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

Tisha B'Av, the Day of Jewish Mourning

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