Archive of pre-state Jewish population offers glimpse of founding generation
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When Szymel Perski (Shimon Peres) applied for citizenship

Archive of pre-state Jewish population offers glimpse of founding generation

Collaboration between MyHeritage and Israel’s State Archives puts 67,000 British Mandatory citizenship requests online

A scan of the citizenship request of 20-year-old Szymel Perski, later the Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, in the British Mandate of Palestine, stamped October 1943. (Israel State Archives)
A scan of the citizenship request of 20-year-old Szymel Perski, later the Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, in the British Mandate of Palestine, stamped October 1943. (Israel State Archives)

A new archive made public and searchable online by the Israeli State Archives and MyHeritage.com brings to light the names of over 206,000 Jews who lived in the country before the founding of the State of Israel.

The archive spans 10 years, from 1937 to 1947, and is made up of about 67,000 requests for citizenship in British Mandatory Palestine. Some of the requests came from famous future Israelis like the late president Shimon Peres.

Each request includes the names of family members, dates and places of birth and a treasure trove of other information, including countless photographs. The requests, which could reach 20 pages apiece, also include the names of two sponsors for each aspiring citizen.

The file of 20-year-old Szymel Perski, later the statesman Shimon Peres, includes declarations in his handwriting that he worked in agriculture, and a request to change his first name to Shimon, with the explanation written in his own hand that “Szymel is a corrupted Polish version of the name Shimon.”

A request by future Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, then Szymel Perski, to have his first name changed to the Hebrew Shimon, “since ‘Szymel’ is a corrupted Polish version of the name ‘Shimon.'” Dated October 7, 1943. (Israel State Archives)

Similarly, among the sponsors for some aspiring citizens are famous future Israelis such as Golda Meir, who would go on to become prime minister, Shlomo Hillel, later a cabinet minister, the actress Hana Rubina and author Yehuda Burla.

The project is a collaboration of the State Archives and the ancestry startup MyHeritage, whose staff has worked for the past year to scan and index the 67,000 requests.

According to the State Archives, the cooperation with MyHeritage has enabled the aging archive, some of whose pages are already unreadable or beyond repair, to undergo digitization to ensure its survival and make it accessible to the public.

“This historic collection from [Israel’s] founding generation offers a peek at one of the most important chapters in the country’s history,” said statement from the archives and MyHeritage.

“Many of the requests for citizenship came from Jews who had managed to flee the Nazis at the very last minute, just before the fate of European Jewry was sealed, as well as survivors who arrived in the country after the Holocaust. Alongside them appear citizenship requests from Jews from Arab countries and around the world who arrived in the land of Israel to fulfill their Zionist dream, as well as Jews who were born in the land of Israel,” it said.

“After a comprehensive effort at digitization and development, we’re happy to add these profoundly significant historic records of the country’s annals to MyHeritage, and to make them accessible to our users,” MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet said of the project.

A record of the future Israeli statesman Shimon Peres’s aoth of allegiance to the government of British Mandatory Palestine upon receiving citizenship on January 4, 1944. (Israel State Archives)

The index is available at https://www.myheritage.co.il/israel. Viewing the scans and detailed records in the archive requires a membership in the site, which is a paid service after a 14-day free trial for new customers.

“Many of the residents of the country today, as well as Jews around the world with relatives in Israel, can find in the database documents and photographs of their beloved family members,” Japhet said.

MyHeritage allows users to research and track their family history in 42 languages, and includes over eight billion historical records.

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