Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Photograph Album for the British High Commissioner

One of the main collections of photographs in the Israel State Archives is the collection of Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner in Palestine, given to us by Edwin, his son.

Edwin Samuel (1898-1978) served as an official in the Mandatory government and stayed in Israel after 1948, becoming a senior civil servant and university lecturer. He deposited a rich collection of documents and photographs in the Archives about his and his father's activities and their family.

One of the most beautiful and important items in the collection is an album called MIZPAH. It is bound in suede leather and the pages are connected by a white drawstring. It contains 51 high-quality photographs (on 26 pages) and three pages with 78 signatures, many of them identified as belonging to the American Colony in Jerusalem.
 The American Colony was founded in 1882 by American Christian immigrants, later joined by a group from Sweden. One of the occupations of part of the group was photographing Palestine. Later descendants deposited the negatives of their photographs in the Library of Congress.
Anna Spafford (1842-1923), the founder of the American colony, in the courtyard of the building which is now the American Colony hotel.
Most of the photographs were taken during Herbert Samuel's term of office (1920-1925). Two of them are earlier: one of the surrender of Ottoman Jerusalem (December 1917), and one of the Zionist Commission (1918). Apparently, the album was given to Samuel shortly before the end of his term on June 30, 1925 by members of the American Colony.
Winston Churchill and Herbert Samuel in Jerusalem, March 1921

You can see the photographs on the website of the Israel State Archives. To find out more about the Samuel family see also Edwin Samuel's fascinating memoir, "A Lifetime in Jerusalem."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Golda Meir: JFK Conspiracy Theorist

The Israel State Archives just published a series of documents commemorating 50 years since President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Half of the documents are in English, but one of the more interesting ones is in Hebrew: the minutes of the Israeli government--and Golda Meir--discussing conspiracy theories as to who killed him.

On December 1, 1963, eight days after the assassination of JFK, Golda Meir (then foreign minister) spoke in Israel's government meeting. She'd just returned from Kennedy's funeral and shared her feelings and thoughts with her colleagues.

Here are some of her words (my translation): "After that [the assassination] happened, there was a feeling that in that moment, the world changed for the Americans--not only for the Americans but the entire world. There was a feeling of personal loss for everyone, and it was not artificial. They say that 2 million people were in the streets in Washington. I haven't seen something like that – complete silence, not a word. It was a cold morning, people stood for hours. It was real mourning – a personal loss."

Then came an interesting conversation about the unsolved mysteries of the assassination--mysteries that plagued the public discussion regarding it and Kennedy's presidency in general: "In my opinion," said Golda, "there are some 'dark corners' that I doubt will be ever be cleared… The fact is there is something strange about the Dallas police. A policeman enters the building [the Texas School Book Depository] to check if everything is all right, a guy [Lee Harvey Oswald] with a package passes. The officer asks him 'what's that?' and the guy answers 'a curtain.' The policeman, instead of checking the package and verifying that it is indeed a curtain, lets him go and when someone says to the policeman 'he works with us,' he doesn’t check it as well."

"Oswald was registered as a Castro man, a communist. He tried to be in Russia, as if they [?] knew that he was in Dallas. Very strange things, but the strangest thing is the Jack Ruby affair. …He was seen on television, Oswald saw him a second before Ruby approached him, and he [Oswald] recoiled and it was obvious that Oswald recognized him [Ruby]. How did Ruby enter there? How does a stranger enter the police building? How does he park his car in the police parking area? Later a policeman said: 'if I would have seen him, I would have chased him away; we know him, he has a police record.' If one policeman identified him, probably others identified him as well. How did he enter?"

"And the American government – they now have an investigation not only into how Kennedy was assassinated, but who is Ruby and why and for what reason did he murder Oswald. A high ranking official told me that the question of whether Ruby did this on his own initiative or in order to silence Oswald is a question of war and peace for us [the US]."

"...If he [Oswald] was an emissary of Castro--if there's a clandestine group of Castro sympathizers that murdered the president, and it's organized in way that they silence the murderer … I would say this is as severe as Kennedy's murder. ...Not only am I not a detective, I don't even like detective stories, but I ask myself--I think that Ruby was someone's emissary..."

The rest of the conversation deals with Vice President Johnson, thrown into the president's seat so abruptly, and his attitude towards Israel, as well as the funeral and Jacqueline Kennedy's noble and brave demeanor that impressed Golda Meir. She also described the answer she received to the telegram of condolence she sent to Secretary of State Dean Rusk (which we published last year) and other matters.

Monday, November 18, 2013

November 11 - 95 years since the end of the First World War

95 years ago this month, the guns in Europe fell silent. After four years of terrible carnage, millions of casualties, destruction, famine, plague (the Spanish influenza), and genocide (the Armenian genocide), the Great War came to an end. In other theaters of conflict it had already ended--the war in the Middle East ended on October 30, when the Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies. In other places, it went on. The German troops in Eastern Africa kept on fighting for another two weeks. The Russian civil war, an offshoot of the Great War, kept on for another three years.

This coming year, 2014, will be the centenary of the beginning of the war, and in many places in the world (in Europe especially) ceremonies are being prepared, memorials erected, and new publications are coming out, revealing new material and recalling the history of that great struggle. We, in the Israel State Archives, also plan to publish documents and other material connected to the First World War.

The First World War is a fault line in history. It was an end point and a beginning point simultaneously. The effects of the war are felt to this day. Although there is a tendency to regard the Second World War as more important (due to its global size, its enormity in death and destruction, and its horrible barbarity), the first war is just as important, since it began changes that the second war finalized.

The First World War brought an end to four great dynasties that ruled their countries and shaped history for centuries: The Hapsburgs, who had ruled central Europe and other parts of the continent since the 12th century; The Romanovs, who had ruled Russia since the 16th century; The Ottomans, who had ruled the Middle East and parts of Europe since the 15th century; and the Hohenzollerns, who had ruled Prussia since the 18th century and the whole of Germany since the end of the 19th century. The First World War saw the rise of Bolshevism and the revolution in Russia. It also directly affected the rise of Fascism and Nazism, even as it spurred the emergence of ideas such as self-determination, human rights, women's suffrage, and international organizations such as the League of Nations.

The outcome of the First World War is felt to this day in different places in the world, especially in the Middle East: The secret Sykes-Picot agreement, signed covertly during the war, carved the Arab-dominated areas into British and French influence zones, shaping the borders of the Middle East to the present moment. The Syrian civil war and the ongoing sectarian war in Iraq can be seen as the collapse of this arrangement. The Kurdish people who were separated into four different countries by the Sykes-Picot deal are still trying to establish their own national home. The First World War also gave rise to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern, secular Turkey. His heroic defense of Gallipoli in 1915 made him a hero, and Gallipoli became a rallying point for his supports and adherents. Elsewhere, countries like Australia and New Zealand regard the First World War (especially the landing in Gallipoli) as a kind of founding moment for their statehood and a source of national pride (April 25 – ANZAC day).

We have posted in the past several stories regarding the First World War:

1)     Photographs of the First World War – a series of photographs showing German soldiers in the First World War, part of President Ben-Zvi's collection.

2)     The story behind a photograph of the German commander of the Middle East, Erich von Falkenhein and the story of his daughter, photographed with him in the old train station of Jerusalem.

As mentioned before, we hope to bring to light more information from the archives regarding this momentous period in history.