Saturday, 22 March 2008

'Letters Home' - Introduction

Rudolf Goldschmidt Sonneborn was born in Baltimore, USA on June 22nd 1898 and died June 1st 1986.

Writing his obituary in the New York Times on June 4th 1986, Wolfgang Saxon described Rudolf as a "
“New York Industrialist, a longtime leader of the American Zionist movement and one of the most prominent fund-raisers for the young state of Israel in the 1940’s and 1950’s…

“Mr. Sonneborn had a successful business career dealing with petrochemicals and specialty petroleum products. But he was better known for his friendships, going back to 1919, with such future Israeli leaders as David Ben-Gurion and Dr Chaim Weizman. Through them his name became prominently linked with the famous ship Exodus and other American efforts to send supplies and materiel to Palestine as the Jewish community there girded for a war of independence.

Once Israel was established, Mr. Sonneborn was in the forefront of campaigns that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Israel. He became a familiar figure at dinners and other events, exhorting American Jews to dig deeper into their pockets to help a flood of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees settle in Israel.”

These 44 ‘Letters Home’ (written between January and August, 1919) were presented to family and friends in New York on the occasion of Rudolf's 80th birthday - June 22, 1978. (Photo published 1972)

They are Rudolf’s personal account of his first trip to Palestine, acting as ‘Secretary to the Zionist Commission’, where he celebrated his 21st birthday - 29 years BEFORE Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948.

This 'introduction' letter was written to Rudolf’s mother* by Henrietta Szold of the ‘Zionist Organization of America’ shortly before Rudolf's departure:


JANUARY 15, 1919

Mrs. Sigmund B. Sonneborn
2420 Eutaw Place

Baltimore, Md.

My dear Mrs Sonneborn

How curiously things come about. I was just going to write to you, on a different matter of course, when your letter about Elias Breeskin* was handed to me.

First as to Miss Dohme*. I shall be very glad to see Mr. Breeskin, and I am writing to him with this mail. I am not at all sure that I can be of any assistance, but I shall do my best, and I will write to you again when I have had my talk with him. I hope your confidence in me will be justified.

What I wanted to write to you about was Rudolf’s proposed trip. I was amazed to hear of his going and rejoiced. I can imagine that it must have required some degree of self-conquest on your part to give your consent, and yet I cannot believe that the struggle could have been a prolonged one, because, whether you are in sympathy with Zionism or not, you cannot but be thrilled by the romance of the great venture upon which we Jews are embarking. If all goes well at Versailles- and I refuse to believe that events will do anything but go well there- just think what it will mean in the days to come for your son to be able to say that he was witness with his own eyes of the beginnings of the restoration of his people- a people who are undertaking the unprecedented thing, gathering themselves together from the four quarters of the globe; learning to speak their language after two thousand years of forgetfulness; setting about the consistent development of a culture that has maintained itself in spite of adverse conditions; laying the foundations in short of a normal national life, human in its Jewishness and Jewish in its humanity after the abnormal living of generations upon generations.

I cannot conceal from you at the same time I am thinking of the effect Rudolf’s journey may have upon the young men of his own generation. He will be a propagandist through the act and through the influences which he is bound to bring back with him.

I saw Mr. Sonneborn this morning for a moment when he was here at our office. I am sorry that I could not have any sort of a talk with him and convey to him what he possibly knows, that Rudolf is going under the best possible auspices as the companion of Dr. Friedenwald, who will have associated with him so admirable a scholar and gentleman as Dr. Rubinow, the director of our Medical Unit.

Please give my love to your mother. I hope she is not fretting too much about Rudolf’s resolve.

In the hope of the New Zion. I am

Cordially yours

Henrietta Szold

*Camille Katherine Sonneborn nee Goldschmidt:- b. Washington D.C. 1874 – d. Baltimore 1960; Rudolf’s Mother.

*Breeskin, Elias:- talented young Russian Jewish immigrant violinist, protégé of the Sonneborn family.

*Dohme, Miss:- Baltimorean Christian fiancée of Elias Breeskin


LJP said...

I found your fascinating blog while doing research on the L. Sonneborn Sons, Petrolia, PA, one of the Sonneborn refineries. This is part of a project to preserve Petrolia's history (and the refinery's, as well) but I for one am very interested in the scientists that worked at the refinery during WWII and thereafter. Several of the scientists, as we understand it, had escaped the Nazis. But we wondered how they ever ended up in Petrolia (which, for us as residents or neighbors, is the "outback of nowhere"). Our understanding is that they did research that was instrumental to the American military in WWII. It would be nice to have these contributions documented.

Where did you get these amazing letters? And thanks, too, for the biographical footnotes which are helping me to put the Sonneborn story together. These were AMAZING people and I am convinced their contributions to American history should be documented.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

LJP said...

I tried to post a comment yesterday, but cannot find it. I've never been on a blog at this site, so forgive me if this is redundant.

Last week I met someone who is collecting artifacts and assembling the history of a town called Petrolia in Pennsylvania (USA). In Petrolia, L Sonneborn Sons operated a refinery which is still open today--and (after decades of corporate names like WITCO) currently using the Sonneborn name.

The people working on Petrolia's history are interested in this refinery not only because it has been a presence since the early days of the town's existence, but because it has contributed greatly to both American military success in World War II and to petroleum science in general.

Several of the distinguished scientists at the site during World War II apparently had left Europe a step or two ahead of the Nazis. We are interested in their stories. It is amazing that distinguished European-educated scientists would end up in a place like Petrolia, which even today is about 35 minutes from anything!

I am wondering where you got these wonderful family documents, as I am trying to find any accounts of the Sonneborn's involvement with the refinery. Years ago, before the war I think, my father was the "chauffeur" for one of the Sonneborn's when he was in Petrolia. My dad went on to work at Sonneborn for over 45 years, once the war was over and he returned from service in Africa and Italy. But he passed on years ago and I wasn't smart enough to ask him these questions.

If you know of any resources that would help us, we would appreciate hearing from you. Thanks very much for posting this very interesting material about a family that made a huge difference in the world.

'Oldwatertower' said...

Thank you for your very interesting and positive comments about the Sonneborns. The Internet is a wonderful resource, especially 'Blogger' :-))

If you can leave an email address, I'll contact you with more info. Kind regards, 'oldwatertower'

Letter 1 - January 15, (1919)

Holland-America Line, Rotterdam - S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam

Dear Family,-

We’re off! Today the lake gives promise to a real storm. It’s snowing-it’s rolling- the wind is sailing thru the top decks- the front of the boat dips away beneath an occasional large wave- several people are already beginning to feel the effects.

I have succeeded in inveigling the chief steward into giving me a cabin to myself, which makes things more comfortable for both Dr. Friedenwald* and myself. He is not feeling so fit, but is sleeping a lot, and loafing a lot, and reading my novels (Mr. Frank Cahn* sent me three novels and a dozen current magazines to the boat.) The rest of the party consists of Dr. Rubinow*, Miss Shapiro, and Mr. Szold*. The latter two are frequently among the missing.

I’ve been doing lots of reading under the guidance of Dr. F. Pamphlets on the history, the geography, the population, the economic condition, etc. of Palestine. But this work has not kept me from enjoying the company of this YMCA bunch.

The food is not bad- but then it’s not good.

Lots of love and kisses,


Friedenwald, Dr. Harry
:- b. Baltimore 1864 – d. Baltimore 1950; leading opthamologist, dedicated Zionist; orthodox Jew

Cahn, Frank:- Baltimore neighbour whose four children were of parallel ages with the Sonneborn children and friends

Rubinow, Dr. Isaac Max:- b. Russia 1875 – d. U.S.A. 1936; U.S. economist and social worker, active in Zionist affairs; Director of Medical Centre (AZMU) staffed by Hadassah from 1918 – 1922

Szold, Robert:- b. U.S A. 1889 – d. 1970’s; Attorney and Zionist leader thru friendship with Brandeis* starting in 1915

Brandeis, Louis Dembitz:- b. Louisville, Ky. 1856 – d. Washington D.C. 1941; Leader of American Jewish Zionist from 1913 on; Justice of U.S. Supreme Court 1916 -1939

Letter 2 - January 29, (1919)

Holland-America Line, Rotterdam - S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam

Dear Family,-

Altho you were very insistent on the fact you wanted me to keep a diary I’ve been trying it and don’t like the idea. In the first place it’s a colorless, monotonous job to daily record what you do and think, and it rarely proves to be sincere. Secondly, it usually turns out to be a characterless pamphlet and makes dry reading. So in addition to my weekly cable I am going to write letters- full letters- which you can have transcribed in book form and will answer the same purpose as a diary much more satisfactorily.

The trip has been a fine one. Dr. Rubinow and Mr. Szold are both most brainy and interesting men. Miss Shapiro has been trying to teach some of us Hebrew. In addition the large crowd of YMCA entertainers have afforded me, at least, ample amusement. They are all vaudeville performers and very poor ones at that for the most part. And in addition to these there are a few quite attractive girls all of whom serve to keep me well entertained most of the time.

Except for the first day out the trip has proved an unusually calm one- the boat hardly rolls and vibrates not at all. Everybody is well and happy. Last night we had a dance which was a huge success. I met a very nice girl- American born- who married an Englishman who has just returned from France. She is returning home and invited me to visit them if we are in London long enough.

This machine is much too small for my fingers, so until I get used to it my writing will not be perfect. However, Dr. F. promises me enough work to give me good practise when once we start work in earnest.

Lots of love to all,


Letter 3 - January 30, (1919)

Holland-America Line, Rotterdam - S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam

Dear Family,

We have had an unusually calm trip and will arrive at Falmouth late Saturday evening and will disembark early Sunday morn. Last night our theatrical folk gave a Benefit for the Belgian Orphans or something. My sympathy is certainly with the poor boys in France who are to be afflicted with the sort of stuff most of this crowd has to offer.

I’ve been doing considerable work studying what’s going to be done when we arrive in Palestine. Dr. Friedenwald’s mission is of course one of general investigation. But specifically, in conjunction with Dr. Rubinow, he is planning to organize and socialize the medical facilities. They plan to develop a central medical institution with its governing board which will cover the whole country. The plan to give equally good treatment to all regardless of social status or wealth. And eventually they hope to make this a state institution, with salaries paid by tax etc. As the people are very poor and the doctors make very little at best it should be comparatively easy to carry out.

The chances are we will be in London very little over a week. The first thing we will do is plan the remainder of our travels,- that is, if my French visa awaits me. Then there is some sort of meeting to occupy us for a short time. Then we hope to leave by the shortest possible route via France, Italy, Egypt into Palestine. The chances are we will not even stop in Paris, much to my regret.

This is truly a lazy life we’re leading. We all lay in bed mornings and read until about eleven; then we arise take baths etc., stroll around the deck, eat, talk, read, drink tea, and soon dinner is ready,- and we usually retire early.

I broke the lock to my trunk, which I will have fixed when we get to London.

Love and kisses,


Letter 4 - February 03, (1919)

Hyde Park Hotel, Knightsbridge, London

Dear Family,-

All safely arrived in “Good Old England” and happy.

Saturday eve we anchored in Falmouth harbour and Sunday noon, after a careful inspection of credentials, we clambered onto a little tender and were brought ashore. En route we passed several captured U boats- evil looking camouflaged monsters with huge guns mounted fore and aft. We landed beside a dry dock which held several torpedoed and mined steamers.

Ashore there was very little inspection of baggage- we merely claimed our own and stated that it contained nothing unlawful. It was then loaded onto a special train and travelled with us to London City.

Unfortunately we did not get started until about four o’clock- unfortunately because the country- Cornwall- is most picturesque. The land gives the impression of extreme age,- covered with warped old trees, ruins of old stone houses, impressive medieval churches, and occasional villages. These villages compare to none I’ve seen. They are entirely of stone- grey and black- and are never more than one room high; except for the inevitable church.

We arrived at London at midnight- having had a progressive supper at every waystation. We were met by Louis Robison* and several others to whom we had wired when we cabled you and he had made our reservations. With trunks we arrived here shortly after and Dr. Friedenwald and I together went to bed- together in one room, of course. The silence, the extremely impressive quietness, kept me awake for some little time.

This morning at nine we arose, breakfasted without sugar and only one lump of butter, and spent an hour looking vainly for a taxi. The streets are filled with uniforms- the war is not over. There is a subway strike, and the buses are all overcrowded. Finally we got a taxi and visited Shmaryahu Levin* who is in town. We spent a very pleasant hour with him- he is a rabid enthusiast and a beautiful talker. We then went to the Zionist headquarters where we had a conference with the powers what be here and briefly outlined our aims. The political aspects of the problem were keenly contested by Mr. Szold who is trying to establish some permanent executive body with definite powers in Palestine. The English compatriots have depended largely on the activity of isolated individuals to act in Palestine; and when these men leave, an entirely new regime takes political change and the results is not all to be desired.

The English govt. has, it seems, shown signs of its extreme willingness to accept the “trusteeship” as desired. And the established boundaries are apparently far beyond what had been hoped for.

After the meeting the five of us- Miss Shapiro, Dr. Rubinow. Mr. Szold, Dr. Friedenwald and myself with Mr. Robison and Dr. De Sola Pool*, who leaves in three days for Palestine via the Medit. And Egypt with his wife and child- had lunch together.

After lunch we visited the British Passport Office- a new institution- where we were informed that the various visas were no good and new ratifications were required from all consulates. This will undoubtedly delay us a little- and I don’t regret an opportunity to see a little of this ponderous old town. It is possible that in spite of all, we will have to make the direct trip to Egypt via boat anyway.

The afternoon was wasted over the passport question and late in the evening another conference took place wherein the power of those of us going to Palestine was discussed in a very satisfactory manor. It appears that Dr. Friedenwald has the complete confidence of all concerned and will be allowed to work unmolested.

After supper we visited Mr Cowan*, an active Zionist who lives in the neighbourhood. He was in America in 1904 and no doubt you, Father, were present at dinner by Dr. F. for him. He made a most unfavourable impression at the time for he has a most unpleasant personality- but is actually a hard worker and a real power in England.

We have arrived here just too late to have to use those novelties of war- the meat and sugar cards. They are apparently just passing out of existence. But I’m drinking coffee without sugar!

In all the neighbouring parks are countless trophies of war- from little trench mortars to giant howitzers and long range field pieces. Looking at them in various stages of rust and dilapidation, it is hard to realize that several months ago some of them were playing an active part on the western front.

The renowned London fog has proved no disappointment to me. During the day it is an impenetrable barrier in all directions; and at night with only a few street lamps burning it casts a weird and ghastly cloak over everything. Walking out of doors one unconsciously lowers one’s voice and speaks almost in whispers.

It’s nearly midnight and we must be up by eight tomorrow to register at nine at the Police Station- a requirement of all transients.

Lots of love,


Robison, Louis:- New York City; father of Rudolf’s Zionist colleague, Al.

Levin, Shmaryahu::- b. Russia 1867 – d. Haifa 1935; brilliant writer, speaker, publicist for Zionism all over the Jewish world; during his enforced stay in the U.S.A during W.W.1, won over Jacob Schiff to Zionism.

Pool, Dr. David De Sola:- b. London 1885 – d. New York City 1960s; Rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York (Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue); President of Young Judea 1915-1919; Member of Zionist Commission in Palestine 1919-1921; wife, Tamar.

Cowan – probably Joseph Cowen:- b. England 1868 – d. London 19321; British Zionist activist; founder of the Jewish Colonial Trust, 1919.

Letter 5 - February 05, (1919)

Hyde Park Hotel, Knightsbridge, London

Dear Family,-

All visas have been obtained and we are ready to eave for Paris Sunday. We required additional Italian and English visas, an American ratification, and had to be checked in at the Police.

The weather is damp and cold; it drizzles and rains and snows by turns. My rubbers and heavy coat are in constant use.

The subway strike has forced us to do all of our travelling about town in taxis, which are scarcer than lump sugar here. The waiters’ strike has forced us to eat in small places – but all Kosher places are small, and they have very excellent meals. Tomorrow an electricians’ strike is promised, which will compel us to undress by candle. And yet we have no complaint – our conferences convene undisturbed.

Yesterday morning we spent in the Italian and American consulates. All afternoon and evening we were in conference consisting of Drs. Friedenwald, Poole, Rubinow, Jacobson* (a Russian) and Messrs. Szold, Helfin (a Dutch man living in Jerusalem), Louis Robison and myself. Various plans of action were discussed and nothing definite arrived at.

Today we paid our final visit to the French consul in the morning. Early in the afternoon I went to H. Samuels and Co., bankers, to whom Mr. Naumberg* gave me a letter of introduction. They seemed to be very nice, suave gentlemen. I was invited to have supper with one of them but was compelled to refuse because of an important meeting.

Late in the afternoon we all met including Miss Shapiro and Mrs. Poole and walked (not by choice) to Parliament where we had tea with one Sir Alfred Monte*- a most commonplace and wholly uninteresting individual who, however has given the Zionists £25,000. At the conclusion of the formality he kindly consented to grant us permission to look thru the building – an unusual occurrence these days – and provided us with a guide. It is a truly fascinating old building, of gigantic proportions. It is filled with myriads of pictures of historic scenes and persons. Here and there are statues – one a lean gaunt solemn faced old man, another a short, pudgy-faced, sidewhiskered rotund morsel, a third a fiery eyed youth, etc. There was some beautiful woodwork, especially in soe of the committee rooms which line the corridors on all sides. But the most attractive work of all was a series of frescoes in the “King’s dressing room” (where he dons his royal gown etc. before making his appearance before either House). They represented a number of scenes from King Arthur, and were truly beautifully done. Especially the high coloring effects were fine.

We then passed thru the House of Commons (no visitors are allowed when in session) and were told that we couldn’t see the House of Lords as its members were being sworn in – but later it was announced that the Lords had risen – so we entered their abode. Tradition plays a big part in all the operation of these bodies. To accomplish anything must be a severe tax on one’s patience and perseverance.

By six-thirty we were returned to the office where we were to meet one Dr. Eder*, a physician, who since the absence of Dr. Weitzman* from Palestine has been the acting head of the Zionist Commission. He gave a most interesting talk on what had been done and offered some valuable suggestions as to what still remains. He’s an Englishman by birth (there are apparently but few who are Zionists) and a very fine man.

I’m tired. Goodnight!

Lots of love and kisses,


Jacobson, Victor:- b. Russia 1869 – d. Palestine 1934; Zionist leader, member of Zionist Executive, 1913-1921

Naumberg, Mr.:- New York friend of the Sonneborns

Monte, Sir Alfred Mond:- b. Great Britain 1868 – d. London 1930; Industrialist, Cabinet Minister; became Zionist leader after 1917. Founded Tel Mond in Palestine; built own villa in Tiberias, 1929.

Eder, Dr. Montague David:- b.London 1866 – d. London 1936; British psychiatrist, member of the Zionist Executive

Weitzmann, Haim:- b. Russia 1874 – d.Rehovot 1952; Scientist whose work helped save Britain in W.W.1; Zionist activist from youth; instrumental in negotiating the Balfour Declaration of Homeland for the Jews in Palestine; First President of the State of Israel

Letter 6 - February 09, (1919)

Hotel Meurice, Rue de Rivoli, Paris

Dear Family,-

We’ve just arrived in Paris and Dr. Friedenwald is in the midst of a private conference with Dr. Weitzman, who is Zionist’s biggest diplomat and politician. So I will have time to recount our last three days.

Friday last, Dr Rubinow and I set out to see London. We went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, and were duly appreciative of its age and splendour. It is really one of the few Cathedrals I’ve ever seen which is an artistic unit inside and out. There is no gaudiness or cheapness or lack of taste so evident in the usual cathedral. From there we went to Westminster and spent several hours wandering about and remembering history. In here is some of the prettiest bits of stone work I’ve ever seen. The wall against the coronation chair, which is built around Jacob’s stone pillow, is carved entirely of stone. And it is done as delicately as the most delicate bit of woodwork. It is truly a masterpiece.

That evening we went to theatre, but the English sense of humor is most pathetic.

Saturday we started in company with Dr. Friedenwald to walk to the British Museum. But en route we stopped off to see Dr. S. Levin who is not well, and spent the morning there. We had lunch at a nice little French restaurant in Soho and headed for home to pack – as we had number of engagements in the evening.

At four oclock we issued forth in company with Miss Shapiro to visit Mrs. Weitzman for tea. She lives in Kensington. Bravely we set out. After walking some little time we inquired the distance. “Oh! A mile an’a half”. Fifteen minutes later we received the same answer. But eventually we arrived – with faces and fingertips frosty (the temp. is about -15 or -20F below). She proved to be a very nice woman with a very attractive home and son. Russian, she speaks perfect English, with just a trace of accent. We remained until about seven we started out to the other end of town, by bus this time, to Achad Ha’am’s. Mr. Robison went with us. We finally found our destination and gratefully grouped ourselves around an hospitable open fire in his study. Several moments later he joined us.

He is a very short man, below the average. He has sharp, clean cut features, very little hair and blue eyes. He greeted Dr. F most enthusiastically and launched immediately into a lengthy discussion of the future. His views are most optimistic – he feels that given any freedom at all to act in Palestine it will itself grow and flourish. After a most pleasant hour we left for Mr. Herbert Bentwich’s* home. He is a lawyer of some note in London and is also one of England’s initial Zionists. He has seven daughters and two sons. – all of whom shine by some accomplishment. One of the sons is a major in the British Army in Palestine and has just been appointed to some judicial position which will keep him permanently in Jerusalem. One daughter is a Red Cross nurse in Palestine, one is a painter, one is a cellist, one is a violinist of no little ability who every year gives a number of very successful concerts.

When we arrived here there was a small party in progress. We were most cordially received and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Several daughters and friends performed – everything from piano solos to string quartets – and all well done. Except for the fact that most of the rooms of the house were so cold one could see his breath we would have gladly stayed till the end. As is we left. You know the English have an aversion to steam heat – and now that coal is scarce open fireplaces are too expensive.

This morn we left at nine thirty, crossed a most calm and placid but icy cold channel, and arrived in Paris seven o’clock. I am most thankful for my leather vest and heavy overcoat. As is only my fingers and toes (in spite of the woollen sox) get cold.

Food is very reasonable here. Our first meal in France was in the little station at Boulogne – enclosed is menu.

Ah for the balmy air of Palestine. The chances are we will leave for Italy in three or four days.

Lots of Love,


Our party to Paris consisted of Dr. Rubinow, Dr.Eder, who has been living in Palestine, Dr. F. and Messrs. Szold, Robison and myself

Weitzmann, Vera:- b. Russia 1882 – d.1966; wife of Haim Weizmann. Founder of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) while in England; active in Youth Aliya, Magen David Adon; aid for Israeli disabled veterans.

Achad Ha’am (Asher Zvi Guisberg):- b. Russia 1856 – d. Palestine 1927; early member of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) founded in 1882; essayist; Zionist, advocate of Palestine as the national spiritual center of world Jewry though not necessarily a political state.

Bentwich, Herbert:- b. England 1856 – d. London 1932; Influential British Zionist; member of the Jewish Delegation to the Paris Peach Conference after W.W.I; cellist daughter, Thelma, married to Palestine founder of musical activity there; mother of Shoshana Israeli.

Letter 7 - February 11, (1919)

Hotel Wagram, Rue de Rivoli, Paris

Dear Family,-

Tomorrow eve we set sail for Modane, Italy. As sleepers are not in use these days we will be obliged to spend two nights and a day in a first class coach which at best is none too comfortable. Well - C’est la guerre! Our party will consist of Dr. F., Dr. R., Szold and me.

This is a most fascinating town – with London there is no comparison. Its beautiful buildings, its myriads of historic statues and monuments, its treed streets and parks and its picturesque Champs Elysees lined on all sides with many varieties of captured cannon – all are worth spending weeks enjoying. And we have practically no time so far. Conference has followed meeting in quick succession. Dr. Weitzman, who for some time has been practically dictator in Palestine, is here. Skoloff is here – he sends you all his regards. One of Dr. Flexner’s brothers is here and a number of lesser lights from various countries including Russia, Serbia, Switzerland and France – all convene daily for discussion.

This evening I’ve arranged to be absent in order to take supper with Charles Abenheimer, whom I succeeded in locating.

Among others whom I’ve met here is a man who used to teach me Hebrew some years ago. He is at the head of the Jewish Welfare Work in Paris.

I’m going to make a special effort to spend a little time in the Louvre tomorrow. I’d regret having been here without having been inside.

The weather has become milder – for which we are all grateful – tho so far I’ve had no occasion to use aspirin. Which reminds me – there is very little sugar here nor in London so thank you, Grow, I can use saccharin and not mind it.

Lots of love,


Letter 8 - February 14, (1919)


Dear Family,-

Our stay in Paris was brief,- too brief to enable us to see all we would have liked to see. In fact I spent the entire of the last two days frantically trying to obtain our railway tickets and our police permits to leave the country – which was almost as hard as obtaining visas to come in. Finally after getting five first class seats to Modane, which is on the Italian border and is an all night ride, and discreetly spreading ten franc notes about the office of the Prefecture of the Police I managed with the assistance of the secretary of the Zionist Bureau in Paris and a note from the British Embassy and from the American Consul to have everything ready for our departure on schedule. At 8.25 P.M. Wednesday the train left for Italy with five of us aboard.

The next morning we found ourselves among the snow-covered foothills of the Alps—most beautiful country. At one o’clock we arrived at Modane and spent three hours being duly inspected and examined and then boarded the train for Torino, from where we would get the night train to Rome. We were constantly climbing higher and it was beginning to get really cold. And we had not succeeded in getting first class (which in Italian trains is non the best) and were cramped into second with several other men who smelled of onions. At Torino three hours later we found a “Cook” man who, for a consideration, found us a comparatively comfortable compartment on the night train to Rome. We made ourselves comfortable and soon settled to sleep, notwithstanding the fact that apparently the Italians have no more scruples about travelling during the night than during the day, and there was a perpetual hubbub at every station. We passed thru Geneva, and Pisa, and lots of little places whose names I don’t recall.

Today at noon we arrived here dirty, and hungry, but happy. Rome received us with open arms, a hotel taxi at the station, a beautiful sunshiny, mild day, a hotel with an inviting suite of three rooms and two baths, -- and how good it all did feel; a shave and a warm bath in a luxurious tub, after not having our clothes off in nearly forty-eight hours. And then some spaghetti and cheese for lunch. We never knew before it could taste so good.

We expect to remain here several days, until we are certain of obtaining passage to Egypt. And I’m not sorry because I really like this place more than either London or Paris am sure to see lots of interesting things.

Lots of love to all,


Letter 9 - February 15, (1919)

Rome, Excelsior

Dear Family,-

When I tried to type my last letter to you – soon after arriving here in Rome yesterday, I was so tired that I’m sure it makes little sense – so I’ll start again.

We had a violent but successful struggle getting out of Paris. Finally we were all five located, hand baggage and all, in a little compartment with one stranger. We had planned to dine at the station before leaving, but Szold missed connections and didn’t arrive until a few moments before the train pulled out so that we had no time. However I managed by dint of facial contortions and gestures to have a box of food made up at the buffet and a large bottle of wine – which served to satiate the greater pangs of hunger. The wine especially was good and was strong and served to make us all happier. Because our leaving was insisted upon by Dr. F. against the protests of Robison, Rubinow and Szold who would have preferred to wait until sleepers could be obtained thru to Rome – which would have meant a week’s delay and the party showed signs of becoming most disconsolate and uncongenial, so it fell upon Dr. F. and myself to cheer them up. By ten we had decided to “retire”, so wrapping ourselves in blankets we sank into our seats. Soon all was quiet – each tho’t the others asleep. The seats none too comfortable at best were certainly not made for sleeping. Of course I managed to get my full share of slumber – but my sympathy was certainly with the unhappy crowd that I saw on awakening at 8 the next morning. A more grouchy, bedraggled, unkempt lot I’ve never seen. We stopped at a little way station and I hopped out and got them all some coffee – which was a horrible mixture containing condensed milk ad saccharin. But it was warm

And everybody felt better. News was that we were only two hours late, so we returned and spent the remaining time telling jokes and admiring the always increasingly beautiful scenery of the foothills of the alps, with their snow-covered summits and wooded girdles of pine. An occasional little village would drift by with its inevitable church and its substantial little houses. Most of the land, even the most hilly, was under cultivation. The latter is achieved by means of sticks to which the plants attach themselves and grow upright. French peasant women would be working in the fields, clothed in their costumes of loud colors. Altogether we were compensated for our night’s discomforts.

Shortly after noon we arrived at Modane, on the Italian border, where we were to be inspected. Here was located a small detachment of U.S. military police to watch for deserters and A.W.O.L.s (which in army parlance means absent without leave) and several R.T.O.s (railway transportation officer). In charge of both was a young sergeant, who on looking at my passport and military status remarked that he was from Balto. And that his bother lived at 1600 Linden Ave. Then he discovered my name and informed me that he had worked at H.S. & Co. After which inspection of the party was made easy. It certainly has been wise to travel in uniform, it has constantly served to obtain immediate entre everywhere.

From Modane was but a three hour ride to Torino from where we were to board the train for Rome. At Torino we met a book agent who assured us we could easily get a first class compartment. He begged us to leave matters to him and have supper. Bt Szold and I were doubtful so we remained while the others ate. Soon the train pulled in; and it was most fortunate that we waited. For such a scramble, such a struggle ensued that memories of bygone football games awakened. We literally fought for a compartment and fought to keep it. And once inside we dared not leave, as there were apparently far more travelling than the seats would hold. Once I had to bodily eject some ambitious porter who had succeeded in planting a suitcase on one of the seats in spite of Szold’s protests. Finally the three diners returned and we went out in quest of food. The Cook man had purchased our tickets, which was unfortunate. They cost us L125.00 a piece for 14 hours travel – which I had gotten our tickets at Paris to Modane, also 14 hrs travel, at 25.00 Fr (Fr.100=115 Liras) because of the fact that I’m in uniform and exhibit a letter from the British Embassy stating we are a medical unit travelling as a commission to Palestine.

We tho’t to while away some of the time playing cards so we made some of paper and Rubinow, Robison, Szold and I played poker, - much to the amusement of a group of onlookers outside. We used matches for chips. As usual I won! Meantime Dr. Fr. had fallen asleep so we all followed suit. We piled our suitcases on the floor and made ourselves quite comfortable. At one of the stations early in the morning I had gotten out to buy some chocolate – the first really good chocolate we’ve had since leaving the U.S - and had succeeded in smashing a window. And the night air was cold, so the blankets came into very good use. Most of us slept soundly until early in the morning when a loud humming awoke us. An airplane was flying just outside the window about ten feet off the ground. He waved to us and then arose several thousand feet. We were on very flat country, travelling parallel to the shore of the Medit. A number of airplanes were visible in the distance – and soon we passed a large hangar.

At eleven we arrived in Rome and soon were in a modern taxi headed for this hotel. All of us were grateful to have arrived – but the clear blue sky and the comparatively warm air were unexpected; it was the first fine day we’ve had since being in Europe. And soon we were established in a fine suite of three rooms and two baths at the reasonable rate of L 125.00 daily (slightly over $4.00) and gratefully splashing in tubs of warm water.

Late in the afternoon a Zionist enthusiast appeared name Dr. Bleustein and we succeeded finally in establishing linguistic relations with him with the forbidden language. Thru him we met a young Polish boy who, with about 150 other others, has after three months wandering, succeeded in getting this far on his journey to Palestine. He claims there are six thousand in the same predicament in Vienna – all young people – refugees from Poland.

This morning we went to temple. A huge, gorgeous, orthodox affair it was. The services were most chaotic and uninteresting. Afterwards we lunched at a kosher restaurant where we met a Zionist of some fame – Ushiskin*. He talked interminably!

We walked to Adrian’s tomb – an ancient affair which has partly been rebuilt. It was surrounded by what was once a moat. Inside, except for its unwieldy size, its unique illumination by means of cutting holes thru the walls, the most interesting feature was an old death cell wherein the victim was placed and left to die. If he proved stubborn or tough a trap door was opened and he was slid into the Tiber.

From there we meandered to St. Peter’s Cathedral which is attached to the Pope’s estate. Compared with it St. Paul’s in London is non existent. Naturally the former is more modern and its architecture permits of greater responsibilities. But these possibilities are fully realized. The huge columns at the entrance are made of perfectly blended marble. Within the huge arches are supported by giant pillars of marble inlaid symmetrically with smaller slabs of colored stone.

In the center is a large tabernacle, modelled after one of Solomon’s temple. Below this behind several barred doors (opened by their keeper for a consideration) rest the bones of Sts. Peter and Paul, in a beautiful gold casket made by Benvenuto Cellini. We wandered about for a little. There were some rather interesting old paintings and marble sculpture, etc. Of the latter there was a lion, a wonderful creature, giant in proportions, about to make a spring. Every muscle is prepared and his huge jaw is already opening in anticipation. Gaze at him for a moment and unconsciously you shudder. Compared to him our 42 St. and 5th Ave. lions are a dismal failure.

While the rest of the party returned to the hotel, Szold and I went out to the coliseum. It proved quite interesting with its tiers of stone on one side five high. While standing in the middle of the inside we chanced to look up and beheld directly over us an airplane looping the loop – the contrast of the different ages was ludicrously striking.

This eve we had planned to go to the opera – but could get no seats.

Lots of love and kisses


Ushiskin – Menahem Mendel Ushiskin:- b. Russia 1863 – d. Jerusalem 1941; active as organizer in every Zionist effort from 1881 in Russia; leader in Zionist Congresses, aliya groups, delegate to Paris Peace Conference after which he made aliya*.

Aliya (literally ascending) is the Hebrew word for immigration to the Land of Israel. The meaning of ascent in this context is spiritual as well as physical; all Jews are educated in the belief that this ascent is an essential part of Judaism. It is the ultimate form of identification with one's people, the Jewish people, whose life and destiny are inextricably tied to the Land of Israel.” (

Letter 10 - February 18, (1919)

Rome, Excelsior

Dear Family,-

We’re about to leave here for Taranto where we have gotten passage on a British transport to Port Said. We have sleepers this time - it’s an eighteen hour trip and we’re due tomorrow afternoon. The boat requires two days in crossing so we’ll be in Egypt on the 21st and in Palestine just one month after leaving New York. It seems like six – so much has been happening.

Two days ago we set out on a sight-seeing expedition. Szold and I went to the Forum. By accident we came across an old fellow who, for 5 lira per hour, volunteered to act as our guide. He was dirty and unkempt but without exception he was the best guide I’ve ever met. He was an old pensioned school teacher – he spoke fairly good English – he claimed to have read many books on the history and excavations of the Forum. So after a time we tried to stump him and thru the morning and afternoon, when the rest of the party joined us we questioned him about every detail – to be answered spontaneously and correctly. He held the Romans in great contempt and would occasionally launch forth into lengthy arguments over the corruption and vice practiced.

The excavations themselves are interesting – but are very hard to properly appreciate. Here we find an arch erected 650 B.C. and there a temple finished in 400 A.D. Of course the place reached its fullest glory during J. Caesar’s time and declined steadily after him. It is apparent that bo time until the present has anybody felt the value of history. It is apparent that the grossest vandalism was constantly practiced by each succeeding generation. And yet enough remains today to give us some slight conception of the size and grandeur of the place – the glorious artistry of it – built totally disregarding the value of the human lives expended at its erection.

Adjoining the forum are the palaces of various early rulers. There still remain in some of the rooms beautifully designed mosaic flooring, laboriously achieved with minute squares of colored marble. Also there remain, sometimes in very good condition, a number of wall frescoes painted with hot wax and coloring. We found the dining room, the kitchen, the library and the room where the palate was tickled with a feather at the banquets in order to make more room for more food.

In the evening we met a number of boys who had left Poland and Russia three months ago to go to Palestine. For three months they have travelled – there are 150 of them in Italy at present – first to Trieste via Vienna, then to Genoa then to Roma. Now, being practically penniless, tho the majority of them came from well-to-do parents, they are compelled to find work until the British Govt finds means for transporting them to Egypt.

You know it’s the first time I’ve come face to face with the reality of Zionism. Here for the first time I see a group of boys leaving their homes, leaving their families with no means of communicating with them, leaving everything, every comfort every pleasure – to live in Palestine. They are all boys – seventeen years old is the youngest – filed with enthusiasm, anxious to get there. All are well educated – one is a musician who has spent six years at the Vienna conservatory – half are academic students. They came here with news that there are six thousand now in Vienna, who just like themselves are anxiously awaiting their opportunity of getting to Palestine.

Zionism is up against the first real problem, the first practical problem since its conception. To date it has been the subject of polite conversation, a subject of religious discussion, a subject of sentiment, emotion, and finally a subject of vital political issue. For all of this it is well supplied with speakers, thinkers, writers, financiers, diplomats of the highest ability. But with one exception – I have met with no one who appears to be in any way a capable, practical, common-sense individual.

And the great problem is this – What’s to be done with these hundreds, eventually these thousands of students, dreamers, thinkers, idealists who are beginning to flock to Palestine. Of course there are trees to be planted, there are a few Bezallel knick-nacks to be hammered and welded – but all this is of no practical – no fundamental value to a young colony (except for advertising purposes).

And when these thousands of young enthusiasts flock to Palestine only to find that there is nothing to do and disappointedly return home then what’s to become of this fine and lofty conception of the “Home Land”. Heroic measures are necessary to save the situation – and I don’t believe that the enormity of the problem is realized by Dr. Weitzman himself. Within a week we’ll be able to see the real condition – and I hope to be able to accomplish something.

Yesterday we visited the Vatican – for three hours. It would take three months to properly see the place and three years to really appreciate it. It contains more masterpieces in the art of sculpture than I knew existed in the world, it contains priceless books, it contains a number of Raphael’s and Michalangelo’s most famous painting, it contains the beautifully frescoed Sistine Chapel. To describe it in its entirety is impossible. Afterwards we went to a little church which contains the famous statue of Moses. In the evening we had supper with one Dr. Stern, a most active individual of 71 years, who, tho he’s never been to Eng. Or Amer. speaks flawless English. He tried to arrange a meeting for us with the old Luzzati, a Jew, formerly prime minister and then sec. of the Treasury and now a power in the legislature of Italy. He, however, was indisposed and sent his regrets.

Today we’ve spent getting the necessary visas, etc. – we’ve become quite hardened to filling out our life histories on the blanks of various offices.

Lots of love


Letter 11 - February 19, (1919)

S.S. Kashgar, Mediterranean Sea (leaving the Taranto Harbor)

Dear Family,-

Yesterday afternoon our own American Consul at Rome and our American Naval Attachee wired to the British Naval Base at Taranto that we were coming and that thy should hold a boat for us. It was leaving the next day and that it would be held until our arrival. I had already engaged sleepers at Taranto so at seven-thirty we left Rome. Our Pulman sleepers may be comfortable but they are nothing compared to the luxurioussness of these used in Europe.

At about one o’clock today our train arrived. At the station we were greeted by some British and some Italian Naval officers who directed some sailors to take our baggage while they conducted us to a military auto and then via a speedy little launch to the ship. Soon after we got aboard the steamer started.

It is a large boat, far larger than I thought ran in the Mediterranean. One of the officers tells me, however, that there are a number of just such boats which have temporarily turned over to the British in order that they may rapidly send home their demobilized troops. We were under the impression that this boat went to Alexandria, for we had hoped to go to Cairo before getting to Palestine, but we find that we are en route to Port Said; so that it is doubtful whether we will go out of our way just to see Cairo.

Just before leaving Rome we located several English papers containing the full text of the document drawn up at the Peace Conference. If it succeeds, if some precedent is established at an early time before the high resolves of the several “high contracting parties” are forgotten, then a very lasting peace is apparently assured. And we may be proud of being a fellow-countryman of Wilson, the acknowledged leader at the gathering.

Yesterday I located a YMCA house at Rome and bought a supply of tobacco, chocolate and matches. Tho a limited amount only is permitted to one person I argued that in Palestine there was no “Y” etc and finally was granted permission to buy all I cared to take along.

The climate is wonderful here. The air is warm, the sky is richly blue, the people are lazy, the children are dirty, the houses are filthy—but everybody seems happy. There abounds an atmosphere of extreme contentment.

Lots of love and kisses,


Letter 12 - February 21, (1919)

S.S. Kashgar

Dear Family,-

Tomorrow we arrive at Port Said and we’ll be in Jerusalem Sunday. This Mediterranean trip has been most restful. There is nobody aboard except a small crowd of elderly Red Cross doctors and nurses, who have their bridge games during the day and retire early.

The ocean is calm, the boat feels as tho we were docked, the air is mild, the water richly blue, and at night the waters glisten with the rays of a big bright moon. Our cabins are on the top deck, the choicest aboard, and we have Hindoos as stewards. They awaken us in the morning to place a cup of tea and some crackers next to our beds. Later they arouse us again for our baths, and the breakfast is ready.

We have been holding several conferences as to what specifically each will accomplish upon our arrival. Dr. Rubinow will be the active executive of the medical unit. Mr. Robison is going to investigate the commercial possibilities and the economic condition. Mr Szold is going to be the diplomatic or political representative where necessary, and Dr. F. is going as general all-around advisor and helper.

It is a strange coincidence that we will arrive there just one month to the date after our leaving New York.

Lots of love,


Letter 13 - February 23, (1919)


Dear Family,-

We arrived here early yesterday afternoon. Our steamer was anchored in the harbour along with dozens of large boats of almost every nationality. I came ashore immediately with a govt. official in hope of arranging thru passage immediately. Palestine is still under military control and so permission to travel is in the hands of the staff officers. The best they could do was give us the necessary papers to this evening. So at six we leave for Kantara – an hour’s ride from there we travel overnight to Lod, which is half-way between Jaffa and Jerusalem, and we have wired to have an auto meet us to bring us to Jaffa, which will most likely be our headquarters.

This is my first taste of the Orient – and it leaves nothing to be desired. It is as warm in actuality as by reputation; there are swarms of lies, the atmosphere is dusty and of a peculiar odor.

The native costumes are most unique. They consist of nightgowns of any color usually in the last stages of decay, a large sash, a red turban without a tassel, and usually bare feet but never stockings. To them a bath is unknown.

Yesterday evening, after establishing ourselves at this hotel, we started walking somewhat timorously towards the center of town to cautiously examine this den of iniquity. Everything seemed dark, the stores were closed, there were few people out, and yet we had yet to see a woman of any description, native or otherwise, except at the hotel. Soon we heard a murmur of voices. Drawing nearer we saw a small crowd of soldiers, sailors, civilians and natives pushing at the entrance of a shabby building from which weird sounds of an antique piano were coming. I was in favour of going in but no one would accompany me. Finally I joined the crowd, approached the entrance, and found placarded at the door “Charlie Chaplin” in “A dog’s life” Cinema. And that, we were told, is the only bit of amusement remaining here since the war. We all retired early.

This morning we wandered thru the shops and got much needed haircuts. The Red Cross crowd are stopping at the other hotel and tonight they too will leave for Jerusalem. We happened upon them just as a native magician began to demonstrate his wares. We all seated ourselves with him in our midst and were given a half hour’s real entertainment. He made coins appear and disappear, he produced a little chick from under one of the officer’s shirts, he let one of the nurses hold one of her coins while he changed it into a lead piece from silver- altogether he was better than any vaudeville “artist” I’ve ever seen.

As we were waling back along the main street we came upon some odd looking creatures clothed in black –the native Arab women. They wear long black dresses, an heavy veils over their heads. A circular wooden affair about an inch in diameter is fastened from the veil over their heads extending to their noses. This is fastened to a face veil which allows only their eyes to be exposed. The only bit of adornment or color they wear are sandals and anklets. These latter are apparently the only means of identifying between the castes or classes.

This afternoon we took a short ride thru the native quarters. There are military police signs on every corner forbidding entrance to troops – and the M. P. is justified. Such dirty hovels, such filth, such positive human rotting I could never conceive of. At least it proves that a bath is a luxury, not an essential to life. The male population seems to spend its time in vile drink houses sitting around tables staring vacantly at the passer by or just sitting. The houses are sometimes three or four stories high and the whole never even twenty feet off the ground. A room is furnished with a lot of straw which serves the dual purpose of a floor covering and family bed. There is a dilapidated stove occasionally in the corner – and that’s al. Those dependent o the outside for food buy from vendors, who constantly push their carts up and down the narrow streets yelling at intervals and constantly handling their wares with dirty, repulsive fingers. They have round loaves of bread, dates, oranges and flat cakes something like our pancakes.

The native section abound with children. They seem to flourish in spite of never having their necks and ears washed. They sit in the middle of the little alley ways and sing and dance and cheerfully stick their fingers into each others’ mouths and throw sand and dirt at one another. No one seems to pay the slightest attention to even the smallest.

The money used here is complicated and usually bad. One must always pay the exact amount to stores and vendors for the change is bound to be worthless. At banks and public institutions the cashier drops every coin on a marble slab to demonstrate that it is not counterfeit. English money is used in conjunction with the Egyptian thus £1 = about £.975 Egyptian pounds and a shilling is as good as about 5 piestes.

Well, - tonight we leave -