The Makings of History / A German-Jewish Tragedy

Dr. Gunter Friedlander was a difficult person; he had a typically yekke (German-Jewish ) mentality. Had it not been for that personality, however, he may never have established what is known today as Teva Pharmaceuticals. On the other hand, had he not been so difficult, perhaps he would never have lost his entire lifework and his name would not have been forgotten. In any event, Friedlander's name has fallen into the abyss of oblivion. Both the Hebrew and English websites of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. state that the company was founded in Jerusalem in 1901 - a year before Friedlander was born.

The truth is that in 1901, a pharmaceutical supply company was established in Jerusalem. Its founder was Haim Salomon whose shop evolved into Salomon, Levin and Elstein Ltd., a company that still exists today and distributes Teva products. However, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. was indeed founded by Dr. Gunter Friedlander, a native of Silesia, which at the time was in East Germany and today is located in Poland.

When he was 20, Friedlander, a pharmacist with a vision, told Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the Zionist Organization, he had decided to move to Palestine and found a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. He already knew he would call the firm Teva ("nature" in Hebrew ). In 1934, Friedlander settled in Jerusalem and a year later, the Teva factory launched in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood. Friedlander was 32 at the time. He came up with the names for the company's first pharmaceuticals: For instance, he combined the words "optimum" and "algin" (a pain-killing substance ) to create the commercial name Optalgin, a well-known analgesic to this day.

The company was a family business: One of the partners was Elsa Kuver, Friedlander's aunt. Banker Alfred Feuchtwanger later joined the firm as a partner. The company preferred to hire German-speakers. And because Friedlander believed in dictatorial management, Teva's employees feared him.

The company prospered, manufacturing antibiotics and even distributing its products abroad. In the early 1950s, Friedlander realized another of his old dreams when he became one of the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's school of pharmacology.

A short while after the Six-Day War of June 1967, a disagreement arose between Friedlander and his elderly aunt. As a result, Kuver sold her shares to the Industrial Development Bank of Israel. When the company's relationship with the bank soured, it decided to sell its Teva shares. Friedlander had a falling-out with Feuchtwanger, who ultimately decided to terminate their partnership.

When Friedlander was unable to buy the shares of his partners, they were sold to another pharmaceutical manufacturer, Assia-Zori, whose owners included members of the Salomon family. Perhaps because he realized that he had lost his lifework, Friedlander suffered a stroke. Assia-Zori acquired his shares and adopted the name of the firm he had founded - Teva. The company regarded Haim Salomon as its founder; he was the son of Moshe Yoel Salomon, one of the founders of the new Yishuv (the Zionist community of pre-1948 Israel ). Friedlander's name was intentionally forgotten.

When he was 45 and after he had remarried, Friedlander's youngest daughter, today Dr. Naomi Eshhar, was born. A graduate of the Hebrew University's pharmacology faculty, she began working at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and today works in the field of pharmaceutical registration and development. Bitter over the fact that history had forgotten her father, she persuaded Teva to found a prize in his honor; however, the company's website makes no mention of this prize.

Eshhar recently co-wrote with Nurit Ashkenazi her father's biography, an elegant book that restores Friedlander's place in Israeli history. He would certainly have been pleased to see "Abba Teva" ("Father Nature,") as it's called, published by Kavim Ishiyim.

Family-sponsored history books sometimes expose information that professional historians are not aware of; however, the work in question is a German-Jewish tragedy that tells only part of the tale. Friedlander is not the only German Jew whose name and story have been entirely neglected for years. According to historian Yoav Gelber, who specializes in the study of German-Jewish immigrants in Palestine, there were seven small pharmaceutical firms in the country in 1935 - but their German-Jewish immigrant founders have all been forgotten.