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Israeli history photo of the week: The Jews' wailing place

August 2, 2012 11:37

JPost special feature: LLibrary of Congress collection of photographs that document pre-state Israel.

Wailing Wall

Wailing Wall. (photo credit:American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)

The Library of Congress has recently digitalized a collection of over 10,000 photographs, taken by the "American Colony" in Jerusalem, a group of Christian utopians who lived in Jerusalem between 1881 and the 1940s. The photographers returned to the US, and bequeathed their massive collection to the Library of Congress in 1978. The collection includes Winston Churchill's visit to Jerusalem, Jewish expulsions from the Old City during Arab riots, and the building of Tel Aviv.

The high-resolution photo of the Kotel was taken by Peter Bergheim (1813-1875), one of the first resident photographers in the Holy Land. He set up a photography studio in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem; his family owned a bank inside the Jaffa Gate.

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A converted Jew, Bergheim was well aware of the holy sites of Jerusalem.  Three of his pictures were reproduced by the British Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem by Charles Wilson, who, in 1864, was one of the first surveyors of Jerusalem -- above and below the surface of the ground.

To put the photograph in chronological perspective, the picture was taken when Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, Queen Victoria was in the middle of her reign, and disciples of the Gaon of Vilna had finished building the "Hurva" synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City.

Besides the massive American Colony Photographers’ collection of more than 20,000 photos (taken between 1898 and 1946), the Library of Congress archives also contain ancient photos by 19th century photographers Bonfils, Bergheim, Frith, and Good.

Until now, the Library has not opened these photos to online viewers, citing copyright restrictions.  At the request of this writer, the Library has assured that within days several of these historic photos will go online with no restrictions and with truly unusual resolution.  They will, of course, also appear on these pages.

More photos can be viewed at

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