Old newspapers and magazines are an invaluable source of history. Lacking the advantage of hindsight, they can give you a very different perspective on events than what you’ll read in history books.
I just acquired a full run of the Yiddish periodical Iddishe Bilder, published in Riga, Latvia, between May 1937 and September 1939. Iddishe Bilder was a photographic magazine, imitating the style of the then very popular Life magazine. It was apolitical and its interests were global, with news and photographs of Jewish life throughout the world.
In it, you can find news of the passing of the Munkatcher Rebbe and weddings of chassidic Rebbes alongside news from the Yiddish Theater, an interview with the notorious mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and a feature on the Jewish community of Kochi, India.
In late 1939, the newspaper turned its attention to the war and the trepidation in the air. But while it reported on the horrors occurring, it continued reporting on ordinary life. Advertisements of Yiddish theater performances can be found facing photographs of children in gas masks. A report of synagogues destroyed in Poland by German bombs is followed by photographs of Jews throughout the world preparing for the upcoming yamim tovim.
The very last issue – September 27, 1939 – highlights the conflicting thoughts in the air. The cover shows a photo of a woman setting schach on her sukkah in relative peace in Nahalat Yitzchak in Eretz Yisrael, and the back cover depicts soldiers standing in front of machine guns and cannons, ready for battle. Within, you can find a children’s section, a serial novel, Sukkot songs, and a crossword puzzle.
The final issue ends with a note that due to world events, publication of the periodical will cease until peace returns. Unfortunately, Hitler killed so many Jews during the war that resuming publication of the paper in Latvia after the war made little sense.