Caught in the Rain? This Yiddish Umbrella Service Is Precisely What You Need!

Meet the first Jewish start-up for umbrella rentals!


As a Jewish history buff, I spend a lot of time on JPress (the Historical Jewish Press website), and every day I stumble upon another pearl.

A few days ago, I found in the December 31, 1916 issue of the New York Yiddish newspaper Die Wahrheit, what seemed like one of the craziest start-ups I had ever come across in my life: the National Umbrella Service Inc. Not only did the service look innovative, the advertisement was also pretty creative.




Let’s begin with the comic strip at the top. A Jew leaves his house in the morning (you can see that he’s Jewish, right?) holding a weather report that says “Rain Today,” while outside the sun is shining! “Hah. Another prophet!” says the Jews to himself holding up his umbrella. In the next frame, the smiling sun beats down on the fellow, who says: “Good God! How can I get rid of this umbrella!”



In the next picture, it’s pouring outside, and the forlorn Jew says, “I left my umbrella at home!” And in the last illustration, he cries, “Gevalt! Someone stole my umbrella!”

So, how did this start-up work? For those Yiddish-challenged readers among us, the ad says that: across Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn over 1000 umbrella rental stations have been opened. All one had to do was pay the two dollar per year subscription fee and you could borrow, return, fix or exchange a broken umbrella on the spot at no extra cost!

What a concept! This surely promised an end to shmutzicke umbrellas! (The proper Yiddish word for umbrella, by the way is shirem.) While we’re at it, here’s a funny little Yiddish curse: Zol er aropshlingen a shirem un s’zol zikh im efenen in boykh! – “May he swallow an umbrella and have it open up in his belly!”

So what became of this revolutionary idea? To find out, I consulted the American historical newspaper website Chronicling America, where I found more ads for the National Umbrella Service, such as this rather dry one (for such a wet business, and without even a bit of Jewish humor) in the New York Tribune from December 14, 1916.



The fact that the ads ran for just two weeks—from mid-December until the beginning of January—is more than enough proof that the business never really took off. Indeed, the “Business Troubles” section of the June 14, 1917 issue of The Sun, includes an item about the National Umbrella Service filing for bankruptcy.

But why did this umbrella business collapse? Did others succeed where it failed? If a bike-sharing service can make it, why not an umbrella-sharing one? It seems that the people of China don’t read the Yiddish press, and perhaps that’s why a recent venture of theirs failed in similar fashion: In 2017, the Chinese entrepreneur Zhou Shu Ping from the city of Shenzhen launched an umbrella sharing service in Shenzhen and 11 other cities, but within a few months almost all of the project’s 300,000 umbrellas had been stolen.



Another, more modest, umbrella-sharing service called UMBRACITY, is operating for the time being in Vancouver, Canada, with dozens of smart umbrella rental stations scattered in stores across the city. How does it work? There’s an app: push a button on your smartphone and the umbrella is yours.



There are more—in the city of Aarhus in Denmark, the DripDrop service has over 25 umbrella stations throughout the city. The rather unimaginative slogan is: “Happiness is having an umbrella when it rains”



And there are some somewhat less sophisticated services like this one which opened up a few days ago in the Pasir Ris neighborhood in Singapore, dedicated to the memory of Grandma Sylvia.


In any case, whether you’re renting or you’ve decided to buy, we urge you to always have an umbrella at hand during this rainy season. As they say: Men antloyft fun regn, bagegnt men hogl! – “Run away from rain and you get hail!”





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Felix Nussbaum: Painting a Self Portrait of Death in the Holocaust

Felix Nussbaum painted multiple self-portraits during the Holocaust, giving us a unique artistic insight into the experience of one man, among the millions that were murdered.

fear, felix nussbaum

"Fear," by Felix Nussbaum, 1941. Self portrait with his niece Marianne. Oil on canvas. Image from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Imagine witnessing your fate unfolding before your eyes. Imagine having the ability to know what the future holds, to know how death will come and to know that there is no way for you to change that. What would you do with that knowledge in hand? For Felix Nussbaum the answer was obvious. He had dedicated his life to his art and spent his final years illustrating life as a Jew under the Nazi regime through his paintings, sharing his own journey and experiences as a target of persecution and the horrors that came along with being a Jew in the Holocaust, in the best way he knew how.

Felix Nussbaum was born on December 11, 1904, in Osnabrück, Germany into a well-respected and well-off Jewish family. His parents, Phillip and Rahel, recognized their son’s budding artistic talents at a young age. Phillip was also an amateur artist himself in addition to owning an ironworks firm. Felix’s parents decided to encourage their son to develop his natural skill and supported him as he attended different art schools across the country from Hamburg to Berlin. In 1927, Felix held his own art show and later participated in group shows and designed a series of covers for a Berlin-based art magazine.

"The Two Jews," by Felix Nussbaum, 1926. Oil on canvas. The painting features the inside of the synagogue of Osnabrück. Image from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“The Two Jews,” by Felix Nussbaum, 1926. Oil on canvas. The painting features the inside of the synagogue of Osnabrück. Image from the digital collection of the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1932, Felix applied for and was accepted to the Berlin Academy’s Villa Massimo in Rome. In October of the same year, Felix left Berlin and moved to Rome together with his partner, Felka Platek, who was also a budding Jewish artist. Little did he know that he would never return to his home country.

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In December of 1932, Felix received news that a fire had started in his Berlin studio, a space he had rented out to fellow artists for the duration of his absence. He lost over 150 pieces to the flames and was understandably devastated. Just a few months later in the first half of 1933, the Nazi party rose to power and the political and cultural atmosphere took a sharp turn. Dr. Joseph Goebbels visited Rome and made a stop at the German Academy to meet the students. Goebbels gave a lecture on Nazi art doctrine and explained that the Aryan race and heroism were the main themes that the Nazi artist should develop. Felix quickly understood that his time in the Academy was limited as there was no space for him within the world of National-Socialist art.

Felix Nussbaum
“Destruction (1)”, Felix Nussbaum, around 1933. ink and brush on paper. Image from the digital collection of the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Nazi regime, however, did have an immediate impact on Felix’s art as he began painting what he saw as the fall of civilization. His painting, “Destruction,” reflects his feeling of impending doom, showing a couple standing among the architectural ruins and destroyed artworks. Forced to leave Rome and the academy but unable to return to Germany, Nussbaum and Platek moved to Alassio, Italy where they lived comfortably with the support of Felix’s parents.

In 1935, Felix and Felka left Italy and moved to Belgium via Paris, in what became a nomadic existence of exile from their home country. Felix continued his painting at each destination, taking comfort in his work through his art from this period clearly reflects the growing discomfort and anxiety he felt at the ever-increasing danger to the Jewish community.

In 1940, German troops marched on Belgium. Felix Nussbaum was arrested, along with 7,000 others, and sent in a wagon to the internment camp at St. Cyprian. He managed to escape and returned to Brussels where he went into hiding with the help of a friend, an art dealer. Felix, ever the artist, drew the horrors of life in the internment camp. His painting, “Self-portrait in the Camp,” reflects the inhumane and humiliating conditions he experienced while in the camp.

Felix Nussbaum
“Self-Portrait in the Camp,” Felix Nussbaum, 1940. Oil on plywood. Image from the digital collection of the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Throughout his time in hiding, while living in constant fear for his life, he continued to express himself through his art, persistently chronicling the ever-worsening conditions and the perpetual dread that their hiding spot would be discovered by the authorities.

felix nussbaum
“The Damned,” Felix Nussbaum, 1944. Oil on canvas. Image from the digital collection of the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Felix recognized the inevitable and he resigned himself to his predestined fate at the hand of his Jewish identity. He painted his people, the poor and damned. He did not reflect hope or survival in his works, choosing instead to paint from reality.  He painted “Self Portrait with a Jewish Identity Card,” a self-portrait in which he shows himself wearing the identifying yellow star imposed on every Jew, holding his identity card – the card that erased all hope of escape, knowing there was no way to separate himself from that identity. He painted himself backed into a corner with the knowledge that there would be no escape.

Felix Nussbaum
“Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card,” Felix Nussbaum, likely in late 1943. Oil on canvas. Image from the digital collection of the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

His final major work, “The Skeletons Playing for the Dance,” reflected the hopelessness of the situation from his perspective. Skeletons play musical instruments from the ruins of modern society – a cultured society of science, technology, art, and music. Among the skeletons, behind the organ, sits one figure who, while gaunt and malnourished, appears to be alive, suggesting that Felix held some hope that he would count himself among the survivors – a hope that would never be realized.

"Death Triumphant (The Skeletons Playing for the Dance)," Felix Nussbaum, April 1944. Oil on canvas.
“Death Triumphant (The Skeletons Playing for the Dance),” Felix Nussbaum, 1944. Oil on canvas. Image from the digital collection of the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In July 1944, the Gestapo discovered Felix Nussbaum and Felka Platek’s hiding place. The couple was arrested and sent to the Malines transit camp where they were put on the very last transport to Auschwitz on July 31, 1944. They met their untimely deaths on August 4 of that year.

For more on the life and art of Felix Nussbaum, read “Art and Exile – Felix Nussbaum 1904-1944, Exhibition” by Emily D. Bilski essays by Peter Junk, Sybil Milton, Wendelin Zimmer and “Felix Nussbaum: Art Defamed, Art in Exile, Art in Resistance – A Biography” by Eva Berger, Inge Jaehner, Peter Junk, Karl Georg Kaster, Manfred Meinz and Wendelin Zimmer.

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.

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Rare Items: A Glimpse into the Lives of Max Nordau and His Only Daughter, Maxa

A poem denouncing anti-Semitism, correspondence with Zionist leaders, and a ledger documenting important events at the Nordau household are just a few of the items in the collection.


Max and Maxa Nordau

By Dr. Stefan Litt

In November 2016, personal documents, letters and photographs from the estate of French painter Maxa Nordau (1897-1993) were auctioned off in a little-known location, north of Paris.

If her name sounds familiar, it is for a good reason. Maxa was the only daughter of Zionist leader, journalist and physician Max Nordau (1849-1923). She was born in Paris, where she lived for much of her life. The small family was forced into temporary exile for several months during World War I, when her father (an Austrian citizen), was expelled from France as a “hostile resident.” After the war, they were able to return to Paris. Later, throughout the duration of World War II, Maxa lived in the United States. Due to these temporary moves to foreign countries, she became fluent in several languages- French, Spanish, German, English and even Hebrew. Her father was also fluent in German, Hungarian, French, English and Hebrew. Maxa’s archive includes documents in all of these languages.

Among the items of the estate sold at auction were letters, notes and manuscripts which had once belonged to Max Nordau. His personal archive had, in fact, been entrusted to the Central Zionist Archives in 1949. Yet it has since come to light that a considerable number of documents remained in the family’s possession. Thanks to the generous support of donor Mr. Ori Eisen, part of Maxa Nordau’s estate was purchased at the auction, including many of her father Max’s letters and manuscripts. These materials were brought to the National Library of Israel for safe-keeping, but they had been kept in complete disarray. Over the span of several months, the large collection was meticulously organized and catalogued. The manuscripts were restored, the pages having been scattered amongst the entirety of the collection. Now, post-restoration, the collection has been organized into five parts:

1) Correspondence sent and received by Maxa Nordau.

2) Correspondence sent and received by Max Nordau.

3) Personal documents, notes and manuscripts belonging to Max Nordau.

4) Correspondence of members of the Nordau family, including that of Anna, Max’s wife.

5) Other various documents

In all, the list compiling the items of this collection includes 312 entries.


A childhood photograph of painter Maxa Nordau, August 1903. From the Schwadron Collection at the National Library.


There are some particularly interesting items found within the collection. For example, a poem scrawled out in Nordau’s own handwriting:  “To the Anti-Semites” (Den Antisemiten). This poem was published in an 1893 anthology of texts and poems opposing the rising wave of anti-Semitism at the time. Max Nordau’s handwritten manuscript of the poem was mounted on the stationery of the publishing house that published the anthology, and this manuscript is now preserved in the collection. In his poem, Nordau compares a rotten barrel that spoils wine by turning it into vinegar, to a poisoned soul that turns Christian love into hate. In the poem’s second verse, the author appeals to the reader to remember Jesus (forgotten in the heat of Pagan anger towards Jews) and calls for forgiveness towards Christians with the words, “You know not what you do”.


“To the Anti-Semites” (Den Antisemiten) by Max Nordau


The cover of the anthology

Another interesting item in the collection is a letter from Nahum Sokolow to Max Nordau, written in London in December of 1915. The letter indicates that there were stark differences of opinion between the two Zionist leaders on a number of topics. Sokolow proposed not to discuss their philosophical deviations through letters, but rather in face-to-face conversations when he arrived to visit Nordau (who was then living in Madrid).


Nahum Sokolow’s letter to Max Nordau


Two previously unknown letters from Vladimir Jabotinsky to Max’s daughter, Maxa Nordau, were also unearthed in the collection. Written in 1930, the latter of the two letters offers congratulations on the birth of Maxa’s daughter, Claudy. In the letter he also made sure to add well-wishes for the New Year. The letter is quite linguistically unique, as the author switches freely between two languages- English and French.


Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s letter to Maxa Nordau

Among the Nordau family’s internal correspondence is a large collection of hundreds of letters written by Anna Nordau to her daughters between 1914 and 1918. In these letters Anna, originally an opera singer from a Danish Protestant family, reported to her daughters from her previous marriage who were still living in Paris, about her life with Max in the Spanish capital. In most of the letters, she wrote about everyday goings-on. Here and there she boasted about hosting important guests at the Nordau house. Among them were South-American government ministers, as well as the Jerusalem-born orientalist Avraham Shalom Yehuda, a close friend of Max’s.

One of the most interesting items in the Nordau collection is a ledger, kept by Anna Nordau, listing daily expenses, important Nordau events (such as visits and travel) and letters received and sent daily. Between 1907 and 1925, 12,000 incoming letters and 10,000 outgoing letters were recorded in the 406 pages of the ledger. This vast amount of correspondence entering and leaving the Nordau residence impressively illustrates Max Nordau’s central role in the Jewish-Zionist community and, beyond that, his importance as a famous writer and journalist of his time.


A page from the ledger


This collection is also accompanied by an item that has apparently resided at the National Library for quite some time: a compilation of manuscripts which record speeches given by Max Nordau at the Zionist Congresses between 1897 and 1911. Nordau was prone to writing his speeches down in his own handwriting. At one point, all of his manuscripts were collected, bound and handed over to the National Library. It was decided that this item’s rightful place was alongside the other materials in the Nordau collection, which now awaits scholars in the Archives Department of the National Library of Israel.


From Max Nordau’s handwritten speeches to the Zionist Congress


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A Life Story in One Picture: The Photographer Who Fell in the War of Independence

Love on the Wings of a Paper Airplane

A timeless love story cut short by the horrors of the Holocaust. 

A photo from the wedding of Imre and Ilona Kinszki in 1925.

The following story was collected by Centropa in an interview with Judit Kinszki, the daughter of Ilona and Imre Kinszki. Judit’s full oral history interview can be read here.

Ilona Gardonyi was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary.  She came from a large Jewish and religiously observant family that was determined to secure good careers for their children. Though the family came from a modest economic background, two of Ilona’s brothers went on to become doctors.

Ilona graduated from middle school, then a one-year commercial trade school, before getting a job working as a shorthand typist in an office. She worked very hard, taking on overtime and extra projects. Working in the same office was a very skinny, shy young man named Imre Kinszki.

Imre was a highly educated young man who spoke five different languages.  Ilona caught Imre’s eye and he began teasing her, throwing little paper airplanes onto her desk. Ilona, who was a very serious worker, found this to be frustrating and told him off, calling Imre “a stupid little kid.”

Ilona Gardonyi in 1922.
Ilona Gardonyi in 1922. Image courtesy of Centropa.

For Imre, not only did this not deter him, it only encouraged him to continue. Being too shy to ask her face to face, he wrote a note, folded it into another paper airplane and flew it over to her desk. The note read, “Would you like to meet after work?”

The coworkers met outside of office hours in the Farkasret Cemetery. Imre, still working to overcome his shy nature, sat down on a bench and put his hat down next to him, so that Ilona couldn’t sit too close. The couple spent hours together, chatting about science. When he got home that night, Imre announced proudly to his family that he was going to marry Ilona Gardonyi.

Not everyone was pleased. The Kinszkis were upper-middle-class, highly educated, and did not observe many Jewish traditions – if at all. When Imre Kinszki announced that he wanted to marry Ilona, the family expressed their horror – how could their son marry a girl so far beneath his class?

Imre Kinszki. Image courtesy of Centropa.

The Kinszki family gathered together to decide how to handle this new scandal. They determined that their best course of action was to use their connections and have Ilona fired from her job.

Ilona did not let this bring her down. As a talented typist, she was able to quickly find a new position. When Imre found out what his family had done, he went over to Ilona’s new place of employment and proposed marriage on the spot. After a bit of encouragement from her family, Ilona and Imre were married in 1925.

They had nearly 20 years together. In that time Imre and Ilona had two children–Gabor was born in 1926, Judit in 1934. Imre showed a true talent for photography and was quickly becoming one of Hungary’s great modern photographers.

Gabor and Imre Kinszki, 1930. Image courtesy of Centropa.

But history got in the way. Imre never came back from the war.

Like all Jewish families in Hungary at the time, the family suffered tremendously in the Holocaust. Imre was taken for forced labor, first in Hungary and then in Germany. Gabor, who had just turned 18, was deported to Buchenwald. Ilona and little Judit survived the horrors of the Budapest ghetto. Judit, who was just 10 years old, held on to her father’s photographs, keeping them safe for when he would return.

Judit Kinszki. Image courtesy of Centropa.

The Budapest ghetto was liberated on January 17, 1945. Immediately after the violence subsided, Ilona and Judit began visiting the train station every day where they would watch the trains come through, hoping and desperately waiting for the train that would bring Imre and Gabor back to them and dreaming of a reunion that would never come.

There was no news of Gabor for a long time until one day, Ilona found a young man who had known and worked with him. The friend reported that, when the group arrived in Buchenwald, they were was forced off the train and were asked what skills they had. Gabor answered honestly and said he was a student. The young man explained to the women that the Germans immediately tied him up, and, in the cold December morning, hosed him down with water just to watch him freeze to death along with all the unfortunate souls who did not have a practical trade.

A man who had known Imre found Ilona and gave her what little information he could about her husband’s fate.  He said that the train car he and Imre had been traveling in had been unhooked and that the train then left and continued on towards Germany without them. The group then got off the train car and was taken by their Nazi guards on foot towards Sachsenhausen. Imre’s acquaintance explained that the men were taken to spend the night in a barn. He had hidden by burying himself in the hay, unable to continue on due to the severity of his injuries. The Nazis didn’t find him and he managed to survive. The rest of the group, including Imre, marched on to what is now known to have been a death march – but the acquaintance was not aware of this and Ilona held on to her faith that her husband would return.

Ilona Kinszki passed away in 1983. Image courtesy of Centropa.

Even with the later revelation of the facts of what happened on those marches, and despite everything showing otherwise, Ilona refused to declare Imre’s death and waited anxiously for his return, until the day she died in 1983.

Imre Kinszki’s pictures are now considered modernist masterpieces. His daughter, Judit, is an active member of the Cafe Centropa programs and she regularly meets student groups to talk to them about her experiences.

Judit Kinszki at a Cafe Centropa event. Image courtesy of Centropa. Photographer: Róbert Bácsi.

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.