What was Hidden Behind the Curtains at the Declaration of Independence?

Who designed the setting for the historic moment when Israel became a State?

Chen Malul | 08.05.19 |
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Israel's Declaration of Independence, on May 14th, 1948 (5th of Iyar, 5708), Photo: Rudi Weissenstein

At 11 am on May 13, 1948, Otte Wallish was assigned a sensitive task. As the official graphic designer of the Jewish community, he was asked to decorate the entrance hall of the Tel Aviv Museum in preparation for Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The budget at his disposal was a mere 150 lira. The ceremony, as per David Ben-Gurion’s plans, was to be conducted under heavy secrecy.

Otte Wallish, 1941. Photo from the Photo House Collection

Wallish tackled the urgent task with all the energy he had remaining after several sleepless nights designing the first stamp series for the state-in-the-making. Wallish scrambled around Tel Aviv- buying wood for a table from the main department store, a cloth to cover the wall behind the stage (which was covered in nude paintings) and a carpet that would lend a more respectable appearance to the hall. Chairs for the stage were confiscated from the nearby cafes. The meager design budget would not be enough for flags, and it was not yet possible to obtain a picture of the State’s visionary, Theodor Herzl, in stores. He requested these two items from the Keren Hayesod organization (the United Israel Appeal).

 

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When he finished his rounds of purchasing, confiscating and borrowing, the graphic designer suddenly became an interior designer, making use of his artistic intuition to arrange the hall for the momentous occasion. And so, at 11 o’clock the next morning, exactly twenty-four hours after he was assigned the task and just five hours before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Wallish declared the hall ready to make history.

 

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Chen Malul

Have you come to the library looking for Chen Malul? See that teetering mountain of books that's about to collapse? Chen is right behind it. Hobbies: Reading about history, writing about history, talking about history.

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