Memories of Yitzhak Rabin

Photographs of the life and work of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as a politician and family man.

יצחק רבין

ברית מילה לנכד הראשון

There are people who are larger than life, and in death, they transform into symbols and myths. As the years go by and memory plays tricks on us, it is easy to replace the person with the symbol. For this reason, there is importance in making an effort to set aside the myth and remember the man.

On this Memorial Day for the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, the National Library presents photographs of his life and work, as a politician and family man. They present Yitzhak as father, grandfather, and husband, a man of few words, but of action and compassion.

The photographs tell a greater story than we ever could. It is the story of a grandfather taking his grandson to the book fair, a husband saying goodbye to his wife before going abroad, and a leader visiting wounded soldiers in a hospital.

All the pictures along with the stories and memories of Yitzhak Rabin weave a greater tale that the myth.

These pictures are from the Dan Hadani Collection, containing thousands of news photographs from the IPPA agency founded by Dan Hadani in 1965 and which operated until the year 2000.

The First Contact with the Jews of Sana’a

During Hermann Burchardt's travels to Yemen in 1901, he came upon one of the most isolated and forgotten communities of the Jewish people. The photographs he sent home caused a sensation throughout the whole of European Jewry.

At the age of 30, Hermann Burchardt decided to leave home and travel around the world to document the most remote communities in existence. During his travels to Yemen in 1901, he came upon one of the most isolated and forgotten communities of the Jewish people. The photographs he sent home caused a sensation throughout the whole of European Jewry.

The search for the “authentic Jew” was a common pursuit among Jewish communities in the 19th century. Many asked themselves the question in one form or another: “Am I really living according to the ways of my ancestors?”

And so, this young German-Jew who had just turned thirty, decided to leave the family business and set off on a journey around the world that would incorporate two of his great passions: photography and the study of ancient and exotic peoples. Hermann Burchadt decided to use his substantial inheritance to rent an apartment in Damascus that would serve as the base for his research expeditions and adventures. He had already studied Arabic and Turkish which he hoped to use to his advantage.



Even before he set off, Burchardt, whose archives are preserved at the National Library of Israel, saw himself as a citizen of the world, a man without limits, able to reach places no European had ever set foot before. On one of his journeys, in 1901, he encountered just such a place. In the middle of the harsh and barren desert he reached the city of Sana’a. On his wanderings around the hilly capital city he was stunned by a group of people he encountered—members of the Sana’a Jewish community, whose ties to other Jewish communities in the world had been almost completely severed for generations.

Together with his large entourage, Burchardt spent almost a year with the community. He got to know them personally, to study and document their customs, listen to their unique life stories, transcribing almost every word in his diary, and for the first time in history, he photographed them.

The article he published in the journal Ost und West included the spectacularly beautiful first-ever photographs of the Yemenite Jewish community. The images were nothing short of a revelation for European Jewry. After a break of thousands of years there was at last a tangible sign of the existence of the Yemenite Jewish community. To some, it seemed as if the world’s most authentic Jews, who had lived completely isolated from any foreign influence, had finally been found. The article so excited the journal’s readership that the photographs were turned into postcards which were sold and circulated by the thousands.

Was this how Jews looked before the Exile? Were these the Jews of the Second Temple? For those who had been overwhelmed by encounters with the Jews living in Ottoman Palestine, the West’s encounter with the isolated and remote community of Sana’a was even more astonishing. They wanted to examine authentic Yemenite siddurs, to analyze the differences between the biblical traditions, and essentially, every tiny scrap of information about their unique customs.

In 1909, while Burchardt was escorting the Italian consul on his way from Sana’a, the adventurous and learned ethnographer convinced the consul to take a route that had never before been traveled by a European. The grand convoy was ambushed and the robbery ended with tragic consequnces: Hermann Burchardt and the Italian consul were killed.

At his funeral, Burchardt was eulogized by an Italian merchant who had befriended him on his last visit to Sana’a. He told of how the Jews of Sana’a now mourned the passing of the famous adventurer, who had placed them in his heart.


Letter from Walter Rathenau to Stefan Zweig

Rathenau was a classic example of a German Jew who tried to become integrated into society-at-large, and even contributed to the strengthening of nationalist views

Walter Rathenau (1867-1922) was born in Berlin to a prominent Jewish family. His father was the well-known industrialist Emil Rathenau, the founder of AEG. Walter studied physics, chemistry, philosophy and engineering, and after completing his studies he was integrated into the management of his family’s business affairs. In 1912, Rathenau was appointed Chairman of the Board of AEG, and was on many other boards of leading industrial companies. Due to AEG’s specialization in electrical appliances and technical equipment, Rathenau played an important role in logistical planning, supply of raw material, and industrial contributions to the German war effort. Rathenau was officially appointed by the German War Ministry to be responsible for supplying raw materials to the country’s military industry.

During the war, Rathenau’s open support of Germany grew stronger, and he even demanded that harsh actions be taken against Germany’s enemies. After the war, Rathenau was appointed Minister of Reconstruction and then, in the end of January 1922, he was appointed Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic. To this day, this is the highest position that a Jew has ever filled in a German government. Just six months later, while on his way to the office, Rathenau was assassinated by extremist right-wing activists.

The earliest documentation of the relationship between Rathenau and the Austrian author Stefan Zweig held in the National Library’s collections is from 1907. Rathenau greatly appreciated literature and art, and even tried his hand at writing. The two men were known to have met a number of times and exchanged views about art and politics.

Therefore, the background to the letter presented here from October 24, 1914 is not surprising. The French author Romain Rolland, a pacifist and activist against the war and supporter of aid projects for prisoners of war, had approached Zweig a number of days earlier with the idea of assembling a forum of European public figures from all fields and disciplines in order to work together against the “war madness”. Rolland asked Zweig to recruit additional people from among his acquaintances.

Zweig approached Walther Rathenau, among others, but in October 1914 the latter was no longer interested in preserving the peace, as illustrated in Rathenau’s reply. Rathenau was fully invested in his new post at the German War Ministry and did not want to relate to efforts to stop the war or discuss the activities of the German army in Belgium (the bombing of the city of Louvain) or in France (the bombing of the city of Reims), which had already horrified the world in the first months of the war.

Zweig’s and Rathenau’s positions aptly illustrate a few of the possibilities from which German Jews, in their outstanding position, could choose. Zweig was never enamored of war, and certainly not of the nationalist phenomena that were very common in almost every country that fought in World War I. He saw himself as a citizen of the world, and fervently believed in the capabilities of European culture.

In contrast, Rathenau was a classic example of a German Jew who tried to become integrated into society-at-large, and even contributed to the strengthening of nationalist views. Like his father, as well as the tradesman and collector James Simon and the shipping magnate Albert Ballin (all Jews), Walter Rathenau was friendly with Kaiser Wilhelm II. Like the others, Rathenau even served as an informal advisor to the Kaiser. Nonetheless, this role as well as his political positions during the first years of the Weimar Republic did not ultimately protect him from extremists and anti-Semitism. Herein lies the tragedy of Walter Rathenau and other figures from this period, who, in the eyes of Germany’s extreme right, would always remain first and foremost Jews and as such, the enemy of the German people.


War Ministry, Berlin. 24 October 1914
Leipziger Strasse 5

To the Honorable Mr. Zweig,
Unfortunately, I am unable to fulfill your request. I am able to convey an idea only to the extent that I identify with it, and this is not the case regarding Rolland’s matter. I therefore request that you absolve me of the burden of carrying out your endearing request.

Together with the letter, I received a letter from Von Aiden*, to which I have replied, as you will see in the attached. In it, you will see my arguments.

In this war, people speak and write too much. Be the reasons as they may: now the nations need to speak, and until they become silent – the individual has no word. In my view, what is written and spoken now of Louvain , Rheims and other matters is not important. The bill will be submitted when the war is over, and this bill will be objective.
I would not be able to live had I not created for myself a job that enables me [to wage] an independent battle – a battle that relates to resources. To stand behind the front and to give speeches, this is a matter for clergy and professors – I am unable to act thus.

Rolland’s activity on behalf of military and civilian prisoners is not tainted by these considerations. It is respectable but I am unable to join it, since my day is full of work that extends halfway into the night.

I hope to see you soon and bless you.



Celebrating the Exodus from Egypt Behind the Lines of World War I

Abraham Adolf Fraenkel, a doctor of mathematics, served in the German army during the Great War and organized a Passover Seder for his fellow Jewish soldiers.


During the Great War in the early 20th-century young Jewish men all across Europe joined their peers in enlisting in the military to serve their countries, with over 100,000 Jews joining the German army alone. Included in the ranks of these brave men was the Bavarian soldier Abraham Adolf Fraenkel, a doctor of mathematics, who later recounted his experiences as a Jew in World War I in his memoir, “Recollections of a Jewish Mathematician in Germany.”

In his memoirs, Fraenkel describes the difficulties he faced as a traditional Jew in the military “especially regarding food but also concerning prayer, phylacteries, not shaving and many other things.” Though he was able to maintain his kosher diet, he found himself rarely able to maintain the traditions of Shabbat.

abraham a fraenkel
“Recollections of a Jewish Mathematician in Germany,” by Abraham A. Fraenkel. Edited by Jiska Cohen-Mansfield and translated by Allison Brown. Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016.

In 1915, Abraham found himself serving as a medical orderly for the army, which included such responsibilities as transcribing autopsy reports from dictation and assisting in minor surgeries. During his two years of service in the field hospitals, Fraenkel was also authorized by the Bavarian Ministry of Culture Affairs to serve as the Jewish chaplain to his peers in the military. While this position did not reduce the responsibilities he had in his day to day service, it did offer him a chance to stay connected to his religion and to assist others in maintaining their traditions as well.

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In 1915, Fraenkel was stationed at the military hospital in the French city of Cambrai. Fraenkel explains in his book that he was responsible for the religious affairs of the Jewish soldiers. He filled the gap between their religious needs, and the availability of the army chaplain rabbis, who were not able to always be where they were needed. Fraenkel took his position seriously, arranging for prayer services in the field and ensuring the religious soldiers could celebrate their holidays as in line with the tradition as possible.

Abraham A Fraenkel
Abraham A. Fraenkel, from the National Library of Israel Collections.

At the end of March 1915, Fraenkel prepared to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover and prepared a list of the local soldiers who were interested in joining the Seder, the traditional meal where the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt is recounted, which was set to take place on the 29th and 30th of March.

“Participants are asked to specify if they plan to attend both evening meals or just the first,” read the registration sheet. Participants were advised to request leave for religious reasons so they would be granted a permit to attend the festivities. Registrants were advised that they would only receive their leave on the day of the holiday and it was suggested that if they planned to attend the holiday prayer services, they bring their own prayer books – if they had them of course.

List of Seder participants. From the National Library of Israel collections.

A total of nine soldiers registered for both of the Passover Seder including men serving as medics, logistics officers, combat engineers and one who was serving in the newly formed German air force who did not specify which Seder he planned to attend, perhaps because he knew there was a chance he would be called away at the last minute.

During the second half of World War I, Fraenkel transferred to a weather-forecasting unit, a job that better suited his outstanding talents as a mathematician. At the end of the war, Abraham Frankel returned to Marburg University, and later, went on to serve as a professor of mathematics in the city of Kiel, in northern Germany. In 1926, the mathematician visited the Land of Israel together with his family, and three years later, he moved to the country and was appointed as a professor of mathematics at The Hebrew University. In 1938, he was even chosen to be rector of the university. In Israel, he published mathematical works and devised many mathematical terms for concepts that until that time did not exist in the Hebrew language.

Abraham Adolf Fraenkel, from the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

Fraenkel kept the list of Seder participants in 1915 with his personal belongings and preserved it for many decades. The list of Seder participant arrived at the National Library of Israel together with the rest of his personal archive.

Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Litt for his assistance 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.


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