The Mystery of the Novelist Who Is Said to Have Predicted the Intifada in 1951

An uprising of cows is featured in the first Israeli dystopian novel. Only now has the author's tragic story come to light

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Stanislaw Goldflus' grave.
Credit: David Bachar
Ben Levy and Irit Eilam Abadi

“Israel in 2000” is the title of an odd novel, alien to its period, that was published in Israel in 1951 (in Hebrew). It’s about an uprising of cows that threatens to destroy the country, until a wondrous cannon restores order and an apocalyptic narrative gives way to a utopian vision. The writing is undistinguished, fusing a feuilleton style with elements of science fiction, poetry and copious philosophical ruminations. The book’s author, S. Goldflus, maintains that he is obliged to conceal its messages under the guise of popular fiction, just as a “bitter pill is sweetened with chocolate.”

Despite its arguable literary quality, “Israel in 2000” is considered the first Israeli dystopian novel (a 1941 work by Ari Ibn-Zahav also fits the category but is not set locally). The quintessential Israeli dystopian novel, the touchstone of the genre, is Amos Kenan’s “The Road to Ein Harod,” published 33 years later, in 1984, but Goldflus’ book has acquired cult status among aficionados of sci-fi and the dystopian genre in Hebrew.

An allegorical reading attributes to Goldflus the prediction of the intifada, based on a comparison of the herds of cows with the Arab population. The book ends, “And this whole stretch of continent, from the mountains to the desert, and from the sea to the two [internal] seas, one in the east and one in the south – ours it is, incontestably, for very deep down we struck roots in it, like those thorny sabras that fear neither drought nor foe.” The novel certainly has the trappings of an orientalist allegory with a Revisionist thrust.

The story is told from the perspective of the year 2050, but focuses on the “distant past”: the events of 2000, when Israel experienced an unprecedented crisis. At the time, Israel has no weaponry whatsoever – a consequence of a world war that took place in 1955. The country also has no army, just ineffective “security forces.” The crisis results from the fact that urban sprawl over the years has left few green or grazing areas, and a severe drought (here, the writer was particularly prescient) strikes the country, provoking herds of starving cows to devour human beings.

Despite the work’s cult status, the identity of its author, S. Goldflus, was until recently a mystery. The boldness, the innovativeness, the wild imagination and perhaps even the madness that were needed to write the work fired the imagination of literary sleuths, but none of them found the answer. A review of the book published in the (now-defunct) newspaper Davar, in November 1951, noted that “S. Goldflus is a new immigrant but a veteran writer, who taught in a university abroad and made a name as a journalist.” That was pretty much all that was known about him until now.

In the afterword to a 2002 reissue of the novel, the editor, Hayim Pesach, wrote that the book is “shrouded in mysterious circumstances. We conducted a comprehensive investigation [but] came up with nothing regarding the author’s identity.” In 2010, the culture researcher Eli Eshed noted in his blog, “It’s not clear whether he is an unknown or whether this is the alias of a well-known writer The mystery about the identity of S. Goldflus remains intact.”

Advocates of the idea that S. Goldflus was a pseudonym suspected that the real author might be the person listed as the book’s translator into Hebrew, Shlomo Skolsky – a poet who was identified with the Revisionist-Zionist movement Betar – or, alternatively, the well-known literary scholar Dov Sadan. Writing in his blog in 2006, journalist and writer Zeev Galili pointed out that, because Sadan had written an introduction to the book, “there was a rumor at the time that Goldflus was the pen name of Sadan himself.”

Of these two theories, the possibility that the translator was also the author seemed more convincing. There are a few poems, including sonnets, in the first part of the novel, which describe mainly the seashore and are supposedly part of an epic work that exalts Tel Aviv. A few years before the book appeared, Skolsky published just such an epic poem about Tel Aviv in sonnet form that aimed to mythicize the “white city.” Still, only a tenuous connection is discernible between the sonnets and the poems in “Israel in 2000.” Skolsky may have taken some poetic license in translating the work and possibly inserted a few of his stylistic gems into the novel, but most likely did no more that.

Uri S. Cohen, a professor of Hebrew and Italian literature at Tel Aviv University, also favored the pseudonym approach. In one of his seminars, he challenged his students (the writers of this article among them) to decipher the author’s identity. He said that the answer might be contained in Dov Sadan’s archive – and he was right. Still, when we embarked on the quest, we never imagined that we would discover such a tragic and heartbreaking story.

Stanislaw Goldflus' grave.Credit: David Bachar

Twist in the plot

From a perusal of the database of the National Library in Jerusalem we knew that there had been correspondence between Sadan, Goldflus and Skolsky. First to arrive from the archive was Skolsky’s file, containing one postcard to Sadan about translating from Latin. Then came the Goldflus file, which held only two sheets of paper – but they held the key to the mystery.

The first was a page torn from the book, on which the author had written a dedication to Sadan: “To my friend the professor, with an expression of esteem and thanks, S. Goldflus.” To judge from the handwriting and the awkward Hebrew, it was clear that Goldflus had little practice in using the language. It was also clear, from a comparison with Skolsky’s handwriting, that these were two different people. Furthermore, Skolsky was fluent in many languages from a young age and had been trained as a Hebrew teacher. It wasn’t likely that he would have come up with that dedication.

But the second page was a letter in Polish, signed with the author’s full name, that was sent together with the book, and contained the following dedication:

Distinguished professor, I am sending you a copy of my book, and I thank you for the interest you so graciously showed. Sir, you explained that Mr. Skolsky, who is a professional proofreader from [the Revisionist newspaper] Haboker, did the proofing. Nevertheless, there are a few mistakes in the proofs, and I want to add additions [sic] for each page for the printer. I wish to thank you again and to add greetings,

Stan (Stanislaw) Goldflus

Tel Aviv, 26 June 1951

(Hebrew translation from the Polish by Matan Sheffi, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw)

The letter shows beyond any doubt that S. Goldflus is a real person. The language of the letter and the writer’s name attest to his origins. Accordingly, we can assume that the book was written in Polish, in which Skolsky was fluent and from which he translated several works. After this, our investigation gathered momentum. It turns out that once you have someone’s full name, especially if that person is a Jew from Poland, the web has many sources of information and documentation that one can turn to. From the genealogy site JewishGen and from the site of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, we gleaned the following details: Stanislaw Goldflus was born in 1894 and spent most of his life in Warsaw. His Hebrew name was Shimon, his father’s name was Alexander.

The custom in those days was for names to pass from generation to generation in the family: The records list a veritable dynasty of Shimons and Alexanders from the house of Goldflus beginning in the 18th century. Stanislaw married a woman named Lucia and they had a son whom they named Richard (Ryszard). The neighborhood the family lived in, the Polish names and the fact that they had a telephone line at home (according to the phone book, which has also been scanned and uploaded) suggests that Goldflus and his family were upper-middle class and deeply ingrained in Warsaw culture.

School records from the 1920s show that Goldflus taught in a girls’ high school in Warsaw. Following the German conquest of Poland, Goldflus fled to the east without his wife and son. According to a 1941 document, he registered as a refugee in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and we can assume that he was arrested in 1940, sent to a gulag and after his release wandered to the south of the Soviet Union, like many other Polish citizens who rode out the war years in the USSR. Goldflus’ refugee card states that he is a teacher by profession, as indeed was also noted in the Davar review – which was the only review “Israel in 2000” received on publication.

According to a 1941 report in the Krakow newspaper Gazeta Zhidovska, Ryszard Goldflus appeared in the play “Mirle Efros” in a theater production in the Warsaw Ghetto. Any later information found about the members of the Goldflus family related to their deaths.

Stanislaw returned to Poland in 1945; his name is listed among the survivors in Lodz. Additional documentation was found on the Historical Jewish Press website. In 1949, Goldflus, then 55, published a notice in the Jewish Agency’s Search Bureau for Missing Relatives, which appeared in The Palestine Post. This is the first evidence that he was in Israel. In 1956, while living in Nes Ziona, he filled out a form in the Pages of Testimony project at Yad Vashem. That states that his wife, his son and his brother (whom he describes as a “theatrical actor”) all perished in the Majdanek camp.

Stanislaw Goldflus himself died in 1958 and was buried in Nes Tziona. A photo of his gravesite appears in the database, which contains an image of every grave in that cemetery. Inscribed on the headstone is “Prof. Stanislaw Goldflus.” Also interred in the Nes Tziona cemetery is a woman who bears the name Goldflus: Ricarda Risha Goldflus.

With the aid of the local Hevra Kadisha burial society, we contacted her daughter, Elizabeth Shuv, who told us that her mother knew Goldflus’ wife from prewar Warsaw. When Shuv’s mother arrived in Israel, Goldflus transferred to her his right to public housing in Nes Tziona, while he lived on his own in Beit Hahalutzim (Pioneers’ House) in Tel Aviv. Shuv added that he was a chemistry professor and that he had written for a Polish newspaper in Israel.

In later life Goldflus fell ill and moved to Nes Tziona with Risha, who nursed him. A month before he died, as he lay on his deathbed, they had a rabbi come to their home to marry them. Risha kept his surname until her death in 1996.

The anonymous author, then, was an educated person from a family that was deeply involved in Warsaw’s cultural and intellectual life, whose world collapsed in the Holocaust. In Israel, fear of the Arab armies in 1948 might have generated the same existential dread in him that he sought to warn against in “Israel in 2000.”

In his introduction to the novel, Dov Sadan wrote, “This is a portrait of a world that is engendered by apocalyptic anxiety [It] harbors the core of the atrocities of the period of our life and the life of the period.” Zeev Galili wondered whether the book had been written by a Holocaust survivor and, as such, “expresses the existential terror he also felt in Israel.”

The facts we have unearthed about Goldflus shed new light on the circumstances in which he wrote the book. They also pluck from anonymity a writer who wished to leave a prophecy behind as a legacy in place of the family he lost forever.

Ben Levy is a poet and M.A. student at Tel Aviv University. Irit Eilam-Abadi is conducting doctoral research at TAU on Hebrew literature in Poland between the world wars. The authors wish to thank Matan Shefi of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, for his help in locating information regarding S. Goldflus and his family.

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