Veterans: An important legacy

Moshe Deksler, 66, From Ivanovo, Russia, to Bat Yam, 1967.

Moshe Deksler (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Moshe Deksler
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Moshe Deksler is a man with a mission in life.
The 66-year-old photographer, who made aliya in 1967 from Russia, wants to bring the work of another earlier photographer, Sam Sanzetti, to public consciousness.
Sanzetti was a Russian Jew who moved to Shanghai in the 1920s. There he established himself as a photographer and became the darling of upper-crust Shanghai society. He was greatly in demand for his portraits and wedding photos.
He opened a studio in a busy and prestigious part of the city, married a local woman and prospered.
Then the Communists came, and in 1957 Sanzetti decided it would be wise to cut his losses and move to the fairly newly established State of Israel.
“He took a huge drop in status,” says Deksler, whose mother later became romantically involved with Sanzetti.
“He had been a great society photographer and here he was reduced to taking pictures of textiles and materials for the fashion business. He had met Ruth Dayan, who was running [the] Maskit [fashion house] at the time, and she gave him the job.”
Deksler was doing his army service at the time and came home on leave to spend some time with his widowed mother.
He took her out to a café in Tel Aviv and at the next table sat Sanzetti (born Semyon Liphschitz – he had invented the professional name because he thought it sounded good for business), who began to sing Russian melodies in his rich baritone voice.
“It was love at first sight,” recalls Deksler. Soon after, Sanzetti moved in with the mother and son and became his stepfather.
“I began to help him in his work and he taught me the important principles of photography,” says Deksler.
Three years ago he decided he must do something to perpetuate the memory of his stepfather and publish the wonderful black-and-white portraits that were now in his possession.
He first approached a professor at Shanghai University, who suggested he contact the Israeli Consulate there. When the deputy consul, Oren Rosenblitt, received the disc and saw what was recorded on it, he immediately knew that he held a treasure in his hands.
Here were wonderful portraits of the people of Shanghai high society, taken between 1927 and 1957, the year Sanzetti left.
In the introduction to the magnificent volume, which resulted from this first encounter, he writes, “What makes these images truly special… is Sanzetti’s great love for people: he captured the personalities of his subjects, so much so that they radiate across the years.”
He also points out that the pictures capture a very special time in Shanghai history – a time of style and glamour that disappeared with Communism.
Although the pictures are not specifically Jewish, many of the subjects could have been Jews. Many Jews in Europe escaped the Holocaust by fleeing east toward China and established themselves in Shanghai, living a charmed life until the war was over.
The Israeli consulate decided it would hold an exhibition of the photos, but before it could do this it had to identify the people whose faces would be appearing in the exhibition.
The photos were posted on the consulate’s Chinese media account with a request “to help us find the people in the photos.”
“The response was overwhelming,” writes the deputy consul.
“Within two hours, the post was forwarded 2,000 times. When I arrived at work the following morning, an elderly couple was there, waiting for me.”
Their photo as a young, newly engaged couple can be seen in the volume, which is called Eternal Moments.
Now, 50 years later, they answered the call of the Israeli consul and identified themselves.
More and more photos were released; more people were identified. A press conference, an exhibition held in Sanzetti’s original studio, a movie and a television series all resulted from Moshe Deksler’s initiative.
Now he would like Sanzetti to be recognized in Israel, too.
“He changed my life,” says Deksler of his stepfather.
“I became a photographer because of him and he taught me everything I know.”
Deksler’s biological father, Boris, was one of the first Prisoners of Zion. He applied to leave Russia in 1937 and was imprisoned for five years from 1949 to 1954. He was released soon after Stalin died.
“Before he died in 1966, my father said to me, ‘One day you will live in Israel,’” recalls Deksler with emotion.
In 1967 he arrived with his mother and went to study at the Technical Air Force School in Haifa. He qualified as an electrician.
His first marriage, to Elena, ended in divorce and his ex-wife and two sons live in New York.
In 1999 he met Alexandra, and today they live in Bat Yam and work in real estate.
But photography will always be his first love, and he has never forgotten his debt to Sanzetti.
Part of Deksler’s work for many years was photographing jewelry for catalogs, and sometimes he used a blurred photo of Sanzetti in the background as a tribute.
“He was always an inspiration to me,” says Deksler.