The reserve dis­trict of Casablan­ca young Jew­ish woman stretch­ing in the sun.” Pho­to cour­tesy of the author

I doubt I would have had the courage to put this book togeth­er on my own ini­tia­tive and must con­fess that there were times when I was more inclined to curse the pub­lish­er who brought me in on this project rather than thank him for let­ting me make it tru­ly my own. A book like Jews in Old Post­cards and Prints obvi­ous­ly can­not offer any­thing even approx­i­mat­ing com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age of Jew­ish life and cul­ture in Europe, the Yishuv (Eretz Yisrael/​Palestine), and North Africa in the era that is its prin­ci­pal focus, the gold­en age” of the post­card (the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s). Putting it togeth­er involved an end­less suc­ces­sion of often dif­fi­cult and occa­sion­al­ly painful choic­es; it is no exag­ger­a­tion to say that for every image that has gone into the book, at least one oth­er image had to be exclud­ed. The com­pan­ion vol­umes we are cur­rent­ly prepar­ing will offer some relief in this respect and give read­ers who want to know more about Jew­ish life in spe­cif­ic regions access to addi­tion­al material.

It is far from unusu­al, of course, for authors to want to put more into any giv­en pub­li­ca­tion than is pos­si­ble. How­ev­er, most of what these images show was wiped out by the Shoah and the expul­sion of Jews from North Africa, mak­ing the choice between them a par­tic­u­lar­ly sen­si­tive issue. These images were pro­duced, pub­lished, and cir­cu­lat­ed with­out knowl­edge of the loom­ing cat­a­stro­phe. Yet nei­ther would it be legit­i­mate to present this mate­r­i­al and the vibrant Jew­ish life and cul­ture it reflects as though the sub­se­quent destruc­tion had not occurred. Try­ing to strike the right bal­ance in this respect has been a pro­found and endur­ing challenge.

It would be mis­lead­ing, how­ev­er, to sug­gest that the prin­ci­pal dif­fi­cul­ty in putting togeth­er this book lay in the embar­rass­ment of rich­es it faced. While some aspects of Jew­ish life and cul­ture are cov­ered exten­sive­ly by read­i­ly avail­able old post­cards and prints, many oth­ers are not. This is due in part to the nature of post­cards and prints as media. It is worth con­sid­er­ing the var­i­ous hur­dles post­cards or prints have had to take to make it into this book. Some­one needs to have thought the motif in ques­tion worth draw­ing or pho­tograph­ing in the first place. At the risk of stat­ing the over­ly obvi­ous, in the case of pho­tographs, some­body capa­ble of mak­ing the pho­to­graph needs to have been in the right place at the right time with the right equip­ment. In the sec­ond instance, some­body needs to have thought the motif worth cir­cu­lat­ing, a deci­sion pre­sum­ably pred­i­cat­ed on the assump­tion that it would be of inter­est to a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of poten­tial cus­tomers. In the third instance, the post­card or print needs to have been acquired and then con­sid­ered worth keep­ing. Alter­na­tive­ly, it may have sold par­tic­u­lar­ly bad­ly and was there­fore stored some­where in bulk and sim­ply for­got­ten about for a sub­stan­tial peri­od of time. Either way, it obvi­ous­ly needs to have been pre­served — with­stand­ing not only the gener­ic fac­tors mil­i­tat­ing against the sur­vival of his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, but waves of anti­se­mit­ic vio­lence, two world wars, and the near-com­plete destruc­tion wrought by the Shoah. It then needs to have been for sale and suf­fi­cient­ly afford­able — admit­ted­ly a flu­id con­cept, with­in rea­son, depend­ing on the collector’s pas­sions — to make it into one of the two col­lec­tions under­pin­ning the book. Final­ly, it need­ed to make it past me, as I tried to present a broad range of images while hold­ing in check but by no means dis­re­gard­ing my own inter­ests and predilec­tions — not to men­tion pure­ly tech­ni­cal con­straints such as the fact that post­cards, depend­ing on their for­mat (por­trait or land­scape), can only be com­bined on the page in a lim­it­ed num­ber of ways.

Pho­to cour­tesy of the author

To give one exam­ple for my approach, I have made a par­tic­u­lar effort to find post­cards and prints show­ing syn­a­gogues in their sur­round­ings, since they reflect how Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties want­ed, or were able to, impress their pres­ence on the loca­tions in which they lived. Even after decades of study­ing Jew­ish his­to­ry and despite (or per­haps due to) hav­ing spent half of my life in Ger­many, I had no idea just how promi­nent­ly the main syn­a­gogues in many Euro­pean cities fea­tured in their respec­tive cityscapes — and how great, con­se­quent­ly, is the absence cre­at­ed by their destruc­tion. It is impor­tant to bear in mind, of course, that, say, The New Syn­a­gogue in Berlin with its spec­tac­u­lar, wide­ly vis­i­bly cupo­la was only one of many (new) syn­a­gogues in the city. In sub­stan­tial towns and cities, rep­re­sen­ta­tive syn­a­gogues of this kind were the equiv­a­lent of West­min­ster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathe­dral in Lon­don. Just as there are innu­mer­able church­es in Lon­don, so too, in cities like Lon­don or Berlin, Vil­na or Saloni­ka, there were dozens of syn­a­gogues, and where Jews were pre­vent­ed from estab­lish­ing pub­lic places of wor­ship, they host­ed them pri­vate­ly in their homes.

Giv­en how reliant many of us have become on dig­i­tal images, one eas­i­ly for­gets that post­cards and prints were nev­er just visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions but also objects. Prints, more often than not, appeared in pub­li­ca­tions of some kind. Unless they were too large for the page, we have repro­duced them in their orig­i­nal size through­out, and we gen­er­al­ly show them in their nat­ur­al habi­tat, i.e., in most cas­es, read­ers see the entire page on which the print appeared, and we have includ­ed the orig­i­nal cap­tions. Sim­i­lar­ly, we have repro­duced all the post­cards in their orig­i­nal size and, where I had the choice, I have gen­er­al­ly pre­ferred copies that show traces of their use to pris­tine unrun copies — no effort has been made to hide these traces.

While some read­ers may be famil­iar with many of the images and many will rec­og­nize some, I am hope­ful that every­one will come across some­thing new in this book. Above all, I hope that read­ers will find it both infor­ma­tive and enter­tain­ing, our knowl­edge of the shad­ow of destruc­tion hang­ing over so many of the images notwithstanding.

Pho­to cour­tesy of the author

Lars Fischer’s schol­ar­ship and pub­li­ca­tions focus on the his­to­ry and con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of anti­semitism, Jew­ish/non-Jew­ish rela­tions, and Frank­furt School Crit­i­cal The­o­ry. Fis­ch­er has taught at UCL, King’s Col­lege Lon­don and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge and served as Sec­re­tary of the British Asso­ci­a­tion for Jew­ish Stud­ies and Coun­cil­lor of the Roy­al His­tor­i­cal Society.