Arthur Goldreich and Tamar de Shalit. Family album

The Anti-apartheid Fighter Who Turned Palestinian Ruins Into Jewish Tourist Sites

He was a South African freedom fighter. She was from the Israeli aristocracy. An archive discovered in Tel Aviv sheds light on Arthur Goldreich and Tamar de Shalit's contradiction-rife lives

The architect Zvi Elhyani has one particularly vivid memory of his design teacher, Arthur Goldreich. During Elhyani’s first year at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Goldreich asked the students to design three-dimensional bodies and stipulate their use. Two of Elhyani’s classmates designed something they termed a flytrap. To the students’ astonishment, Goldreich flew into a rage. “No one in my class is going to design traps for a living being of any kind,” he thundered.

The Goldreich-de Shalit Collection / The Israel Architecture Archive
Yanai Yechiel
The Goldreich-de Shalit Collection / The Israel Architecture Archive
Israel Architecture Archive
Courtesy of the Liliesleaf heritage site

Twenty-five years later, Elhyani understands Goldreich’s outburst better. “Today, knowing his life story better, I realize why he objected to architects designing facilities meant to imprison or harm someone. There has been much talk in recent years about architects’ involvement in designing concentration camps or detention facilities such as Holot [in the Negev, where African asylum seekers were held]. Arthur urged architects not to collaborate on such projects.”

Seven years ago, Elhyani had the opportunity to close a circle in his relations with his beloved mentor. In the backyard of the house that Goldreich and his wife, the interior designer Tamar de Shalit, created for themselves in upscale Herzliya Pituah, north of Tel Aviv, stood a Swedish wooden cabin that the couple had used as a studio. De Shalit died from cancer in 2009 at the age of 77, and Goldreich died a year and a half later at 81. In the cabin, their only child Amos, now a London-based architect, found documentation of 50 years of creative work by his mother and father. His discoveries, which he shared with Elhyani, surprised him and revealed much that he hadn’t known about his parents, who are in large measure responsible for the physical development of Israel’s culture of commemoration, as it emerged in the 1960s and ‘70s, with the construction of monuments and memorial sites on kibbutzim and in cities around the country.

For example, they discovered that de Shalit helped design the “set” of the Eichmann trial. He found sketches of the stage on which the judges sat, flanked by the witness stand on one side and the glass box in which the accused was confined. “We found it in the cabin, at the bottom of a drawer,” Elhyani recalls. “It was stamped ‘Secret,’ so we were sure that it had something to do with Arthur. We were flabbergasted when we realized what it was. And then Amos remembered that his mother once told him something about her involvement in the Eichmann trial, but she didn’t like to talk about it.”

Amos Goldreich deposited his parents’ private archive in the Israel Architecture Archive, which Elhyani founded and has managed for the past decade in Tel Aviv’s Shalom Meir Tower. In June, an exhibition of items from the couple’s rich collection opened at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, which Elhyani curated with Talia Davidi.

With the aid of the archive, it becomes possible to examine the lives of de Shalit and Goldreich in parallel, individually, until their meeting – and then the projects on which they collaborated or worked on separately. De Shalit came from a well-known, affluent family that played a key role in Israel’s development in science, construction and tourism. In her capacity as an interior designer, she took part in key projects, even if not much remains of them today. The relevant documents and other materials show her to have been mainly a distinctive designer of furniture who strove to shatter the conventions of her time while preserving principles of comfort and functionality.

Goldreich, a senior anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the early ‘60s, who was caught and faced a death sentence, escaped from prison and fled to Israel, where he launched a completely new life (although he had spent time in Israel as a young man). In addition to establishing a new family and forming new social ties, he shifted his professional interests from art to a more intensive engagement in design and planning. His work encompassed residential dwellings, interior environments, stage sets and costume designs for political plays, and above all he developed a magnificent teaching career that had an impact on generations of Israeli designers and architects. The archive and the exhibition deriving from it reveal the constant flow and interconnection between the couple’s private life and their professional activity. The result is a portrait of Israeli cultural leaders and their wellsprings at a very specific time in the history of this land.

The couple designed a raft of monuments, cultural centers and memorial sites on kibbutzim, notably in border regions. “Often it was defensive, fortification-style architecture. You can see the whole [psychological] complex – a place that is still alive but is already commemorating itself,” Elhyani observes.

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