The Student Demonstration against the Nazis and against Anti-Semitism, Munich, 1960

"It is impossible to define anti-Semitic activity as a prank. It is directed not only against the Jewish citizens who live with us, but against the basic rights of our country. What is called for is not punishment, but education!"

On Christmas Eve, 1959, two young, 25-year-old German men scrawled an anti-Semitic slogan and swastikas on the synagogue in the city of Cologne in West Germany, as well as on a monument in memory of the victims of the Nazi regime. Local citizens took note of the deed and called the police. A few days later, the police caught the vandals, who were members of a small extreme right-wing party known as “The German Reich Party.” Although most German citizens were to a certain extent still accustomed to such slogans and to the sight of a desecrated synagogue, the act captured public attention and resonated strongly. Ministers condemned it on the radio, and the still fledgling television stations broadcast special repots about the incident and the progress of the police investigation. The Israeli press also reported the incident, such as the December 27, 1959 article appearing in Davar. On one hand, desecration of the synagogue actually encouraged the occurrence of similar incidents around West Germany, and yet, on the other hand, it also spurred a wave of anti-Fascist demonstrations and public events in which discussions of the incidents were held.

One of the public discussions took place in the city of Munich in February 1960. Residents of the trainee and student dormitories at Massmannplatz, part of a democratic group of young people, called for a meeting in one of the halls of the Technical University for a public discussion about the new-old wave of anti-Semitism and about the necessity of grappling with the Nazi past of Germany and its people. One the speakers at the Munich event was Helmut Hammerschmidt, the Assistant Chief Editor of the Bavarian Broadcasting Authority, whose Jewish father had been murdered during the Nazi period. The organizers of the event, residents of the dormitories, issued a special edition of the organization’s newspaper, which featured reporting on the event – which took place precisely during Carnival, a coincidence of dates which was one of the reasons for the relatively small number of participants. A number of the speeches from the evening in Munich were printed in the newspaper, a copy of which was sent to Israel.

Paradoxically, the anti-Semitic act of the two extremists in the city of Cologne ultimately yielded a positive result: following the desecration of the synagogue, official and unofficial individuals and organizations criticized and condemned German society, and even the German government, which was forced to take concrete steps to initiate a public discussion of Germany’s past up to 1945. One minister in the East German government, who had a very active Nazi past, was forced to resign. Following the event, Chancellor Adenauer visited a former concentration camp for the first time, and participated in a ceremony in memory of its Jewish victims. The Germania Judaica Library in the city of Cologne, established in 1959 on the initiative of the author Heinrich Böll, which focuses on the history of Germany’s Jews, has since developed, and today is presently the most important library of its kind in Germany. A few universities in West Germany established institutes of Jewish studies (Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Freiburg) and in 1963, 25 years after the Kristallnacht pogroms, a large exhibition opened on the history of Germany Jewry, drawing more than 100,0000 visitors. In 1960, David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer met for the first time, and shortly afterwards, student exchanges between the two countries began to take place. In 1965, the two countries also established diplomatic relations.

Translation of the announcement:

Youth Demonstration, Munich

Friday, February 12, 1960, 20:00

Large Physics Hall of the Technical University (Arcisstrasse entrance)

Nazis and Neo-Nazis – Preservers of the Democracy?

Panel Participants: Helmut Hammerschmidt and Representatives of the Community and the Youth

The Past We Haven’t Dealt With – A Motto for our Time.

The recent events require every one of us to grapple with the past and take an unequivocal stand.

We protest the fact that former Nazis who have no reservations about the past occupy key positions. We demand their resignation.

It is impossible to define anti-Semitic activity as a prank. It is directed not only against the Jewish citizens who live with us, but against the basic rights of our country. What is called for is not punishment, but education!

We must no longer remain silent!

Ethical and political apathy endanger the good name of our people and the existence of our democracy.

Therefore, we all want to demonstrate with them

The University Student Council

The Catholic Youth

The German-Israeli Student group

The Protestant Youth

The Youth of the Professional Guilds

The Political Youth Organization, and 16 other youth and student organization

Source: Arvchives Department, V 2115

David Ben Gurion Meets Conrad Adenauer in New York, 1960

At the beginning of 1960, Israeli and West German leaders decided that it was time for a certain détente. This took the form of an official meeting between the two head statesmen: David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer

An article from "Davar" journal (March 15, 1960) about the meeting between Ben Gurion and Adenauer

In 1960, just 15 years after the Holocaust, the possibility of a meeting taking place between official representatives of Israel and Germany was not to be taken for granted. The memory of the Nazi crimes and the silence of most of the German population was still very fresh among Holocaust survivors and in Israel society overall. While certain ties had already been forged during the negotiations over the reparations agreement around 1952, reactions among the Israeli public proved that even this realm of contact was unacceptable among part of the Israeli population.

The question of establishing official diplomatic relations between the two countries hovered continually over the formal and informal liaisons. During the signing of the reparations agreement, the German side signaled that it was prepared for such a step, but the Israeli side was reluctant, basing its hesitation on the grounds that it was still too early to go so far as full-fledged diplomatic relations. In the mid-1950s, the positions reversed: Israel was prepared in theory for the establishment of formal relations with West Germany, but the German side was holding back, because of the broader political context. It feared the response of the Arab countries, and in particular, the latter’s recognition of East Germany, which the West German leadership did not want, in keeping with the Hallstein Doctrine; according to this doctrine, the government in Bonn sought to isolate the eastern part of Germany, which it did not recognize as an independent country. Every country that did recognize East Germany found itself in a diplomatic crisis with West Germany. This is the primary reason that delayed the actual establishment of relations with Israel until 1965.

Despite this, at the beginning of 1960, Israeli and West German leaders decided that it was time for a certain détente. This took the form of an official meeting between the two head statesmen: David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer. To this end, the two sides decided that while they were in New York for visits on other official business, they would stay at the same hotel, the prestigious Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Only two floors separated the rooms of the two politicians. Many journalists heard rumors about the planned meeting and waited in the hotel corridors hoping to photograph and report on the “historical moment.” Ben Gurion, who was 73 at the time, decided – as the younger of the two – to go downstairs to the suite of Konrad Adenauer, who was then 84 years old. When the two statesmen met – the socialist Ben Gurion and the conservative Adenauer – it quickly became apparent that the “chemistry” between them was excellent. They enjoyed conversing with one another, and for two hours spoke in a pleasant atmosphere, despite the historical shadow of the Holocaust and World War II. This, of course, was one of the topics they discussed. The fact that Adenauer had not been appreciated by the Nazis (who had deposed him from his post as mayor of Cologne in 1933) was certainly known by the Israeli side, and made both the decision to hold the meeting and the dialogue with Ben Gurion easier.

During the conversation, the two men discussed various topics, such as monetary support for Israel, the provision of arms to the IDF, problems of integrating new immigrants into Israel, the kibbutz movement, and the political situation in the world overall. The positive conversation led to an agreement on financial support for Israel for many years, and ultimately, also to the establishment of diplomatic relations five years later. Upon Ben Gurion’s return to Israel, fierce opposition awaited him from the political right, which viewed any official contact with German representatives as a betrayal of the victims of the Holocaust. In 1965, when the two countries exchanged ambassadors, Adenauer and Ben Gurion were no longer in office as heads of state, but they continued their written correspondence. In 1966, Adenauer came to Israel on a private visit, during which he met with Ben Gurion at Sde Boker. A year later, Ben Gurion traveled to Germany for a state ceremony in honor of Adenauer, who had died at age 91. The first prime minister of the State of Israel thus paid his final respects to the first chancellor of Germany.

The Israeli press intensively followed the meeting between the two leaders in 1960, as well as the topic of relations between the two countries. The newspapers published articles, photographs and also caricatures. One of the leading caricaturists was Kariel Gardosh, known to most Israelis as “Dosh” (1921-2000). His caricatures accompanied Israeli politics and society for many years, mainly in Maariv, but also in published collections of his work. Clearly, the developing political ties between Israel and Germany became a topic of Dosh’s caricatures, such as the cartoon he illustrated following the meeting between Adenauer and Ben Gurion. A careful look at the picture reveals that Dosh had certain reservations regarding the meeting. Dosh himself was a Holocaust survivor, and he lost most of his family members, who were murdered in Hungary. The two characters in the illustration – the Jewish survivor and the former (?) Nazi – seem each in his own way to fail to understand how times have changed.

Source: Dosh Archive, Archives Department, ARC. 4* 1793 07 21

Postcard from Curt David Wormann to Felix Weltsch, 1955

Who was Curt Wormann? What was he doing in Germany just ten years after the end of the war? And who was Felix Weltsch?

When Curt Wormann wrote this postcard in Berlin to Felix Weltsch in Jerusalem, it was not simply an inquiry from one man to his colleague. Actually, the director of an important institution in Israel was writing to one of his senior employees – from Germany. Who was Curt Wormann? What was he doing in Germany just ten years after the end of the war? And who was Felix Weltsch?

Curt David Wormann was born in Berlin in 1900, studied literature at university, joined the German Social-Democratic Party, and worked as a librarian at the public library of Berlin-Kreuzberg, of which he was also the director until 1933. In the spring of that same year, Wormann received a letter of termination from the municipal services in Berlin, which had begun within a short time to operate according to Nazi directives. Wormann, as it turned out, was fired for two reasons: he was Jewish, and he was a Social-Democrat. A year later, he moved to Israel, and in 1937, he was again working as a librarian, this time at the Tel Aviv municipal library, under the directorship of Heinrich Loewe. But this was not the final stop in Curt Wormann’s career. In 1947 he received his last appointment – as the head librarian of the National and University Library in Jerusalem (now the National Library). He began his work in this institution under less than simple circumstances that grew more complex with the partitioning of Jerusalem in 1948, when the library building was on Mount Scopus, cut off from the western part of the city. And indeed, thanks to Wormann, the library survived, grew over the years in terms of both the number of holdings and the staff, and even received a new building at the recently established campus of the Hebrew University in Givat Ram. The building, inaugurated in 1960, is used by the National Library to this day. In parallel to his work as head librarian, Wormann also established and headed the School of Library and Archive Studies at the Hebrew University.

Felix Weltsch, Martin Buber and Curt Wormann

Felix Weltsch, to whom the postcard is addressed, was born in Prague in 1887. In his city of birth he studied law and philosophy and received doctorates in both disciplines. Already in 1910 he was working as a librarian at the German University in Prague. He was acquainted with Franz Kafka from his legal studies. The great author was one of Weltsch’s closest friends. Together with Max Brod and the sightless author Oskar Baum, they were the famous “Prague circle,” active in the fields of literature and philosophy. From 1919 and until his last days in the spring of 1939, Felix Weltsch was also the chief editor of the Zionist newspaper published in Bohemia, Selbstwehr (“self-defense”). With the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Felix Weltsch fled to Palestine/Eretz Israel with his family and with Max Brod, where he took up residence in Jerusalem, and shortly thereafter, joined the staff of the National and University Library. Due to his vast experience as a librarian, Weltsch was made responsible for the library’s classification system, and even taught at the School of Library Studies. At the same time, he wrote articles in philosophy and literature, including on Franz Kafka and his works. Weltsch wrote mainly in German, but his writings have been translated into Hebrew and other languages.

In the postcard to Weltsch, Curt Wormann writes about the meetings he had in Germany, for example with the publisher Peter Suhrkamp, with his colleague Lambert Schneider, and also with Hans Wilhelm Eppelsheimer, the first director of the National Library (Deutschen Bibliothek) of West Germany, located in Frankfurt. At one point, Wormann even visited the National Library in East Berlin, formerly the National Library of Prussia. It is reasonable to assume that Wormann knew the librarians from before when he worked in Berlin. It is also known that Wormann went to great lengths to save Jewish books confiscated by the Nazis. It is therefore likely that these were the reasons that brought the director of the library in Jerusalem to Communist East Germany in 1955, during a period when there were no official ties between the State of Israel and East Germany.

The choice of the German language for writing the postcard is not surprising: it was the mother tongue of both Wormann and Weltsch, and the two felt comfortable in it. Only the address is written in Hebrew, in order to make things easier for the employees of the Israeli postal system.

Erich Kästner’s Poems in Hebrew, 1965

Kästner sympathized with the Zionist idea and even visited Israel a number of times. Some of his books were translated into Hebrew already in the 1930s

​For decades, German author Erich Kästner (1899-1974) was one of the best-known German authors in Israel. His international acclaim – his children’s books have been translated into over 40 languages – also reached Israel. His books Lottie and Lisa, Dot and Anton, The 35th of May, and others, met with a large, enthusiastic audience: Hebrew readers, young and old. Due to the sensitive nature of all matters pertaining to Germany, in most of the early translations to Hebrew, names of both the characters and places were changed. Locations in Germany were moved or assigned Hebrew names that transported them far from the geographic reality. Only the new translations by Michael Dak reinstated the original names and places.

In the days of the Weimar Republic, Erich Kästner worked as a journalist and even wrote poems and prose (for example, Fabian, a novel in fragments). His works were burned in 1933, when the Nazis destroyed many books that were not to their liking or whose authors were Jews. Despite the political situation, Kästner remained in Germany during all the years of the Third Reich, but published his books only in Switzerland. The Nazis arrested him a number of times, and in 1943, banned all of his publications, even outside of Germany. After War War II, the author resumed writing in newspapers and continued authoring children’s novels (such as Lottie and Lisa, 1949). Kästner sympathized with the Zionist idea and even visited Israel a number of times. Some of his books were translated into Hebrew already in the 1930s.

Front side of a postcard sent by Kästner to the Israeli writer Moshe Ya’akov Ben Gavriel

Erich Kästner’s works, however, are not limited to children’s books and a few adult novels. Kästner wrote poetry, and also appealed to the general public with the hope that they would read his poems not only on special occasions, but on a daily basis. One example are Doctor Erich Kästner’s Lyrical Medicine Chest, which was published in 1936 by the Atrium Press in Zurich. In this volume, Kästner wanted to provide his readers poems that are suitable to various moods of the soul whose remedies, according to the poet, are humor, anger, apathy, irony, reflection and exaggeration. Kästner viewed these poems as “homeopathic home remedies” for personal use. Kästner even added a user’s guide of sorts that explains which poems should be read for which mood. Here, the reader finds terms such as old age, loneliness, laziness, insensitivity, illness, dreams and more. This collection of poems was very popular among readers, and was even partially translated into Hebrew in a handsome edition published in 1965 by the art press Ekked, but omitting the poet’s “instructions”. Kästner’s poems were translated by Yehudah Ofan, interspersed with drawings by Chaim Nahor. Yonah Coleman created specially-designed font for the poem texts and the books were published on exclusive light-brown paper.

It may be that it is only a coincidence that this translation was published in 1965, the first year of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, but it is also possible that this choice of the poems of Erich Kästner, well-liked in Israel, was intended to acquaint the Israeli readership with an additional aspect of German literature, and in this case, even poetry filled with irony and humor, but that is also thoughtful and deep.

Cover of the Hebrew translation of the Lyrical Medicine Chest, and the first page of the German original volume