The territory of what is today the State of Israel was part of British-ruled Palestine between 1933 and 1945. When Hitler rose to power in Germany, some 60,000 Jews emigrated from the Third Reich to Palestine, while about 220,000 moved there from other countries. Before the British victory at El Alamein in Egypt in November 1942, the British feared that Palestine, like its neighbors, would be invaded by the German forces advancing from North Africa in an eastern direction. During 1942, news of the mass murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe reached Palestine. The leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine attempted to help rescue Jews in Europe, but its ability to accomplish anything to that effect was extremely limited.
The State of Israel has a great variety of archives: Governmental, national, historical, public and private. The Israel State Archives are officially authorized to supervise, guide and administer the archives of government institutions and local authorities. The Israel State Archives also authorize and supervise the country‘s private archives.
Israeli archives store important Holocaust-relevant collections. They include vast amounts of personal documentation brought to the country by refugees and survivors of the Holocaust, as well as testimonies given by survivors during and after the war. These testimonies describe the survivors’ experiences in the ghettos, camps, hideaways and with the partisans. It is important to point out that refugees in Palestine corresponded with relatives still living in their countries of origin. The letters from their relatives contain important information regarding the situation in these countries during the Nazi-occupation and the immediate post-war period.
EHRI has identified 52 Holocaust-relevant repositories in Israel and is integrating a considerable amount of Yad Vashem’s collection descriptions as well as some other descriptions on to the EHRI Portal. The Yad Vashem Archives, whose official activities date back to 1946, holds the largest number of Holocaust-related questions by far. When the Israeli Parliament entrusted Yad Vashem with the mission to commemorate the Shoah and its victims in 1953, Yad Vashem began to systematically collect Holocaust-related documentation from all kinds of sources.
The first documents arrived at Yad Vashem from the “Historical Commissions” and various documentation centres, but also from public institutions, researchers and private individuals. Material collected in Israel was added to the documentation collected by Jews during the war in the ghettos, camps and hideaways. Since its establishment, the Yad Vashem Archives have initiated activities with a view to collecting and copying Holocaust-related documents that have been housed in various archives in Europe and throughout the world. Over the years, they have collected extensive and comprehensive documentation in various forms. For more detailed information on the activities and holdings of the Yad Vashem Archives, see the extensive report.
Various other archives in Israel also hold copy collections from official documentation which has been obtained from archives throughout Europe.
In addition to Yad Vashem, the Israel Ghetto Fighters House, the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust and the Moreshet Mordechai Anielevich Memorial are important institutions that hold and collect Holocaust-related sources. Furthermore, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, the Central Zionist Archives, the Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, Yad Yaari and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee should be mentioned here. For more information on these institutions, see the extensive report.
Finally, official documentation from the British authorities in Palestine can be found in Israel, as well as documentation from Jewish organizations and public institutions of that period. These sources reflect the many ways in which emigrants arrived in Palestine, and the hardships they endured, but also rescue attempts undertaken by both individual and political or public institutions.
A. EHRI approach to Israel: Pre-existing research and third-party surveys, archival guides and expert support
In its efforts to identify Holocaust-relevant sources worldwide, EHRI was provided with survey expertise by its consortium partner and RE’I Project participant Yad Vashem. EHRI’s identification and investigation work at Yad Vashem was led by Judith Levin, who is Head of the Yad Vashem Cataloguing Department, while Masha Yonin, Head of the Yad Vashem Acquisition Department was EHRI’s key contact point regarding information on Holocaust-relevant sources outside of Israel. They were supported by many other Yad Vashem staff members on various occasions.
It was crucial to include collection data held by Yad Vashem in the EHRI portal. In EHRI’s first phase, It was decided to divide the work into two steps. In the first step, descriptions of record groups and sub-record groups existing in the Yad Vashem database were manually added to the EHRI portal. Alongside the addition of the descriptions to the portal, dozens of authority entries were developed – especially personalities and organizations – which were later linked to the appropriate collection descriptions. In the second step, we added about 47 record groups and sub-record groups comprising 11,000 units of description in an IT-driven integration process.
In EHRI’s second phase, the export activity of Yad Vashem had two goals. Firstly, EHRI wanted to update Yad Vashem’s existing content on the EHRI portal, improve the quality of the descriptions and add new records. Secondly, the goal was to have a sustainable connection between Yad Vashem and the EHRI portal, allowing content updates and additions of new material on a regular basis.
In this manner, an additional 45 record groups, which have an internal hierarchical structure, have been exported to the portal. There were several challenges in the export process, including the definition of the export structure and standardization of the data; development of new workflows while bearing in mind that they should be designed to allow automatization in the future; and the creation of a new service in the Yad Vashem digital infrastructure for publishing data in a sustainable way.
The team used the EAD conversion tool provided by EHRI to create the EAD files as it allows for the creation of the EADs in a way which is consistent with the constraints requested by the EHRI project.
The EAD records were published using the Metadata Publication Tool provided by EHRI. This tool allows exposure of the EAD records for harvesting. The export was done in two languages, Hebrew and English, and is available in the portal.
In Israel, EHRI was able to rely on and cooperate with Israel Archives Network, or RE'I (http://www.a-z.digital/en/), Project of the National Library and State Archives in Israel which in 2013 conducted a survey, under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office, to identify and map most archives in Israel. In the process, information was collected on archives holding Holocaust-related material, as well as on the documentation itself. The RE'I Project aimed at building an infrastructure, creating uniform standards for the archives in Israel, ensuring proper maintenance of documentation in various archives in Israel, and granting easy archival access to the public in Israel.
The RE’I Project has established that there are some 600 archives in Israel. Whether they hold Holocaust-relevant sources, and to what extent, was largely unknown before.
In the first implementation stage of the RE’I Project, a survey was conducted in all the archives that had been designated by the project steering committee. Surveyors were recruited to visit the various archives and to conduct an online survey via a dedicated survey system provided by Ransys Feedback Technologies. The survey was conducted over the course of a year. At the start of the survey, a list of 350 archives was available.
Cooperation between EHRI and RE'I, which was facilitated by Yad Vashem and started in the planning stages of the survey, allowed for the insertion of questions relating to the existence of Holocaust-related materials in the archives to be surveyed. The questions were designed to ascertain whether or not any Holocaust-related documentation existed in a particular archive; the nature of the documentation (personal documents, official documents, testimonies, memoirs); and the number of relevant collections in the archive. Likewise, the archives were asked to briefly describe the relevant collections and to provide their signatures.
About 200 of the archives surveyed responded that they had Holocaust-related documentation. A large number of the archives also mentioned the types of existing documentation in their possession. Only a few, however, responded to questions regarding the number of relevant collections and their signatures. It appears that the reason for this is that many of the archives in Israel do not use the practice of registering documentation at the collection level, but rather at the file level. Another reason is the fact that some of the documentation is dispersed in files or collections pertaining to other topics. This hinders the identification and description of the documentation.
Therefore, most of the relevant information gained from the RE'I survey pertains to the identification of Israeli archives holding various types of Holocaust-related material. In some cases there is also a very general description of the documentation. For the most part, it is difficult to extract quantitative data, collection signatures or detailed descriptions from the survey. Some of the archives are already included in the EHRI portal. More detailed information on the documentation in some of the archives, and its inclusion in the EHRI portal, will be possible once the archives become accessible in the framework of the RE'I project and the data is imported.
Below are examples of data provided by archives that participated in the survey, regarding Holocaust-related documentation in their possession. These examples represent the various types of archives in Israel: municipal or community archives – cities, communal settlements (moshavim), kibbutzim; archives of public and private organisations, institutions and political parties; and archives dedicated to a specific topic.
Moshav and kibbutz archives primarily hold personal documentation of past and present members, refugees and Holocaust survivors, which is often kept in their personal files. The most prevalent types of documentation in these archives are testimonies and memoirs. Some of the archives have reported that the relevant material is scattered among various files and difficult to identify.
It should be noted that some of the kibbutz and moshav members and some of the archives in these locations have submitted the originals or copies of the documentation in their possession to archives that primarily collect Holocaust-related documentation, such as Lohamei Haghetaot, Yad Ya'ari, Masuah and Moreshet. For example, the Yad Vashem Archives contain record group O.90 which includes documentation collected from kibbutzim. Since the survey did not include a question relating to original vs. copied documentation, it is difficult to say how much of the documentation is original. It should also be noted that some of the archives included information on Holocaust commemoration in their reports on Holocaust-related documentation.
- Kibbutz Beit Hashita archive – 50 items. Testimonies of survivors and orphans adopted by the kibbutz. There is also material on the absorption of youth groups and groups that were trained in the kibbutz and went on to establish other kibbutzim.
- Kfar Yehoshua archive – requests for certificates; documentation of the youth groups that arrived from Germany and Romania, documentation in members' personal files.
- Kibbutz Hafetz Haim archive – 16 files. Testimonies of kibbutz members, most of whom were Holocaust survivors.
- Kibbutz Mayanot archive – 25 testimonies; letters of Yosef Kaplan, Shomer Hatzair emissary in Warsaw, who perished in the Holocaust and who corresponded with kibbutz members; documentation on Haviva Reich and other kibbutz members.
- Kibbutz Hatzerim archive – 60 items. File on the Teheran children; information on kibbutz members who were Holocaust survivors.
- Yad Ya'ari Hashomer Hatzair Archive – about 20 collections, including Hashomer Hatzair in Poland; Hashomer Hatzair in Yugoslavia; the bureau in Paris; Hashomer Hatzair worldwide; personal collections of Abba Kovner, Shalom Cholawski, Chaika Grossman, the sculptor Nathan Rapoport.
- Machon Lavon Labor Movement Archive – 2 collections. The Hehalutz liaison office in Geneva - Nathan Schwalb (Dror) archive; collection of certificates from the Holocaust period.
- Maccabee Archive – personal stories of athletes from Vilna who were banned from the 1936 Olympics by the Nazi regime.
- Yad Chaim Weizmann Archive – correspondence regarding requests for rescue and aid and memos describing the situation of the Jews in Europe.
- Felicia Blumental Music Center archive – Huberman archive: personal correspondence of Bronislaw Huberman regarding the Nazi rise to power in Germany in the framework of a pan-European movement and correspondence with the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler regarding the banishment of Jews from cultural life in Germany due to the antisemitic policies of the Nazis.
- Leo Baeck Institute for the Study of German and Central European Jewry archive – unknown number of unique and rare letters, diaries and personal testimonies from the Holocaust period.
- Hebrew University archive – There is not an exact number of items. Pre-war acceptance applications from individuals who anticipated the future and attempted to escape from Europe; diplomas awarded to students; documentation of project "Treasures of the Diaspora": campaign to salvage materials during the war, especially towards its end in 1945 and afterwards, when it was possible to move freely in those areas. The university sent missions to salvage materials, books and archives of Jewish communities in Europe. The administrative documentation that was produced during the campaign is found in the archive and the materials themselves are today in the National Library and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People.
B. Characteristics of the Israeli archival system and specific challenges
Many archives in Israel contain a great deal of personal documentation, created or preserved by victims and survivors of the Holocaust, which reflects their experiences. Refugees and survivors had or have a variety of personal papers in their possession which reflect their experiences before, during and after the Shoah. They also document their histories and the events they witnessed in their former places of residence in Europe. A large portion of this material has been deposited and new material continues to arrive at various archives throughout Israel.
A increasing awareness of the great importance of Holocaust-era personal documentation held by private individuals in Israel has led the archives of Yad Vashem and Beit Lohamei Haghetaot in recent years to appeal to the Israeli public to deposit such documentation in their archives. These campaigns have resulted in the addition of thousands of items, mostly original documents, to the archives' collections.
The Yad Vashem Law, enacted by the Israeli Parliament in 1953, defined the institution’s mission as “to collect, examine and publish testimony of the disaster and the heroism it called forth…”, thus commemorating the Shoah and its victims. As a result, the Yad Vashem Archives were established which have collected Holocaust-related documentation from various sources ever since. However, efforts to document the Holocaust had begun long before 1953. From the Nazi rise to power in Germany, and throughout the Second World War, people documented the events as they were taking place, often under the harshest conditions. Even before the enormity of the disaster became clear, Mordechai Shenhavi initiated a Commemorative Project for the Jews of Europe that would include an archive. The Yad Vashem Archives officially started operating in 1946, under the direction of Dr Sarah Friedlander, who had been born in Budapest and saved on the Kasztner train. The first documents arrived at Yad Vashem from the “Historical Commissions” and various documentation centres, as well as public institutions, researchers and private individuals. Material collected in Israel was added to the documentation collected by Jews during the war in the ghettos, camps and hideaways. Immediately after the war, centres for documentation and the collection of testimonies were established in many places around the world, including Munich, Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, Paris, Bratislava, Budapest and other locations.
Since their establishment, the Yad Vashem Archives have initiated activities with a view to collecting and copying Holocaust-related documents that have been housed in various archives in Europe and throughout the world. With the fall of the “Iron Curtain” and the opening of archives in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, the reproduction project has been greatly expanded.
C. EHRI identification and description results in Israel
After decades of collecting Holocaust-relevant sources and original research in the field, Yad Vashem is clearly the most important record-holding institution in Israel. With over 154,000,000 pages of documentation it stores the largest collection of Holocaust documents in the world. The collections include over 112,000 survivor testimonies; over 420,000 photographs and approximately 2.6 million names registered on Pages of Testimony which are preserved in the Hall of Names.
Apart from Yad Vashem there are three other Repositories in Israel which mainly hold Holocaust-related documentation and devote their activities to collect materials on this subject. They are, in alphabetical order:
- American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Jerusalem Branch
Founded during the First World War, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) was the first Jewish organisation in the United States to dispense large-scale funding for international relief. In its wake, the First World War had sown the seeds of many additional catastrophes—pogroms, epidemics, famine, revolution, and economic ruin—and JDC played a major role in rebuilding the devastated communities of Eastern Europe and Palestine. JDC’s relief activities, emigration aid, and rescue operations critically followed the Nazi rise to power and the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war, JDC supported and resettled survivors and help rebuild the remnant Jewish communities of Europe. The JDC Archives house one of the most significant collections in the world for the study of modern Jewish history. The JDC Archives are located in two centres, one at JDC’s New York headquarters and the second in Jerusalem.
- Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People
The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) were established in 1939. They hold 1,600 archives of hundreds of Jewish communities, local, national and international Jewish organisations and private collections of many outstanding Jewish personalities. Today, the Archives hold the most extensive collection of documents, pinkassim (registers) and other records of Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the present day.
- Central Zionist Archives
The Zionist Archives were founded in 1919 in Berlin. With the rise to power of the Nazis in 1933, the Archives were transferred to the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. Over the years, the collections expanded and after the Second World War an increased effort was made to bring the scarce archival material that had survived the war to Israel. In 1956, the 24th Zionist Congress declared the Central Zionist Archives to be the historic archives of the Zionist Movement, of the World Zionist Organization and of the Jewish Agency. The Central Zionist Archives act as the historic archives of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, the United Israel Appeal and the World Jewish Congress. In addition, they hold archives of organisations and institutions of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel, as well as 1,500 personal archives, including on the heads and leaders of the Zionist Movement and the national funds and various personalities who have been active in the Zionist movement.
- Ghetto Fighters' House
The Ghetto Fighters' House – Itzhak Katzenelson Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum was founded in 1949 by a community of Holocaust survivors, members of the Jewish underground in the ghettos of Poland, and veterans of partisan units, to be a place of testimony that would tell the story of the Jewish People in the 20th century in general, and during the Second World War in particular. At the centre of this chronicle are the manifestations of Jewish resistance: the organised uprisings of Jews in the ghettos and camps, and the Jews who fought in partisan units and the armies of the Allied forces. The Ghetto Fighters’ House archive holds over 2,500,000 objects, including letters, certificates, diaries and testimonies (written, audio and video), films, photographs and displays. The archive collections comprise the history of the Jewish nation on all five continents during the first half of the 20th century and cover a wide range of areas such as the spiritual life, traditions and religion, society, education, economics, Holocaust and resistance, and the nation’s revival in the Land of Israel.
- Jabotinsky Institute in Israel
The Jabotinsky Institute in Israel was founded in 1937 with the aim of collecting and serving as a repository for documents, publications and photographic material associated with Ze'ev Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement. Today, about 400 personal archives of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and his family are stored in the Institute, as well as archives of the leaders of the Revisionist Movement. In addition, the collection includes 215 archives relating to the various branches of the National Movement and its institutions such as the Union of Zionists Revisionists (Hatzohar); The New Zionist Organization (N.Z.O); The Betar Youth movement and its Israeli and international branches; The National Labor Federation; and Keren Tel-Hai.
- Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust
The Massuah Institute is a museum and an international seminar centre designed to evoke discourse on the significance of the Holocaust in our contemporary society and culture. The Document Archive comprises a collection of documents and publications related to the Holocaust, the Jewish world prior to the Holocaust – community institutions, youth movements and collections of personal documents. It is the chief archive of the history of the Hanoar Hazioni and Akiva youth movements. The documents are arranged according to subject in 12 units. Among them are unique collections of postal items from the time of the Holocaust, personal testimonies of Holocaust survivors and personal archives.
Established in 1961, Moreshet, Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research centre is dedicated to the commemoration of Jewish organised resistance during the Second World War and the Holocaust. The Moreshet archive holds a vast body of testimonies – personal and collective, collected in the years following the liberation and later on. The unique documents preserved in the Moreshet archive, include many documents relating to the underground movement that operated in the Vilna ghetto, the pioneer underground in Hungary, documentation of the Slovakian revolt and other documents about the support and rescue of Jewish refugees during and after the war. Another interesting section in the archive is a collection of more than a hundred personal war diaries, which give a direct insight into the experiences and feelings of their writers. Finally, it holds a fascinating collection of arts and craft works that survived the war.
- Yad Yaari
Yad Yaari is the research and documentation centre of Hashomer Hatzair Movement and the Kibbutz Artzi Federation. It is comprised of two distinct departments: the central Archive (founded in 1937) and the research department. The first steps and the development of the Archive were integrated with the development of the Kibbutz Artzi Federation in 1927. In 1937, the Archive was set up in the Movement House in Merchavia by Shlomo Rechav. Shlomo Rechav, acutely aware of the Archive's historical importance, succeeded in obtaining material from HaShomer HaTzair in various European countries. Whatever had not found its way to the Archive by 1939, and was not personally held by former members of the movement, was lost. The HaShomer HaTzair Archive includes a considerable number of sections on HaShomer HaTzair in the early years of the 20th Century. The Archive is divided into three major bodies of material: 1.The world HaShomer HaTzair Movement from its beginning up to the present; 2.The political activity of HaShomer HaTzair in Israel and abroad from its beginning up to the present 3.The various activities and departments of Kibbutz Artzi and its cultural and economic institutions.