At the age of thirty, a well-to-do German Jew named Hermann Burchardt set off for Damascus and began searching for exotic peoples he could learn about and photograph. This quest brought him, in 1901, to Sana’a in Yemen, as Chen Malul writes. (Includes photographs.)
On his wanderings around the hilly capital city, [Burchardt] was stunned by a group of people he encountered: members of the Sana’a Jewish community, whose ties to other Jewish communities worldwide had been almost completely severed for generations. Together with his large entourage, Burchardt spent nearly a year with the community. He got to know them personally, to study and document their customs, and listen to their unique life stories—transcribing almost every word in his diary.
And, for the first time in history, he photographed them. The article he published in the [German Jewish] journal Ost und West included the spectacularly beautiful, first-ever photographs of the Yemenite Jewish community.
The images were nothing short of a revelation for European Jewry. . . . It seemed as if the world’s most authentic Jews, who had lived completely isolated from any foreign influence, had finally been found—at least, this is what they believed in Europe. The article so excited the journal’s readership that the photographs were turned into postcards, which were sold and circulated by the thousands.