Sunday, August 30, 2015

Why Was a Nazi Flag Flying from a Jerusalem Hotel in the 1930s?

We recently published pictures from the British Library's Endangered Archives Program, including this incredible picture of Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City which we have dated to the mid-1890s. Only in 1898 was the wall near Jaffa Gate breached so that carriages could drive into the city.

Jaffa Gate and A(braham) Fast's restaurant.  (Debbas Collection, British Library)

We wanted to know more about the store on the left with the sign "A Fast. Restauranteur."  Was this a tourist establishment of Abraham Fast, who in 1907 took over a large hotel several hundred meters to the west of the building pictured above and renamed it "Hotel Fast?"

German troops marching in Jerusalem on Good Friday, 
April 6, 1917. The building on the left is 
the Fast Hotel. (Imperial War Museum, UK)

It was a leading hotel with 100 rooms, built around a court yard with Ionic, Corinthian and Doric columns.

Hotel Fast and its kosher restaurant was a well-known establishment in Jerusalem for decades, and was probably considered by many to be a Jewish-owned establishment because of its Jewish clientele.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Fasts were German Templers.

The German consulate in the Fast Hotel, 1933. 
(Wikimedia, Tamar Hayardeni)

They lived in Jerusalem's German Colony and were exiled by the British after World War I and during World War II because of their support for Germany.

We recently uncovered pictures of German troops marching in Jerusalem streets on Good Friday 1917. Readers were able to identify the building on the left as the Fast Hotel.

Our biggest surprise was finding this picture of the German consulate in the Hotel Fast with the German Swastika flag flying from the building.

During World War II, the hotel was taken over by the British army command and turned into the Australian army club.

The Hotel Fast housed Australian soldiers in World War II.  Here they are greeting the Australian 
Prime Minister Robert Menzies and the commander of the Australian troops in Australia, 
Lt. Gen. Thomas Blamey in February 1941. The Matson Photo Service, shown on the ground 
floor, was run by Eric Matson, originally from the American Colony Photographic Department. 
 Matson left Palestine in 1946 for the United States.  His collection of photos was 
bequeathed to the Library of Congress where many of the pictures in this 
website were found.  (Library of Congress

The Hotel Fast building was abandoned in 1967 and torn down in 1976 to make way for the Dan Pearl Hotel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Painting of Jews Arriving to Ottoman Empire in 1492 Posted by the Ottoman Imperial Archives

The Ottoman Imperial Archives continues to release amazing pictures, photos and documents from the rich Ottoman history.  The painting below is the latest example. We thank the archivists for their wonderful work which can be seen on Twitter @OttomanArchive as well as the archives' website.
A reader sent us a new link for the painting with a slightly higher resolution. The writing
still cannot be read but it is clearly written in Hebrew and identifies the
dignitaries meeting with the Jewish elders

The modern-day caption says "More than 150,000 Spanish Jews Fled the Spanish Inquisition and Brought to the Ottoman Empire in 1492."  The painting shows Jews who escaped the Spanish expulsion and rabbis getting off their ship and meeting dignitaries.

The online reproduction is of low resolution and we cannot read writing on the bottom left of the painting. We have unsuccessfully searched for other copies or details that would indicate when the painting was drawn and the artist. 

We appeal to readers for suggestions and assistance.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Major 19th Century Photo Collection Rescued and Digitized by the British Library's Endangered Archives Program

A preview of Bonfils' photographs

Three thousand pictures taken by the Maison Bonfils photographers of Beirut from 1867 to the 1910s are part of the private Fouad Debbas collection in Beirut. Last year, the collection was digitized and posted online by the British Library's Endangered Archives Program

We have posted several Bonfils' photographs in the past from the Library of Congress, Getty, and New York Public Library collections. But nowhere in the world has such an extensive collection of Bonfils' photographs been collected and made public.  We thank the Debbas family and Ms. Jody Butterworth, the curator of the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme, for their efforts.

We present here just a preview of this very important collection:

Jews praying at the "Wailing Wall" (Debbas Collection, British Library)
Rachel's Tomb on the way to Bethlehem (Debbas Collection, British Library)

Rachel's Tomb, not the village of Sanur

Elsewhere in the Debbas Collection this picture is captioned "Village of Sanur in the modern-day West Bank."

Obviously, it is another Bonfils photo of Rachel's Tomb.

The bustling Jaffa Gate outside of Jerusalem's Old City. The Hotel Fast was built in 1891. The photo was
taken prior to 1898 when a breach was made in the wall for the German Emperor's carriages.
(Debbas Collection, British Library)
We plan to present more of the collection in coming weeks accompanied by our historical essays.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Click on caption link to view the original.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

American "Manifest Destiny" Heads to the Holy Land in 1847

Lt. William Francis Lynch, U.S. Navy
 (Wikipedia Commons) 
William Francis Lynch (1801-1865) was a naval officer who served in both the U.S. Navy and the Confederate Navy.  In the 1840s he proposed to the United States Government to undertake a voyage to the Holy Land to explore and map the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

Lynch conducted his mission with a crew of 16 sailors in 1847 and published his findings in his book, Narrative of the United States' Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. Lynch did not include a photographer in his entourage, but a crewman did provide illustrations for his book.

Lynch's motives appeared to be part patriotic, religious, and scientific.  He wrote, "We [Americans] owe something to the scientific and Christian world, and while extending the blessing of civil liberty in the south and west [otherwise known as "Manifest Destiny"], may well afford to foster science and strengthen the bulwarks of Christianity in the east." 

Lynch was also a strong adherent of "restorationism" (a precursor to Christian Zionism) -- a belief that the Jewish people must return to the Holy Land to fulfill their biblical prophecy of the "Second Coming." The belief drove many Americans, including American presidents, to advocate for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

Map of Lynch's journey from the Sea of Galilee
 to the Dead Sea, 1847. (World Digital Library)
Along the route, Lynch described raging rapids in the Jordan River, difficult terrain, strange flora and fauna, warring Arab tribes, and suffering Christian and Jewish communities.

Lynch's 170-year-old description of the Jews of Tiberias is remarkable: 

Safed and Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron, are the four holy cities of the Jews in Palestine. Tiberias is held in peculiar veneration by the Jews, for here they believe that Jacob resided, and it is situated on the shores of the lake whence they hope that the Messiah will arise. 

Winding down the rugged road, we descended to the city, seated on the margin of the lake. Tiberias (Tubariyeh) is a walled town of some magnitude, but in ruins, from the earthquake which, in 1837, destroyed so many of its inhabitants.

We had letters to the chief rabbi of the Jews, who came to meet us, and escorted us through labyrinthine streets to the house of Heim Wiseman, a brother Israelite. It is an hotel sui generis, as well in the mode of entertaining as in the subsequent settlement with its guests. In a book which was shown to us we read the following gentle insinuation:— “I beg the gentlemen arriving at my house that, at their departure, they will have the goodness to give me, in my hands, what they please. Tibaria, APRIL 7, 1845.” The above is an exact copy of the notice referred to, in English. It is likewise written in bad Italian and worse Spanish.
A trifling circumstance will show in what thraldom the Jews are held. Our landlord, Heim Wiseman, had been kind enough to show me the way to the governor’s. On our entrance, he meekly sat down on the floor, some distance from the divan. After the sherbet was handed round to all, including many Arabs, it was tendered to him. It was a rigid fast-day with his tribe, the eve of the feast of the azymes [Passover], and he declined it. It was again tendered, and again declined, when the attendant made some exclamation, which reached the ears of the governor, who thereupon turned abruptly round, and sharply called out, “Drink it.” The poor Jew, agitated and trembling, carried it to his lips, where he held it for a moment, when, perceiving the attention of the governor to be diverted, he put down the untasted goblet.

Illustration of Tiberias in Lynch's book. (Wikisource)
 The Jews here are divested of that spirit of trade which is everywhere else their peculiar characteristic. Their sole occupation, we were told, is to pray and to read the Talmud. That book, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt says, declares that creation will return to primitive chaos if prayers are not addressed to the God of Israel at least twice a week in the four holy cities. Hence the Jews all over the world are liberal in their contributions.
Returned the visit of the Rabbis. They have two synagogues, the Sephardim and Askeniazim, but live harmoniously together. There are many Polish Jews, with light complexions, among them. They describe themselves as very poor, and maintained by the charitable contributions of Jews abroad, mostly in Europe. More meek, subdued, and unpretending men than these Rabbis I have never seen. The chief one illustrated the tyranny of the Turks by a recent circumstance. In consequence of the drought of the preceding year there had been a failure of the crops, and the Sultan, whose disposition is humane, ordered a large quantity of grain to be distributed among the fellahin for seed. The latter were accordingly called in; — to him whose portion was twenty okes (1 oke = approx. 2 3/4 lbs.) was given ten, and to him whose portion was ten, five okes were given, — after each had signed a paper acknowledging the receipt of the greater quantity. How admirably the scriptures portray the manners and customs of the east! Here is the verification of the parable of the unjust steward. It is true, that in this instance the decree was issued by the Turks — a comparatively modern people, — but it was carried into effect by the descendants of the ancient Gentile races of the country.
In the evening we visited several of the synagogues. It was impressive yet melancholy to witness the fervid zeal of the worshippers. In gabardines, with broad and narrow phylacteries, some of them embroidered, the men were reading or rather chanting, or rather screaming and shouting, the lamentations of Jeremias — all the time swaying their bodies to and fro with a regular and monotonous movement. There was an earnest expression of countenance that could not have been feigned. The tones of the men were loud and almost querulous with complaint; while the women, who stood apart, were more hushed in their sorrow, and lowly wailed, moving the heart by their sincerity. In each synagogue was an octagon recess, where the Pentateuch and other sacred works were kept. Whatever they may be in worldly matters, the Jews are no hypocrites in the article of faith.
The females marry very early. There was one in the house, then eleven and a half years of age, who, we were assured, had been married eighteen months. Mr. Wiseman pointed out another, a mere child in appearance, ten years of age, who had been two years married. It seems incredible. The unmarried wear the hair exposed, but the married women studiously conceal it. To make up for it, the heads of the latter were profusely ornamented with coins and gems and any quantity of another’s hair, the prohibition only extending to their own. Their dress is a bodice, a short, narrow-skirted gown, and pantalettes gathered at the ankles. Unlike the Turkish and the Arab women, they sometimes wear stockings. The bodice is open in front, and the breasts are held, but not restrained, by loose open pockets of thin white gauze.
There are about three hundred families, or one thousand Jews, in this town. The Sanhedrin consists of seventy rabbis, of whom thirty are natives and forty Franks, mostly from Poland, with a few from Spain. The rabbis stated that controversial matters of discipline among Jews, all over the world, are referred to this Sanhedrin.
The Lynch caravan taking their boats to the Sea of Galilee
After visiting a town with a Christian community, Lynch wrote about Christians, Jews and Turks:
Christians of Kerak...there were from 900 to 1000 Christians here, comprising three-fourths of the population. They could muster a little over 200 fighting men; but are kept in subjection by the Muslim Arabs, living mostly in tents, without the town. He stated that they are, in every manner, imposed upon. If a Muslim comes to the town, instead of going to the house of another Muslim, he quarters himself upon a Christian, and appropriates the best of every thing; that Christian families have been two days at a time without food — all that they had being consumed by their self-invited guests. If a Muslim sheikh buys a horse for so many sheep, he makes the Christians contribute until the number be made up. Their property, he said, is seized without there being any one to whom to appeal; and remonstrance, on their part, only makes it worse.
It needs but the destruction of that power which, for so many centuries, has rested like an incubus upon the eastern world, [emphasis added] to ensure the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. The increase of toleration; the assimilation of creeds; the unanimity with which all works of charity are undertaken, prove, to the observing mind, that, ere long, with every other vestige of bigotry, the prejudices against this unhappy race will be obliterated by a noble and a God-like sympathy....the time will come. All things are onward; and, in God’s providence, all things are good. How eventful, yet how fearful, is the history of this people! The Almighty, moved by their lamentations, determined, not only to relieve them from Egyptian bondage, but to make them the chosen depositary of his law. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

WW100: The Soldiers of Australia Meet the Jews of Jerusalem, 1918

As the British-commanded ANZAC troops moved north after the battle of Be'er Sheva they were greeted as liberators by the Jews of Palestine. New Zealanders were hosted by the Jews of Rishon LeZion, and Australians entered Jerusalem with General Allenby at the end of December 1917.

The picture below was taken by Bugler J. F. Smith of the 7th Light Horse. "Enlisted 11 October, 1914. Home on ANZAC Furlough in October, 1918."

Australian soldiers at the Western Wall
These pictures of Jews of Jaffa and holy sites were taken by "R. F. Ingham, 1st L."

Jewish Children at Simon's Well in Jaffa  (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Jewish School in Jaffa  (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)
The Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. In the background is the Jewish Quarter with the
prominent domes of the Tiferet Yisrael and the Hurva synagogues
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)
The Jaffa Gate of the Old City and the Turkish
clock tower.  Who are the group of men in front?
 (New South Wales Museum)

After enlarging the photo, it appears the men are
Orthodox Jews

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Capture of Be'er Sheva by the Australian Light Horsemen in 1917 -- Arguably the Most Important Battle of WWI in Palestine

Forthcoming publication
New Collection of World War I Photos Discovered in Australian Museum

Our reader "Gary" alerted us to a digitized photo resource in the Mitchell Library of the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. 

The Library contains private diaries and albums of Australian soldiers who served as part of the British expeditionary forces in Palestine.  Their pictures show their three-year combat action from the Suez Canal, the Sinai, Be'er Sheva, Jerusalem, and all the way to Damascus. 

Be'er Sheva, a Turkish army garrison, on the eve of the battle of Be'er Sheva in 1917 (Library of Congress)

Aerial view of Be'er Sheva in 1917 with its new railroad station used for army supplies. (Source: Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

The legendary cavalry charge made by the Australian Light Horsemen to capture the wells of Be'er Sheva  in October 1917 was a turning point in the war, particularly after two disastrous attempt by British forces to push through Turkish defenses in Gaza.  After Be'er Sheva the way was open to Jerusalem, Jaffa and beyond. 

Until now, only one controversial picture of the cavalry charge was known. Some argued that it was actually a photo of a re-enactment. 

The Light Horsemen's charge -- a reenactment or Elliot's photograph? (Australian Light Horse Association)

The testimony of a forward artillery spotter, Eric George Elliottconfirmed its authenticity: 
To my surprise, I saw horsemen in extended order coming over the crest of the ridge, I packed my gear, and then came another line of troops in the same order, I then moved around to the other side of the knoll, and by this time the third line appeared, bewildered by what was happening I just lay there and gazed in astonishment, as the front line drew nearer I saw that their bayonets were drawn and that they were approaching at a hard gallop, having a camera in my haversack I got it out and took a shot, got on my horse and went as fast as I could further out to a flank and then back to H. Q.
The New South Wales Museum published a collection of photographs by Captain Robert Valentine Fell, including this picture of the cavalry charge at Be'er Sheva:

Fell's picture of the First Light Horse Brigade "going into action" at Be'er Sheva, October 31, 1917

Captain Fell's picture of the aftermath of Be'er Sheva's capture one week later

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The "American Colony" in the Holy Land in 1866, "Shamefully Humbugged by their Prophet"

Forthcoming publication
The second half of the 19th century saw many missionaries, adventurers and tourists from the United States visiting the Holy Land. They were aided by the invention of steam engine ships and the new invention of photography that provided pictures of the Holy Land that spurred their interests.

Photograph of the colony founder, George
Jones Adams, c. 1841 (Library of Congress)

One eccentric missionary was George Jones Adams of Maine who attempted to establish an "American Colony" in Jaffa.  He failed miserably, even at one point appealing to American government officials and the Governor of Maine for assistance.

Two contemporary writers described Adams and his colony.  One was an extraordinary writer and actress from Jerusalem named Lydia Mamreoff von Finkelstein Mountford (1855-1917) whose clippings we discovered in a New Zealand archives.

The other writer was an American humorist named Mark Twain.  He met some of the colony's survivors on his return from his "Innocents Abroad" voyage in 1867 and described their travails.

According to von Finkelstein -

Lydia Mamreoff von Finkelstein (Flickr,
public domain)

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 purchase, 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 because they whose duty it was to protect the colonists against such legalised frauds, either from interested motives or through gross negligence, omitted to secure for the purchasers the title deeds, which documents also were only rendered legal under certain conditions.

The American Colony encampment on the sea shore near Jaffa
(with permission of the Maine Historical Society)

Foreigners, or their agents, should be thoroughly acquainted with what perhaps at the first may seem to be the minor details of the laws of purchase and tenure before they buy real estate in Syria or Palestine ; otherwise they run a risk of paying the price many times over in bribes and lawsuits to substantiate their claims. The several American colonies proved failures through a number of causes, jealousies of and ill-will towards such enterprises existing in many quarters.

The American Colony, picture courtesy of the Library of Congress
First, the Ottoman Government never was, nor is it at the present day [1888], capable of appreciating the motives of foreigners in colonisation, and cannot see, any reason, beyond a political one, for the settlement of Europeans or Americans in the country. Secondly, besides having in the local authorities a positively hostile government to struggle against, the colonists received no proper support from their consular representatives, a circumstance perfectly well known to the native and other residents, who were not slow to avail themselves of the opportunities thus afforded them, not only to encroach on the rights of the colonists, but to overreach and wrong them in all transactions, great or small. Thirdly, the difficulties of colonists have always been increased by the jealousies of the Latin Convents....  Aroha News (New Zealand), October 24, 1888, "Palestine Fifty Years Ago and Palestine Today." 

Mark Twain, 1867 (Library of Congress,
Photo taken by Abdullah Frères in

According to Mark Twain --

...But I am forgetting the Jaffa Colonists. At Jaffa we had taken on board some forty members of a very celebrated community. They were male and female; babies, young boys and young girls; young married people, and some who had passed a shade beyond the prime of life. I refer to the "Adams Jaffa Colony." Others had deserted before. We left in Jaffa Mr. Adams, his wife, and fifteen unfortunates who not only had no money but did not know where to turn or whither to go. Such was the statement made to us.

Our forty were miserable enough in the first place, and they lay about the decks seasick all the voyage, which about completed their misery, I take it. However, one or two young men remained upright, and by constant persecution we wormed out of them some little information. They gave it reluctantly and in a very fragmentary condition, for, having been shamefully humbugged by their prophet, they felt humiliated and unhappy. In such circumstances people do not like to talk....Innocents Abroad, Chapter 57.