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Moshe Yaacov Ben-Gavriel

Moshe Yaacov Ben-Gavriel
Moshe Yaacov-Ben Gavriel was an Austrian Jew with an affinity for Bedouin culture, who dreamed of a unified Asia. Ben-Gavriel, who wrote in German, was a well-known figure on the streets of Jerusalem in the years before and after the establishment of the State of Israel. Born Eugen Hoeflich in Vienna in 1891, at an early age he began writing in the expressionist vein, as was the fashion among Jewish writers in his hometown. From 1914-1918, during WWI, he served as a soldier and officer in the Austro-Hungarian army.  In 1917 he was sent to Jerusalem to command a small Austrian regiment. There, he learned Hebrew and a little Arabic, and fell in love with the region and the Zionist ideal.

His interest in Zionism grew so strong that his superiors decided to send him back to Austria. There, he joined Zionist groups and began publishing the periodical Das Zest (The Tent), which published articles by Jewish writers as well as Jewish art. In 1924, Hoeflich published 11 volumes before resources for the project ran out. At the same time, he was publishing pan-Asian articles in support of a unified Asia as a cultural counterbalance to European hegemony.

In 1927 Hoeflich moved to Palestine with his wife, the actress Marta Schnabel. The couple settled in Jerusalem and one of Hoeflich's first acts was changing his name to Moshe Yaakov Ben-Gabriel. He worked as a journalist, writing primarily for European publications in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but also for Jewish and non-Jewish publications in France, England, the U.S., Czechoslovakia and other countries.  His professional options were severely curtailed by the outbreak of WWII, since most of the publications to which he submitted were either shut down by the Nazis or changed their policies to preclude inclusion of articles about the Middle East by a Jewish journalist. Ben-Gavriel joined the Hagana as well as the Jewish Brigade.

Das Haus in der Karpfengasse
It was during this time that Ben-Gavriel began writing novels and short stories. His book Das Haus in der Karpfengasse was written in response to the reports of the Nazi invasion. In this, perhaps his most important work, Ben-Gavriel describes the fate of the Jewish and non-Jewish residents of a building in Prague during the first two weeks of the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia, in March 1939.

After WWII, Ben-Gavriel returned to journalism, but continued to write novels, stories and scripts, almost all in German. His works were published in Hebrew, but only in translated form. It was in Germany of all places, as early as the 1950s, that Ben-Gavriel enjoyed popularity. His books at this point were mostly light, humoristic depictions of the young Israeli society. This appealed to the German readership. As a result, Ben-Gavriel often undertook public speaking tours to Germany. He gave public readings, was interviewed on the radio and became a sought-after interlocutor of German intellectuals and cultural figures. This activity and his extensive correspondence, bear testament to the first cautious interactions between Israeli and German cultural figures after the Holocaust.

Das Haus in der Karpfengasse was the basis for a German television film that was also adapted for the cinema. The film won the German academy award in 1965.

A short time after his death in 1965, Ben-Gavriel's personal archive was transferred to the National Library. In his will, Ben-Gavriel stipulated that his entire estate should be preserved in the Library's collections. It was given the reference ARC. Ms. Var. 365 and basic processing. The estate, which has recently been reorganized, contains personal and biographical documents, manuscripts of Ben-Gavriel's works, and an interesting collection of press clippings and correspondence. The Ben-Gavriel archive is now available to the public. Readers and researchers are invited to peruse both the catalogue and the materials themselves. 

  • Ben-Gavriel circa 1950
  • Ben-Gavriel 1933
  • Austrian officer Eugen Hoeflich (Ben-Gavriel) at the Western Wall, 1917
  • As an Austrian officer in Jerusalem, with Boris Schatz and his son Bezalel (seated) at Ratisbone, 1917
  • "The Murderer," Drawing by Hoeflich (Ben-Gavriel) circa 1917
  • Moshe Yaacov Ben-Gavriel, portrait
  • Ben-Gavriel signing his own works at a bookstore in Hamburg, 1965
  • Kumsits, by Moshe Yaacov Ben-Gavriel, German edition
  • Das Haus in der Karpfengasse, Moshe Yaacov Ben-Gavriel, Hebrew edition