A Century-Old Postcard and the Forgotten Victims of a Pogrom

Besides being a distinguished scholar of ancient Judaism, Shnayer (Sid) Leiman is also one of the great collectors of, and experts on, Jewish books and ephemera. Herewith, his account of his efforts to identify a photograph of an aged Jew in pious garb on a postcard:

The [postcard] presents a black and white photograph, also standard for its time. It features a tombstone with a Hebrew inscription; a mausoleum behind the tombstone, with a brief Hebrew inscription; and what appears to be a cemetery attendant, with his hand atop the tombstone. Most important, it contains a German heading under the photograph, which reads in translation: “From the Eastern Front of the theater of war, Wilna, an old Jewish tombstone.”

The reverse prints the name of the publishing company that produced the postcard: “The Brothers Hochland in Königsberg, Prussia.”

In terms of historical context, the information provided by the postcard—a German heading; Vilna is defined as the eastern front of the theater of war; the postcard was produced in Königsberg can lead to only one conclusion, namely that the postcard was produced on behalf of the German troops that had occupied, and dominated, Vilna during World War I. The German military seized Vilna on September 18, 1915 and remained there until the collapse of the Kaiser’s army on the western front, which forced the withdrawal of all German troops in foreign countries at the very end of 1918.

Thus, our photograph was taken, and the postcard was produced, during the period just described. Its Sitz im Leben was the need for soldiers to send brief messages back home in an approved format. The ancient sites of the occupied city made for an attractive postcard. (This may have been especially true for Jewish soldiers serving in the German army.)

Leiman explains at length his quest to establish the identity not only the tombstone, but also the cemetery attendant. The quest leads him to October 8 to 10, 1920, during the unstable period that followed World War I’s end, when Polish soldiers seized Vilna and raped, robbed, and beat local Jews, murdering six. One of them was Meir Zelmanowicz, the man in the photograph.

Read more at Seforim

More about: Anti-Semitism, East European Jewry, Vilna


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship