as the previous difficult blows (Gush Etzion, Sheikh Jarrah, etc.), as if there was even a certain sense of relief: finally, it’s over, the women and children were spared, most of the defenders also remained alive, even if they will spend some time in captivity; Thank God, for that too—such are the thoughts, more or less, of a simple Jerusalemite.

With these words, Menachem Zvi Kadari describes one of the most difficult and desperate moments in the battle for Jerusalem during the Independence War. The 23-year-old, Hungarian-born Kadari, a student of Bible Studies and Hebrew at the Hebrew University, kept a diary detailing the sequence of events throughout the period of the siege of the Old City. In clear and beautiful handwriting, on the back of small index cards, accompanied by delicate illustrations, he provides a vivid and authentic account of public opinion among the people of the besieged Old City, and from the cards, colorful and fascinating Jerusalem characters spring to life. Here are some of them:


At the corner of HaRav Kook Street I suddenly see the old Yemenite man sitting by the wall and reading from the holy Zohar with amazing diligence; everything remains the same with him, he sat and read here before the siege and continued in times of danger, through the heaviest bombardment, and continues to sit here even now.

The boys in the student dormitory on Jaffa Street had a private laundress, a Kurdish woman who always came to collect the laundry and two days later, she would return it clean and neat. […] Every time she heard about young people who died, her heart seemed to sink. She has no children of her own, but all of Jerusalem’s youth are hers and she feels pain and sorrow over the loss of each of them […]  When we asked her “When will you bring our clean laundry,” she answered, looking up with her eyes: “Can one say today when I will come? God knows when I will be able to come.” […] The last time, a few days before the cease-fire, she took the laundry, but did not bring it back again … a wicked shell hit her … her husband brought our clean whites, which her own hands were not favored to bring back [to us] … Many have been your casualties Jerusalem; all have fallen in the fulfillment of their duties, who in defense, who at work … May they atone for our sins!

(Entry from June 15th, 1948)


On August 8th, during the second break in the fighting, Kadari sees:

Four young men with beards and sidelocks, dressed in caftans and beaver hats, walking in front of me along the street—they were Neturei Karta Hasidim—and behold the wonder, a truly strange and unusual sight: they are holding rifles in their hands! […] Can this really be true? Parading about the streets of the city of Jerusalem are young men in hasidic garb carrying guns and other weapons of destruction! Who could have prayed that something like this would ever happen? 


But beyond the characters, Kadari best describes Jerusalem shifting between despair and hope. He tells of the eyes turned to the great powers, the ambivalence of the Jerusalem street towards the offers of the U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, the reactions of the Arab countries, the rationing of food, and the tense hours of waiting – for bread and sustenance, but even more so – for news and information about what was going on in the rest of the country. Thus, for example he describes his own dismal situation, while reporting on the announcement from Tel Aviv:

This Sabbath was especially eventful, a historic day in Jewish history: the State of Israel was declared and immediately recognized by America and 38 other countries. Yet, there are two sides to every coin: the armies of the Arab countries began their invasion from all directions and there are already bitter consequences: they have conquered several settlement points […] the battle in Gush Etzion is completely over. The entire area has been captured and the fighters taken captive. Oh! Ten years of hard work have come to nothing! Three settlements of the religious Kibbutz movement , to which the eyes of the youth in the Diaspora were drawn, were wiped off the map […] Oh, what has befallen us!  (“I’m very thirsty and there isn’t a drop of water in the house. I must go down to the street, perhaps I’ll find something to drink, and thus I must cease my writing.”).

(Entry from May 16th, 1948)


Entry from Kadari’s diary
Entry from Kadari’s diary

The siege of the Old City lasted until the 11th of June, during which there was a terrible shortage of food (“the bread ration was reduced to one hundred and fifty grams and in a few days will be reduced to one hundred grams per person; oh well, this is real hunger, but one can suffer a bit more!” [June 6]. Following the end of fighting in Jerusalem, the situation improved significantly, (“In exchange for work they pay forty grush along with breakfast and dinner every day. By this arrangement, after just two days I have already been able to loosen my belt buckle and I can’t complain about hunger” [June 25th]).


It is not only existential distress that emerges from the pages of Kadari’s diary, but also his personal thoughts about his future and studies, which were interrupted by the war. He attends political meetings and cultural conferences, keeps himself busy with matters of language (“This afternoon I decided to go home, despite the danger of bombardment—they have already invented a new word for the concept: hafgaza [shelling]; indeed, this is the Jerusalem spirit!”). And once in a while he visits the Jerusalem homes of his teachers Gershom Scholem, Moshe Zvi Segal and others. One of the topics woven throughout the journal is the growing gap between Tel Aviv, the city where the declaration of the State had just been celebrated, and Jerusalem, which is under siege:

It truly seems from the papers that there is still life in Tel Aviv, despite everything. Only today was the public prohibited from going to the beach; the theaters and cinemas are running as usual […] only in Jerusalem we sit for months on the watch, on the frontline. The first to be tested is the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps it will be the first to be redeemed? 

(Entry from June 9th, 1948)

The institutions of the young state and the IDF (which until the day before was the “Haganah”), are concentrated in Tel Aviv, while Jerusalem is still sympathetic to members of the underground. With the outbreak of the fighting, Kadari, the native of Tel Avivi, was “stuck” in Jerusalem, and throughout the diary, he describes attempts to return home. His description of one of the most famous affairs of the period—the firing on the Irgun ship Altalena as it approached the shores of the coastal city, is mixed with a dose of racism:

There is explosive news on the internal political front: the Irgun, which declared its joining the ranks of the Haganah and full obedience to the Jewish government  institutions, brought an arms ship for itself and began unloading it, with the clear intent of violating the truce […] war is these people’s life, war for the sake of war. Internal danger awaits the Yishuv, heaven forbid, from these ne’er do wells, and careless adventurers. […] No wonder that most of the members of the Irgun and Lehi come from the Sephardic communities, and if so, it is clear from whence the fanaticism and blind enthusiasm for their actions, good or bad.

(Entry from June 23rd, 1948)

Kadari’s diary ends with his departure for Tel Aviv on August 18th. After the fighting ended, he renewed his studies at the university. Kadari submitted his doctoral dissertation in 1953 and later was appointed a lecturer at Bar Ilan University. In 1971 he became rector of the university and a member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. In 1999, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Study of the Hebrew Language.


“The opinion of a simple Jerusalemite”


Menachem Zvi Kadari died in 2011. His personal archive was recently deposited in the National Library and includes, besides this diary, fascinating documents about underground rescue activities in which he took part in Hungary and Romania after the Nazi invasion, in addition to drafts of his research papers and lectures, as well as personal documents and correspondence.

Kadari’s full diary is held in the archives of the National Library of Israel.


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A Matter of Faith: Ferrara Manuscript Outlines Orthodoxy and Heresy Between Jewish and Christian Traditions

A 17th-century Italian manuscript sheds light on an important example of Catholic book censorship in the modern age


The Italian manuscript A General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books (henceforth Response), now kept by the National Library of Israel, provides an important example of Catholic book censorship in the modern age. Written by an anonymous Jewish author in Ferrara during the seventeenth century, this document focuses on religious disputes concerning the accusation of blasphemy made by the censors of the Roman Inquisition against rabbinical literature.

The accusations made against Hebrew texts refer especially to Talmudic works whose reading could lead to negative interpretations of Christianity.

In order to effectively forbid these texts, Catholic censors needed to control any source of Jewish culture which could be spread easily among Christians. The printing of books and documents in the modern age revealed itself to be an excellent means of canonization. The main problem concerning Hebrew texts in the modern era was related to their availability as they were often limited to Jewish communities. The view held by the Catholic Church regarding Jews and Judaism was strongly conditioned by the polemic work “Pugio Fidei,” or, in English, “Dagger of Faith,” written by the Dominican friar Ramon Martí. It’s possible to identify two interpretative lines about Judaism in this document: the first interpretation is founded on the idea that holy Jewish books are full of useful evidence of religious truths, thanks to the many resemblances with Christianity, while the second traces a negative connotation of Hebrew texts, with emphasis on the Talmud. The negative inclination in the Pugio reclaims the traditional thesis on the vanity of Talmudic literature, that is seen as a blasphemous attack on Christians. The success of the negative narrative posed about Judaism led to the censorship of Jewish texts.

Since the above-mentioned manuscript is a “general response” to the Roman Inquisition, let us now examine its structure in order to better understand its content.

A page from within the manuscript, “General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books.” In the margins, there are long quotes and citations in Hebrew. From the National Library of Israel collections.

General Analysis of the General Response: A Philosophical and Philological Profile

One interesting aspect worthy of consideration in the manuscript is the use of philosophical reasoning to argue the theory that Hebrew texts do not contain negative remarks about Christianity. In order to support this thesis, the anonymous author of the code presents eight “universal reasons” that would demonstrate the unfoundedness of the accusations against rabbinic literature.

The first universal reason explained by the author focuses on the importance of prayer in Jewish tradition, whose history is proved through important textual references from Flavius Josephus or from Philo of Alexandria, who describes the devotion of Jewish prayer in his “De Legazione ad Caium Imperatorem”. These references serve as fundamental proof of the benevolence Jews had towards other nations and their leaders, even during and after the destruction of Jerusalem, as Josephus’ Bellum Iudaicum shows. Words like “idolaters” and “heretics” begin to appear in the first two pages of the manuscript to exhort the readers to understand that such terms refer to Babylonians and Romans, who are seen as idolatrous pagans. Hence, definitions such these can’t and mustn’t be seen as reffering to Christians, according to the author.

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The second universal reason is founded on a syllogism. It states that all people who follow the seven laws of Noah will partially enjoy Heaven. As Christians follow the seven laws of Noah, they, according to Jewish beliefs, will partially enjoy Heaven. The consequence of this reasoning confirms again that Christians cannot be percieved as idolaters or heretics by Jews, also because they share a common concept of blasphemy. In fact, in both Christian and Jewish holy texts it is forbidden to be involved in actions that offend God, including idolatry, homicide, adultery or theft.

A General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books
A page from within the manuscript, General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books, from the National Library of Israel collections.

It’s also clear that, although Christians share some religious beliefs with Jews, they don’t necessarily observe all the same rules. For example, the precepts regarding the eating of meat from a slaughtered animal aren’t part of Christian orthodoxy, but yet Christians still are till given the opportunity to achieve  “eternal happiness”. This is possible because they are seen as “good and pious.” The author focuses his attention on the meaning of the expression “good and pious”, and dedicated his third  in argument to this point. Since Christians believe that the seven laws of Noah came from God, the requisite of being “good and pious” is fulfilled. In addition, it is not necessary to follow all the seven laws given to Noah as long as one of them is observed with “good intention.” Moreover, the author explains a passage from the ninth psalm of David, recalling that these verses describe the fate of those who are not “good and pious,” pointing out that the expression “all people who leave God”  (Obliviscuntur literally means “they forget” and can be interpreted as “ they leave” in a figurative sense) is meant for those who are neither good nor pious, seeing as they deny the glory of God.

For what concerns the goodness of Christians, in the manuscript it is written that the Ten Commandments they follow are thought to have come from God and this proves a convergence between Jewish and Christian beliefs: the Ten Commandments given to Moses include many precepts shared with Judaism and given the fact that Christians follow many precepts of Mosaic Law with good intentions , consequently they can’t be described as heretics or idolaters.

A page from within the manuscript, General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books, from the National Library of Israel collections.

In the Response, the theme of religious observance is often reiterated through references to Don Isaac Abarbanel, a philosopher, statesman and biblical commentator, King David (in his fourteenth psalm), or the prophet Isaiah, whose verses are mentioned to affirm the need to follow even just one precept to avoid damnation. Proceeding in the analysis of the manuscript, the author explains that the rabbinic doctrine on intention in religious observance is surely influenced by the moral philosophy of Aristotle. His theory of purpose is founded on the notion of prudence, as explained in the sixth book of Nicomachean Ethics, where it is written that each moral virtue depends on prudence, defined as the “common form of virtues.”

The anonymous author presents a fourth universal reason, maintaining that there are three aspects to be considered for a correct evaluation of rabbinical texts including when these books were written, who wrote them, and for whom. Following this argument, words like “idolaters” or “heretics” are to be intended for those people living when “ancient rabbis” instituted their doctrines, and without any doubt, in that historical period, Christianity wasn’t yet established. In particular, Babylonian and Roman ceremonies are seen by the ancient Jewish sages as examples of idolatry and blasphemy. In addition, a certain passage from Saint Augustine (De Civitate Dei, 23) is mentioned, which describes both the Babylonian captivity of the Jews and the destruction of the 2nd temple of Jerusalem under the Roman Empire. The first event happened before the emergence of Christianity, while the second was the result of an expansionist policy led by the Roman Empire when Christians communities were persecuted as well.

A page from within the manuscript, "General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books," from the National Library of Israel collections.
A page from within the manuscript, General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books, from the National Library of Israel collections.

The author also states that most of the content reffering to rabbinical texts is unclear, containing many ambiguous terms and figures that are easily misunderstandable, and for this reason they are percieved as offensive by Christians, even if they not addressed to them. Additionally, the author describes Christianity as a religion which is very close to Judaism, since it shares many common beliefs. He even argues that Judaim holds a benevolent attitude towards Christianity. The word “idolaters” therefore appears to be associated with “gentiles.” The term “goyim” refers to a non-Jewish nation and in the manuscript, this definition is used in reference to the Babylonians people. The author’s fifth argument make the case that none of these words refer to Christians, since Christians were called “Nazarenes”, and this epithet is significant since it distinguishes “orthodox” Christians from Arian Christians, who are mentioned as heretics in the manuscript/

This point is strictly related to the sixth argument brought forth by the author, in which he writes that the above-mentioned terms are so generic that they can easily refer to other nations or groups of non-Christian people:  these words even can be associated to communities inside Judaism.

Given the fact that the above-mentioned epithets are ambiguous, it cannot be concluded that they are addressed to someone in particular, as illustrated by the seventh argument; furthermore, blasphemy is assumed to be founded on a malicious intent, therefore something that is never verified cannot be presumed without evidence, in accordance with the eighth argument.

A page from within the manuscript, "General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books," from the National Library of Israel collections.
A page from within the manuscript, General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books, from the National Library of Israel collections.

After the presentation of all the eight “universal reasons,”  the last page of the manuscript seems incomplete;  nevertheless, it makes sense to affirm that the anonymous author of this code managed to discuss all the eight points of his reasoning with historical, theological, philological and philosophical references that together contribute to a better perspective on the relationship between Jewish and Christian traditions.



The Nazi Guide to Finding the Proper Spouse

These "10 commandments" for building a good relationship were found in a pamphlet distributed to all students graduating from a trade school under the Nazi regime.

nazi relationship guide

“I found this on the shelf and thought you might know what to do with it,” she said as she handed me a thin paperback pamphlet with a German title and a swastika embossed on the cover.

Apparently, spring cleaning in the office can lead to some interesting discoveries when you work in the National Library of Israel Digital Content Department.

The book I now held in my hand was a copy of “Du Und Dein Volk,” or in English, “You and Your People,” a widely spread piece of Nazi propaganda that was published in early 1940 and distributed by the Reich Education Ministry to young adults finishing their education. Thousands of copies of this pamphlet were printed and distributed across Nazi Germany, providing the young graduates with an easy to read, condensed version of the Nazi doctrine that all Germans were required to know.

Du Und Dein Volk

This particular copy of the pamphlet found on our shelves was bestowed to a graduate of the “Berufsschule für Tischler,” vocational school for carpentry in Vienna, named August Feigel. His name was written in cursive in blue ink on the first page of the book. It appears there alongside the name of his school, the date the book was gifted (July 6, 1940), and the signature of the school’s headmaster, suggesting this book was given as a gift to all graduating students.

Du Und Dein Volk
The opening page of the book showing that it was gifted to August Feigel, a graduate of the “Berufsschule für Tischler,” vocational school for carpentry in Vienna.

Upon further inspection, and with a lot of help from my German-speaking colleagues, I understood that this “light reading” contained a general summary of Nazi ideology that outlined the responsibilities of the average German citizen, encouraging the youths to marry and have many children while warning them of the dangers of marrying someone improper, including those without the proper German mindset or someone who is not of Nordic blood.

In a section entitled, “Your Marriage and Your Children,” the text emphasizes the importance of marriage and of bearing as many healthy children as possible, to maintain and strengthen the right racial components for the good of society.

Du Und Dein Volk
Adolf Hitler’s portrait included at the center of the pamphlet.

“Your genetic line is like roots underground. When two such roots meet and unite, a person grows like a plant and breaks through the soil,” reads the text. “The sun smiles upon it, rain falls, it’s blown by storms, it wilts and withers, and finally dies a human death. Yet the genetic stream flows on long after the sun and rain and storms of that one life have passed.”

The section goes on to discuss the importance of maintaining a clean genetic pool and the critical nature of choosing an appropriate spouse who has within them the appropriate racial ancestry, as well as the responsibility that lies with every individual to strengthen the Aryan race by producing healthy children. The chapter concludes with a summarized and condensed list of the ten key commandments to follow when choosing a spouse with which to build and strengthen German ideals.

Du Und Dein Volk
The 10 commandments of Nazi doctrine for finding a spouse.

“You now know how to choose your spouse and understand the meaning of the following principles from the Reich Office for People’s Health,” reads the text. It then goes on to list the 10 commandments for finding a spouse:

  1. Always remember that you are a German.

  2. Be sure to marry if you are genetically healthy.

  3. Ensure that you keep your body clean.

  4. Keep your soul and spirit clean.

  5. As a German, you should only take a spouse of German or Nordic blood.

  6. When deciding on a spouse, investigate his or her ancestry.

  7. Physical health is the prerequisite for outward beauty.

  8. Marry only for love.

  9. In relationships, do not seek a temporary plaything, look for a partner for marriage.

  10. You should want as many children as possible.

This emphasis on maintaining the proper bloodline and increasing the pure German population was a key point for graduating students as they moved out of the structured environment of their education to the real world where they would fend for themselves.

After listing the ten initial commandments, the text adds an important warning to the reader: “People of absolutely pure blood are rare among us.” Just because someone matches the external criteria of the Aryan race, “that does not mean that he necessarily possesses all the spiritual characteristics that correspond to the physical appearance.”

“Enough advice and warnings,” concludes the section. “If you understood these rules, you can be assured that your instincts will lead you in the right direction. You should not marry out of the calculation, but rather from love!”

Du Und Dein Volk
The ideal German family according to Du Und Dein Volk.

A few pages later, the pamphlet includes a photo depicting the ideal family, featuring a blonde woman surrounded by her children. The text goes on to describe the importance of family before switching to a discussion of “The Jewish Question” and preventing the birth of genetically ill offspring.

The final pages in the pamphlet include a template for the student to fill in his own family tree, leading back to his great grandparents, so that he could prove his pure lineage. August Feigel, the recipient of this book, did not take advantage of this opportunity.

Du Und Dein Volk
A family tree template for the student to fill out.

“Woe to the generation that is given clarity and does not make use of it,” concludes the text. “There are only two options: to climb to liberating heights or to decline. We choose the first path, though we know it brings sacrifices and challenges, though it is difficult and will take more than one or two or three generations.”

Looking back over the last three generations, the Nazis did not achieve their goals in “purifying” the genetic pool but this pamphlet, now preserved in the National Library of Israel, stands as a witness to the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism that are still apparent today.

Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Litt for his help in writing this article.

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.