Tag Archives: Anglo-Jewry

The Stories They Tell: Raiza Palatnik

In this week’s blog post, we tell the story of Raiza Palatnik, and her journey as a Refusenik.  

Raiza Palatnik [MS254/A980/2/16]
Raiza Palatnik [MS254/A980/2/16]

Background Information 

Jews were persecuted in the Soviet Union through much of the 20th century. Extreme nationalism took place in Russia, following the Leninist principle of all Soviet citizens falling into one general populate with no nationality distinctions. In the 1970s, Moscow had a large Jewish population, yet there was only one synagogue. There was no way to become a rabbi or even eat kosher food; therefore Jews were discouraged from learning and practicising their Jewish cultural identity. 

After continual denial, Jews wanted to emigrate from Russia. Although they could apply to leave, the majority were refused permission and were often unable to get a job afterwards, even if they were a qualified scientist or librarian. Instead, the government would assign you a job, such as the roles of stoker, shovelling coal, or elevator operator. 

The Russian government wanted to discourage large-scale Soviet-Jewish migration by imprisoning leaders of the Jewish movement.  

Raiza Palatnik’s story 

On the 14th October 1970, Raiza Palatnik was asked by two men who came to the Library where she worked, to go with them to her apartment. They claimed to be Police Officers of the Criminal Investigation Department. Outside her apartment building, they were met by an Investigator who had a warrant signed by the Prosecutor to authorise a search for stolen items from a nearby school. The search lasted for 5 hours and her typewriter and material on Jewish issues were confiscated. This material included speeches of Nassar before the Six-Day War; the interview of Golda Meir in the New York Times; and a stenograph of Joseph Brodsky’s trial. Upon signing the protocol, Raiza reported that all the items taken were her personal possessions and had nothing to do with the search stated in the warrant, and ordered their immediate return. 

The next day, Raiza was addressed again at her place of work by Investigator Alexiev, who instructed her to go to the KGB office immediately. Here, she was demanded to reveal the names of the people from whom she received the anti-Soviet material. In her response Raiza stated that the search and demands were acts of persecution for her wish to go to Israel, as she had previously submitted a request that her relatives in Israel be located. The interrogation lasted for four hours and she was threatened with arrest if she refused to provide the names. At the same time, five Jews and a Russian woman were asked in a nearby room if they had been provided anti-Soviet literature by Palatnik, whether she had publicly advocated for emigration to Israel, if she had been seen with anybody who had been arrested in Leningrad, Kishniev and Riga. 

Every few days Palatnik would be called in for questioning with psychological pressure, threatening her with unpleasant consequences if she did not speak the truth on who provided her with the anti-Soviet material. After not being told what she was being accused of (in accordance with the Soviet law), Palatnik wrote to the First Secretary of the District Communist Party, and complained against the unlawful procedures and persecutions by the KGB because of her wish to go to Israel. She sent a similar letter to Breznev, but received no responses. Raiza also wrote an open letter on the 20th November, explaining her cause and motivation.  She finished this letter with the following “in my trial I will cry out against all anti-semites in the Yiddish I was taught by my Mother and Father.” 

Open letter of a Jewess, Raiza Palatnik, 20 November 1970 [MS254/A980/2/16] 

On 20th November the KGB searched Palatnik’s parents’ apartment for anti-Soviet literature, and found nothing. In subsequent interrogations Palatnik refused to speak in any other language but her mother tongue, Yiddish, and demanded a translator. The interrogator refused her request, and so Palatnik refused to answer any questions, only stating “nein” in Yiddish.  

In the mean time, the KGB continued to summon Palatnik’s relatives and friends, and even complete strangers, to find out whether Palatnik had been distributing the anti-Soviet literature, and if she was campaigning for emigration to Israel.                        

On 1st December 1970, Raiza Palatnik was arrested by the KGB. Her apartment shared with her sister had been searched for material condemning the Soviet Union. 

The next day, Palatnik’s husband and sister went to the KGB and requested to see documentation that stated what charges were being made against Raiza. After receiving no information from Larionev they went on to ask the Prosecutor, who revealed that Raiza was suspect of “distributing false stories slandering the Soviet State and society, according to paragraph 187 of the Ukrainian code”. 

The KGB later summoned Raiza’s parents. The investigator wanted testimony from her father that his daughter had fallen “under the influence of criminal Zionist elements”. In response, Raiza’s father claimed that this was not the case, and that Raiza was a decent and honest human. He further demanded to see the documentation of the charges made against his daughter, which was refused. Raiza’s brother, Valdimir was also questioned, on Raiza’s mental health. 

In March 1971, Raiza was psychologically examined, and the doctors attested that her mental health was absolutely sound. On 22nd June 1971 the trial of Raiza Palatnik took place, and she was sentenced to two years imprisonment. During her time in prison, Palatnik became very ill, and suffered paralysis in one of her arms. Her daily diet consisted of thin soup of gruel, rotten fish, and tea with and without 20 grams of sugar; cabbage soup made from water and bones; and oatmeal or a small potato with veg, as well as 500 grams of bread distributed daily. She was required to work in a sewing room with over 200 women prisoners, with the work involving the sewing of gloves, overalls and other garments, as well as quilt covers. The equipment used was over ten years old and there was no ventilation, first aid equipment, or disinfectant. 

In December 1972 Palatnik was released. On hearing the news that thirty-five-year-old librarian Raisa Palatnik from Odessa had been arrested for distributing samizdat, (banned literature), a small group of women decided to hold a protest outside the Soviet Embassy in London. From these modest beginnings grew the campaign on behalf of the refusniks. This group became known as the 35’s, and were called the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry. During Palatnik’s time in prison, this pressure group distributed leaflets asking members of the public to protest to help her, as she stood on trial in the Soviet Union. They requested telegrams and letters to be sent to the Soviet Ambassador at an address in Kensington Gardens, London, or to Intourist Moscow Ltd in Regent Street.  

Members of the 35’s demonstrating for the release of Raiza Palatnik 

You can find out more about the group and the material we hold on them at the following links: 

Human Rights and the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry 

Protest stories (3): We Protest! – campaigning for change 

Archivist projects: Cataloguing the Papers of Michael Sherbourne 

Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry collections 


User perspectives: Dr Martin Walsh on the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children

Dr Martin Walsh of the University of Limerick is a social historian whose interest lies in the preventative campaigns by social purity groups in England and Ireland who sought to protect young women from immorality by removing them, or at least shield them, from an unfamiliar urban landscape in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  He is currently carrying out a transnational study of these campaigns for his second book, which will look at the history and the work carried out by groups, including the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children, in order to understand their apprehension about young women becoming a visible presence in the urban landscape.

Martin's head shot

Dr Martin Walsh

The papers of the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children are part of MS173 the Jewish Care archive at Southampton and here Dr Walsh reflects on some of the findings of his research on this collection.

At the end of the nineteenth century concern was expressed by middle-class social moralists about the increased migration of young country women to large towns and cities in England. The worry was that in this new and unfamiliar landscape they would, through their lifestyle choices, seek to become a highly visible presence in the urban landscape. Worse still, they would be targeted by unscrupulous individuals who would seek to ruin the young woman’s moral character. The need to regulate women’s everyday life came at a time of increased, government sanctioned, surveillance in the form of the Contagious Diseases Act 1864-66. While the legislation was repealed with the Criminal Amendment Act 1885 there was a continued belief that young women needed protection from the unwanted advances of men and, at the same time, imbue them with a sense of empowerment. A slew of social purity groups emerged who sought to act as the moral guardian of these so-called naïve country girls who, it was believed, would be lost in the temptations and maelstrom of urban life. They included the National Vigilance Association and the Travellers Aid Society both established in the summer of 1885. A slightly earlier but no less an important society was the Girls Friendly Society established by Mary Townsend in 1875.

Young women arriving from outside of England were also a concern. Many could not speak English, others could neither read nor write. Often when they arrived in London, for example, they had little money, and were unaware of the cost of accommodation or the distance between their point of entry and their end destination, which they assumed was easily accessible on foot. This was true of the thousands of Jewish women from Central and Eastern Europe who arrived in England. Many were fleeing the Jewish pogroms affecting Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, others were promised marriage or employment, and there were transient migrants on their way to North America. Almost all Jewish women entered England through London’s East End, where a cross-section of the poorer and working-class Jewish community resided. It was a dangerous and overcrowded place with its warren of lane’s and criminality; most noted for the Jack the Ripper murders of the late 1880s. Many of the promises of marriage and employment never materialised. Worst still, some of these women arrived in London only to end up on the next boat to South America as part of the white slave trade. Even in London there was a real risk of these women ending up in the clutches of brothel keepers when the promised employment fell through and family members were not there to protect them.

Recognising the plight of these young women Lady Emma Rothschild and her cousin through marriage Constance Flower (latter Lady Battersea) established the Jewish Ladies’ Society for Preventative and Rescue Work in March 1885. The society would undergo several name changes; in 1897 the Jewish Association for the Protection of Women and Girls, and in 1932 the words children was added – reflecting the changing nature of the work of the society (JAPGWC). The Rothschild’s had a long association with the society. Lady Emma Rothschild was President from its inception till her death in 1935, Lady Battersea was an Honorary Secretary until her death in 1931, Lady Emma’s sister-in-law, Lady Marie de Rothschild was also a member of the General Purpose Committee of the society, Lady Rozsika Rothschild, who became president of the society in 1935, was the daughter-in-law of Lady Emma Rothschild, Lady Rozsika’s daughter, Miriam, also joined the association at this time. The Rothschild name brought added currency to the society, but it was also, as we shall see, its downfall; as senior members died off, so too did the interest in the work of the association.

The first meeting of the new society was held on 23 March 1885, with the first official meeting held on 17 April 1885. At that meeting it was decided that there would be two aims for the society: establish a home for ‘fallen Jewish girls’ and to carry out vigilance work at the docks in London’s East End. With the realisation that the problem of ‘fallen Jewish girls’ was not as serious as first thought, it was decided to focus all of their resources and time into preventing young Jewish immigrant girls from being lost in the depravity of the East End of London. Uniquely the work was carried out by men. This contrasts with other societies such as the Travellers Aid Society who hired women to patrol the main railway stations and ports across England. If your goal is to protect women, then it makes sense to hire female vigilance workers. Yet, the JAPGWC choose not to do this preferring instead to hire men for the work. It is likely that they wanted to protect young, Jewish middle-class women from the harsh realities of urban life. This idea is borne out by the fact that a separate committee -the Gentlemen’s Sub-committee – was formed in 1890 and took over the vigilance work. At this point we see a clear delineation in the work carried out by the society. The original committee, comprised of women only, took over the domestic agenda, which included the training of young girls for domestic service and employment agency work. Whereas the work at the docks was supervised by a committee made up entirely of men.

The first agent to be appointed was Mr Reichmann who held the post for four years. The work at the docks was arduous, requiring the agent to meet as many boats as he could each year. For example, in 1893 the agent met 353 steamers, but failed to meet seventy-three steamers. The difficulty was when the ships arrived in London they did not always dock at the same point. Indeed, some moored outside of London at Tilbury. In the same year, 157 women were accompanied to their destination, eighty-four were lodged at the society’s home in Tenter Street because they had no friends or forward destination. Working all hours and in all weathers took its toll on the health of the agent. The second agent, Mr Steinhiem worked for ten years with the association until his health took a turn for the worst, and in 1901 he was forced to retire. The minutes of the General Purpose Committee, the General Council, and the Gentlemen’s Committee chronicle the last few years of Mr Steinhiem’s life. Upon his retirement he sought a pension of £1 a week or £52 in the year. Reluctant to do so because of the cost involved, but eager to acknowledge his contribution to the society individual members of the association agreed to support the payment. The payment continued for several months after his death in 1907 to ensure that his daughter was able to finish college. The job of the dock agent was multifaceted. They were required to build relationships with the owners of the steamships and their employees, to identify vulnerable women before they had a chance to leave the docks as well as the criminals who prayed on these unsuspecting women.   Additionally, they were required to learn a second language, usually Yiddish.  A number of methods were used to inform Jewish women of the services that were available to them. Before they left home, women were informed of the services of the society, posters were placed on board ship warning them of the dangers that they faced, and each agent wore a distinctive armlet.

The work of the society was always subject to external factors usually outside of their control. As already stated, the pogroms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century ensured that at times, they were extremely busy. The Alien Act 1905 – of which they approved of – provided the greatest assistance to the society. Prior to disembarkation women were screened by health officials to ensure that they were healthy. The health officials would direct the agent to any women they felt was in eminent danger. The First World War and the Defence of the Realm Act virtually shut off the flow of emigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Such was the slow-down in this work that the Gentleman’s sub-committee stopped meeting from May 1917 until April 1919.

The First World War had unforeseen consequences for the JAPGWC, which was also felt by the other societies working to protect young women. Firstly, many women who had found employment opportunities outside of the domestic sphere during the war were not willing to go back to this type of work. Additionally, women coming into the workforce for the first time were also hesitant to enter a life of servitude preferring instead to work in shops, factories and offices. While the pay was lower, it did offer more flexible hours and freedom than they had hitherto enjoyed. Another challenge to the society was the loss of benefactors and subscribers throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s. It is worth remembering that those that had willingly contributed to the Jewish cause had either died off or were elderly with reduced means caused by four years of conflict. Ironically, legacies left by subscribers and benefactors actually helped to sustain the society through this rough patch.  The most notable benefactor was Lady Battersea who left the society £3,000 following her death in 1931. However, the main way in which the society sought to stabilise their finances was by extending the work outside of London and to seek donations from the Jewish community from across England. Though as they noted themselves this was not an easy task as the majority of the Jewish community were poor. They did have a measure of success in establishing a base at Southampton where trans-migrant passengers sailed for America.

Ultimately these were only stop gap measures which staved off the inevitable.  As already stated, many of the original members of the JAPGWC died off in the 1930s including Lady Battersea and Lady Emma De Rothschild. In late 1943 the decision was taken to amalgamate with the Jewish Board of Guardians.

As they noted themselves ‘when great pillars are removed from an edifice, despite patching from time to time, the whole structure may eventually fall in ruins unless other means of sound support are available to replace them’.

So how effective was the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls, Women and Children?  It is easy today to see the society as some sort of a vigilante group trying to ensure young women conformed to a higher moral standard and to remove them from the temptations of urban life. This argument might be true for societies such as the Travellers Aid Society where the moral upbringing of young women was ignored; concomitant with the strong belief that they abandoned these values when they arrived in large urban areas.  This argument does not ring true for the JAPGWC. There was a genuine concern for young Jewish women entering England partly caused by the language barrier and partly caused by the seedier side of London that they disembarked from. There was also the altruistic nature of the Rothschild family and their need to help the less fortunate in their community. A final consideration in the need to establish the society was the fact that the Jewish community in England was a minority religious group and, therefore, it is likely that they did not want to be seen as a degenerate and immoral element of British society that could destabilise the moral code on which Victorian England was built on.

Local and Community History Month: the Jewish community in London through the letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

In this week’s blog post, we mark Local and Community History Month by learning about life in the London Jewish community using the letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians. 

Inside one of the Letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

Inside one of the letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor, more commonly known as the Jewish Board of Guardians (JBG), was established in 1859 by representatives of the three main London synagogues – the Great Synagogue, the Hambro’ Synagogue, and the New Synagogue. They were charged to constitute a Board of Guardians for relief of poor Jewish immigrants, referred to as the ‘strange poor’, living in London. Almost immediately after its formation the Board began to extend both its scope and revenues, and soon became the chief source of support for poor Jews in the city. The Board helped to keep Jews away from the English Poor Law, with the burden of maintaining their poor falling almost entirely on the Jewish community.

The primary activity of the Board was the administration of poor relief. Investigating officers, working alongside the Investigating Committee (later the Fixed Allowance and Temporary Allowances Committees), were responsible for investigating each case. Relief was then provided either monetarily, through fix or temporary allowances, or through the distribution of tickets for relief supplies.

The letter books of the secretary consist of eight volumes containing correspondence, reports, press cuttings, financial statements, and other papers relating to the activities of the Board from the early 1880s to the mid-1940s. These materials reflect the transformative nature of the Board, which continually adapted its activities to meet changing conditions and needs. The Board achieved this through a range of committees and sub-committees as well as coordinated efforts with other charitable organisations and institutions.

The letter books of the secretary of the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor form part of the collection MS 173 Archives of Jewish Care.

Letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

Letter books of the Secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians

The letter books cover a period where increasing numbers of Eastern European Jews were settling in Great Britain, fleeing economic hardship and increasingly violent anti-Semitic persecution. This was due to the pogroms (“to wreak havoc” in Russian) occurring in the 1880s and early 1900s as a result of the Russian Empire acquiring territories with large Jewish populations from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The territories were labelled “the Pale of Settlement” by the Imperial Russian government, where Jews were permitted to live, and where the pogroms mainly took place. The majority of Jews were forbidden to move to the other parts of the Empire, unless they converted to the Russian Orthodox state religion.

The first wave of pogroms occurred in southern Russia after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, for which some blamed the Jews, due to one of the conspirators being of Jewish origin. Local economic conditions and competing with the business of local Jews is also believed to have caused rioting, as well as Russians spreading their anti-Semitic ideas when moving in and out of major cities following Russia’s industrialisation.

According to a paper in one of the JBG letter books dating 1881, an approximate estimate of the Jewish population in England and Wales compiled by the London Committee of Deputies of the British Jews, was six thousand five hundred and forty-five, excluding the Berkeley Street congregation and the affiliated congregation at Manchester. [MS173/1/11/1/25]

Great Britain received another influx of refugees from Nazi persecution, following Hitler’s implementation of his ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem’ in the 1940s.

The letter books provide a window into the struggles of the Jewish community settling into London, and the kinds of cases that the JBG had to deal with.

When Jewish refugees fled abroad, children were often abandoned. In the letter book MS173/1/11/1/8 we follow the story of four Jewish children named Angell who were admitted to the Homerton Workhouse in 1880. The children belonged to parents Edward and Julia Angell, who married in London and had nine children altogether. The father left for America with the JBG assisting the wife and children in London. Previously, in 1868 the family were sent to America on a number of occasions. The mother left for America in 1880, leaving behind four children in the City of London Union. Other children of the family were in London but were not chargeable to the Board. The superintendant of the United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York, H. Hirsch wrote to the President of the Board of Guardians for the Relief of the Jewish Poor, Lionel L. Cohen in February 1881, stating that his organisation was against sending the family of Edward Angel to the United States. This was due to them being sent three times previously, and the father leaving them, therefore becoming a burden on the charitable institutions. In March 1881 Morris and Fanny Angell are recorded in a letter as being removed from the Central London District Schools at Hanwell and being placed with a private family as requested by the JBG. Correspondence dating March 1881 records the United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York deciding that the children of Edward Angel are to be sent from London to New York and then forwarded to Monticello, Florida, to be placed under the care of their father, who was currently residing in the town under the name of E. Engelman. In May 1881 I. S. Isaacs, honorary secretary of the United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York writes to Lionel to say that the children’s mother is living in New York but is unable to care for herself. He further states that the father is reported to be fully able to take care of his children, and it is hoped that “the wanderings of the unfortunate children will cease once they have been forwarded to their father.” [MS173/1/11/1/60-61]. On 9 June 1881 it was reported that the Angel children were sailing on the “Egyptian Monarch” to Florida.

Example of the many cases of abandoned children that the Jewish Board of Guardians would receive [MS 173/1/11/4/628]

Example of the many cases of abandoned children that the Jewish Board of Guardians would receive [MS 173/1/11/4/628]

The letter books also reflect the JBG dealing with orphans with disabilities, such as one who was deaf, who was accepted into the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan Asylum in December 1891. Another case example is that of a Jewish boy who was placed in Dr Bernardo’s Home by his mother with his sister, who had been in receipt from the JBG in December 1900. The father abandoned the family in 1896 and was subsequently imprisoned as a result.

In nineteenth-century London there were also a number of vulnerable children the JBG had to deal with. Cases included a girl in 1881 whose guardians refused to give her up. Despite the guardians caring for the girl at a great cost due to the delicacy of her health, the solicitor responsible for the case advised the JBG for the girl to be placed with a respectable family rather than into an institution, due to the manner in which she was treated by the guardians and due to her health. The girl was then obtained by her mother, who mentions her decision to travel to America with her two children, and asks her doctor to influence the Board to provide her with relief. The mother received £15 from the Board of Guardians.

As well as helping to reunite children with their parents, the JBG also helped to find and fund apprenticeships for the children under their care. For instance, a boy was matched with a tailor and clothier in February 1881 to be taught to be a sailor’s cutter and salesman.

When ‘consumption’ (tuberculosis) became rife in London towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the JBG organised local dispensaries, where they would refer new TB cases resident in the area and provide visitors in proportion to the number of Jewish cases attending the dispensary for treatment. The letter books also reveal discussion on where to place tuberculous and pre-tuberculous children currently boarded out with Christian families, and the potential of them being placed in a cottage at Walton on Naze, Essex, under the care of a Jewish woman. Through their local associations the Board of Guardians arranged for the provisions of milk or cod liver oil during the school holidays and weekends. A letter dating 1913 from the JBG to the London County Council requests the number of cases that should be dealt with (which was 100) and whether the children were to be supplied on Saturdays and Sundays, of which it was decided they should. [MS173/1/11/4/701]

During World War Two Jewish communities in London also included the homeless. In the secretary’s letter books can be found correspondence dating 1940-41 revealing discussions on welfare work undertaken by the United Synagogue for people made homeless by air raids, and also the agreement for a church in St Martin-in-the-Fields to provide a portion of money from their BBC Christmas appeal towards the help of Jewish people suffering from air raids and war distress. [MS173/1/11/8/320]

Join us for our third May Local and Community History Month blog post next week, where we will focus on art and theatre in Southampton.




“We seek to promote, wherever possible, the social, moral, and spiritual welfare of the Jewish woman”: the Union of Jewish Women collection

Continuing with our “Celebrating women” blog series as part of Women’s History Month, we focus this week’s blog post on our Union of Jewish Women (UJW) collection. The UJW was founded as the representative body of Jewish women working for the welfare of educated females. It administered benevolent funds and made loans for training women and girls.

The Union of Jewish Women golden jubilee lunch, Mayfairia Rooms 28 Oct 1952 [MS129 AJ26/D/8]

The UJW golden jubilee lunch, Mayfairia Rooms, 28 Oct 1952 [MS129 AJ26/D/8]

The UJW was born out of the 1902 Conference of Jewish Women, organised by a committee of prominent aristocratic women. These women met together to discuss how women could best aid people and participate in the current affairs of the world. They wished to determine how social work for Jewish women would best be stimulated. The conference was presided by Nathaniel Cohen, leader of the Jewish Board of Guardians, and papers were presented on the care of work girls, charity organisation, and philanthropy work for girls.

Report of the Conference of Jewish Women, May 1902 [MS129 AJ73/1]

Report of the Conference of Jewish Women, May 1902 [MS129 AJ73/1]

During the talk ‘Cooperation in Philanthropy’ given by Julia Matilda Cohen (Nathaniel’s wife), she stated that the general object of the National Union of Women Workers (as it was originally named) would be to “be ready and able to be invoked anywhere and at any time to help our fellow Jewesses all over the United Kingdom.” [Report of the Conference of Jewish Women, May 1902, p.73 MS129 AJ73/1]

She went on to suggest that the Union would act as a network of Jewish workers, with the Central Committee being based in London, and Provincial Associates based in every town in the United Kingdom where Jews were to be found. The uses of such a Union would be to assist Jewish women migrating from one locality to another, and to be an easy channel of information to women on the latest developments in education and training for various vocations and occupations.

Cohen further suggested that the Central Office would maintain a register of all Provincial Associates, Jewish and general charities, and educational facilities and endowments for all types of training (scholastic, medical, technical) and to conditions of life and work in UK and of the British Colonies. It was believed that the Union should be affiliated with other communal organisations and should offer assistance if required to newcomers of their faith. Associates would visit parents and advise them on training opportunities and country holidays available to their children. It was further insisted that members would note insanitary dwellings and endeavour to get them remedied. The Union would also form Sabbath classes, children’s services, and girls’ clubs to try to make religion a power in the girls’ daily lives.

Union of Jewish Women Subscriber's Form May 1902 [MS129 AJ73/1]

UJW Subscriber’s Form, May 1902 [MS129 AJ73/1]

At the conference, the Union of Jewish Women Workers formed its first advisory committee. Julia Matilda Cohen was the first President, and a Treasurer, Honorary Secretary, and two Chairwomen were delegated, as well as a Secretary, and 23 Vice-Presidents, one of which was Constance Rothschild Lady Battersea. A General Committee and an Executive Committee were also formed. At the first recorded meeting of the General Committee on 10 July 1902 the Honorary Secretary reported that “200 members had already joined the Union, and 100 names were entered also to join.” These figures rose to 800 by May 1903. The UJW’s London headquarters was at 118 Marylebone Road and they were open to members Mondays-Thursdays 11am-1pm and 2pm-4pm. [General Committee Minute book 1902-10 MS129 AJ26 A/1]

Minutes of UJW General Committee meeting, 10 July 1902 [MS129 AJ26 A/1]

Minutes of UJW General Committee meeting, 10 July 1902 [MS129 AJ26 A/1]

After the establishment of the UJW, branches were soon formed in Birmingham, Hull, and Reading. By 1904 the organisation was forced to move to a two room office and appoint an assistant secretary due to the increase in work. In this year branches were also established in Edinburgh; Glasgow; Dublin; Manchester; Liverpool; Leeds; Portsea; Bristol; Brighton; Ramsgate; and Margate. Abroad, branches were established in Paris; Berlin; New York; Romania; Toronto; Sydney; and various towns and cities in South Africa. One of the first tasks of the UJW was to help with sending several governesses and mothers’ helps to South Africa and other colonies. This was in response to Lord Milner’s appeal for women emigrants to South Africa.

As part of the organisation’s task to help middle and lower class women to obtain professional training, they were keen to increase the number of Jewish nurses. Their affiliations with the National Union of Women Workers, and to the Industrial Department of the Central Bureau for the Employment of Women enabled the organisation to connect 59 out of 200 applicants to suitable work or training and the rest to be advised. Congenial work was also successfully provided for 111 voluntary workers in London. The organisation successfully assisted women entering the London Hospital for training as nurses and to work in the infirmary. Furthermore, the UJW managed to distribute philanthropic work to 111 applicants, who were distributed amongst clubs, hospital visiting and invalid’s aid, assisting immigrants in South Africa, helping at crèches and penny dinners, collecting and working for country holiday funds, befriending pupil teachers, school managerships, assisting at mothers’ meetings, and visiting apprentices.

Union of Jewish Women newspaper cutting urging the women of their community to join the nursing profession, 11 November 1905 [MS129 AJ26 D/1]

Newspaper cutting showing the UJW urging women of the Jewish community to join the nursing profession, 11 November 1905 [MS129 AJ26 D/1]

Other efforts by the organisation included managing the Recreation School at Old Montague Street Board School in London. This was in order to provide forlorn children a place to go to after schools finished at 4.30, and until their parents returned home from work at 8pm. They ran activities such as needlework, singing, dancing, and prayer.

Approaching the 1940s, the work of the UJW continued to be mainly based on welfare and representative work. It was connected to National Organisations working for humanitarian principles and to societies supporting the wellbeing of women. Connections included firstly the National Council of Women; the Councils of Jewish Women Overseas; and the Board of Deputies of British Jews; of which they were represented on, as well as regular communications with the Jewish Board of Guardians.

Image of objectives of the Union of Jewish Women from the Report of the UJW of Great Britain to the International Council of Jewish Women Council Home PARIS, France, 1949 [MS129 AJ188]

Objectives of the UJW from the Report of the UJW of Great Britain to the International Council of Jewish Women Council Home Paris, France, 1949 [MS129 AJ188]

Primarily the UJW supported the welfare of educated and professional women, helping them in the way of their Necessitous Ladies Fund and their Loans Funds. The Necessitous Ladies Fund helped elderly women with grants for fuel, and other items like Passover groceries. The Loans Fund worked by the Union interviewing women and girls who required funds for training in business or professional courses. The loans were granted interest-free to suitable educated women and girls over 16 years of age who were unable to pay the full amount for training. Repayments were required 3 months after work commenced.  The Committee would stay in contact with the girls both during and after training and worked in cooperation with Loan Training Funds and with the Women’s Employment Federation, a society which specialised in advising on careers for women.

During World War Two the number of applicants dropped as women were taken into the services, or were employed in war work. From 1948 however, the UJW saw the highest amount of applications received for some years. The types of training which women sought financial assistance for included Mental Health, BSc. Economics, B.A. Hons., Radiography, and Dentistry. Before World War Two funding was applied mostly for training for Secretarial and Teaching. Scholarships and memorial funds were also created, such as Mrs Hoster’s Secretarial Training College scholarship for free training to a Jewish girl specifically recommended by the Union, and the Delissa Joseph Memorial Fund which gave grants specifically to teachers for holidays. The organisation also prioritised caring for the elderly, by setting up the UJW’s Houses Association LTD. They purchased the freehold of a house in Kensington with the intention of it accommodating twenty residents for a Residential Club. It was to be the first such home for elderly Jewish women in London, and was to run on Orthodox lines.

In 1952 the UJW celebrated its fiftieth year of service to the Anglo-Jewish Community, which it marked with a Golden Jubilee Luncheon which over 200 people attended. In the annual report of 1952, two new loans were recorded to be granted, one that enabled a student to train for her Social Science Diploma, and the other for a fully trained student in Psychology to obtain special training in Psycho-Therapy. The variety of careers chosen by women included architecture, dress designing, Child Therapy, and Medicine.

Members at the Union of Jewish Women Golden Jubilee Luncheon, 1952 [MS129 AJ26/D/8]

Members at the UJW Golden Jubilee Luncheon, 1952 [MS129 AJ26/D/8]

During the 1960s and 1970s the UJW played its part in assisting Jews who were refused permission to leave the Soviet Union. They helped inform the public about Jews who had been imprisoned in Russia for upholding basic freedoms, such as the right to declare Hebrew as their native tongue. They also encouraged members to participate in objections against the treatment of these Jews, such as the “Stop the secret show trials” demonstration, where a mass rally took place at Trafalgar Square; and a protest against the Riga trials, which involved a 24 hour vigil of women dressed in black outside the Soviet Embassy.

U.S.S.R. Free Ruth Alexandrovitch leaflet [MS129 AJ161/29]

U.S.S.R. Free Ruth Alexandrovitch leaflet [MS129 AJ161/29]

In the collection can be found minutes, reports of meetings, annual reports, and attendance registers of committees, as well as financial papers and correspondence relating to funds dating 1902-76. The collection can be a treasure trove for family historians, particularly if their relatives received loans from the UJW.  This material can also be a valuable resource for researchers interested in the role and development of Jewish women’s philanthropic societies in the twentieth century.

Do join us next week to celebrate the life and work of other remarkable women.

UJW Annual Report, 1970 [MS129 AJ73/67]

UJW Annual Report, 1970 [MS129 AJ73/67]

Archivist projects: Cataloguing the Papers of Michael Sherbourne

This week archivist Lara Nelson discusses a recent cataloguing project focusing on the papers of Michael Sherbourne, a human rights activist who played an influential role in the movement to win Jews the right to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

Michael Sherborne [MS434 A4249 7/2]

Michael Sherbourne [MS434 A4249 7/2]

Born on 22 February 1917 in London, Michael Sherbourne’s family name was Sheinbaum. His father’s parents were from Poland and his mother’s Sephardi family (descendants of Spanish exiles), had lived in England since the seventeenth century. His father worked as a tailor and a taxi driver, and his mother was a housewife. In the 1930s Michael and his three brothers anglicised their surname to Sherbourne.

Michael was politically engaged from an early age. When British fascists attempted to march in one of the Jewish areas of London, a 19 year old Michael was to be seen taking part in the anti-fascistic action of the Jews, who filled the streets and blocked the march. This single event made Michael realise the importance of unity and determination in gaining victory over a powerful enemy. He took this on in his fight for the independent Jewish state and in his struggle for the liberation of Jews from Soviet captivity.

As a result of the Great Depression in 1929, unemployment was rife in Great Britain, peaking at just below 3 million by 1932. This partly led to Michael Sherbourne leaving school at sixteen, and joining the Civil Service. Interested in Zionism however, Sherbourne soon left the Civil Service and went to what was then Palestine, and joined the Zionist organisation Hechaluts, which means “the pioneer”.

Young Michael Sherbourne, 1939 [MS434 A4249 7/3]

Young Michael Sherbourne, 1939 [MS434 A4249 7/3]

Hechaluts was a group for the youth, providing news about the land of Israel (which at the time was Palestine); courses in Hebrew; Hebrew songs and dances; and pioneer training, which was named Hachshara. Sherbourne joined this training programme at the age of eighteen. The trainees practised agriculture and learned to be farmers. Sherbourne put what he learnt into practice at a training farm in Kent, where he was to meet his future wife, Muriel Cohen. After receiving their certificate for Aliyah, they left for Palestine on the first day of World War Two, 1 September 1939. They joined Kibbutz Anglo Balti for 6 months, then left for Haifa, where Michael was employed in the Royal Navy, and where their eldest daughter Norma was later born. Sherbourne’s involvement in the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy provided the opportunity for him to become fluent in French and Hebrew and to study Arabic.

Michael Sherbourne and his wife Muriel in USA, 1989 [MS434 A4249 7/2]

Michael Sherbourne and his wife Muriel in USA, 1989 [MS434 A4249 7/2]

 After World War Two ended, the Sherbourne family returned to England. Shortly after the birth of Sherbourne’s second daughter Lana, Michael was forced to return to Palestine in 1948 to join the Israeli Army during the War of Independence. Michael was a fighter in the IDF (Hativat Sheva, Mahal), and participated in the decisive battle for Latrun.

As Muriel contracted tuberculosis, the Sherbournes could not stay in Israel long-term. In London Muriel underwent treatment for this over a 2-year period. Sherbourne focussed on training to become a teacher, taking a 13 month course at a teacher’s training college in London. At the College were 30 Jews, of which 28 were members of the Communist Party, causing Sherbourne to always be in disagreement with them. As a result of a challenge to learn Russian Sherbourne learnt took up evening classes, and went on to study a degree in Russian. Some say that Sherbourne also learnt Russian to learn the language of the enemy. After achieving his degree, Sherbourne switched from teaching metalwork and machine-tool mechanics to teaching foreign languages, and became Head of the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at a large secondary comprehensive school in North London, until he retired in 1979.

MS 434 A4249_4_12_2 Section of Soviet Socialists Map

Section of Soviet Socialists map, c.1960s [MS434 A4249 4/12/2]

Even after taking a school party to the Soviet Union, and speaking to Jews at the Synagogue in Leningrad, Sherbourne did not learn about the Jewish problem in Russia until he attended a meeting in London where Jewish women from Leningrad spoke of their experiences. Following this meeting, the Association of Jewish Ex-service Men and Women organised a committee to help Soviet Jews, to which Michael and his wife Muriel asked to join. After telling the Committee that he could speak Russian, the first job delegated to him was to ring some of the Jews that had suffered in Russia. As Sherbourne made the phone calls, he received more and more numbers to call, particularly from a lady called Eder Nudel. Nudel made it her business to find Jewish prisoners who were given the misleading title of prisoners of Zion. Over a period of fifteen years, Sherbourne made up to six thousand telephone calls. Sherbourne would use the phone calls to find out when the person had applied for permission to immigrate, when they were refused, what difficulties they had faced from the police, and what their current situation was. Sherbourne would then communicate this information to the Israeli Embassy in London, and the activist group, the 35’s Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry. Over time, Sherbourne succeeded in forming a solid chain of communication between what he termed the “Refuseniks” and Jewish organisations wishing to help them emigrate from Russia.

Michael Sherbourne on the telephone with his recording equipment, c.1980s-1990s [MS434 A4249 7/4]

Michael Sherbourne on the telephone with his recording equipment, c.1980s-1990s [MS434 A4249 7/4]

After meeting members of the 35s Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry at a conference held by the Chief Rabbi in Britain, Sherbourne began to work closely with the organisation. Peaceful protests were made outside theatres where Soviet artists performed, publicising the names of refuseniks and calling on the Soviet Union to release the Jews. Jeans were also sent to refuseniks to help them to earn money.

Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry calendar, 1989 [MS 434 A4249 5/6]

Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry calendar, 1989 [MS434 A4249 5/6]

Retiring from the synagogue and teaching in the late seventies left time for Sherbourne to write articles and give public talks on Soviet Jewry. Topics of these talks included “Russian Jewry: Triumph or Tragedy?”, “A Brief Account of Russian Anti-Semitism and the 35s Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry”, and “Jews in the U.S.S.R. – Cultural Genocide”. Sherbourne also attended talks relating to these topics, such as “Final Reckoning: Was the Soviet Union really ‘bad for the Jews’?” given by John Klier at the sixth annual Maccabean Lecture at King’s College London. Known as a strong personality in the campaign for Soviet Jewry, Sherborne received many enquiries, such as authors requesting his thoughts on their books and articles on the subject. An example includes Martin Gilbert on his publication Shcharansky Hero of Our Time.

Poster for talk given by Michael Sherbourne on ‘Russian Jewry Past, Present, and Future’, 2004 [MS 434 A 4249 1/3 Folder 8]

Poster for talk given by Michael Sherbourne on “Russian Jewry Past, Present, and Future”, 2004 [MS434 A4249 1/3 Folder 8]

Putting his skill of being able to read and write in Russian to good use, Sherbourne also spent his time in the 1990s translating documents from Russian and Hebrew into English. Documents included publications, poems, and even family history and legal documents.

Front cover of We are from Russia by Paulina Kleiner translated from Russian by Michael Sherbourne , MS434 A 4249 2/1/1 Folder 1]

Front cover of We are from Russia by Paulina Kleiner translated from Russian by Michael Sherbourne, [MS434 A4249 2/1/1 Folder 1]

In 1971 Sherbourne invented the term “Refusenik”, when the Jewish movement in the USSR started to expand and the number of Refuseniks increased dramatically. Sherbourne went so far as to write to dictionary publishers and writers of newspaper articles when he thought that they had defined the word incorrectly, or had used the term incorrectly. Criticism included specifying that the term Refusenik refers only to a Jew, and that the term is not Yinglish, as it is a direct translation of the Russian word “Otkaznik”. He has also corrected publishers when he believed that definitions provided for “Red Sea” had been incorrect.

Some records within the Sherbourne collection relate to Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry. These include correspondence discussing the history of the organisation, newsletters and bulletins, and circulars and calendars. We also hold the collection MS 254 Papers of the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry.

The Sherbourne collection provides a rich resource of material for the study of the campaign against the Soviet Jewry. Not only is there material which shows the point of view of parties outside Russia, there are also copies of the Russian magazine Kohtekct that contains articles relating to Soviet Jewry. Extensive material also relates to the conflict in the Middle East, as well as on anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the Kristallnacht.

Thanks to the efforts of individuals like Michael Sherbourne, and organisations like the Women’s Campaign for the Soviet Jewry, Jewish communities in Russia have formed that have direct contact with many synagogues in Great Britain, who regularly meet.

“But there, in – inside the former Soviet Union, the children are teaching their parents to understand Judaism. It’s—it’s an amazing thing, how it’s risen, like Phoenix from the ashes. It’s amazing.” (Interview with Michael Sherborne, p.23, 6 September 2003 [MS434 A4249 1/1]

Michael Sherbourne on protest march in San Francisco near the Soviet Consulate, [MS434 A4249 7/2]

Michael Sherbourne on protest march in San Francisco near the Soviet Consulate, [MS434 A4249 7/2]




Celebrating the contribution of women: Edith “Edie” Noble

Held annually on 8 March, International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women throughout history and across nations.

The Special Collections at the University of Southampton holds material for a range of women whose contribution in many spheres is worthy of mention. For this blog we will focus on Edith “Edie” Noble, née Davidson or Davidovitz (MS 381).


Edith Noble, June 1973 [MS381 A4136 1/4]

Born in Hull in 1910, she was one of nine brothers and sisters born to Annie and Hyman Davidovitz. She and her two sisters, Sophie and Min, married three London-born brothers, Ziggy, Charles and Bernard Noble. Edie and her husband Charles joined South London Liberal’s Synagogue in 1939, a year after they married.

Edith was heavily involved with the South London Liberal Synagogue, holding the position of Treasurer in the Women’s Society and as a member of their Council.

Passionate about promoting friendly relations among Jewish women, Edith became a founding member of the Streatham Group of the League of Jewish Women as its Vice-Chairman in 1953.

“From that time in 1953, she has worked untiringly with a will and dedication to make the name of L.J.W. respected in many spheres”. [MS381 A4136 1/4]

League of Jewish Women 25th birthday picture supplement, 1968 [MS381 A4136 3/1/1]

A year later, as group representative, Edith was elected to the League’s National Council. She went on to become founder Chairman of the League’s Publicity Committee in 1957 and National Honorary Secretary in 1961. As the League’s first Extension Officer, Edith worked tirelessly to ensure the organisation was reaching Jewish women all over the country, opening 25 UK groups and achieving thousands of new members between 1967-72.

Edith held many positions in the League of Jewish Women, including President in 1973, as well as positions in the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) and the National Council of Women. This reflected her commitment towards raising the profile of these organisations, and strengthening connections between Jewish women nationally and internationally.

Certificate awarded to Edith Noble from the International Council of Jewish Women for her outstanding services to the organisation, May 1978 [MS381 A4136 1/7]

Using her links around the world, Edith succeeded in widening the communication net of these bodies, such as by setting up the 13th International Convention for ICJW in Bournemouth in 1984, which she chaired.

Keen for women to keep well-informed of social issues, Edith was the League representative on the Women’s Consultative Council, a government sponsored forum, from 1961. In 1969 this group became the Women’s National Commission, a body that still enables the government to obtain women’s thoughts on current issues.

Alongside these committee positions, Edith also completed welfare work, which included visiting patients on a Thursday morning at the Birchlands Jewish Hospital, serving tables at the South London Day Centre, and hosting and supporting Jewish girls who came to England from Morocco and Iran to work in the London Jewish Hospital.

The correspondence, working notebooks, papers and other documents relating to the Jewish Women’s organisations that Edith was involved in, provides a wealth of information on the work of the League of Jewish Women and International Council of Jewish Women from a committee member’s perspective.

From Edith’s final speech as President of League of Jewish Women:

“It has been said that if it be true that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, then eternal participation is the price of a good society. May the League never lack women to identify with us and participate in the Jewish contribution to the good society.” [MS381 A4136 1/4]


Scroll commemorating Edith Noble’s appointment as the Streatham Group of the League of Jewish Women’s first Life President, 26 May 1976 [MS381 A4136 1/7]

For other blog posts we have completed on women, please click on the following links:

The University of Southampton will be hosting a number of events to mark international women’s day and details can be found at the following links:

University blog –


Events page –


Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery Book (London, 1947, Jewish Chronicle)

70 years ago, in the austerity years following the Second World War, the Jewish Chronicle newspaper published a cookery book that was to become legendary in Jewish households across Britain. Written by Florence Greenberg – the ‘Delia Smith’ of the Anglo Jewish community – Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery Book would be reprinted 13 times between 1947 and 1977, latterly by Penguin Books.

Copies of Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery Book, 3rd edition (revised) 1951, 6th edition, 1958.

Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery Book, 3rd edition (revised) 1951, 6th edition, 1958.

Florence was born in Canonbury, north London, on 13 April 1882, into a large Jewish family – she was the fourth in a family of eight (six girls and two boys). Her parents were Alex and Eliza Oppenheimer. In her memoirs she writes: “We were a happy united family with a sweet gentle mother and a rather strict father.” Florence describes a happy childhood. She was educated at Lady Holles School for Girls, and spent a year at a boarding school at Bonn on the Rhine – which she didn’t enjoy. Afterwards, it was decided that Florence would help her mother to run the home – and she was soon cooking for a household of twelve, assisted by a younger sister. “We did this for ten years.  That is where I gained all my cookery experience – by trial and error until I managed to get the result I wanted.” [MS116/63 AJ181/8 ‘Two interesting careers: my memoirs by Florence Greenberg.’]

During this time, when she was busy with home life and charity work, it was Florence’s ambition to be a hospital nurse. Her father was “deadly opposed to women nursing men”, but thanks to the intervention of her elder brother, she commenced training at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton in 1911.  Florence took her final exams as war broke out and immediately put her name down for the Queen Alexandra Nursing Services Reserve. In the summer of 1915 she was sent to the Middle East, travelling the long journey by ship from Plymouth, she transferred first to the temporary hospital ship the Alauria, and subsequently served at Alexandria, Port Said, and Cairo. She was in Egypt at the time of the armistice, but signed on for another six months and transferred to Haifa hospital in Palestine. “After five years of really hard work” Florence returned to England in December 1919, proud to have been mentioned in dispatches for her work in the Gallipoli campaign. Her remarkable diary of these war time experiences, complete with photographs, survives today in the collections of the Jewish Museum in London.

Soon after her return, Florence was introduced to Leopold J. Greenberg, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. They married the following May, and it was her husband who started her second career – in cookery:

 “Soon after we were married, my husband said to me that he wished I would write cookery articles for him for the paper, and I told him not to be funny – I had no literary ability. He said: ‘What do you want literary ability for. You are a marvellous cook.’  Of course, I couldn’t refuse; so I contributed recipes regularly every week for 42 years.  This started my cookery career….”

Sadie Levine, writing in the Jewish Chronicle on Florence’s retirement in 1962, noted:

“One of her finest achievements to my mind is that during that time she never missed a deadline.  Let me tell you that takes some doing.  I do not know of another journalist who has met a Thursday deadline with unfailing timing every single week for nearly half a century.” [Jewish Chronicle, 28 December 1962]

Florence’s marriage was a very happy one and she was devastated by Leopold’s death in 1931. When his successor at the Jewish Chronicle asked her to put some recipes into book form, Florence, still grieving, was glad to have something to do.  Daily newspapers were publishing readers’ recipes as paperbacks, but Florence could see that the real need was for a modern Jewish cookery book. The Jewish Chronicle Cookery Book, published in 1934, filled that gap.  Five thousand copies were printed at the retail price of 3s. 6d. Unfortunately, in 1941, before a second edition could be published, the London offices of the Jewish Chronicle were blitzed, and the text was destroyed.

Meanwhile, her weekly column and her famous cookbook cemented Florence’s reputation as an authority on Jewish cooking. It was no surprise that during WWII she was recruited by the Ministry of Food – which was sending people out to give talks to housewives on how to make the best use of the food available during the rationing period.  Florence remembered:

“They had no one who knew the Jewish Dietary Laws, so they would like me to talk to Jewish groups. I explained that I wasn’t a lecturer, and really I couldn’t undertake it. She said ‘Mrs Greenberg, I haven’t been talking to you for the last half hour without realising that you are just the person we want, a practical housewife ‘to get it over from me to you’.” I felt I must do it after that, and I accepted the job.”

Florence researched where Jewish children with their mothers were being evacuated. Starting with the Home Counties she travelled to groups in Bedford, Oxford, Cambridge, and as far west as Somerset and Devon. She took samples for display and after her talk, would answer questions and try to solve any problems.  The interest that was shown in her recipes led to regular broadcasts for the BBC on the programme ‘The Kitchen Front’ throughout the war.  Her fan mail was huge.

And so it was, in June 1946, that Florence completed the text for a new cookery book – Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery Book was published by the Jewish Chronicle the following year.  She wrote to the editor:

“Glad as I will be to see it in print I feel rather as if I have lost a baby. For over eighteen months it has been my main interest and has helped to keep me going during a very difficult period.  I hope I won’t be disappointed in the result and that it will really be what the public wants.” [MS150 AJ110/2 f.2 F.Greenberg to I.M.Greenberg, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, 12 June 1946]

Her book was indeed what the public wanted: by the time of her death, aged 98, in 1980, more than 105,000 copies had been sold. Generations of Jewish families had been raised on her recipes and Florence Greenberg had become a household name, not just among the Jewish community. What was the secret of her success? According to Sadie Levine, “She doesn’t only think up the recipes and write them.  It is common knowledge that all Mrs. Greenberg’s recipes are ‘tried and tested’… on a simple little gas stove in her West End flat.”  Put simply, her recipes worked; her explanations of basic techniques and practical tips were accessible; and as tastes changed, she adapted and added new recipes.  70 years on, Mrs. Greenberg would be thrilled to know that cooks around the world are still sharing, discussing and enjoying her recipes.

The Special Collections at the University of Southampton holds a typescript copy of the memoirs of Florence Greenberg, written in the 1970s and annotated in the hand of the author, MS116/63 AJ181/8; plus correspondence with her publisher in MS150 and MS225; and various editions of Florence Greenberg’s Cookery Book.

Florence is featured on the website ‘London Jews in the First World War’ at: https://www.jewsfww.london/florence-greenberg-115.php

Her WWI diary is held at the Jewish Museum:

Salomons family volumes

This week’s blog post looks at two volumes from the manuscript collections relating to Sir David Salomons, baronet, and his nephew and heir, Sir David Lionel Salomons, second baronet.

The Salomons’ family volumes, bound in red morocco and decorated with gilt on the leaves, contain a range of material compiled by Sir David Lionel Salomons, second baronet. An inscription at the front of each volume identifies them as “scrap books” and their content as “letters of interest from well-known men and others, together with interesting matters and scraps.”

Copy of a resolution (in Hebrew) from the West London Synagogue of British Jews congratulating David Salomons on his elevation to the high and important dignity of Lord Mayor of the City of London, November 1855 [MS 378 A4162/1/16]

Copy of a resolution (in Hebrew) from the West London Synagogue of British Jews congratulating David Salomons on his elevation to the high and important dignity of Lord Mayor of the City of London, November 1855 [MS 378 A4162/1/16]

The first volume (covering the period 1819-1911) initially consists of items relating to Philip Salomons and other members of the Salomons family. Philip Salomons was Sir David Lionel’s father, with the material pertaining to his application for citizenship to the United States (he became a naturalized citizen in 1826) and his appointment as Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Sussex in 1952. This is followed by a more substantial range of material relating to Philip’s brother Sir David Salomons, first baronet, primarily concerning his appointment as Lord Mayor of the City of London.

Sir David Salomons, first Baronet (1797-1873)

David Salomons was born in London on 22 November 1797. He was the second son of Levy Salomons, a stockbroker, and Matilda de Metz. Following in his father’s footsteps, he pursued a career in banking and in 1832 became one of the founders of the London and Westminster Bank.

Sir David Salomons, first Baronet, MP and Lord Mayor of London, from an engraving by Charles Turner of the painting by Mary Martha Pearson [MS 187 AJ 352/1/2]

Sir David Salomons, first Baronet, MP and Lord Mayor of London, from an engraving by Charles Turner of the painting by Mary Martha Pearson [MS 187 AJ 352/1/2]

Alongside a successful banking career he had a distinguished public career. In 1835 he was elected as Sheriff of the City of London. However, as a Jew, he was unable to enter office due to the mandatory oath of office including Christian statements of faith. Parliament was obliged to legislate and following the passing Sheriffs’ Declaration Act later in the year, he was able to take up the post. 1835 also saw him elected as an Alderman of the City of London. Again, he was unable to take up the post due to the oath of office. On this occasion the law was not changed. It wasn’t until 1847 and the passing of the Religious Opinions Relief Act that he was finally admitted as a City alderman, and in 1885 became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London.

Salomons was elected a Member of Parliament for Greenwich in 1851. While the law had now changed to enable professing Jews to hold municipal office, they were still denied admission to parliament. This time, rather than refusing to take the oath (as he had done in 1835) Salomons merely omitted the Christian statements of faith and took his seat on the government benches. He eventually agreed to withdraw, but only after voting in three divisions of the House. He lost his seat the following year at the general election of 1852. It wasn’t until the passage of the Jews Relief Act in 1858 that he was permitted to take his seat without further demur in 1859, serving as the constituency’s M.P. until his death in 1873.

Salomons was created a baronet in 1869. While he was married twice, there were no children of either marriage and his estate and titles passed to his nephew, Sir David Lionel Salomons.

Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons, second Baronet (1851-1925)

The majority of material in the volumes relates to Sir David Lionel Salomons. Sir David Lionel was the son of Philip Salomons (noted above) and Emma Montefiore. Following the death of his mother in 1859, and father in 1867, he was brought up by his uncle.

Bookplate of Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons, second Baronet, of Broomhill, Tunbridge Wells [MS 378 A4162/1]

Bookplate of Sir David Lionel Goldsmid-Stern-Salomons, second Baronet, of Broomhill, Tunbridge Wells [MS 378 A4162/1]

On the death of his uncle in 1873, he succeeded as second baronet (by special remainder) and inherited the estate of Broomhill, north of Tunbridge Wells. He studied at University College London and at Caius College, Cambridge, before being called to the bar at the Middle Temple. His inheritance from both his father and uncle meant that he was financially secure and was able to pursue scientific and other interests, becoming an inventor who pioneered developments in motoring and electricity. In addition to publishing a range of works on scientific subjects, he had workshops and laboratories added to the house at Broomhill (one of the first houses in the country to have electric lighting).

A significant amount of material in the volumes (the second volume covering the period 1889-1924) touches on his scientific research. These include notices of his public lectures on electricity which were “addressed to the working classes and others”. The lecture series for 1874 consisting of:

Lecture 1. Theories of Electricity and its general laws. Statical Electricity
Lecture 2. Statical Electricity continued.–Galvanic Electricity, and modes of producing the latter. –Comparisons between Statical and Galvanic Electricity. Induction.
Lecture 3. Resistance explained. Some applications of Electricity.
Lecture 4. Applications of Electricity continued, and the Telegraph.
Lecture 5. The Electric Telegraph.
Lecture 6. The Bridge and Differential. Modes of Testing. The application of these in practice. [MS 378 A4162/1/39]

Of Solomon’s inventions, the collection includes a pamphlet on ‘Improvements in the Construction of Fire-Proof Buildings’ in which he proposes placing pipes within the structure of the building which are in direct communication with hydrants or other water supply, “and so arranged that instant communication can be effected between the same an any one section of, or the whole of the internal perforated pipes in the building.” [MS 378 A4162/1/223]

Diagram from Improvements in the Construction of Fire-Proof Buildings by Sir David Lionel Salomons (Patented) [MS 378 A4162/1/223]

Diagram from Improvements in the Construction of Fire-Proof Buildings by Sir David Lionel Salomons (Patented) [MS 378 A4162/1/223]

Other items include letters from renowned scientists of the age, including John Tyndall, Joseph Swan, David Edward Hughes, William Crookes and David Gill. One of Salomons more imaginative ideas can be found in a letter from John Joseph Fahie, dated 19 January 1885, in which Fahie requests an exposition of his suggestion that you could “dissolve a man in London and build him up again in New York through the Atlantic Cable.” [MS 378 A4162/1/78]

Along with letters from famous individual such as Sir Moses Montefiore, Wilkie Collins, and William Gladstone, among others, the collection includes a number of letters that have been marked as “curious”. One such letter, dated 12 July 1878, is from a gentleman of twenty-three years living in Massachusetts. He begs Salomons the favour of providing him with an idea or invention that he can take credit for, and which will, in turn, enabling him to win the hand of a young lady with whom he is in love. Salomons advice to the young man is that “he ought to use his energies and work properly if his affection is sincere” and notes that “no fortune made at a “coup” is valued by its owner, and rarely indeed can such good fortune arrive.” [MS 378 A4162/1/50]

Salomons also had a keen interest in motor vehicles and was an early pioneer for the car on British roads. He was a member of the Automobile Club of France, the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain, as well as a range of other automobile clubs, and organised the first British Motor Show (named the Horseless Carriage Exhibition) at Tunbridge Wells in 1895.

Salomons married Laura de Stern in 1882 and the couple had one son and four daughters. Their only son, David Reginald Salomons, died at Gallipoli when HMS Hythe carrying his company was sunk in a collision.  Following Sir David Lionel’s death on 19 April 1925 the baronetcy became extinct.

Further details on the Salomons family volumes can be found on the Special Collections website at: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/cataloguedatabases/webguidemss378.page

The Salomons estate is currently home to the Salomons Museum which preserves and displays material relating to the family. Further details can be found at: https://www.salomons-estate.com/about-us/museum

“An evocative poet”: the pianist Solomon Cutner

Solomon Cutner, or Solomon as he became known, made his professional debut at the age of eight playing Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto at Queen’s Hall, London.  From then until his early teens he was to be considered one of the most celebrated child prodigies of his era.

Solomon was born in the East End of London in 1902, the seventh child of Jewish parents of Polish and German extraction. Since both of his parents loved music and there was a piano in the home, Solomon, as he noted in an interview years later, “could have been barely five when I first started strumming on the piano and having lessons.  For hours and hours I would practice upon the old instrument which we had at home and forget all about games and toys…. It was the strangest assortment of trifles that my fingers, as rigid as the keys themselves, would delightedly ramble through, ranging from a Beethoven minuet and snatches of 1812 to the popular tunes of the day.” [MS 430 A4254/4/1]

Solomon as a child performer [MS430 A4254/3]

Solomon as a child performer [MS430 A4254/3]

Solomon’s parents were introduced to Mathilde Verne, who had set up a music school in London in 1909, by a member of the Jewish Aid Society.  And it was a bursary from the Jewish Aid Society that supported Solomon’s lessons with Verne.  He moved into her house and undertook a punishing schedule of eight to nine hours a day practice and of numerous concerts.  At the age of nine Solomon performed with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra under the conductor Henry Wood.  Wood was to write to Mathilde Verne that “I have never met such a talent as Solomon’s at the age of 9. His phrasing and rhythmic grip seemed to me quite remarkable.” [Henry Wood to Mathilde Verne, 25 June 1912 MS 430 A4254/4/1].  By the he age of 12 Solomon was playing six Prom concerts and the following year he played 15 concerts with Henry Wood.

Solomon left Verne when his contract expired and, on the advice of Henry Wood, retreated from performance and immersed himself in study.  He returned to performance in early 1920s, first in London and Paris followed by a short tour of Germany.  He made his New York debut in 1926 and performed at the World Fair there in 1939, premiering the Piano Concerto in B-flat by Arthur Bliss.

Solomon's American debut [MS 430 A4254/3]

Solomon’s American debut [MS 430 A4254/3]

During the Second World War Solomon performed for allied troops in Europe.  In the post-war period he undertook extensive concert tours across the world.

Performing in Australia

Performing in Australia [MS 430 A4254/3]

Solomon embarked on a parallel career as a recording artist from 1929 when he signed to Columbia. He subsequently signed to EMI, focusing on the works of Beethoven and on recording the entire sequence of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.  Solomon was part way through the Beethoven recording when in 1956 he suffered a stroke that paralysed his right arm. This effectively ended his performance career.

Solomon was awarded a CBE in 1946. He died, in London, in 1988 aged 85. He is remembered for his superb technique and his playing as an adult was acclaimed for its clarity and overall poetic feel.  He was described as “one of the few contemporary pianists who is master of the subtleties of Chopin”. [MS 430 A4254/1/206]  William Mann called him “an evocative poet”.  For John Cromer, “while Solomon played … the inanimate piano came alive with a new meaning of sound and patterned harmonies.  The three-legged monster with shining white and black teeth became the living bearer of a thousand messages, soft and sweet, tender and poignant.” [MS 430 A4254/1]

Letter from Solomon to his sister [MS 430 A4254/1/39]

Letter from Solomon to his sister Ettie [MS 430 A4254/1/39]

The recently acquired collection of papers relating to Solomon at Southampton contains extensive correspondence from him, predominately to his sister Ettie.  These letters relate to his concert tours in the 1940s and 1950s across North and South America, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.  They attest both to the rigors of life on tour and to his appreciation of homely comforts such as tea and toast in his hotel room.  The collection further contains photographs of Solomon from a young man to an adult; programmes from concerts all across the world; and volumes of press cuttings mainly of reviews of his performances.  This material provides a glimpse into the world of the person Harold Schonberg of the New York Times called “that most civilized of pianists” and who his family remember as a devoted son and brother.

Celebrating the contribution of women: Lady Swaythling

Today marks International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women throughout history and across nations. The Special Collections at the University of Southampton holds material for a range of women whose contribution in many spheres is worthy of mention. For this blog post we will focus on Gladys Helen Rachel Montagu, Baroness Swaythling (MS 383).

Photograph of Gladys, Dowager Lady Swaythling, taken by Dorothy Wilding [MS 383 A4000/6/1/5 f2]

Photograph of Gladys, Dowager Lady Swaythling, taken by Dorothy Wilding [MS 383 A4000/6/1/5 f2]

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1879, she was the eldest daughter of Colonel Albert Edward Williamson Goldsmid, MVO, and Ida Stewart Beauclerk Hendricks. In 1898 she married Louis Montagu, the eldest son of Samuel Montagu, first Baron Swaythling (MS 117), founder of the banking firm Samuel Montagu and Company. Louis succeeded as second Baron Swaythling in 1911 and inherited the office of president of the Federation of Synagogues (MS 248), an organisation created by his father to promote the acculturation of Jewish immigrants.

Following their marriage they lived at Townhill Park House, Southampton, purchased by the first Baron Swaythling in 1897. Originally dating from the 1790s, they had the house extended and re-designed by architect Leonard Rome Guthrie in the Italianate style. Guthrie also designed the terraced gardens to complement the style of the house, with the plants laid out by the renowned garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. As Lord and Lady Swaythling they were leading members of the Anglo-Jewish community and leading figures in English society, hosting dinner parties and other social events at Townhill Park where visitors included Princess Alice and Queen Mary (with whom Lady Swaythling had a lifelong friendship).

Belgian soldiers and staff at Allington Manor

Belgian soldiers and staff at Allington Manor [MS 383 A4000/6/1/13 ]

They were also active communal workers, with Lady Swaythling applying much of her energy to the local Southampton area. During the First World War she became President of the Women’s Southampton branches of the Auxiliary of the YMCA and Women’s Emergency Corps, as well as the War Hospital Supply Depot, Southampton. In addition, she served on eighteen different committees, including as chair of the Wounded Allies Relief Committee, established for the provision of convalescent homes for wounded Belgian soldiers.

Country houses were required for medical use as the large numbers of wounded meant there were not enough hospitals able to cope with the seriously disabled or even those simply convalescing. These houses were pressed into service or were donated for the purpose, as their clean country air and fine grounds were considered most helpful to rest and recuperation. Allington Manor, a country house in Eastleigh owned by the Swaythlings, was one of the houses donated as a military sanitorium. Lady Swaythling took a deep interest in the welfare of the sanatorium and would sing to the patients during her visits. Later, she was involved in organising hospitality for American soldiers and sailors, with her efforts leading to her becoming known as the “British godmother” among American naval enlisted men. Other activities included working on the executive committee of Queen Mary’s Governess’ Home in Surrey, and assisting the British Women’s Patriotic League.

Certificate granted to Lady Swaythling [MS 383 A4000/2/1]

Certificate granted to Lady Swaythling in recognition of her
charitable services during the First World War [MS 383 A4000/2/1]

After the war she continued her communal actives, with her roles including President of the Southampton Hostel for Unmarried Women and the Southampton branches of the National Society for Combating Venereal Diseases and the University Extension Lectures movement. She was also chair of the conjoint committee of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem. In 1919 she joined the Council of the Anglo-Belgian Union and continued to support Belgian exiles during the Second World War. She was an active supporter of refugees throughout her life and, in 1925, addressed a letter to President Coolidge pleading for the admission to the United States of Jewish refugees stranded in Southampton.

Other public offices she held included President of the Electrical Association for Women, established in 1924 to interest women in the electrical development of the country; Honorary President of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade (MS 244), a Jewish youth organisation founded by her father in 1895; President of the Southampton branch of the Girl Guides Association; and Vice-President of the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). She travelled widely, touring countries such as India, Australia, China, Japan, the United States, and Canada, and was the recipient of many overseas honours. She was made OBE in 1953.

Lord and Lady Swaythling had had three sons and a daughter. Their eldest son Stuart became the third Lord Swaythling in 1927 on Louis’ death. The family continued to live at Townhill Park until 1939 when the house was handed over to the Red Cross and used as a convalescent home for British and American soldiers during the Second World war. Lady Swaythling died in 1965 at the age of 85.

This year, Southampton is joining in the International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration theme by ‘Being Bold’ and inviting everyone to West Quay and fringe events in town on Saturday March 11 to promote and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, both locally and worldwide. For further details visit: