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Israel Cohen Papers

Identifier: RG 448

Scope and Content Note

The Israel Cohen Papers are comprised of manuscripts, clippings, eyewitness accounts, interviews, notes, correspondence, reports, memos, and press reports encompassing a wide array of themes. The most salient among them include Zionism, anti-Semitism, the rise of Nazism, the position of European Jewish communities before and after the Second World War, and Jewish history in general. His writing, both autobiographical and historical, cuts across all series of the collection and reflects his keen devotion to Zionism as well as interest in tracking changes affecting Jews across Europe.

Cohen was actively engaged in acquiring many of the materials within the collection, accumulating a substantial amount of documents throughout his travels across Europe during the interwar period as a journalist and correspondent for Jewish and non-Jewish publications.

The majority of documents accumulated by Cohen pertain to Nazi Germany and Poland, focusing specifically on Nazi legislation, the evolving position of Jews in Germany, the pogroms of 1918-1919 in Poland, and Polish Jewry during the Second World War, respectively. A substantial amount of these reports were obtained in conjunction with the Jewish Central Information Office in Amsterdam. Of rich historical importance are numerous reports, interviews with survivors, affidavits, records of damages, and letters which illuminate the scope and nature of anti-Jewish violence stemming from the 1918-1919 pogroms in Poland.

Cohen’s personal writings are concerned almost entirely on the Zionist movement; they include biographical manuscripts on prominent Zionists leaders such as Ahad Ha’am, Moses Hess, and Nahum Sokolow.

While there is a wealth of documentation relating to the situation of European Jewry in the interwar period, there is a lack of personal letters as the collection houses almost exclusively professional and official correspondence. Furthermore in light of Cohen’s role as a British Jewish journalist prior to the war as well as focus on policies and legislation affecting Jews across Europe, it is noteworthy that the collection does not hold any materials pertaining to British policy concerning Jewish refugees or the Kindertransport.


  • 1906-1961


Language of Materials

The collection is in English, German, French, Hebrew, Polish, and one document in Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.

Use Restrictions

The images, documents, film footage, audio materials, and texts displayed in any portion of this web site may be copyrighted. Permission to use this web site is given on condition that the user agrees to follow U.S. copyright laws. The user agrees that she or he assumes liability for any copyright violations resulting from unauthorized use of items appearing on this web site and to hold YIVO harmless from any action involving copyright infringement. It is the responsibility of the user to carry out a due diligence search under U.S. copyright laws to determine the copyright status of items displayed on this web site.

Biographical Note

Born to Polish Jewish immigrants in Manchester on April 24, 1879, Israel Cohen was a prominent Anglo-Jewish Zionist, writer, and journalist. Cohen was educated at Manchester’s Jews’ School (1884-1892), Manchester grammar school (1892-1895); and then simultaneously at Jews’ College and University College, London, where he received his BA.

From 1895 on, Cohen became actively involved in the Zionist cause. Upon reading an article in the Jewish Chronicle about pogroms in Russia, Cohen became interested in Jewish affairs and political matters in 1891. Following a speech given by Theodore Herzl, he was further inspired to join the ranks of the Zionist movement in 1896 and became a lifelong supporter of the Zionist movement upon the establishment of the World Zionist Organization at the First Zionist Congress in Basel in August 1897. In 1910 Cohen became the English language secretary of the Zionist Central Office in Cologne.

During World War I he was interned in Ruhleben prison for sixteen months from November 1914. He described these experiences in Ruhleben Prison Camp: A Record of Nineteen Months’ Internment, which was published in 1917.

In 1918 Cohen became secretary for the World Zionist Organization in London. During the years 1918-1921, he carried out a number of important diplomatic and fund-raising missions on behalf of the Zionist leadership. These took him to Poland and Hungary, where he investigated and reported on the recent surge in pogroms and other anti-Jewish acts of violence; and to Jewish communities in Australia, Hong Kong, India, China, Japan, and Manchuria, where he sought aid for the Palestine Restoration Fund, whose goal it was to purchase Palestine from Turkey. Cohen later described his encounters in The Journey of a Jewish Traveller (1925), and A Jewish Pilgrimage: The Autobiography of Israel Cohen (1956).

After World War I he visited Poland and Hungary to study the plight of Jews in those countries. Special attention was given to the pogroms of 1918-1919 in Ukraine and Poland and the resulting report was based on extensive first hand information. As a representative of the Zionist Organization Cohen toured many countries, among them, Egypt, Australia, China, India, Spain, Portugal, and France. He wrote numerous reports, outlining the communities’ historical background, physical appearance, as well as their social, economic, and juridical position in the country.

Following the Zionist Congress of 1921, which took place in Karlsbad, Cohen was appointed general secretary of the Zionist organization in London in 1922, a position he held through 1939. He further edited reports of the Zionist Executive to the Zionist Congresses and was also a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, being appointed in 1946 as the head of its Foreign Affairs Committee delegation to the peace conference in Paris. He published many articles and books relating to current and historical Jewish issues, including: The Zionist Movement (1945) and Travels in Jewry (1953). From 1909 to the beginning of World War II Cohen directed the English department of the Zionist Central Office in Cologne and later in Berlin. Cohen wrote prolifically on the subjects of Zionism, anti-Semitism, and other areas of Jewish concern. His first publication was an article that appeared in the Manchester Evening Chronicle in September 1897. This was followed by a short sketch that appeared in January 1898 in the Jewish World. He subsequently wrote hundreds of newspaper articles and pamphlets for both Jewish and non-Jewish publications alike. When working in Germany, Cohen became the Berlin correspondent for The Times and Manchester Guardian, he continued to represent the latter at every Zionist Congress up until 1946. Among his many book credits, in addition to the aforementioned titles, are: Israel in Italien (1909), Zionist Work in Palestine (1911), Jewish Life in Modern Times (1914), A Ghetto Gallery (1931), Britain’s Nameless Ally (1942), History of the Jews of Vilna (1943), The Jews in the War (1943), The Zionist Movement (1946), The Progress of Zionism (1947), and Theodore Herzl – Founder of Political Zionism (1959). Israel Cohen died in London on November 26, 1961.


Cohen, Israel. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Cohen, Israel. Encyclopaedia Judaica Volume 4, Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972

Cohen, Israel. A Jewish Pilgrimmage: the Autobiography of Israel Cohen, London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1956.

Schneiderman, Harry and Itzhak J. Carmin, ed Who’s Who in World Jewry: A Biographical Dictionary of Outstanding Jews, New York: Monde Publishers, Inc., 1955.


1.25 Linear Feet (3 boxes)


This collection contains documents pertaining to Israel Cohen's role as author, reporter, Zionist leader, as well as his profound interest in documenting and reporting on the changes in European Jewish life between the wars. The collection is comprised primarily of notes, correspondence, clippings, and manuscripts of books about Zionism and topics in Jewish history, articles and reports on Jewish life in Austria, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Russia, Spain, the Balkans, and North Africa, circa 1910-1930s. The manuscripts of works on Jewish history include biographies of Jewish personalities and a report on the Czernowitz Yiddish Language Conference of 1908.


The Israel Cohen Papers include his writings and correspondence regarding Jewish affairs in many countries—Australia, Austria, Egypt, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Poland, and Spain—to name a few. A sizeable amount of these materials pertain to Eastern Europe and Poland, in particular. The reader will find these latter items in Series 1. The collection is comprised of documents and manuscripts that are divided into five series: “Reports on Jewish Life in Europe between the Wars,” “Manuscripts Relating to Dissolving Jewries,” “Anti-Jewish Persecution in Europe,” “Materials of General Jewish Historical Interest,” and “Miscellaneous.” The first series is arranged primarily by country, and to a lesser degree by topic. The remaining series are either arranged topically or are categorized as being miscellaneous in nature.

  1. Series I: Reports on Jewish Life in Europe between the Wars
  2. Series II: Manuscripts relating to Dissolving Jewries
  3. Series III: Anti-Jewish Persecution in Europe
  4. Series IV: Manuscripts of General Jewish Historical Interest
  5. Series V: Miscellaneous

Acquisition Information

The Israel Cohen Papers were donated to YIVO by the family of Israel Cohen. The donation was arranged by the YIVO committee in London, and sent to YIVO in March 1962.

Digitization Note

The collection was digitized and made accessible in its entirety.

Guide to the Papers of Israel Cohen (1879-1961) 1906 - 1961 RG 448
Compiled by Fruma Mohrer in 1977, edited by Rivka Schiller in 2005, and additional processing, editing, and encoding by Isaac Moore in 2014.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Described, encoded, and digitized as part of the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative, made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. Digitization of the Israel Cohen Papers (RG 448) was made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.

Revision Statements

  • April 2015: Added dao links by Eric Fritzler.
  • June 2015: Digitization note added by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States