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'Forgotten Photographs' exhibit gives a look at the birth of Israel

| Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Middle East has been one of the most volatile regions of the world in recent history. The Arab-Israeli conflict, the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq War, the Persian Gulf War and the current war in Iraq exemplify the intense web of conflict that has plagued the Middle East.

As any student of that region's history will tell you, the Arab-Israeli strife has deep, historic roots that are grounded in territorial claims and religious and cultural conflicts.

The intensity of the modern conflict can be traced back prior to the creation of the state of Israel by the United Nations in 1948. In November 1947, a U.N. plan calling for the establishment of a Jewish and Palestinian state was rejected by the Arab leadership.

Upon the declaration of Israel's independence on May 15, 1948, seven Arab countries declared war on Israel, which led to the displacement of many Palestinians. The Palestinian Liberation Organization was established to pursue Palestinian self-determination and statehood.

Although not much survives in terms of imagery of that time, currently on display in the central corridor of the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, "The Forgotten Photographs: The Work of Paul Goldman from 1943-1961," presents more than 100 historic images documenting Eretz-Israel during the final years of the British Mandate and Israel's struggle for survival during its first 13 years, as photographed by Paul Goldman.

Goldman's privileged access, first as a British Army member and later as a journalist befriended by Israeli leaders, offers a front-row perspective of personal moments at a time of sweeping, historic change.

Born in Hungary in 1900, Goldman was a freelance photojournalist who fled from Budapest in 1940 with his wife, Dina, to escape Nazism. They lived in an apartment in Kfar Sava, outside Tel Aviv. His photographs attest to his incredible skill and ability to document a scene, and were in the possession of their only child, Medina Goldman Ortsman, after Goldman's eyesight failed in the early 1960s and he died at home at the age of 86 on November 29, 1986.

Ortsman stored the more than 40,000 negatives in kitchen cabinets until a former Goldman colleague, photographer David Rubinger, came looking for one in 1999. Time magazine had assigned Rubinger to obtain Goldman's best-known photograph, a whimsical shot of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, doing a headstand on a beach for a millennium issue reviewing major figures of the 20th century.

Shortly thereafter, a real-estate developer from Farmington Hills, Mich., named Spencer M. Partrich, found out about the photographs from a mutual friend, Dr. Eliezer A. Rachmilewitz, a prominent Israeli hematologist. In 2001, even before determining condition or contents, Partrich purchased the entire collection from the Goldman family and set about having the negatives restored and making the 108 prints, which are on display here.

Many of the photographs never have been published, and as visitors will see, Goldman's simply composed, brightly lit shots represent more than a bystander's snapshots at a turning point for the Middle East.

His images document events, families, leaders, struggles and hopes, from the period of the British Mandate in Palestine and the arrival of Holocaust survivor immigrants, to the War of Independence, the formative years of kibbutz and agricultural life in the young state, and the development of Tel Aviv as a modern city.

Highlights include the aforementioned personal portrait of Ben-Gurion, at Sharon Hotel beach in Herzliyah in September 1957

. Legend has it he once said: "I have to stand on my head, so the State of Israel can stand on its feet."

Other leaders whose portraits are on display include Chaim Weizmann, the nation's first president; a young Golda Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel (1969-74), photographed when she was Israel's foreign minister signing the Declaration of Independence at the Tel Aviv Museum on May 14, 1948; and a young lieutenant colonel commanding a paratrooper brigade in March 1957, who would later become prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Goldman's camera captured peaceful 1945-46 streetscapes and beach scenes in Tel Aviv, including a roasted-corn vendor at Mugrabi Plaza and a beggar with a performing monkey. On other days in 1945, however, the same camera pointed at Holocaust survivors from Buchenwald, Auschwitz and other Nazi camps as they landed at the Port of Haifa and reached resettlement camps in Palestine.

One photograph taken during that time is particularly disturbing. Photographed in 1945 at Moshav Nahalal, it features the tattooed chest of unidentified Jewish woman who was forced into a German army brothel. The tattoo reads "Feld Hure A 125701," which translates as "Army whore," the "A" standing for Auschwitz, and her prisoner number.

In July 1946, Goldman was one of the first photojournalists on the scene of a historic attack by Israeli underground fighters against British Army officers at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. He arrived in time to photograph casualties being evacuated from the explosion site, where 91 people died and hundreds were wounded. Several photographs on display, including one of British soldiers removing a body on a stretcher, bring this historical event immediately to life, making it seem palpably real.

Also on display is a Speed Graphic camera like the one Goldman used, as well as the hand-held light meter that he actually used, plus a sampling of his meticulous notes. Because Goldman was a fastidious recorder of events, his notes helped exhibition organizers to trace an image of a Holocaust survivor from Buchenwald who he photographed upon arrival at Haifa port on July 16, 1945.

The boy is Israel Lau, who grew up to become Israel's Chief Rabbi in 1993.

Additional Information:

'The Forgotten Photographs: The Work of Paul Goldman from 1943-1961'

What: More than 100 historic images documenting Eretz-Israel during the final years of the British Mandate and Israel's struggle for survival during its first 13 years

When: Through May 31. Building hours: 5:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays; 1-6 p.m. Saturdays; 7:45 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays

Where: American Jewish Museum at the Jewish Community Center, 5738 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill

Details: 412-521-8011, ext. 105, or

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