8 Things You Need to Know About… Nathan Axelrod

Pioneer of Hebrew cinema

1. Nathan Axelrod was born in Russia in 1905 and made aliyah in 1926. Finding no film industry in Palestine, he improvised some equipment and began filming.

cropAxelrod2. He made a studio out of two wooden shacks, dubbing his creation “Eat Your Heart Out, Hollywood.” The studio began putting out films in 1927, initially as the Modelet Company. In 1934, as the Carmel Company, it began filming weekly newsreels.

3. Axelrod filmed Israeli pioneers establishing settlements, draining swamps, irrigating new farmland, developing Tel Aviv, building the land and developing cultural life. Later he filmed the founding of Nahariya, the immigration of German Jewry and the declaration of Israel’s independence. Film foot by film foot, he created a treasure trove.

4. He made some of the earliest films in the Hebrew language. In 1931, he scripted and photographed the first locally-produced feature film, a comedy set at the annual Purim carnival in Tel Aviv. It was called “Biyemei” (Once Upon a Time). He also directed films, including “Don Quishote and Sa’adia Pantsa” (1956).

5. In the 1960s he produced the film “The True Story of Palestine,” comprised mainly of excerpts from the Carmel newsreels. In the 70s, “The Pillar of Fire,” about the Zionist movement, was created by Israeli TV largely from Axelrod’s documentary footage.

axelrod head shot6. Axelrod’s film archive is a priceless compilation documenting the years 1927-58. It includes roughly 400,000 feet (two hundred hours) of film: 150,000 before the founding of the State of Israel and 250,000 after. The story of its conservation, duplication and transfer to the Israeli State Archives is a saga in itself, covering the years 1959-87.

7. The original films are in France at the National Film Institute. The Israeli State Archive has a full set of duplicates; you can see some of them online at YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOH_oW31tWhVFHwreAxhIgA

8. Nathan Axelrod died in 1987, leaving the largest and most comprehensive collection of documentaries of Israel’s early years. The full collection is described in The Nathan Axelrod Collection, first published in 1994.

N_L_DSC01979You’ll find Natan Akselrod Street in north Tel Aviv running east off Sderot Levi Eshkol, not far from Arnold Schoenberg Square.

Thanks to Ido Biran facebook.com/telavivi1909 for the street photo.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Charles Lutz

Swiss diplomat who save Jewish lives

1. Charles “Carl” Lutz was born in Walzenhausen, Switzerland, in 1895. He studied in the United States and then elected to remain there for more than twenty years, working at the Swiss legation in Washington, DC and in various consular offices.

2. From the mid-thirties until early in the forties, he served in Palestine as Swiss consul. His photo files of those years are housed at Yad Vashem.

3. In January 1942, he arrived in Budapest as the Swiss vice-consul. Because of the war then raging, he also served the interests of the United States, Great Britain and twelve other countries that had cut off ties with Hungary.

220px-Carl_Lutz_portrait4. When the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944, Lutz tried to stop deportations of Jews to the extermination camps.

5. Working alone and with Raoul Wallenberg (of the Swedish foreign ministry), the Red Cross and others, he issued passports and documents and organized rescue missions, providing safe houses for Jews. Here’s how it worked: Initially he issued four group certificates of aliyah for 1000 persons each – he could issue these because the British held the mandate in Palestine. Soon he “augmented” the certificates, so that each of the thousand persons could bring their families along with them. Almost 50,000 Jews were put out of harm’s way with Swiss letters of protection that safeguarded them until their departure for Palestine.

6. He allowed Zionist youth activists to work out of his office; in October 1944, they forged 100,000 more of these documents – but the plot was discovered, and Lutz was forced by the authorities to identify the false papers.

7. The Germans established a separate ghetto for the document holders. Lutz managed to procure additional buildings to house 3000 more Jews under his protection. Only a handful of them did not survive the war.

8. When, in November of 1944, Eichmann ordered a forced march of Budapest’s Jews to the Austrian border, Lutz –  among others – pulled as many Jews as he could out of the shuffling columns and returned them to Budapest. He is said to have jumped into the Danube to save a bleeding Jewish woman, bluffing his way with her past her firing squad and into his car.

Swiss stamp honoring Lutz

Swiss stamp honoring Lutz

9. When the Soviets invaded, he and his wife Gertrud (“Trudi”) fled Budapest and returned to Switzerland. In 1964, he and his wife were named to the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

10. Lutz was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in Bern in 1975. He is estimated to have saved the lives of 62,000 people.

In Haifa, Rehov Charles Lutz runs from the railway station to the northernmost point of the Bat Galim neighborhood.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Hanna Senesh

National heroine

1. Hanna Senesh (Szenes) was born in Budapest in July 1921 to a wealthy, distinguished, assimilated family. Her father was a well-known writer.

2. She, too, wished to write and, starting at age thirteen, kept a diary. She had a modern Hungarian education, but became attracted to Zionism when, in high school, she came into contact with anti-Semites.

Szenes-Hannah-23. In 1939, she went to study agriculture in Palestine. At the end of the two-year course, she joined a kibbutz at Caesarea. Working there in the kitchen and the laundry, she was less than satisfied, as reflected in her diary. During this time, she wrote poetry and a play about kibbutz life.

4. In 1943, the Jewish agency approached her about a clandestine military operation to offer aid to European Jewry. Her Hungarian background made her perfect for the project.

5. She joined the Palmach, studying first to be a wireless operator and then a paratrooper.

senesh parachuting6. In March 1944, she was dropped into Yugoslavia – one of more than thirty Jews parachuted in by the British Army to establish contact with Hungarian partisans and to aid the beleaguered Jewish populations. She crossed into Hungary in June, her entry delayed by the German invasion. Within hours, she was picked up by the Hungarian police, imprisoned in Budapest and tortured. Most of her fellow parachutists also were captured within days; only one managed to survive the war.

7. Her mother was arrested and brought to the same prison in an attempt to break her. To no avail: she would not give up the wireless codes that her enemy wanted. In November 1944 she was tried for treason and sentenced to death. Age twenty-three, she faced her firing squad.

szenes8. Her mother survived the war, and it was through her mother that her diaries were brought to public attention. In 1950, her remains were transferred to Israel and buried in the parachutists’ section on Mount Herzl. That same year, Kibbutz Yad Hannah was established, named in her memory.

9. In 1993, a Hungarian military court officially exonerated her.

Hanna S10. Here are four samples of her writing; some you may have seen set to music (please forgive the spacing in the poetry):

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.

 

In my life’s chain of events nothing was accidental. Everything happened according to an inner need.

 

My God, my God, I pray that these things never end

The sand and the sea,

The rustle of the waters,

Lightning of the Heavens,

The prayers of Man.

 

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its breath for honor’s sake

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

 

In Haifa, you’ll find Hanna Senesh Street south of the Municipal Theatre, running parallel to Sederot Wingate.

 

 

10 Things You Need to Know About… Shimon bar Kokhba

The warrior we remember on Lag B’Omer

1. Shimon bar Kokhba led a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in the years 132-135 CE.

barkokb2. Let’s start with his name. We know his first name, Shimon, from coins minted at the time of the revolt. Likely, his surname was initially Bar Koseva. It is thought that this was changed, perhaps by Rabbi Akiva, to bar Kokhba at the time of the revolt. Messianic hopes were high then, and it was said he descended, as was required by Jewish tradition, from the Davidic line. The reconfigured name read “son of a star,” a reference to the prophecy in Numbers 24:17, “there shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the corners of Moab.” Later, when the revolt went down to stupendous failure, he was called bar Koziba, meaning “son of disappointment.” Each change required the substitution of just one letter.

3. For three years he led the revolt as warrior and as executive (Nasi, or prince) of an independent Jewish state. As a leader he was strict and punctilious. It is said that he required his soldiers to cut of a finger as a kind of initiation rite. When he went into battle, he is said to have asked God for neither assistance nor discouragement, saying, “There is no need for You to assist us, but do not embarrass us either.” Letters written in his name during the war show not only his focus on the smallest issues of camp life, but also on issues relating to Jewish observance, including Shabbat, tithes and holidays. Archaeologist Yigael Yadin says that he also tried to revive Hebrew (Aramaic was the language spoken at that time) as the official language of his realm.Bar_Kokhba_Letter-300x236

4. The rebellion broke out when the emperor Hadrian, who had initially been somewhat welcoming to the Jews, took increasingly hard measures against them, appointing rulers who ravaged the population, interdicting religious practices such as circumcision, and starting to build a temple to Jupiter on the site of the destroyed Temple.

5. At first, success was rapid. Bar Kokhba’s forces, including Jews and non-Jews, overran some fifty strongholds in Judea and 985 undefended towns and villages. Hadrian sent stronger troops to fight the insurgents, and the Jews defeated them, too. Coins were minted with Bar Kokhba’s name and slogans such as “the freedom of Israel.”

6. More Roman legions were dispatched to Judea, and rather than waging open war, they set siege to the Jewish fortresses and villages, utilizing a scorched-earth policy that weakened the bodies and the will of the inhabitants. The tide of war turned, yet the Romans continued to take heavy casualties, too.

7. Bar Kokhba’s headquarters in Bethar also housed the Sanhedrin. It was the vital center of the nation and a military stronghold strategically located on a mountain ridge overlooking the road to Jerusalem. Here, after a bitter siege, the final battle was fought. When the Romans conquered the stronghold, they killed every Jew there, sparing just one youth, Simeon ben Gamliel.

8. It was reported by the Roman consul and historian Cassius Dio (135-236 CE) that 580,000 Jews were killed in the war, not counting those who died of famine, disease and fire. More were sold into slavery. The Romans plowed Jerusalem with a yoke of oxen, then built on its site the city of Aelia Capitolina, where Jews were not permitted. Judea, Galilee and Samaria were reconstituted as a single province, Syria Palaestina. Persecution of the Jews, and prohibition of religious practices, continued at an even higher pitch until the end of Hadrian’s reign in 138 CE.

9. Bar Kokhba has been the subject of some twenty works of music and literature over the last century and a half, in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, Hungarian and Danish.

10. Why Lag B’Omer? In modern times, Zionism connected Bar Kokhba with heroism in the face of overwhelming odds, and today in Israel the holiday continues to symbolize the Jewish fighting spirit.