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


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict