Blog – Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Thu, 19 Apr 2018 11:36:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 https://www.bh.org.il/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-512-32x32.png Blog – Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il 32 32 From Victim to Aggressor: When Jews Start to Fight Back – All the way to Independence https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/from-victim-to-aggressor-when-jews-start-to-fight-back-all-the-way-to-independence/ Wed, 18 Apr 2018 07:47:42 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=33414 In 1903 the young poet Chaim Nachman Bialik was sent to Kishinev, Russia, to cover the pogroms there. He faced horrible sights: 49 brutalized dead bodies, 92 severely wounded, dozens of Jewish shops ruined and looted. But what upset him even more were the humiliation, the helplessness, the shredded self-respect of the Jews – these [...]

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In 1903 the young poet Chaim Nachman Bialik was sent to Kishinev, Russia, to cover the pogroms there. He faced horrible sights: 49 brutalized dead bodies, 92 severely wounded, dozens of Jewish shops ruined and looted. But what upset him even more were the humiliation, the helplessness, the shredded self-respect of the Jews – these scarred the young man’s soul forever. He expressed his rage and frustration as to the passive, weak reaction of the Jews, in the sarcastic poem In the City of Slaughter בעיר ההריגה, which became his life’s work.

The poiema, which included harsh accusations against the Jews who did not try to resist, just prayed in their hiding places while the Russians were raping their wives and slaughtering their children, has shaken the Jewish world. The very image of the submissive Jew was on trial, and it was clear to everybody – everything had to change.

Victims of the Kishinev pogroms, Russia, 1903. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Geresh Perlov

Victims of the Kishinev pogroms, Russia, 1903. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Geresh Perlov

Historian Anita Shapira describes in her wonderful book “The Dove’s Sword” (1992) the revolution in the minds of the Jews regarding the use of force for resistance and self-defense, since the Kishinev pogroms until the foundation of the State of Israel. In much simpler words: how did the bullied kid become the bully? Shapira marks the Kishinev events as a turning point from which the Jews’ aversion towards violence, deeply embedded in their tradition and world view, turned into a mentality of active resistance and self-defense.

Turning the image of the old “week, short, crooked legs, clumsy, lame postured Jew” described by Max Nordau, into a new state of mind figuring a Jewish muscular man was a long difficult process. The Zionists had to create a whole new national psychology, and the main change factor was the Israeli Poalim (workers) movement, which led the Zionist movement until the foundation of the State.

“The Defensive Ethos” – that is how Shapira called the main strategy of the Poalim movement regarding the use of force after the Balfour declaration until World War II. “When we came to Israel, we did do so in order to kill or get killed. We were idealists. We wished not to shed blood but we realized we had to, if we wanted to be independent” – the words of Ben Gurion, who thought there are two prototypes in the mind of each Jew: the ghetto-like and the Zionist, therefore he led a strategy of self-defense use of force only.

Buying flags for Independence Day celebrations, Israel 1950. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Buying flags for Independence Day celebrations, Israel 1950. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

According to this outline the “Hagana” was established in 1920. Whereas the main goals of the Poalim were Aliyah, settlement, and construction, the use of force was perceived as a necessity only. Right movements, such as Beitar, idealized and idolized the use of force, admired Trumpeldor and his military heritage, and lived by the motto: “To die or to conquer the mountain”, declared by the charismatic Jabotinsky.

The defensive ethos held by Ben Gurion and his partners lasted over 20 years. Neither the 1929 riots, nor the white books, or even the three years Arab revolt of 1936 could change their basic approach of restraint. Shapira explained that the restraint policy was in fact a rationalization of the ancient Jewish withdrawing from innocent blood shed. The bullied boy would not hit back just yet.

The shift from defensive to offensive took place after World War II and the holocaust. Rage, insult and humiliation at the atrocities of the Nazis, as well as bitter disappointment from the victory of the Labor party in Britain resulted in an attitude reverse. The militant “Hemeri Haivri” movement was set, in which Hagana members cooperated with Etzel and Lechi men to plan terror attacks against the British.

Soldiers, Independence Day parade, 1960’s, Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Soldiers, Independence Day parade, 1960’s, Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

These operations did not wipe out the anti-force approach. After the November 1 1945 railways sabotage, Chaim Weizman – president of the World Zionist Organization – declared: I express my total objection to any violence as a mean to achieve our goals. He kept holding this world view until his last day. “Hameri” was active for several months, and after Operation Agatha of June 1946, the Zionist leadership deserted terror and returned to diplomatic efforts.

The next turning point was in March 1948, when “Plan D” was executed, some three months after the November 29 U.N. vote. At those days the situation of the Jewish Yishuv was deteriorating: there were 1,100 lives already lost; a long siege on Jerusalem; smaller settlements were surrounded by the Arab enemy. In addition, there has been a change in American policy, as the Americans considered renouncing the division plan in order to calm the conflict.

Those were crucial days and the Zionist leaders realized an extreme move was in place. Plan D was formulated under Ben Gurion and the Hagana headquarter, shifting from defense strategy to attack. The plan was a success, and in fact won the war: hundreds of Arab villages were taken by force; “Nachshon” operation was set; similar operations achieved a territorial contiguity.

For 2,000 years the Jewish people was captured in a passive state of mind, then after 40 years of restrained Zionism – the rage just burst out. In six weeks, 300,000 Arab civilians left their homes;  historians, though they have various views on the circumstances of the Arab’s flee, agree that if it wasn’t for Plan D, the state of Israel could not have been established. Some reckon that the plan laid the foundation to Israeli militarism, while others claim that if you wish to build “a villa in the jungle”, you can’t fear all the wood chipping involved.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

Fireworks on Independence Day, Haifa, Israel 1960’s. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Fireworks on Independence Day, Haifa, Israel 1960’s. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

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One Joke Too Far: the Real Story of Hershele https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/one-joke-far-real-story-hershele/ Tue, 17 Apr 2018 10:34:06 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=33381 There are so many Jewish jokes and tales out there, with hardly anything to do with real events or people. Take for example the case of the wise men of Chelm: though Chelm is an actual city, it had a perfectly normal population of both wise and stupid. No one really knows why Chelm entered [...]

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There are so many Jewish jokes and tales out there, with hardly anything to do with real events or people. Take for example the case of the wise men of Chelm: though Chelm is an actual city, it had a perfectly normal population of both wise and stupid. No one really knows why Chelm entered folklore as a fool’s town. And on the contrary, the figure of Juha – the protagonist of jokes and tales in Muslim countries, was not an actual person as far as we know, yet was widely used as a literal joker by both Jews and none-Jews, just like the German Till Eulenspiegel. However one Jewish eastern European protagonist – Hershele Ostropoler – was in fact a real man, who told one Joke too many.

Good old Hershele is famous for some of the most foolish conducts, but also for being, like many other literary jokers, a critical factor who ridiculed rabbis, rich men, gentiles, and all strong figures that normal people will not dare to mess with. Hershele’s weapons were extraordinary wit, harsh criticism, but hardly any malice. It feels like Hershele jokes have been around for many generations, but in fact they were first recorded 97 years ago, by Chajim Bloch. The actual Hershele apparently lived in the 18th century. So who was the man of Ostropol, and why did he become so famous?

Beggars and fools: stories I heard from my Zeide (grandpa), by Simms Taback. From the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Courtesy of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a present from Gale Taback, Jason Taback and Lisa Taback-Dean

Beggars and fools: stories I heard from my Zeide (grandpa), by Simms Taback. From the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Courtesy of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a present from Gale Taback, Jason Taback and Lisa Taback-Dean

Researcher Prof. David Asaf revealed that Hershele served as the joker in the court of the famous Admor, rabbi Baruch of Medzhybizh. The Admor was quite a character himself, widely known for his awful temper. The grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, he felt superior to all, and would not cooperate with other Admorim. He added kings’ like manners to the Admor’s title and function, passed from father to heir. Rabbi Baruch was not the kind of man you want to upset. Evidential to the relations between Hershele and the Admor of Medzhybizh are the works by Avrom Ber Gotlober, an anti Hasidism enlightened author who published satirical writings pointed against the rabbinical authorities, and against Hasidism in particular, which he hated and despised. The rabbi of Medzhybizh’s personality interested Gotlober, and that’s how he found out about the real Hershele.

Chajim Bloch, a German book about Hershele, the Jewish Till Eulenspiegel, probably the earliest collection of Hershele stories. (from the blog עונג שבת by David Asaf)

Chajim Bloch, a German book about Hershele, “The Jewish Till Eulenspiegel” – probably the earliest collection of Hershele stories. From the blog עונג שבת by David Asaf

According to Gotlober, since the rabbi was known for his anger and bad moods, he employed a full time joker. Possibly it was a common practice among Admorim, much like the King’s jester, whose job was to amuse the king and, to some extent, express a bit of criticism, which was forbidden for all the others. Gotlober claims that the joker’s name was Zvi, aka Hirshil Ostroplir. Hirsh means Zvi (deer) in Hebrew, then the name rendered as Hershele Ostropoler. He was cunning, foolish, an expert in plots planning and in diverting the Zadik from sorrow to happiness and from anger to laughter. It seems he was the only one who knew how to lift up the sullen rabbi’s spirit.

One time, however, Hershele went too far. According to Gotlober he made a joke about his Admor, that was too much. Well aware of his rabbi’s faults, he pointed them out in a story which though did not mention the rabbi specifically, has managed to upset the Admor. Furious than ever before, he ordered his followers to take the impertinent joker and throw him from the roof to teach him a lesson – which they did. Hershele did not survive the fall and died. He was murdered because reality, unlike the world of jokes and tales – is tough. People use jokes to make fun on those who can not be made fun otherwise, but for Zvi Hershil the joke resulted in a death penalty.

Hershele Ostropoler King of Jokers, Tel Aviv 1947. By Isaac Hertzberg. Cover illustration by Bina Gvirtz

Hershele Ostropoler King of Jokers, Tel Aviv 1947. By Isaac Hertzberg. Cover illustration by Bina Gvirtz

Throughout the years the popular character of Hershel was formed as a cunning, somewhat foolish man. He was the protagonist of endless jokes and tales. His popularity thrived in 1921 when Chajim Bloch published a book with jokes in German, where he was referred to as “The Jewish Till Eulenspiegel”, and a year later, when Alter Drujanow published the great jokes anthology (ספר הבדיחה והחידוד) which included lots of Hershele jokes, reflecting the lifestyle of the Jews in Easter Europe.

Hershele, Juha and the wise men of Chelm on a wall in the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Photo: Elad Sarig

Hershele, Juha and the wise men of Chelm on a wall in the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Photo: Elad Sarig

Examining Hershele’s biography we must be careful and remember this: most of what we know about him was written by a man who detested and loathed the rabbi of Medzhybizh and wished to focus on his vicious temper. However we can assume that Gotlober did not and could not make it all up. Current researchers agree that Zvi Hershele did live and die, and became a literary figure who simply laughed at everyone and everything – just like the real man did.

The exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” is displayed in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot”. Hershele Ostropoler is there too.

For further reading in Hebrew: David Asaf’s blog: עונג שבת

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Big Ben: The Hollywood Screenwriter Who fought the Code of Silence https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/big-ben-the-hollywood-screenwriter-who-fought-the-code-of-silence/ Thu, 12 Apr 2018 11:07:40 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=33334 It was a cold night in January of 1943. Two friends were walking in the fifth avenue in New York. Children were making snow men on the sidewalks and the showcases still had remains of bright neon lights decoration from New Year’s Eve celebrations. Then the two men sat on a bench under a street [...]

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It was a cold night in January of 1943. Two friends were walking in the fifth avenue in New York. Children were making snow men on the sidewalks and the showcases still had remains of bright neon lights decoration from New Year’s Eve celebrations. Then the two men sat on a bench under a street light and one of them pulled out a week old Swiss newspaper. He read out loud in his friend’s ear; it was an item about a proposal made by the Romanian government to Britain and U.S.A. to allow 70,000 Jews from Transnistria to flee from Romania for a payment of 50 dollars per head. The proposal was to expire should the Nazis invade the area – which they were about to do any day.

The two were composer Kurt Weil and script writer Ben Hecht, who was twice awarded the Academy Award, both were affiliated Jews and could feel their heart break at the news. They also felt fortunate, safe and protected from a terrible fate thousands of miles away.

Hecht’s extensive contacts in Hollywood allowed his to verify the Swiss story. He wasn’t surprised to hear that the American and British governments silenced the Romanian suggestion. Using his talent and sarcasm, he published full page ads in all New York papers: “For Sale To Humanity 70,000 Jews Guaranteed Human Beings at $50 A Piece”. After this title the ad explained laconically that 3.5 million dollars can save 70,000 Jews from Romania from the Nazi murderers. It was a simple math.

Ben Hecht, 1949

Ben Hecht, 1949

The complying leadership of American Jewry did not approve of Hecht’s pageant. Rabbi Stephan Weiz, head of the Jewish community, published the following response: “The Jewish American Congress in accordance with Jewish Official organizations wish to clarify that no confirmation of the alleged offer by Romania to allow exit of 70,000 Jews was ever accepted, there for there is no call for such a collection”

However four years later it turned out that Hecht was right. Bartley Crum of the Anglo-American committee indeed confirmed that an actual offer from the Romanians was rejected by the Roosevelt as well as by the British. Years later Hecht wrote: the 70,000 Jews that could be saved were gathered in barns, sunk in gasoline and burnt and shot to death, running out like screaming torches.

Back to 1943 though. Hecht would not rest. With his sharpened pen, his Hollywood glam and mainly his humanistic values, he joined the Bergson group headed by Hillel Kook (aka Peter Bergson), and together they struggled to raise the public awareness to the Holocaust. The battle over public awareness had some powerful opposition. The most popular daily, New York Times, was directed by the assimilated Jewish publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who insisted on silencing every news items about the Holocaust, or placing them in the back pages, along with tennis shoes and canned fruit commercials. Sulzberger insisted that the Jews were a religion, and not a nation, therefore he had nothing in common with other Jews in Europe. Hecht tried to get his friends from Hollywood on his side but got nothing but their cold shoulder. At that time they all tried very hard to renounce their Jewish identity, fearing that their support might cause Anti-Semitic reactions against them and their careers.

Young Jewish refugees from Europe in the cafeteria, Fort Ontario, Oswego, USA, 1944 Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Young Jewish refugees from Europe in Fort Ontario, Oswego, USA, 1944 Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Since Hecht joined the Revisionist movement, the political Nemesis of “Mapai” and the Jewish Agency, he was loathed by the Zionist officials. They even removed his name from credit lists when his films were screened in Britain because of his support in the dissidents.

But things were finally reaching a turning point due to a show he produced with Hillel Kook, called “We Will Never Die”, performed at Madison Square Garden in March 1943 with music by Hecht’s friend, Kurt Weil. The audience of some 40,000 people heard about the atrocities of the Holocaust for the very first time. With impressive scenery presenting the Tablets of the Law, and a moving finale of Kaddish reading, the show was a great success. They performed again and again, in Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles and other large cities. Eleanor Roosevelt published a sympathetic article about the fate of European Jewry. Mass demonstrations were held across America. On October 9, 1943, a day before Yom Kippur, a delegation of 400 orthodox rabbis marched towards the White House to meet the president regarding the Holocaust.

All these actions made impressive impact. On November 9, 1943 the congress decided to pass a law for forming a governmental body to deal with refugees and in January 1944 the War Refugee Board which was responsible for rescuing holocaust survivors was formed. 200,000 Hungarian Jews were rescued due to the efforts of the board, that was only established thanks to the struggle of Ben Hecht and his friends, whose story was excluded from Israeli history books and memorial sites just because they were on the wrong side of the political map.

Eleanor Roosevelt with Rabbi Israel Goldstein at a gathering of Jewish community leaders, USA, 1944. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Eleanor Roosevelt with Rabbi Israel Goldstein at a gathering of Jewish community leaders, USA, 1944. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Decades later, Hecht published his book “Perfidy”, a harsh indictment against the Jewish leadership during the Holocaust. In his book he accused the Jewish leaders in America and the labor party who stood deliberately in the way of the Revisionists’ rescuing efforts.

“These organizations, these philanthropists, these timorous Jewish lodge members in Zion, London and America – these Zionist leaders who let their six million kinsmen burn, choke, hang, without protest, with indifference, and even with a glint of anti-Semitic cunning in their political plannings – I sum up against them. These factotums, these policy-makers, the custodians of the Jewish future in Palestine who hung on to their jobs, who lorded it over their real estate holdings in Palestine, who obeyed the British demand that no ruckus be raised about Europe’s Jews being murdered, and that nothing be done to disturb the British sign hung out over all the ports of Palestine – “No Jews Wanted” – these Zionist men and women I haul into the prisoner’s dock of this book.”

Ben Hecht died in 1964 in New York. Many friends from the Revisionist movement came to pay their last respect, including Menachem Begin, who later became Israel’s Prime Minister.

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Uncle Hannes: The Dutch Farmer Who Saved My Father from the Nazis https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/uncle-hannes-dutch-farmer-saved-father-nazis/ Wed, 11 Apr 2018 06:52:54 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=33316 In 1963 the Israeli foreign ministry invited Johannes Bogaard, a Dutch farmer, to Israel on an official visit. He was awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” title by Yad Vashem, the National Holocaust Memorial Authority, for saving some 300 Jewish children from certain death during the Holocaust, between 1941 and 1945. The ceremony included planting [...]

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In 1963 the Israeli foreign ministry invited Johannes Bogaard, a Dutch farmer, to Israel on an official visit. He was awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” title by Yad Vashem, the National Holocaust Memorial Authority, for saving some 300 Jewish children from certain death during the Holocaust, between 1941 and 1945. The ceremony included planting a tree in his honor.

Bogaard was born in 1891 in a small village called Nieuw Vennep in Holland. He had hardly any formal education, just two years in elementary school, then since the age of 8 he worked at the family’s farm, and as he grew up and married, he had his own farm. He was a devoted Calvinist, for whom the Bible was a constant companion and Jews were known as “God’s chosen people.”

Jewish orphans after the war, who were in hiding and survived. Amsterdam, 1945. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Jewish orphans after the war, who were in hiding in Holland and survived. Amsterdam, 1945. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

When the Nazis (who invaded Holland in 1940) began deporting all the Jews of Holland to concentration camps, Bogaard made up his mind – he had to hide them in order to save their lives. He contacted a Jewish orphanage in Amsterdam and gradually, one small group at the time, started to transfer the children to the country side, where he had hosting families for them. It wasn’t easy to persuade Dutch families to hide Jewish children, as they all knew they were risking their own life and their own children. The Nazis made it very clear that death penalty would be imposed on those who helped the Jews. Some families hosted the kids in hiding places, and some pretended to be their hosting relatives.

Bogaard became more and more occupied with his rescue operation, and left the farm in the hands of his wife, sons, and two brothers.

While he was getting short of hosting families, there were more and more misplaced children, so he had a long bunker constructed in his fields, covered in hay, with two exits. This bunker was a temporary hiding place for children before he was able to bring them to a family. At times, 30 children or more were hiding there.

Westerbork concentration camp after the liberation, Holland, May 5 1945. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of J. Rosen, Amsterdam

Westerbork concentration camp after the liberation, Holland, May 5 1945. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of J. Rosen, Amsterdam

The kids called him Omm Hannes (uncle Hannes), and his reputation as a rescuer reached many people. He started to receive lots of personal cries for help from Jews who wished to hide their children. His family took care of the kids while he was most of the time away from home, taking care of funds, food, fake documents and recruiting volunteers.

In October 1943 the Dutch local police heard about the rescue operation and found out about the hidden bunker, from the village’s butcher apprentice, who suspected the Bogaards for buying large amounts. Armed Dutch policemen, led by Nazis, raided the farm one day, while 27 Jewish kids and one Christian young man, member of the Dutch resistance, where hiding in the bunker. The resistance man faced the front end of the bunker, pointing one single small pistol at the armed squad, while shouting at the children to leave through the rear end and run to the sugar beet fields. He was killed in seconds, but his brave action allowed all the children to escape and hide in the fields.

At the same time Bogaard was away. The Nazis burnt down the farm, sent his brother and his 19 years old son to Sachsenhausen, where they perished, and also murdered his old father and hung him at the doorway of the ruined farmhouse. Coming back home late at night by bus, Johannes was warned not to return to his village. Even after this horrible punishment, he went on rescuing over 300 children until the end of the war in 1945.

יוהאנס בוכארד. חסיד אומות עולם

יוהאנס בוכארד. חסיד אומות עולם

My father, Arje Paz (1936-1982), was seven years old that day, when the Nazis raided the Bogaard’s farm. He was one of the 27 children who escaped and saved. He used to tell us that the sugar beet short field was very thorny and that he was barefoot, because an older girl in the bunker was repairing his socks. He waited for hours and at night, a stranger came and took him on his bike to another farm nearby, there they agreed to hide him for some time. Arje came to Israel in 1949 and settled in Nazareth Illit. In 1963, on the occasion of the “Righteous Among the Nations” ceremony, he met with his rescuer, Johannes Bogaard, which must have been a heart stirring meeting for both of them.

Uncle Hannes died in 1974, when he was 83 years old.

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The “Typhus Epidemic” that Saved Thousands https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/typhus-epidemic-saved-thousands/ Sun, 08 Apr 2018 13:08:30 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=33204 During the Holocaust a number of incredibly brave individuals risked their lives to save those of their friends, neighbors, or even the lives of strangers. One of the most remarkable stories of courage and creative thinking in the face of danger is that of Dr. Eugene Lazowski, who managed to create an entire typhus “epidemic” [...]

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During the Holocaust a number of incredibly brave individuals risked their lives to save those of their friends, neighbors, or even the lives of strangers. One of the most remarkable stories of courage and creative thinking in the face of danger is that of Dr. Eugene Lazowski, who managed to create an entire typhus “epidemic” in order to keep the Nazis at bay.

Dr. Lazowski (whose original name was Eugeniusz Sławomir Łazowski) was born in Częstochowa, Poland in 1913. In 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, Dr. Lazowski was a young physician who had recently finished medical school and who was serving as a doctor in the Polish Army. After the outbreak of the war, Dr. Lazowski was sent to practice in the town of Rozwadów, a town in southeastern Poland with a large Jewish population.

When Dr. Lazowski arrived in Rozwadów the town was under German occupation, and by the 1940s a ghetto had been established. Although he was forbidden from providing any form of aid to the Jews, as both a Catholic and a medical professional Dr. Lazowski was determined to help them as much as possible, regardless of the danger to himself. Though he could not openly treat the town’s Jews, a system developed whereby if a Jew required medical assistance someone would hang a rag on Dr. Lazowski’s gate (which bordered the ghetto). Dr. Lazowski would then know to visit the ghetto at night, under cover of darkness, and provide medical aid.

Jews from Rynamow and the surrounding area in the town square before deportation, August 1942. Dr. Lazowski’s brave efforts ensured that the Jews of Rozwadów did not meet a similar fate (Courtesy of Dr. Zvi Rozen, Israel, Bernard H. and Miriam Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot—The Museum of the Jewish People)

Jews from Rynamow and the surrounding area in the town square before deportation, August 1942. Dr. Lazowski’s brave efforts ensured that the Jews of Rozwadów did not meet a similar fate (Courtesy of Dr. Zvi Rozen, Israel, Bernard H. and Miriam Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot—The Museum of the Jewish People)

Crucially, as it turned out, it was not only the town’s Jews who sought Dr. Lazowski’s help. At one point a Polish man came to see Dr. Lazowski and his partner, Dr. Sanislaw Matlewitz. The man had been conscripted by the Germans to work as a forced laborer, and was due to return to the labor camp after two weeks of leave to see his family. The man was frantic; he desperately did not want to return, but he knew that if he failed to report back he and his family would be arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Coincidentally, Dr. Matlewicz had already been researching typhus and possible treatments and vaccines. Over the course of his work, he discovered that injecting a person with a dead strain of typhus (Proteus OX19) would be enough for them to test positive for the disease without actually causing them any harm. This was a useful discovery; the Nazis were particularly fearful of typhus and its potential to spread and become epidemic, and imposed a number of rules in order to track and prevent its spread; doctors were required to report suspected typhus cases and send blood samples to German labs for testing and confirmation, and various procedures were put into place to deal with confirmed cases.

The doctors saw an opportunity to help not only the Polish worker, but Rozwadów’s Jewish residents as well. While Jews with confirmed cases of typhus would have been killed immediately, non-Jews were quarantined. Since the Polish worker was so desperate, and was due to report back for work imminently, he became the doctors’ first test case. And indeed, after injecting their Polish patient with the dead typhus strain, the results of his typhus test came back positive and he did not have to return to work. While Dr. Matlewicz feared arousing Nazi suspicions and ultimately left, Dr. Lazowski began injecting non-Jews who came to him with typhus-like symptoms (such as the cold or stomach flu) with this dead strain, reassuring them that it was a precautionary measure. He would then take blood samples and send them to Nazi-run labs, even taking care for the injections to follow the patterns that an actual typhus epidemic would follow. Within two months, the Nazis concluded that a typhus epidemic had broken out in Rozwadów and quarantined the area. No one was allowed in—and, more significantly, no one was allowed out. This meant that the Jews within the quarantine zone were not deported from the town to concentration and death camps.

Soldiers in the Polish Army, 28th Battalion, Poland 1930 (Courtesy of Avia Shoham, Israel, Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot)

Soldiers in the Polish Army, 28th Battalion, Poland 1930 (Courtesy of Avia Shoham, Israel, Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot)

The Nazis, however, eventually grew suspicious—particularly since no one seemed to be dying in this “epidemic.” A group of German doctors and soldiers was sent to Rozwadów to investigate. Once they arrived, they were greeted by Dr. Lazowski, who had made sure to provide them with a large meal, complete with copious amounts of alcohol. As the senior Nazi official became increasingly intoxicated, he sent his underlings to examine the patients. Dr. Lazowski, meanwhile had arranged for the sickest-looking patients to be present in the clinic for the visit. Fearing infection, and lacking experience, the younger doctors satisfied themselves by merely taking blood samples, which served to confirm the “typhus epidemic,” without providing any further analysis that would have exposed Dr. Lazowski and his plan. The Jews of Rozwadów—and Dr. Lazowski’s family—remained safe.

Dr. Lazowski subsequently expanded his work to the 12 villages surrounding Rozwadów, increasing the number of people under his care, and Jews under his protection. Eventually, however, the Germans once again grew suspicious of Dr. Lazowski and the “epidemic,” and were less inclined to satisfy themselves with a short visit to check in on him. A German soldier tipped off Dr. Lazowski that the Gestapo were planning on arresting him. Dr. Lazowski and his family fled the area, bringing his work to an end. However, it is estimated that between 1939 and 1942 Dr. Lazowski saved approximately 8,000 Jewish people in Rozwadów and the surrounding area.

In 1958, Dr. Lazowski and his family immigrated to Chicago, Illinois where Dr. Lazowski resumed practicing medicine. In 1976 he became a professor pediatrics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he worked until he retired in 1988. It took years until Dr. Lazowski’s remarkable work became known; Dr. Lazowski was reluctant to speak about his wartime experiences, both because of his natural modesty, and because he was worried he would be in trouble for his actions during the war. But in 1980 he published an article in which he discussed his wartime activities; later, in 1993 Dr. Lazowski published Prywatna Wojna (My Private War), which was widely read in Poland. As a result of the publicity surrounding the book, Dr. Lazowski returned to Rozwadów in 2000 as part of a documentary about his wartime heroism. There he was greeted warmly, and with a 3-day celebration held in his honor.

Dr. Lazowski passed away on December 16, 2016, at age 92, in Eugene, Oregon. As Ryan Bank, the filmmaker who directed a documentary about Dr. Lazowski put it: “Dr. Lazowski is truly a hero in the utmost sense of the word. He risked his life to save others simply because it was the right thing to do. His story must live in so that future generations can learn from what he did”.

Dr. Eugene Lazowski (Fair Use)

Dr. Eugene Lazowski (Fair Use)

Rachel Druck is the editor of the Communities Database at Beit Hatfutsot. Do you have a hero in your community? Let her know, at racheld@bh.org.il.

Bibliography:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-12-22/news/0612220202_1_germans-jews-typhus

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/how-a-fake-typhus-epidemic-saved-a-polish-city-from-the-nazis

https://chicagohistorytoday.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/eugene-lazowski-fake-typhus-epidemic/

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/dr-eugene-lazowski

https://web.archive.org/web/20110720044324/http://perspect.siuc.edu/01_fall/documentary.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0j1zrwFTgBc

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Bloody Matsot? Passover, Blood Libels and Kidush Ha-Shem https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/bloody-matsot-passover-blood-libels-kidush-ha-shem/ Thu, 29 Mar 2018 09:41:17 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=33063 As Prof. Israel Yuval was standing with his three daughters at the bottom of the deep cistern under the famous basilica in the German town of Trier, he felt it was a life changing moment for him. 900 years beforehand, at that very spot, Jewish parents were willing to throw their children into the pit [...]

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As Prof. Israel Yuval was standing with his three daughters at the bottom of the deep cistern under the famous basilica in the German town of Trier, he felt it was a life changing moment for him. 900 years beforehand, at that very spot, Jewish parents were willing to throw their children into the pit before the crusaders walk into town. The awe that held him as he was picturing the horrid view, set Prof. Yuval on a pioneering research journey at the end of which his article “Revenge and Curse – Blood and Libel” was published, in 1994. It was a daring, revolutionary work that questioned the very origin of the Jewish victim consciousness that peaked in the blood libels first appeared in the middle ages.

Until Yuval’s study, any attempt to crack the Christian psychology behind the blood libels was considered an act of heresy in the religion of Jewish martyrdom. But Yuval, born to a religious family and leaving religion as an adult, was not intimidated. By all means, he did of course try to find justification for the horrible libels; he simply wished to understand, as a Jew, why the libels occurred specifically in the 12th century, among Ashkenazi communities in Europe.

Passover Seder at the Hannanshwili family, Tbilisi, 1924. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Luba Danielov, Holon

Passover Seder at the Hannanshwili family, Tbilisi, 1924. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Luba Danielov, Holon

Most historians agree that the blood libels spread in medieval Europe were a dramatic phase in the evolution of Antisemitism. It was always the same story: just before Passover a Christian child was found dead, usually by the local river or stream. The local jurists would soon conclude that the Jews slaughtered the child for their ritual needs, especially baking Passover Matsot from his blood. Prof. Yuval proved that the first blood libel occurred in the city of Würzburg, Germany in 1147, whereas the Norwich affair, usually referred to as the first, was in fact two years later. He also showed a correlation between the Würzburg affair and riots that were performed in the area a few decades beforehand and deeply affected the Jews. Those were the Rhineland massacres of 1096, during the crusades in German communities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz on the Rhine River.

The massacres are horrifically described in three Jewish chronicles. The Jews had two choices: convert or die. Thousands were burnt at the stakes. The Jewish extreme respond was martyrdom, either by surrending and getting killed by the crusaders, or by committing suicide.

Heroic suicide exists in Judaism since ancient times. Though strictly forbidden by Halacha, it is told in martyrdom stories such as Hannah and her seven sons, and the Roman siege on Masada. But this time it was different: dozens of mass suicides of Jews, and even worse – mothers slaughtering their babies, fathers burning their houses and killing their entire families: and parents throwing their children into the icy river.

The ritual murder libel of Trent, Drawing, Frankfurt, Germany, 1475. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Dr. Paul Arnsberg Collection

The ritual murder libel of Trent, Drawing, Frankfurt, Germany, 1475. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Dr. Paul Arnsberg Collection

This, according to Yuval, did not just occurred, it had Messianic fundamental background which characterized Ashkenazi Jewry, and included some bloody fanatic fantasies what were in the center of the redemption ideology, which Yuval calls “Revenging Redemption”, as opposed to the redemption of Sephardis, that emphasized the utopic end of times, when all nations would come to Jerusalem and become Jews. The Revenging Redemption was inspired by Midrashic stories describing how the martyrs’ blood is splashed on the Lord’s robe and when it’s all soaked, The Lord will revenge and hurry the redemption. Therefore the killers (of their children) are heroes that hurry the redemption. He cites many sources, such as Kalonimus, and famous verse Pour out Your wrath upon the nations from the Passover Hagadah.

The Rabi and his family, Vilkaviskis, Lithuania, Passover 1929 Studio Photograph. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Sara Mamelowski-Sydranski

The Rabi and his family, Vilkaviskis, Lithuania, Passover 1929 Studio Photograph. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Sara Mamelowski-Sydranski

The none-Jewish society was not indifferent to these expressions of Jewish martyrdom. Historian Mary Minty in her essay “Visualizing Jews Through the Ages: Literary and Material Representations” reveals Christian sources showing that the Christians authorities were aware of phenomena and feared it greatly. This brings us to the circumstantial relation between the Jewish “Kidush Ha-Shem” and blood libels.

Prof. Yuval asserts: “the centrality of the blood rituals in the collective mind of the generation after 1096, as well as the disapproving Christian attitude, shed new light on the emergence – exactly at the same time  -of a new, twisted and hostile, interpretation to this ritual: the blood libel.” And he adds a fascinating explanation: in the Christians’ frightened minds, if the Jews are able to slaughter their own children to rush the Salvation, what’s to stop them from killing Christian children before their holiday of freedom? In fact, Yuval’s thesis puts the libels into a historical context. For him, the blood ritual embedded the Ashkenazi theology led to Christians fearing the Jew’s thirst for blood, hence to turning the Jew from the victim to the offender.

Happy Passover!

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Forget the Troubles and Laugh – 30 years of Dzigan and Schumacher https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/forget-the-troubles-and-laugh-30-years-of-dzigan-and-schumacher/ Mon, 26 Mar 2018 10:34:27 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=32979 The comedy duo Dzigan and Schumacher was for three decades the most successful pair on the Jewish-Yiddish stage, more than any other comedian or ensemble. Their story is also the story of Jewish entertainment, and also the historical story of the Jewish people in the 20th century. Their repertoire included dozens of acts in Yiddish, and a [...]

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The comedy duo Dzigan and Schumacher was for three decades the most successful pair on the Jewish-Yiddish stage, more than any other comedian or ensemble. Their story is also the story of Jewish entertainment, and also the historical story of the Jewish people in the 20th century. Their repertoire included dozens of acts in Yiddish, and a few in Hebrew, that evoked cultural changes in the Jewish world in Europe and in the young State of Israel like no other duo had. After their split and Schumacher’s death, Dzigan went on performing on his own for 20 more years.

Born in Lodz, Poland, Simon Dzigan (1906) and Israel Schumacher (1908) were influenced by the growing Yiddish theater since their childhood. They shared the same background, as well the strong conviction that as Jews they were committed to preserve the Yiddish language and also the Socialist agenda that was spreading after WWI.

Theater Archive, Beit Ariela

Theater Archive, Beit Ariela

In the mid 1920’s they joined a small group of Jewish actors in Lodz, and founded together a performers collective called Ararat. Dr. Diego Rotman explains in his study that this name symbolized a new fresh beginning. All members in the pioneering Ararat group were young Jewish Socialists filled with revolutionary enthusiasm, and their sketches reflected this agenda. Ararat’s materials, with the vigorous actors, high energies and loads of makeup and impressive costumes, did not resemble any of the old Yiddish plays.

In the 1930’s, Ararat moved to Warsaw with a new repertoire. Dzigan and Schumacher started to stand out and soon began to perform just the two of them. Their acts were inspired by other popular comic dous, for example the films of Laurel and Hardy who were a cinematic blockbuster.

Every comic duo is based on the contradiction between the two characters. Dzigan was the serious and educated one, whereas Schumacher was a rude, ignorant anarchist, The comic effect was usually achieved by Schumacher getting furious at Dzigan for not behaving properly.

Theater Archive, Beit Ariela

Theater Archive, Beit Ariela

Off stage, there was some correlation between the characters they played the actual  real personality. Schumacher was indeed the more reasonable man, a family man, a strict actor who aspired to do some serious acting, not just comedy. Dzigan was lazy, easy going, absent minded with little respect to scheduled appointments, and certainly was not a respected family man like his partner.

They gradually stood out in Ararat, but the crucial change occurred at the eve of WW2. The group pointed its satire against the Polish government on the one hand, and against Nazi Germany on the other hand. After the Nazis invaded Poland,  Dzigan and Schumacher and the Ararat fellows escaped together to the U.S.S.R. and in 1941, when the Nazis invaded Russia as well, the group split for good. Dzigan and Schumacher joined the Anders’ Army, an ally of Russia which had many Jewish soldiers. They tried to plan an escape route from Europe but were arrested by Polish soldiers as defectors. In interviews they gave years later, they suggested that the Polish were angry with them for their popular satirical acts that used to make fun of the flaccid Polish government during the 1930’s.

Until the end of the war, Dzigan and Schumacher were imprisoned by the Soviets in Gulags. After the war they managed to get back together again and started to perform across Poland for a Jewish audience of refugees, and were once again loved and popular. They were stars of the film אונדזערע קינדער (Our Children), the last Yiddish film shot in Poland. In the late 1940’s they went on a tour which made them officially the most successful Jewish duo in Europe. Apparently their secret was using current news, they knew how to update their jokes based on what was happening to Jews in Europe after the war, combined with all kinds of family situations not related to current affairs.

After the foundation of the State of Israel, Dzigan and Schumacher wondered whether viewers in Israel would like them. Indeed, the young state had a demand for Yiddish entertainment, and they had fans in Israel who knew their sketches by heart. However an unpredictable difficulty arose: as part of the aspiration to form a new Israeli Hebrew speaking society, the government banned Yiddish plays by local citizens, and although Dzigan and Schumacher were not Israeli citizens, by 1950 they too were not allowed to perform in Israel. However since they were already famous, many media and culture figures started to press the government to change the stern regulation and allow them to perform.

Theater Archive, Beit Ariela

Theater Archive, Beit Ariela

Thus, thanks to their popularity they managed to actually change government policy. First there was a condition that at least a third of their act is in Hebrew. Then Ephraim Kishon wrote for them a sketch called “The Intensive Ulpan” – the original script of the sketch in Kishon’s hand writing is displayed in the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.

Some of the materials written by Kishon for Dzigan and Schumacher were later adapted and used by the Israeli famous trio “HaGashash Hachiver”, and became loved and known by the general non Yiddish speaking Israeli audience.

The Yiddish restriction was cancelled in 1958 but it was already too late for Dzigan and Schumacher. Though they gained popularity even among new none traditional audiences, in the mid 1950’s they started to quarrel. It is kind of sad, that when they were finally legitimized in Israel, they could not stand each other no more, and in 1960 they split. Schumacher tried to fulfill his longtime dream to become a dramatic actor, but failed, and after a year he died of an illness at a young age. Unfortunately, he did not live to enjoy the acknowledgment from the Israeli establishment. His daughter, Lidia, married the legendary actor and comedian, Shaike Ophir.

 

The breakup - an item in Davar, 27.1.1960

The breakup – an item in Davar, 27.1.1960

Dzigan kept on giving satirical acts in Yiddish, but had to cope with a new generation of viewers. One time he performed for soldiers in 1967 and the clapped and clapped – but just in order to make him step off the stage, as they were bored and did not get his jokes. Still, he did live to enjoy public respect for his life work and for preserving the Yiddish and its crucial role in forming Israeli culture and satire. He worked and performed until his death in 1980 and even participated in T.V. Shows and specials.

Our exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor around the World” will open in 29.3, displaying, among others, Dzigan and Schumacher.

Further reading:

(הבמה כבית ארעי: התאטרון של דז’יגאן ושומאכר (1980-1927)/ דיאגו רוטמן)

 

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Who knows three? Enigmatic drawings in the Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/who-knows-three-enigmatic-drawings-in-the-gutwirth-zucker-haggadah/ Sun, 25 Mar 2018 08:13:24 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=32928 By: Yair Achituv, Bar-Ilan University   The text of the Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah, an 18th century manuscript written in Prague in 1707 and exhibited in Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, is accompanied by drawings. Drawings in illustrated Haggadot are usually related to Passover customs and Passover-related events, the Exodus. However, there are drawings in the Gutwirth-Zucker [...]

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By: Yair Achituv, Bar-Ilan University

 

The text of the Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah, an 18th century manuscript written in Prague in 1707 and exhibited in Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, is accompanied by drawings. Drawings in illustrated Haggadot are usually related to Passover customs and Passover-related events, the Exodus. However, there are drawings in the Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah whose connection to Passover is obscure. Three of these appear in sequence at the end of the Haggadah. One depicts the prophet Jonah thrown from the ship and vomited out from the mouth of the fish. The second shows four cows and a woman standing next to what looks like a loom. The third drawing, found before the hymn “Adir Hu”, shows a black eagle next to a house.

The solution to these enigmatic drawings is found on the map that accompanies the Haggadah printed in Amsterdam in 1695. This was the first Haggadah to include copper engravings and a map prepared by Abraham Bar Yaaqov, a convert to Judaism. The map, at the end of the text, describes the route of the children of Israel from Goshen in Egypt to the Land of Israel. There is an illustration of a ship in a storm in the Great Sea and the prophet Jonah vomited out by a great fish that looks a whale with a curled tail. Inclusion of the picture of Jonah in the sea follows a tradition of map-drawing during that period. In order not to leave the sea as an empty space on the map, it was a practice to depict subjects related to the sea, such as Poseidon (Neptune – the god of the sea), ships, or sea monsters. In the Amsterdam Haggadah, Jonah replaced these figures. In the Amsterdam Haggadah, an eagle is depicted on the left side of the map and, above it, the verse from Exodus 19:4 “You have seen what I did to Egypt and how I bore you on eagle wings and brought you to myself”. Next to the house, one can notice three beehives and, below them, the word “honey” appears. Under the four cows in the middle of the word “milk” is printed. The woman standing next to a loom is probably a later addition to the drawing. These two drawings are related to the description of the land of Canaan by the spies that sent by Moses,” We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and these are its fruits” (Numbers 13:27). The description of the Land of Israel as a land of milk and honey is repeated several times in the Bible. It should be noted that an illustration showing the spies carrying a branch with a cluster of grapes is found on the first page of the Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah.

The illustrator of Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah omitted the verse from Exodus above the eagle, the beehives and the two key words “milk” and “honey” from his drawings and left us in the dark. The Amsterdam Haggadah reveals the meaning of many of these illustrations, including the three mentioned above.

The invention of print did not exclude the tradition of writing and painting the Haggadah by hand, and many were created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some were influenced by the printed Haggadah. The illustrations of the Amsterdam Haggadah were the model used by the many artists, including the illustrator of the Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah. The Amsterdam Haggadah was printed twice, first in 1695 and a second printing, different from the first, in 1712. The Gutwirth-Zucker Haggadah was written in 1707, only 12 years after the first Amsterdam Haggadah was printed. To the best of our knowledge, this was one of the first Haggadot, if not the first, hand written Haggadah to be inspired by the Amsterdam Haggadah.

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Osnat Barazani – The Brilliant Woman Who Headed a Yeshiva https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/osnat-barazani-brilliant-woman-headed-yeshiva/ Tue, 20 Mar 2018 12:58:31 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=32863 It is safe enough to state that humanity is progressing, even without delving into philosophers such as Hegel. True – slavery still exists, classes still count, women and minorities are still being discriminated – but not as much as they used to. In a long perspective, human history is indeed moving forward. On the other [...]

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It is safe enough to state that humanity is progressing, even without delving into philosophers such as Hegel. True – slavery still exists, classes still count, women and minorities are still being discriminated – but not as much as they used to. In a long perspective, human history is indeed moving forward.

On the other hand, we often see phenomena that undermine this assumption (perhaps hastily made). Philosopher and essayist Nassim Taleb calls them “Black Swans” – manifestations that do not settle with social norms and generate a dissonance in people’s minds. This kind of abnormality took place in 17th century Kurdistan – one woman called Osnat Barazani. She was a descendent of a famous dynasty of rabbis, a brilliant scholar and a most beautiful woman, as well as a spiritual leader of the Kurdish Jewry.

 

A Jewish family in Mosul, Iraq, 1930. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of Ezra Laniado

A Jewish family in Mosul, Iraq, 1930. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of Ezra Laniado

According to local tradition, the Jews of Kurdistan are descendants of the ten tribes exiled by the Assyrians in the 8th century B.C. Much later, Benjamin of Tudela recorded them in his journey logs after visiting Kurdistan in the 12th century, reporting some 100 Jewish communities and 25,000 Jews living there. Since then until the Turkish occupation in the 16th century we hardly know anything about Kurdish Jews, however responsas written during the 16th and 17th centuries make up for that and reveal their history and ways of life.

The most notable rabbi of that time was Shmuel Adoni Barazani, son of rabbi Nathanel Adoni Barazani, founder of the dynasty who headed the Mosul Jewish community and was titled “The Holy”. Shmuel followed his father and founded many Yeshivot across Kurdistan. He was admired by many, and considered to be a genius. He and his wife did not have any sons but he did not spend time lamenting the end of his dynasty but instead put forth all his educational efforts in his only daughter, Osnat, who was brilliant since a young age.

Barazani trained his gifted daughter in Torah study and in ruling Halacha. She did not let him down and got more and more skilled and experienced. She grew up to be a beautiful woman with a reputation as a sharp scholar, a wonderful debater and an extremely intelligent scholar.

Called by all “The Tanait” for her greatness in Torah, a title only used for the sages of the Mishna, she wrote: “I grew upon the knees of sages, pleasing my late father greatly with my wisdom, he taught me nothing but the holy work of studying the Torah day and night”.

When the time has come, her father married her to his senior disciple, rabbi Yaacov Mizrahi, but on one condition – that Osnat’s husband will able her to continue her study and will not force her to desert her intellectual tasks for house works. Now how many fathers, let alone rabbis, do you know today who would demand that from their son in law? Imagine how odd it must have been 300 hundred years ago!

Osnat Barazani - an assumed portrait (wikipedia)

Osnat Barazani – an assumed portrait (wikipedia)

 

We should mention that although the Kurdish society was patriarchal, women there enjoyed relative tolerance. They did not have to wear a veil, even after most of the Kurds converted to Islam; they had rights and were also known as brave warriors – which still stands correct in these very days – just watch the news.

Following her father’s last will, Osnat kept on studying and ruling after her marriage. When her husband died she already had reputation as a Halachic authority, therefore she was appointed head of the Yeshiva in Mosul thus becaming leader of the entire community of the Jews of Kurdistan.

A letter from rabbi Pinhas Hariri to rabbi Osnat, 1664. From the book "The Jews of Mosul" by Ezra Laniado. Courtesy of the National Library, Jerusalem

A letter from rabbi Pinhas Hariri to rabbi Osnat, 1664. From the book “The Jews of Mosul” by Ezra Laniado. Courtesy of the National Library, Jerusalem

Osnat “The Tanait” gained wide recognition and admiration. Rabbi Pinhas Hariri wrote to her: “My rabbi and teacher, we are always willing to serve you with pure faith”. The community of Baghdad asked her to choose for them a rabbi from one of her Yeshiva students. Not only did she consent, she actually sent the pick of the litter – her own son Shmuel (named after her father) who also became a famous rabbi, just like his mother and grandfather. Since then, the Adoni-Barazanis served as rabbis in Baghdad for over 150 years, until 1743. In her high position she had to spend much of her time managing the Yeshiva, including struggling with some financial troubles. In one letter she sent to Jewish communities, asking for their support, she refers also to her difficulties as a woman “I have nothing valuable to sell, nor a son to collect for me, and I know it is not natural for a woman to ask for donations”. We learn from this that in spite of her high status and her acceptance, rabbi Osnat believed in the conventions of her time.

 

The Jewish quarter in Mosul, Iraq, 1930-1940. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of Ezra Laniado

The Jewish quarter in Mosul, Iraq, 1930-1940. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of Ezra Laniado

In the book of Proverbs (31, 30) it is argued that: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

However rabbi Osnat was not only gifted with great wisdom, but also with loads of beauty. Her legendary looks, so it is told, caused men to be dumbstruck at her presence.

After her death, Osnat became even more worshiped in the tradition of the Jews of Kurdistan. With time she became a myth and legend: her responsas were treated as holy scripts. Now, 300 centuries later, we have progressed. Women head banks, the supreme court and other central institutes, but are we ever going to see a woman heading a Yeshiva? We can only hope for it.

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The Smoke and Flames of the Spanish Inquisition – Columbus’ Jewish Interpreter https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/smoke-flames-spanish-inquisition-columbuss-jewish-interpreter/ Sun, 18 Mar 2018 13:15:37 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=32815 Who are we to blame for the common anti-Semitic stereotype about the Jews as contaminators of mankind? Can we blame it on the Jewish interpreter Luis de Torres, the man who brought the first cigarettes to Europe? We most certainly can not. For one thing, the hazards in smoking were not yet known in the [...]

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Who are we to blame for the common anti-Semitic stereotype about the Jews as contaminators of mankind? Can we blame it on the Jewish interpreter Luis de Torres, the man who brought the first cigarettes to Europe? We most certainly can not. For one thing, the hazards in smoking were not yet known in the 15th century, and also, the anti-Semitic image of the polluting Jew is a modern one, referring to epidemics. Still, in the history of smoking Luis de Torres played a significant role, getting Europe addicted to Tobacco. To balance things out, let us bear in mind that the inventor of chemotherapy – Sidney Farber – was also a Jew. So we’re good.

In order to tell the story of Luis de Torres we need to mention who his boss was – a guy called Christopher Columbus. In Spain in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle signed two fatal decrees: one, on March 31, was the expulsion decree stating that every Jew who did not convert must leave Spain by July 31. They only had three months (as it was published in late April) to leave the Iberian Peninsula. Most of the Jews, some 200,000 managed to leave by August 2nd – on the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av.

Columbus and the Queen - painting by Emanuel Leutze, 1843

Columbus and the Queen – painting by Emanuel Leutze, 1843

Historian Charles Alperin, based on testimonies from the period, described the last days of the expulsion: “All roads leading to the ports and the borders were packed with masses of people, old and young, healthy and handicapped, men and women, most of them by foot, some fortunate enough to sit on mules or horses, or to ride a wagon”…. “Until the very last moment, priests tried to convince the Jews to convert, and the rabbis were trying to encourage the weary and desperate. Long rows of women and children were singing and drumming, attempting to cheer the crowd. When they finally reached the seashore they wept and prayed in vain for a miracle. From the moment they boarded the ships, they were looted, murdered, sold to pirates, abandoned on the beach, and refused entry by many countries. Those were the implications of the first decree.

The second historical decree was signed on April 17 that year, and confirmed a pretentious project regarding finding sailing routes west of Asia. The head of the initiative was a captain called Christopher Columbus, of Italian origin (according to his word). He sailed from Palos de la Frontera on August 3rd, just after the last Jewish deportees left Spain. Many historians, especially Jewish ones, rejoiced at this proximity of dates. They insisted on suggesting that Columbus was in fact a Jew and that the purpose of his journey was to locate a new place for his fellow Jews to settle.

Signing of the decree expelling the Jews from Spain, 31 March 1492. Diorama at Beit Hatfutsot old core exhibition

Signing of the decree expelling the Jews from Spain, 31 March 1492. Diorama at Beit Hatfutsot old core exhibition

Without diving into a sea of speculation as for origin and motives of Columbus – as this has already been repeatedly discussed, we can state this – many Jews circled Columbus, most notably Louis de Santangel, sponsor of the first voyage, Gabriel Sanchez, who was the general treasurer of the Spanish kingdom, and Louis de Torres – chief interpreter of the expedition to America, and the hero of our story.

Right after the publication of expulsion decree, Luis de Torres converted to Christianity in order to save himself and became a “Converso”. De Torres, who was fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese, served as an interpreter for the governor of Murcia, who recommended him to Columbus, who was seeking for an interpreter. At that time, Columbus still believed he was heading to the Far East, therefore thought that De Torres’ knowledge of the Hebrew language would help him establish contacts with Jewish merchants in Asia. Thus the Jewish interpreter got to take part in the most famous expedition in history.

The Expulsion from Spain, 1492. Painting at Beit Hatfutsot old core exhibition

The Expulsion from Spain, 1492. Painting at Beit Hatfutsot old core exhibition

Three months later, in November 1492, the “Santa Maria” halted by the shores of the Island of nowadays Cuba. It was told that Columbus sent De Torres and another Spanish mariner called Rogrigo de Jerrez to explore the interior of the island. The two toured the island for many days and made friendly contacts with the natives, who taught them how to have a good time by smoking dry leaves with a special scent… they saw the natives lay the special plants on palm leaves and dry them until they looked and felt like paper, then light them up and smoke them. De Torres tried one – and became the first European to have ever smoked a cigarette. It was a delight, and when the two returned to the ship they brought many samples of that new addiction with them.

Columbus completed his journey and returned to Spain in 1493. De Torres and 38 other Spanish mariners from the first voyage chose to stay in the new country, in the first settlement that the Spanish established in America – La Navidad in nowadays Saint Domingo. From then on, De Torres ceased to be a private man. There were plenty of legends about him, for example, that the first words ever uttered in the new continent were in Hebrew, by Torres himself. Other stories were about his great wealth in a manor house, whereas according to yet another story he was the one to discover turkeys.

Christopher Columbus and his crew, including Louis de Torres, land in the new world. Illustration, 1893, the Library of Congress, Wikimedia

Christopher Columbus and his crew, including Louis de Torres, land in the new world. Illustration, 1893, the Library of Congress, Wikimedia

As for the Tobacco – after De Jerez returned to Spain with the Tobacco he and De Torres brought on board the ship, he shared the new experience with his companions. When the inquisition authorities heard about it they stated that “only the devil can allow a man blow smoke from the mouth” and sentenced him to seven years of imprisonment for smoking them dry leaves – probably the most severe penalty ever for having a smoke. It did not help them though. By that time smoking was already the hottest trend throughout Europe. First it took Spain, and then – the entire old continent.

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