My Years in Berlin

A train carried me from Stockholm over Göttesborg and by ferry to Germany, and in the early evening I was at the hotel on Kurfürstendam Street where my parents were staying.

It was a balmy evening; Kurfürstendam was brightly lit and my spirits were high. Now I was reunited with my parents after being separated from them since late spring. I was told that two messages were awaiting me—one a telegram from Daniel that he had arrived in Kovno to meet me: he had obtained a kommandirovka from the Kommissariat for External Trade in which he worked to go to Riga for a few days; and from there he made a quick trip to Kovno, only to find that I had already left. The other message was from the Jewish community in Vladikavkaz, in the form of a mandate to attend the Zionist Congress in Karlsbad, the first after the World War. I wished to be simultaneously in two places, and since the Congress had already convened, I telegraphed to my brother to wait for me, and having picked up the “mandate” at the Palästina Bureau, I headed by train towards Carlsbad. In the train I was approached by a friendly gentleman, the chief of the Palaestina Bureau in Berlin. He had the sign of the Congress in his lapel, and so we came to converse. Before parting I inquired where in Berlin I could have kosher meals and he gave me two addresses. There was some fatefulness in this meeting. An old Russian saying has it that “The one who is fated as your consort you cannot elude, not even on horseback.”

In Carlsbad I spent only one or two days. I hardly participated in the proceedings. I had to choose my place according to my political sympathies, and was not clear to me where I should take my seat. I was one with the left, since I was a socialist in my sympathies; I was one with the Mitzrahi, since I had a strong religious inclination; I was one with the Revisionists, the group of Vladimir Jabotinsky, since I was for the Legion and had wished to participate in it in the years that preceded, and felt not much differently now; finally I felt sympathy with the General Zionists, because I was against fractionalism and saw in this group a striving for union. Yet the question was merely academic; I hardly voted on any issue. But I made the acquaintance of Professor Heinrich Loewe, who spoke Hebrew with a mixture of German and Sephardic accents, and had a friendly smile. I needed Loewe’s help because I already had a plan. We agreed to meet in Berlin again.

I went from Carlsbad to Kovno, where I met Daniel. He was already eager to travel back to Moscow. I told him of the papers I had received in Lithuania which were to enable him with his family and also Alexander to leave Russia. When my train was taking me back to Berlin, I saw Daniel, one cheek wrapped in a kerchief because of a toothache. I have not seen him since then, nor my other brother Alexander.1

Again I did not try to influence Daniel to leave Russia, since I knew the stand of his wife Genia, who was enamored of all things Russian, and would not leave Moscow; and Alexander had just resumed his studies.

It is a great pity that Daniel did not come out of Russia. Possibly also lack of funds abroad kept Daniel from undertaking a change of domicile: he had several great transfers to Western Europe—London, also Switzerland—but these needed first to be be cashed. Life in the years to come would have been very different for my parents, for myself, and especially for Daniel, if he had decided to emigrate.

In Berlin my parents stayed at the same place as Itzhak Goldberg and from him they received the sums that in 1917 they had transferred abroad, some five or six thousand pounds sterling; besides they had the sums, not fully 2,000 pounds, that my father had bought in a bank in Kharkov. These were not large amounts; the greater part of my father’s property was lost, either nationalized by the communist state (his houses, factory, business), or abandoned (his apartment with all in it), or not immediately obtainable (several large transfers abroad), and, as the following years would show, also lost and not redeemed.

Feeling gratitude for having come out of darkness into light, and nurtured by his never ceasing desire to do something for the good of the world or of his nation, he talked to me of his intention to start something of importance. The nations of the world were licking their wounds after the World War; my father thought that a new foundation for peace propaganda would be the proper way for him to invest part of what he had saved for himself—and the means should be spent on calculating and making known how many schools, hospitals, homes for the aged and infirm, scientific laboratories and other institutions for the benefit of all races could be built by the sums spent on war, the human sacrifice being irredeemable. I disagreed with this plan, believing that the roots of wars and animosity among the nations are hardly extricable by these means—that the knowledge of what could be bought by the resources spent on armaments and on war could hardly suffice to keep mankind from another war.

I offered my father another idea, and he immediately agreed with me. My idea was for a collective publication which would bring scientists and scholars of the Jewish faith together to prepare the intellectual foundation for the future Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to develop the Hebrew language in various scientific fields, and at the same time to advance science.

The planned publication would demonstrate the role played in the scientific world by Jews, who were then known only as citizens of their adopted countries—thus Einstein, or Paul Ehrlich, or von Wassermann, were considered Germans, Hadamard French, and Levi Civita Italian. The volumes were to be published in the name of the National Library and the University of Jerusalem. At the time, the National Library existed, but of the University there was only a piece of land on Mount Scopus, with a foundation stone on it from before World War I and nothing else. The National Library, housed in a two-story unpretentious stone building in Jerusalem, had been founded decades earlier by a fanatical lover of books, Dr. Joseph Chasanowich who, residing and practicing medicine somewhere in the pale of Tzarist Russia, for many years collected books for a modest beginning of a National Library in the far-away Turkish province of Palestine. He died destitute in 1919 during the revolutionary war in the Ukraine. A year later the library which he founded in distant Jerusalem and which carried his name was recognized and renamed the “National Library,” and Dr. Hugo Bergmann became its director; he was known as a writer in philosophy who in the second decade of this century came from Prague, from the circle of Max Brod. He is no longer alive.

The idea of a University goes back to Hermann Schapira, professor of mathematics at Heidelberg, a position he achieved starting as a poor Jewish youth, self-educated and, like the others here named, dedicated to the idea of the Jewish renaissance. He offered his idea at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. I do not think that he ever visited the land of Israel—travels in those days were not what they are today. The idea of the University lay dormant for the next quarter of a century. It was the purpose of the Scripta to become the real founding stone of the University; today the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is one of the most prominent places of higher learning in the world.

I approached Prof. Heinrich Loewe, whom I had met, as told, at Carlsbad; he realized the scope of the idea and guided me (he prided himself on having guided, years earlier, Chaim Weizmann, then a student in Berlin, in Zionist education); my father, after giving me the funds, left with my mother for the land of Israel, now in British hands after having been seized from the Turks to become a mandate territory, the mandate of the league of Nations being to create there a “Jewish National Home.” Loewe and I came into written contact with hundreds of scientists and scholars. Weizmann, then president of the Zionist organization, who came from Manchester for a visit to Berlin, agreed with our plan and gave us his blessing. With all the energy stored during the years of wandering I immersed myself in the materialization of the plan. I had no previous experience with the publication of a scientific journal. One of the first tasks was to find a printing plant that could set type in Hebrew as well as in European languages, but also had types for mathematical articles, and oriental scripts like cuneiform, Arabic, or Ethiopic. After surveying a long list of printers, we selected Kreysing in Leipzig.

Each contribution was to be published both in the original language of the author and in a Hebrew translation. Soon the response showed that two fields were best represented, “Orientalia and Judaica” and “Mathematica and Physica.” Einstein, then in his forty-third year, one year after being accorded the Nobel prize, agreed to act as editor for the latter series. Soon we had contributions from a galaxy of illustrious names in mathematics, physics and engineering, like Harald Bohr, L. S. Ornstein, J. Hadamard, and others.

The answers from the scholars were by far not all in the affirmative: some French Jews refused to participate with German Jews in one venture—the wounds of the World War were not yet healed. Some German Jews wished to be known only as Germans des mosaischen Glaubens ("of Mosaic faith” ), an attitude that did not save them years later from the onslaught of the Nazis. Freud, when requested to participate, answered in longhand, but refrained from contributing a paper: his readers would not be able to find his articles if printed outside his own journals. The collection of letters that thus came my way had historical-cultural value. But as I found on a recent visit to Israel, not much of this collection is still preserved.

The work of translating the contributions into Hebrew required the combined effort of quite a few Hebraists versed in the subjects, especially mathematics, physics and engineering, while translations in Judaica and Oriental Studies did not require pioneering work. I took the task very seriously. For instance, the article by Edmund Landau, the eminent Goettingen mathematician, was given for translation to three different scholars: Landau’s own pupil Amira, a graduate of the Tel Aviv gymnasium, working for his doctorate (in years to come he himself was a professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University), Dr. Jacob Grommer, assistant to Professor Einstein, and Dr. H. A. Wolfson, earlier a professor at Kharkov University and at the time on a temporary sojourn in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania. I engaged Simon Rawidovicz, a young Hebrew writer, to work as the editor of the Hebrew translations, and also to see to it that there should be a certain uniformity in the use of scientific terms by various translators.

To translate the monographs by Levi Civita and Gino Loria from Italian into Hebrew it was necessary to find an Italian Hebraist knowledgeable in physics and engineering, and I was fortunate to find such a person in Dr. Nathan Sholem. Today, with many institutions of higher learning and many scientific publications, Israel has no problems of this nature—but it was a time when the field was virgin.

The secretarial work was all done by Rose Bombach, a dedicated worker, whom a cruel illness later snatched from normal life. Elisheva Kramer, a violin student under Adolf Busch, volunteered to help me in organizing the work. I had other help too, but Elisheva helped me not as an employee—it was a work of love. Elisheva had been a pupil of Hess, who wished to promote her, when she left to study with Adolf Busch, who gave her private lessons for only nominal pay because of her talent.

Every manuscript went through the mail more than a score of times, once after every one of the steps: each paper was typed (most were sent in handwritten), then corrected by the author, seen by the editor, sent to the translator, to the printer, to the editor of translation, and this was repeated for the series of galleys, on the same round.

I visited Einstein several times, and once or twice sent Elisheva Kramer to him. He admitted to me that he did not understand many of the articles, which were in various fields of physics or mathematics, but then he relied on the reputation of the authors. He lived on the upper floor of an apartment building in a quiet residential section of Berlin. Still unconvinced that the Jewish nation needed to be preserved and not assimilated, he once asked me: “Are not all races equally ancient?” I called him to the window, next to which he had a small telescope, a gift from somebody, and asked him to look down on the street, and told him: “Do you see those cobblestones of which the road is made? They are ancient, but they are not collected and preserved in a museum.”

In February 1922 I traveled by boat and train from Europe to the land of Israel, to which I felt a strong attachment throughout all the years following my departure in the spring of 1914, after I had spent the winter there upon leaving Montpellier University. Now, in February 1922 I returned and spent the next five months there, directing the progress of “Scripta” from afar, but it gradually came to a standstill. Loewe admonished me in letters to come and continue the work we had started together. He also came to Israel, and we traveled with David Yellin, leader of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, to Mount Scopus; I photographed them at the foundation stone of the future university.

In Jerusalem I found the girl I had loved, Esther Bashist. She assured me that she loved me, but it was hardly sincere, and I asked God what was the purpose of these nine years of love at a distance to be ended at the first meeting. So I returned in July 1922 to Berlin and became closer to Elisheva. I plunged myself again into the task. The editorial office, which before I had in my furnished room, small as it was, on Schaperstrasse, I now transferred to 13 Xantenerstrasse, where I rented two larger rooms with balconies.2

When on the sixth of January Dr. Weizmann came to Berlin we met again and I acquainted him with the progress of the work; he was impressed. For years the idea of a Hebrew University had occupied his mind, but nothing was taking place. Now he spoke to me in Hebrew: Thi av l’universita—“Be the father of the university.” I was not yet twenty-eight. He wished that I should take upon myself to bring the university into existence, and thus to materialize the plan not progressed since 1897 when H. Schapira came with the idea to the First Zionist Congress. I did not promise, and Weizmann thought, as it appeared later, that I wished to think it over.

Already since my return from the visit to the land of Israel, in July 1922, I went rarely to the Moabit section of Berlin where Loewe lived, and soon took the entire work of editing and publishing upon myself. Possibly he was a little hurt, but generally he was a good-hearted man, with smiling eyes on his broad face, framed between a large bald top covered with a few tufts of hair overlayed from one side, and a glorious greying beard, which he liked to stroke; he and his wife were in love after many years of marriage, but children they had not.

I met personally only a few on the large list of those who agreed to collaborate. One of them was Professor A. von Wassermann, the discoverer of a diagnostic test for syphilis, in his office at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Dahlem near Berlin; on the same visit I also saw Professor Neuberg, who dominated the field of biological chemistry. Prof. A. Fodor at the University of Halle felt and complained that Neuberg had closed to him the doors for scientific advance and publications; he was soon in contact with Weizmann, later to become the first professor in the University of Jerusalem. I also visited Professor Ernst Cassirer, the philosopher, in his mansion in Hamburg.

In the early spring of 1923 Elisheva and I took out our marriage license (civil marriage, preceding religious rites) in Hamburg, where her father, George Tuvia Kramer, had a Hebrew bookstore and also published books on rabbinical subjects, among them the codifice Shulhan Aruh of the early sixteenth century by Joseph Caro of Safed. Elisheva had lost her mother at the age of 19; it was then that she left Hamburg to study in Berlin.

On April 15 we were married in Berlin by the well-known Rabbi Munk in the courtyard of his synagogue; the dinner thereafter we had, at the insistence of my landlady, only recently widowed, in her apartment. Professor Loewe represented my parents by reading a telegram sent to his address: “We bless you with Psalm 128.”

The next afternoon we spent some time in the Berlin Univesity Library, studying the ways scientific institutions published their proceedings. A visit to the library became an observance on many of our anniversaries. I regard my meeting Elisheva as the greatest luck I had in my life. The nobleness of her character, her femininity, her honesty, her self-denials—all is before me through now thirty-six years as an unending blessing. She would go afoot across a large part of Berlin to visit a girl from Poland suffering from a brain tumor whom she happened to meet; she would walk, and not ride, because it would be Shabbat. On some visits she would play the violin for the girl.

I would travel to Leipzig often, possibly once a week for some period of time—and sometimes Elisheva would go with me. I had only good experience with the printers. If Elisheva would not accompany me, leaving for the train I would whistle one of our melodies, and even from the other end of Oranienburg Platz, a block or two away, we would exchange the duet in the morning hours of this quiet residential quarter.

With collaborators of Scripta, I had only once an unpleasant experience. Professor Radcliff Solomon of London, when invited to participate, sent in a paper on “What Became of the Philistines?” The paper was forwarded by me to the printer, and the galleys arrived together with the plate prints of the lithographs for the illustrations; I read the galleys one morning still in bed and was aghast. Radcliff Solomon reproduced scenes from the bas-reliefs of Ramses III in Medinet-Habu that depict the Pereset, recognized in the historical literature as the Biblical Philistines. Now Semites are supposed to be dolichocephales, or of long skulls; Pereset on the bas-reliefs were brachicephales, or round-headed. Three thousand years later among the Jewish legionnaires fighting under the British general Allenby, many were round-headed, as seen on photographs which, I believe, Radcliff Solomon made himself. He came to the conclusion that the Philistines became absorbed into the Jewish People. The argument seemed very flimsy, and, to add to it, the way I felt then and saw the purpose of the Scripta, it would have been almost sacrilegious to spread such an idea which would obtain, by publication in Scripta, a sanction of scholarship. I wrote to Solomon an apologetic letter and offered, also ordered, the lithographs to be sent to the author for his use wherever he might succeed. (Actually, two years later, at the opening of the Hebrew University, I received a reprint of the article with a few triumphant words of the author who came to participate in the opening—by then we lived in Jerusalem.)

When all this took place, I could not have anticipated that decades later I would write a volume on Peoples of the Sea, as a part of my reconstruction of ancient history, in which the Pereset would largely figure; and that I would be able to show that Pereset were Persians and not Philistines, and that the time was not before the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, but long after the destruction of the Judean monarchy. The better that I was so resolute then.

A work in the volume on “Orientalia,” by E. Mahler of Vienna, dealt with the chronology of the el-Amarna Period; of it, too, I could not have anticipated that I would use it five decades later for certain source arguments in dealing with the cuneiform letters found in el-Amarna, in the frame of the same work on Ages in Chaos.

Scientific contributions that I received from scientists in the field of biological sciences—and there were a few great names—had not a true scientific value; a paper such as was sent by von Wassermann I did not find to be of an adequate level: it was a popularization instead of a scientific contribution. Thus the only monograph I selected for print was by Professor D. Katz from Rostock who claimed to discern special nerve endings that could register vibration.

I also published in Hebrew, separately from the Scripta, a popularizing work by Dr. Jacob Greenberg, who worked as one of our translators, on “Atom and Ether” ; and I made a new edition of the two Hebrew volumes, Sfotenu, published by my father in Russia, with scores of philological essays by Dr. Joseph Klausner, later one of the leading Hebraists of the Hebrew University.

At that time Berlin was becoming a cultural center for Hebrew and Judaica, and several publishing enterprises were initiated; thus Nahum Goldman began a multivolume Jewish Encyclopaedia. Chaim Nahman Bialik, the great Hebrew poet in his earlier years, now more absorbed by the commercial publication of Hebrew books, having seen the plan of Scripta and its fulfillment, said to me in his affected way: “This is the greatest collective work [for Judaism] since the conclusion of the Talmud.”

Except for two short vacations to the Harz and to the Sächsische Schweiz (near Dresden) all my time was taken by work. At the beginning of my stay in Berlin I also participated in several post-medical courses given to physicians, a number of them from various foreign countries, at Charite Clinic of the University of Berlin, and took courses in serology at the Kaiser Wilhelm Academy. I also bought myself a Zeiss microscope. There was nothing memorable in these courses; the time was before antibiotics, just before insulin; few hormones and hardly any vitamins were used in medicine. My mother wrote me letters advising me to specialize in some branch of medicine that was needed in Israel, but I was more and more absorbed by Scripta.

When in 1924 the volume with twelve papers on mathematics and physics by prominent scientists was published, together with the other volume on Orientalia and Judaica, the leading British journal Nature (June 28, 1924) observed that if from a scattered population of thirteen million Jewish people sprang talents like Edmund Landau, Jacques Hadamard, Albert Einstein, Levy Civita, Gino Loria, Theodor von Karman, Harald Bohr, and others, then clearly the Jewish nation is unusually rich in creative spirit and ability. The published volumes served the National Library in Jerusalem (Later University Library of Jerusalem) for exchange with many scientific institutions for their publications.

The Hebrew University was begun in 1924 and inaugurated in 1925: at the time of the inauguration the two volumes of the Scripta were placed in front of Lord Balfour, who came to the inauguration ceremony, and the wind coming from over the valley in which lies the Dead Sea played in the pages of these books, on which my father had spent a large part of his fortune, and to which I had dedicated several years of passionate work.


  1. Alexander died in August 1973. Shortly before his death I received a letter from him, the first letter since the beginning of World War II, in which he expressed his feelings towards me. He followed the course of my career through several articles about my work that had been published in the Russian press.
  2. The
  3. order and organization in the small room was unbelievably meticulous—E.V.



(The papers of this Series were also published in Hebrew)

  1. E. Landau, Göttingen: Über Diophantische Approximationen.

  2. H. Bohr, Copenhagen: Über einen Satz von Edmund Landau.

  3. Loria, Genoa: Osservazioni Relative alla Rappresentazione Analitica dei Sistemi Elementari di Coniche o Quadriche.

  4. J. Hadamard, Paris: La Notion de Differentielle dans l’Enseignement.

  5. A. Loewy, Freiburg: Über Algebraisch Auflösbare Gleichungen.

  6. A. Fraenkel, Marburg: Die Axiome der Mengenlehre.

  7. A. Einstein and J. Grommer, Berlin: Beweis der Nichtexistenz eines überall regulären zentrisch symmetrischen Feldes nach der Feldtheorie von Th. Kaluza.

  8. L. S. Ornstein, Utrecht: Eine neue Methode zur Intensitätsmessung im Spectrum.

  9. T. Levi-Cività, Rome: Sulla Velocità di Transporto nel Moto Ondoso Permanente.

  10. Th. V. Karman, Aachen: Usher die Grundlagen der Balkentheorie.

  11. S. Brodetzky, Leeds: Fluid Motion past Circular Barriers.

  12. I. Popper-Lynkeus, Vienna: Grundsschema eines Schraubenfliegers.