Monday, September 1, 2014

Skip to the End -- How Did WWI End in Palestine?

Handwritten caption: "The Mayor of Jerusalem Hussein Effendi El Husseini meeting
with Srgts Sedwick and  Hurcomb..., London Regiment, under the White Flag of
 Surrender, December 9th at 8 a.m." The white flag was a bed sheet
taken from the American Colony residence. (1917, Library of Congress)
World War I began 100 years ago in the Middle East with the Turkish assault on the British-held Suez Canal.

Let's skip to the end and view how the war concluded in Jerusalem in December 1917. 

The British forces stalled in their attempt to capture Palestine through Gaza. A daring attack across the desert to Be'er Sheva in October 1917 opened the path to Jerusalem.

Click here for more on the surrender of Jerusalem to two British army sergeants.
Click on pictures to enlarge. Click on caption to see the original.

The Middle East fighting continued until October 1918, after major battles in Megiddo, Jericho and Damascus.

Turkish troops arriving in Jerusalem from nearby positions, before fleeing the city
(1917, stereograph photo, Monash University archives)
British General Edmund Allenby's arrival in Jerusalem via the Jaffa Gate
 after the city's surrender (1917, Library of Congress)

Friday, August 15, 2014

New Photo Resource Uncovered: The Ottoman Imperial Archives

In recent weeks, the Ottoman Imperial Archives put digital photographs, illustrations and documents online, posting them as well to Flickr and Facebook.  As we explore the archives, we are finding many pictures of life in Palestine in the 19th century and of Turkish forces in Palestine in World War I. We present a preview below.

Caption reads: Reservists and recruits rounded up in Palestine by the Turks being marched unwillingly to barracks.
Right: Troops of the Turkish Regular Army marching newly-raised levies through Jerusalem to
a camp in readiness for their projected attack on Egypt.

These pictures and English caption appear in the Ottoman Imperial Archives. They show the forced conscription of residents of Palestine, including Jews, prior to the Turkish attack on the British controlled Suez Canal in 1914.  The picture on the right shows the confiscation of supplies and food stuffs from Jerusalem residents.

According to the report "Palestine during the War, 1914-1917" by the London Zionist Organisation, life for the Jews of Palestine was difficult and perilous:

Jews and Christians ...were for the most part not placed on active  [army] service but assigned to various labor battalions. The members of these battalions were the pariahs of the army; their clothing, feeding, and general equipment was abominable, and they were treated worse than slaves. The Jew would sell his last stick in order to scrape together enough money to ransom him from the slavery of this battalion. But there were still many who could not raise sufficient, and who had to serve in the labor battalions; and these had to leave their families behind entirely unprovided for.

A large part of the Jews in the workers' battalions never returned. They fell victims to epidemics and starvation. A large part of the families of these soldiers also perished from poverty and sickness.

"Ottoman army, preparatory to the attack on the Suez Canal, 1914," is the caption in the Ottoman
Imperial Archives. The handwritten caption above appears in an album in the Library of Congress

Pictured below are the Varhaftig/Amitay family from Tiberias with their son in a Turkish uniform and Jerusalem resident Mendel Kremer in uniform. 
Mendel Kremer, Turkish soldier, later a
pharmacist, journalist and spy (1910)

Varhaftig/Amitay family in Tiberias (courtesy)

Several of the photos of the Turkish
army in World War I also appear in the Library of Congress' American Colony/Matson Collection and have been featured here in the past.

Ottoman Imperial Archives: "Ottoman soldiers pass through the Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem" (1915)
In the Jaffa Gate photograph, note the Jewish  residents of Jerusalem in their black caftans and hats to the right of the troops.

The clock tower was built in 1908 in honor of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.  After the British captured the city in 1917 the ornate tower was torn down.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Jewish men sitting on the ground at the "Wailing Wall" (circa  1935).
From the Library of Congress collection.
A version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine, July 27, 2012. 
Tisha B'Av is commemorated on the evening of Monday, August 4, 2014 and continues until sundown on August 5.

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av -- Tisha B'Av -- is the day in the Hebrew calendar when great calamities befell the Jewish people, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the fall of the fortress Beitar in the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 136 CE, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.  The day is commemorated with fasting, prayers and the reading of Lamentations.  In Jerusalem, thousands pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

"Devout Jewish women" at the Wall (circa
1900). View another photo of devout women here

The American Colony photographers frequently focused their cameras on the worshipers at the "Wailing Place of the Jews."  The Colony founders who came to Jerusalem in 1881 were devout Christians who saw the return of the Jews to the Holy Land as a sign of messianic times. 

Of the dozens of pictures at the Kotel there are several of elderly men and women sitting on the ground or on low stools, customs of mourning practiced on Tisha B'Av.

"A Jewish beggar reading at the Wailing Wall" (circa 1920).
Note others sitting on the ground. The day is almost
certainly Tisha B'Av and he is probably reading the
book of Lamentations.

Jews straining to see the Western Wall (circa 1929)

"Jews' wailing place without mourners.
Deserted during 1929 riots." View looking north.

Other pictures presented here show the very narrow and confined area of the Kotel over the ages until Israel's army captured the Old City in 1967 and enlarged the Kotel plaza. 

The tragedies that occurred to the Jewish nation are also evident in the pictures of the deserted plaza after Arab pogroms in 1929.  The area was deserted, of course, during the 19 years of Jordanian rule of the Old City when Jews were forbidden to pray at the site.

A story is told of Napoleon passing a synagogue and hearing congregants inside mourning.  To his question who they are mourning, he was told they were weeping over the destruction of the Jewish Temple 1,800 years earlier.  Napoleon responded, according to the legend, "If the Jews are still crying after so many hundreds of years, then I am certain the Temple will one day be rebuilt."

Western Wall deserted in 1929. View looking south.

Dedicated in memory of 
Chaim Menachem ben Levi

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gaza in 1917. What Led to Such Terrible Destruction?
-- Excerpts from a previous posting

Gaza City in World War I, 1917 (Library of Congress). What caused such destruction?
Turks prepare to attack the Suez Canal, 1915

In the early 1900s, the British Empire relied on the Suez Canal to maintain communications and trade with India, Australia and New Zealand.  And that was precisely why Germany encouraged Turkey to challenge British rule over Egypt and British control of the Suez Canal.

In early 1915, the Turkish army in Palestine crossed the Sinai and attacked British troops along the Suez.

The British army beat back the attacks, took the war north into Sinai and pushed the Turkish army back to a defense line stretching from Gaza, located on the Mediterranean, to Be'er Sheva, some 40 miles inland.

Great Mosque of Gaza (circa 1880)
The Mosque after the fighting (1917)

In March and April 1917 the British army attempted to push through Gaza and up the Mediterranean coast in battles that involved as many as 60,000 soldiers, British and French ships firing on Gaza from the Mediterranean, the use of poison gas, and the deployment of newly developed British tanks. The British suffered a disastrous defeat.
Ruins of Gaza, believed to be after the 1917 battles

British trenches in Gaza. After the defeat, the
 British army switched to more mobile tactics.

British tanks destroyed in the Gaza fighting

The British campaign for Jerusalem would be stalled for six months.  It would be led by a new commander, a large number of reinforcements, and a new strategy that took the war in a new direction, east toward Be'er Sheva.

British Prisoners of War, captured in Gaza 1917

Footnote: History records Jews living in Gaza for thousands of years.  [View the mosaic depicting King David from a 6th century synagogue in Gaza.]

Mosaic of King David
(Israel Museum)
Ottoman tax records showed dozens of Jewish families in Gaza in the Middle Ages.  One of the most famous Gazan Jews was Rabbi Israel Ben Moses Najara (16th Century) who composed prayers and Sabbath zmirot (songs) popular to this day.  He was buried in Gaza.

Jewish families fled Gaza in the 1929 pogroms. Population records still showed Jews living in Gaza until 1945.

Kfar Darom, named for a community mentioned in the Talmud, was a Jewish kibbutz established in the Gaza Strip in 1930 that was abandoned in the 1948 war.  Kfar Darom was reestablished in 1970 but evacuated by Israel in the 2005 "disengagement."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Announcing a new feature:
WW100 -- World War I and the Jews of Palestine,
Commemorating the Centenary since the Outbreak of the War to End all Wars

We will present over the next year special features commemorating the centenary of World War I, showing the major battles that shook Palestine, the Jewish population of the Holy Land, and the Jewish soldiers who fought -- on both sides.  Below are sample pictures:

Turks prepare to attack the Suez Canal

Austrian Jewish soldiers at the Kotel

Jewish students and teachers after the capture of Rishon LeZion by New Zealand soldiers

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From the 4 Corners of the World:
Picture Collection from New Zealand, Part II

Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee (circa 1890, colored slide, Presbyterian
Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)
The Presbyterian Church Archives Research Centre holds a fascinating collection of 144 glass Lantern slides of various scenes from the Holy Land. The majority appear to have been taken in the latter years of the 19th century.

See Part I here


The Tower of David's Citadel at Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem. The clock tower on the left was built
in 1908 and torn down in 1922, enabling the dating of the picture.
(Presbyterian Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)

Western Wall (1867, (Presbyterian Research Centre,
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand) and here

The picture of the Western Wall is from the Presbyterian Research Centre, but it also appeared in the Israel Daily Picture two years ago.  It was taken by Frank Mason Good in 1866/67 and published by the Palestine Exploration Fund.

Note in both photos the single figure praying and the buckets (?) hanging on the wall.

Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs (circa 1890)

Jacob's Well, near Nablus (Shechem) and
Joseph's Tomb. (1868)

Click on photos to enlarge.
Click on captions to view the original photographs.

Mobile users: visit

Monday, June 16, 2014

From the 4 Corners of the World:
Another Picture Collection from New Zealand
Part I

Women at the Western Wall (circa 1890, Presbyterian Research Centre,
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)

Proving that responsible archivists and librarians digitize and preserve their photographic treasures is the collection of 19th century pictures of the Holy Land in the Presbyterian Research Centre in New Zealand.  We present here a sample of the collection.

Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem (Presbyterian Research
Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)

We thank Donald Cochrane, the former curator of the photographs and lantern slides, Myke Tymons the current curator, and Eva Garbutt, archivist at Knox  who gave us permission to use their photographs.

The Research Centre's introduction provides some details on the collection:

The Presbyterian Church Archives Research Centre holds a fascinating collection of 144 glass Lantern slides of various scenes from the Holy Land. The majority appear to have been taken in the latter years of the 19th century. While undated, some do carry a manufacturers name or trademark which can act as a guide to dating. Those high quality slides produced by the Aberdeen firm of George Washington Wilson (marked "GWW"), were produced throughout the late 19th century. Mr Wilson, who died in 1893, received patronage from Queen Victoria and a Royal Warrant due to his obvious abilities. Many slide sets are also numbered which show a considerable number missing...

The New Zealand collection is remarkable for the

Elderly Jewish men in Jerusalem. The photo was hand-colored with
hues that never would have been worn by the poor, pious men.
(Presbyterian Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa)
angles of some of the pictures -- such as the women at the Western Wall, above -- different from many of the other conventional "postcard" pictures taken at the time.

Some of these photographs/slides were taken by Frank Mason Good in the 1860s. 

Color film was not available until years later. The color slides were transparencies with color applied.

Kerosene "stereo" lanterns to
 project slides onto a screen

In the 1880s, before movies or electricity, photographic slides such as these were projected in front of classes or audiences using a kerosene-lit lamp fitted with special lenses. The slides were often produced by optical manufacturers who sold the lanterns.

Lepers outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Note the Montefiore windmill
and Meshkenot Sha'ananim housing project behind them
(Presbyterian Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)

Sea of Galilee (Presbyterian Research
Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)

Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City

View our other lantern slide collections from Chatham University, the Church of Ireland, the Library of Congress, Oregon State University, and the George Eastman collection.

 With special thanks to David Bardin

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mosul Iraq -- Match Historical Pictures to Today's Headlines

Jews of Mosul (Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, 
California Museum of Photography at UCR)
Jihadi forces overran Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, this week. Analysts explain Mosul's significance as the center of Iraq's oil-rich areas, the gateway for the Sunni radicals to attack Baghdad, and a debacle for the U.S.-supported Iraqi army. 

But Mosul also has an ancient history.  It was the Biblical city of Nineveh, so large that the Book of Jonah describes it as a "great city of three days
"Jewish Cobblers Repairing Shoes for  Arabs, near
Mosul, Mesopotamia"
 (Iraq)  (Credit: Keystone-Mast  Collection,
Museum of  
Photography at UCR ARTSblock, University of 
California, Riverside)
journey in breadth." 

The Assyrian King Sennacherib built a massive palace there on the banks of the Tigris River.

We present pictures of Mosul 80 years ago and of Jews of Mosul approximately 100 years ago.

Read here a 2007 account of a Jewish chaplain from the US Army's 101st Airborne who discovered the remnants of Mosul's Jewish community.

Mosul, Iraq, 1932 (Library of Congress)

Mosul and the Tigris in the background, 1932 (Library of Congress)

Sennacherib's castle, Mosul, Iraq, 1932 (Library of Congress) See also here

Monday, June 9, 2014

Life in Palestine 1830-1880 as Described by a Very Unusual Woman, Lydia Mamreoff von Finkelstein Mountford

Von Finkelstein (Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass
We never heard of Lydia Mamreoff von Finkelstein Mountford (1855-1917) until we came across several clippings in a New Zealand archive from the 1880s. 

She was born in Jerusalem to a Russian family, apparently Jewish, according to historian Ron Bartur. She spoke Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, German, and French.  The family converted to Christianity and it appears she later became a Mormon.  She was a popular actress, missionary, and news correspondent. She traveled to the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand presenting Bible-based plays.  She filed news reports on the German Emperor's visit to Jerusalem in 1898, and probably appears in the bottom left of this picture with a reporter's pad in hand.

One of her most interesting articles appeared in the Aroha News (New Zealand), October 24, 1888, entitled "PALESTINE FIFTY YEARS AGO AND PALESTINE TODAY."   Her observations about life in the Holy Land for Christians and Jews are fascinating, and we present excerpts below in blue:

Inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City as it appeared in Lydia
von Finkelstein's days, circa 1870. (New York Public Library)
About fifty years ago, with the exception of some Polish Jewish families, and a few Latin monks, there were no European residents in Jerusalem. At that period the Jews did not contribute either to the civilisation of the inhabitants or the improvement of the city, but adapted themselves to the manners of the people and the exigencies of the place. The monks confined themselves to their daily avocations in the convents, and to the entertainment of wealthy pilgrims and travellers, whose visits, like those of angels, were few and far between.

Von Finkelstein, in
 costume, 1885
(Imagining the Holy Land)
Receiving the German Emperor in 1898. Von Finkelstein, the reporter,
is presumably at the bottom left. (Library of Congress)

The Jews, as well as the native Christians, throughout Syria and Palestine, were daily and hourly subjected to oppression, extortions, exaction, robbery and insults from their Moslem neighbours. It was no unusual occurrence for the Moslem to enter their houses, ransack closets and boxes, and appropriate any article of wearing apparel, furniture, or food that took the marauder's fancy. The local Government authorities would occasionally, when in need of funds, levy blackmail to the amount of hundreds of pounds on the Jews and native Christians, threatening them with massacre and plunder in default of payment. Consequently, Jews and native Christians dared to make any display of wealth only at the risk of losing life or property, and often both....

... With the advent of the American and English missionaries came the dawn of a brighter day tor the Holy City, and indeed for the whole country. On account of Moslem fanaticism and prejudice, these messengers of the Gospel, and consequently pioneers of civilisation, were obliged for a certain period of time to adopt the Oriental dress for safety. The Oriental furniture, utensils, and cuisine, though in
Hezekiah's Pool in Jerusalem's Old City. All those windows and not
a pane of glass, 1865 (New York Public Library)
many respects better adapted to the climate and surroundings, were so entirely different to those of Europe and America, that those early settlers, wealthy or otherwise, may truly be said to have endured hardships and privations great and innumerable. Occidental furniture, utensils, crockery or glass, were not to be had for love or money; and only those fortunate families or individuals possessed them who had had sufficient foresight to bring such articles from their homes in Europe. Further, there was not a window in any house in Jerusalem that had a pane of glass in it; wooden lattices, shutters, and iron bars being the order of the day.

Portrait of von Finkelstein and three
unknown people taken by Krikorian,
a well-known Armenian photographer
in Jerusalem (circa 1885, Library
 of Congress)

About the year 1845, a European merchant first imported —at great inconvenience, risk, and cost, having to travel to Beirout and Alexandria to make the purchase—Occidental furniture, crockery, and windowglass. There were no facilities for travel, and no steamers touched at the port of Jaffa. Once, and later twice a year, the Jewish, Latin, and other communities sent messengers to Beirout from Jerusalem, a journey of about 150 miles overland, to fetch the mails and other matter that might have been brought by the steamers from Alexandria and Constantinople, which at stated periods touched for a few hours at Beirout. About the year 1845 steamers began to stop occasionally at the port of Jaffa...

The American Colony on the beach near Jaffa, 1866
(with permission of the Maine Historical Society)

In the year 1866 a large American colony came out, and settled in Jaffa. It was called the American Adams colony. The colonists held their estate under great disadvantages. Mr Adams, either through design or in ignorance of the laws, possessed no title deeds; neither were the colonists, who purchased lots, provided with the necessary documents — all holding the property under bills of sale and pm-chase, whose legality and validity could have been questioned at any moment. Consequently interested parties took advantage of their position, and the best and the largest portion of the land they had paid for was lost, and all the trees out of a fruit plantation cut down, rooted up, and carried away...

Von Finkelstein's performance - not in Jerusalem - but at a replica of Jerusalem at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair
 (from Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass) For more on "Jerusalem" at the 1904 World's Fair click here. Note the
Christian and Jewish banners on the stage