Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The forgotten story of Dora Liese Ettlinger

Dora Liese Ettlinger was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, on the 2nd of August 1922. She came to Manadotry Palestine at the age of 11, in  April 1934, with her mother: the Nazis had come to power and Jews needed to leave. A few days after her 20th birthday, in August 1942, she applied for citizenship from the British Mandate authorities, and supplied this photo.

At some point after she recieved citizenship she enlisted in the British army. On October 14th 1945, still in the British army, she was killed in a traffic accident and buried in Cairo.

The part about her death we know from the folks who run the commemortive website for the soldiers who have died in Israel's wars; as a volunteer from the pre-indiepndence Yishuv she is counted among them. Until recently they knew nothing more about her than her name, date of death and place of burial. Then our new website went up, and they found her application for citizenship, a 20-page file which includes a letter she wrote supporting her application, and all sorts of other documents. Some of them are even in English, that being the language the British authorities used. Thus, a 21st century archival project helped to reconstruct the memory of a young woman who died more than 70 years ago.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The signature of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Righteous Among the Nations, found in ISA's files

Last Thursday, Israel commemorated Holocaust Memorial day. The occasion gives us the opportunity to present to the public an interesting document from the ISA connected to the story of Jews' escape and survival during World War II.

In the Archives' passport and travel documents collection, we found a passport with the signature of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who was the Vice-Consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania in 1940 and distributed visas to Japan to 6,000 Jews. These visas helped save the lives of their recipients. Sugihara received the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Institute in 1984 and passed away in 1986.
Chiune Sugihara/Wikipedia

Chiune Sugihara signature (in the middle of the page)

You can read a more detailed description of Sugihara's noble actions in the Yad Vashem entry about him or on the Jewish Virtual Library site here.

The ISA's collection of travel documents and identity cards from all over the world apparently comes from the Immigration Department of the British mandatory government. People receiving Palestinian citizenship were required to give up their former citizenship and passport. The same procedure was followed in the early years of the State until 1951. A sample of the documents was kept by the Ministry of the Interior, which handed them over to the Archives in the 1980s.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Correspondence with MESA about freedom of research at the ISA

Our new website is up. Our initial intention was to go online without trumpeting the fact, and tinker with things for a while. Later this year, perhaps at the end of the summer, we'll make a real effort to tell folks we've arrived, but not yet; at the moment we're still disembarking from the plane, so to speak, and have not fully arrived. Sadly, our critics didn't wait, and launched a campaign to decry parts of our efforts without waiting to see if perhaps the trade-offs we've decided upon might actually be a good idea. So in addition to the challenges of launching the website and operating it correctly, we had to spend a bit of time this week fending off the critics.

The most comprehensive online English-language criticism came from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), who  sent us a stern admonition about how we are about to destroy academic freedom in Israel, or something like that.

Once we had ascertained that MESA would post our response alongside their letter, we took advantage of the opportunity to write about the set of reforms currently underway at the ISA. Here it is in full:

April 21, 2016
Prof. Beth Baron,
MESA President, City University of New York
Prof. Amy W. Newhall,
Mesa Executive Director, University of Arizona
Dear Colleagues,
Had you taken time to learn more about the activities of the Israel State Archives (ISA) before publishing your letter of April 19th 2016, you would have avoided a number of significant inaccuracies as well as some minor ones such as our address and the spelling of my name.
The ISA is in its fourth year of an ambitious 17-year program to put its entire collections online in a free and unfettered form. The program includes high-quality scanning of the entire collections (36 million scanned pages so far); creating a new layer of knowledge management and applying it as an advanced catalogue system; utilization of technological progress such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Business Intelligence (BI) and crowdsourcing, to name some of the more obvious tools. The cataloging staff of the archives is scheduled to multiply more than tenfold, and our budget has been dramatically expanded. This is happening because the Cabinet itself, no less, decided that the existing state of the archives was unsatisfactory and the citizenry of our democracy deserved better access to the documentation of its government; it was the Prime Minster and his colleagues who gave us our new marching orders.
The jewel in the crown will be a tri-lingual website (Hebrew-Arabic-English) where everything will be easily accessible with the help of an embedded version of Google's search engine. A working draft of the website has been online for months, and has been used by many researchers.  As a matter of project management we recently decided that we needed to move from the laboratory to the real world, fully cognizant that this move would initially encounter significant wrinkles which can be discovered and ironed only by being in the real world. I am confident this initial version will be stable and fully operable within a few weeks; more advanced versions will go up in the coming months; we have a budget item for the continual improvement of the website all the way to the end of 2029.
Within a year the ISA website will be one of the most advanced archival websites in the world. The documentation will enjoy all the many advantages that digital data has over paper: flexibility, mobility and portability, replicability, and searchability, to mention but a few. Users will be able to arrange the documents into files of their own. Academics will be able to use high-quality versions of original documents in teaching and collaboration. Most transforming, to my mind, will be the ability to link the documents themselves into academic publications. Instead of footnotes, electronic versions of publications will give direct access to the documentation itself; paper versions will indicate where readers can find the documents on their iPads.

The reading room at the ISA remains open, and researchers with compelling need to see paper files will do so. We will encourage them not to, however. As a matter of principle because the online access will be better; as a matter of preservation, as experience shows that paper files are often harmed by users, inadvertently or otherwise; and as a matter of logistics. One of the most significant aspects of the new website relates to the gap between some one million records in the online catalogue and the first 80,000 scanned files. Whenever a researcher needs a file which is not yet online, we will process it and put it there within about two weeks, free of charge. Even now, with the website still in its infancy, we are receiving orders for more files than before, and the staff in the storage facility cannot deal simultaneously with three tasks (systematic scanning, ad-hoc scanning and delivery of paper files). 
Your fear regarding the censor is highly exaggerated. First, because ca. 95% of the collection will never be submitted to the censor. Second, because the remainder undergoes security declassification anyway, just as in the United States and all other democracies world-wide; the declassifiers and the censors generally agree with each other. Third, because the remit of the censor is strictly limited to a small number of topics, most of which are rarely the object of academic research in the first place. Fourth, because decisions of the censor are subject, legally and in practice, to the scrutiny of the High Court of Justice. And fifth, because the ISA is scrupulous in indicating each and every case where information has been redacted. Researchers who object to specific decisions of redacting can, and do, request remedy first from me, then from the courts.
It's not a perfect world, and the conditions in Israel's archives are far from perfect as well. Yet we are making dramatic improvements in the services we offer, and are rapidly approaching an unparalleled level of openness. We are promoting academic freedom, not violating it. By throwing open the archives to innovative uses and new segments of the public we hope to encourage new research and new researchers.
Precisely the opposite of your fears.
As agreed upon with Ms. Sara L. Palmer of the University of Arizona, I request you publish this response at any venue in which you published your letter of April 19th.
Dr. Yaacov Lozowick
Archivist of the State of Israel

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Graven Images" in Jerusalem? The Story of the Menorah near the Knesset, a Gift from the British Friends of Israel

The menorah near the Knesset building in Givat Ram.
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office, 2005

At the beginning of the 1950s, relations between Israel and Britain, the former mandatory power in Palestine, were still cool.  Lord Edwin Samuel, the son of Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner for Palestine, and MP Clement Davies, leader of the Liberal party, decided to sponsor a project to produce a bronze menorah as a gift from the friends of Israel in Britain to the Knesset, Israel's parliament. 

Benno Elkan with the model of the menorah in his London studio.
Photograph: Tamar Hayardeni, Wikimedia
Some 400 MPs and other public figures and organizations donated £20,000 to finance the work of sculptor Benno Elkan, a Jewish refugee from Germany.

On 15 April 1956, at the start of Israel's eighth Independence Day, the menorah was unveiled  at a ceremony in downtown Jerusalem, near the building of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Knesset speaker Joseph Sprinzak received the gift, which stood four metres high and was decorated with scenes from Jewish history from the days of the patriarchs until the Holocaust and the founding of Israel. British Ambassador Sir John Nicholls and Clement Davies also took part in the ceremony. Today, 60 years later, we present photographs of the menorah from the ISA's recently digitized collection of photographs by Yehuda Eisenstark. We also show documents from the collection of Chief Rabbi Isaac Yitzhak Halevy Herzog, reflecting the controversy in religious circles over the gift.
This video clip shows a newsreel on the unveiling and other events of Independence Day in 1956

The menorah was placed in a small park near the Knesset building, Beit Frumin. On 10 May 1956 Yehuda Eisenstark (1912-2005) who studied photography and journalism in his home town of  Lvov in East Galicia and came to Palestine in 1939, took these views of the menorah.

Like the menorah symbol of the state, the Knesset menorah was designed to symbolize the restoration of Jewish sovereignty, in contrast to the captured Temple menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome. From the beginning of the project religious circles expressed reservations for two reasons: the prohibition on making a seven branched candelabrum like that used in the Temple, and the fear that the design would include human figures, because of the prohibition on worshipping graven images. Eventually it was decided to seek an opinion from Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, and the papers of Rabbi Herzog held in the ISA include an article which he published on the subject in the halachic journal "Sinai". 

Herzog decided that the menorah was permissible under certain conditions, and his brother-in-law David Hillman, a London-based artist, spoke to Elkan to make sure that these conditions were met. They included making sure that the figures on the menorah were in bas relief and not free standing, and that all of them were suitably clothed. The menorah would not include any container for oil, to make clear that it was not intended for use (File P4243/4) .

In the event, the unveiling of the menorah was not accompanied by any public protests. In 1966 it was moved to its present site near the new Knesset building in Givat Ram. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A new website with free birth-pangs

Our new website went online this week. And straightaway it didn't crash. But it does have some mighty creaks. We thought we'd put nine million pages online (that's 9,000,000). Turns out some four million have been displaced. We thought readers interested in a file which has yet to be scanned could simply click on a form and order it - well the blue button doesn't work. We were pretty convinced we knew how to update data in a hurry... yes, but the term "hurry" may need a bit of modification. And so on.

It pains us to say this, but not that long ago the rich and tech-savvy government of the United States launched a snazzy new website for heath insurance matters, and then spent three months fixing it in the full glare of world attention. At this stage, we still think we'll need days or two weeks, not months.

Of course, even once the website is stable it will be far form complete. We even put up a list of things we intend to improve over the coming months or a year. Getting this far has required collaboration of about 200 people at the archives and in a series of supporting technology firms; no-one's going home yet and we're all still working.

A local paper reported today that we're fumbling; this was then magnified by twitter and other channels. The report made two points. First, it told of a group of historians who are convinced that the need to work with scanned documents will seriously hamper their ability to ply their trade. We beg to disagree. The idea that archives, unlike all other parts of the modern world, must remain rooted in analog modes of communication and information processing, is an idea we don't accept; we also suggest that our users be patient with us for those two weeks and then pile onto us and see what happens. Who knows? Maybe we'll prove that it can be done, the migration to the 21st century.

The second complaint was that the ISA has suddenly subordinated itself to the censor, who will block lots of interesting information the public would like to see. This stems from a misunderstanding of our legal and also logistic situation.

Whether it's a good thing that Israel has a censor or not, is not a question for the archives to answer. The reality is that there is such an institution. Its writ does not reach more than 90% of what's in the archives; it does reach a small percentage which deals with information about some security issues. On those issues, the archives has been cooperating with the censor for years, because that's the law. What has abruptly changed is the size of the issue; by putting millions of pages online all at once, the number of files the censor needs to look at, by law, has also skyrocketed. Yet this is a one-off event. Once the censor works through the backlog, we'll go back to the previous mode of operation, which wasn't a problem then, and shouldn't be a problem now.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Pre-launch hiatus

Early April we intend to put our new website online. The old one, here, is admittedly mildly ghastly. It's hardly user-friendly, but more important, there isn't much there. The new website is the culmination of years of efforts, since the Cabinet decided back in 2012 that the ISA needed to operate as if it was already the 21st century. The single most important change will be the attempt simply to put the entire archives online. Users will write their query, the website will offer relevant findings, the users will click on them and read (or listen to, or watch) the results.

We're not going to have the entire archives online in April 2016. But we hope to be closer then than we are now.

Making this happen has required concerted efforts and significant resources (you might recollect this blogpost on the matter from last year). Bridging the final mile between here and there will require us to focus almost entirely on the tasks at hand and the preparations yet to be completed. Any and all other tasks will have to wait.

Including blogging.

So this is to announce that from now until May, blogging will probably be very light, or possibly not at all. We hope to be back in ever better form as soon as possible.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Power of a Word (or Two): How a Mistake in the Pope's Telegram Aroused Hopes in Israel, 1964

The holdings of the ISA contain millions of documents, mostly consisting of the written word. These documents show how important  wording can be, and how much can hang on the exact word or phrase. This is even more true in diplomatic documents, where weeks are sometimes spent on refining a formula. Diplomatic telegrams are usually succinct, and every word counts. Here is an example of a small change in a telegram which caused a major diplomatic commotion. It was sent after the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in January 1964, the first visit by a reigning pope. At that time, before the Six Day War, many of the Christian Holy Places were in Jordan, and the Pope visited both Jordan and Israel.

We covered this subject recently in our exhibition at the Foreign Ministry, "The Revealed and the Concealed". Although defined as a private visit, the Israeli authorities hoped that it would bring about an improvement in Israel's difficult relations with the Vatican, which had not recognized the state. In addition, like many other countries, the Vatican did not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital (see more posts about the status of Jerusalem here and here).

 President Shazar welcoming Pope Paul VI at Megiddo, 5 January 1964.
On his right is  Prime Miister Levi Eshkol.
Photograph: Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office  
At first it seemed that their hopes had been realized. The pope met with Israel's president, Zalman Shazar, at Megiddo on his arrival from Jordan, and at the Mandlebaum Gate crossing into East Jerusalem. The Israeli ambassador in Rome, Maurice Fischer, summed up the visit as a great success. Although the Jordanians had protested against Shazar's mention in his speeches of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the Vatican had brushed off these complaints. On his way back to Rome Pope Paul sent Shazar a telegram of thanks through the control tower at Lod Airport, which began with the words: "To his Excellency the President of Israel, Mr. Zalman Shazar, Jerusalem." There was great excitement over this formula, which seemed to show that the Vatican recognized Israel, and Jerusalem as its capital. The fact that the telegram was signed "Pope Pius 6" instead of Pope Paul did not set off any alarm bells in Israel. Shazar's aides were delighted and sent a copy of the telegram to all the media.

But the satisfaction in Jerusalem did not last long. By the following day it became clear that the text of the telegram was incorrect. It was the staff at the control tower and not the Pope's aides who had written the address. In a telegram to Fischer, the deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry explained the mistake and added the correct version as supplied by the Vatican. Here the opening sentence was addressed to "his Excellency the President, Mr. Zalman Shazar, Tel Aviv." Fischer proposed to protest to the Vatican officials that the president was insulted that the Vatican had chosen his capital for him, but on reflection thought better of this cynical remark.

Fischer's correspondence with the Foreign Ministry is in File MFA 217/13 and can be seen on our Hebrew blog. The writer of the post there, who was a child at the time, vividly remembers the excitement of the Pope's visit and the elation surrounding the telegram, soon to be followed by disappointment – all because of two words.

 The Vatican finally recognized Israel in 1993. In February 2014 Pope Francis visited Israel on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul's historic visit. Below you can see a video clip about Pope Paul's journey posted by the Vatican.