Lawyer by Day, Israel's Walking Online Encyclopedia by Night

Afula attorney Abraham Amir, who grew up in a shack near Haifa Bay warehouses, makes his history online.

Gil Eliahu

The adventurer Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Hungary at the end of the 19th century but joined extreme rightist elements in Germany before becoming a Buddhist monk in China. He later offered his services to Nazi Germany.

Mohammed Assad was also born a Jew. He later converted and became a diplomat, a Muslim religious figure and an anti-Zionist activist. He original name was Leopold Weiss.

“These were odd Jews,” says attorney Abraham Amir from Afula, who wrote the Wikipedia entry for the two. For 12 years he has been spending days at his law office and evenings contributing new entries to Wikipedia.

The local Jezreel Valley newspaper has called him a walking encyclopedia for his role as one of the most active editors for the Hebrew version of the online encyclopedia.

Amir, who turns 73 this month, has eight grandchildren. He has written and edited hundreds of entries for Wikipedia’s Hebrew version. Among the known contributors who post their age, he’s probably the oldest.

Wikipedia, now available in 200 languages, was launched in California in 2001. Two years later, when Amir joined up, there were only 5,000 Hebrew entries. Currently there are more than 170,000. Anyone who has searched for historical figures and events must have come across one of his contributions.

The list is very long and includes entries for spy chief Isser Harel, Israel during the Yom Kippur War, Marlene Dietrich, Leon Trotsky, Robert Kennedy, Adolf Eichmann and Moshe Beilinson, the famed doctor who was a journalist and editor in his own right.

“I don’t have a history degree but I’m a history buff. In Afula they call me the local historian. With my academic training in law I think I’m qualified with a perspective that enables me to write for Wikipedia,” says Amir.

“Some scientists dismiss it, calling it amateurish and unreliable. From my acquaintance with other contributors I know that they are intelligent, writing from a strong inner urge.”

Amir’s contributions aren’t just notable for their quantity, but for their uniqueness.

As an editor, he’s in charge of entries on “traitors.” Among them one can read about fascinating and controversial figures such as a Norwegian Nobel Prize winner for literature, Knut Hamsun. He met Hitler and Goebbels and ended up in a mental institution after the war. Then there’s American poet Ezra Pound, who praised Mussolini on Italian radio.

One can also find Englishman William Brooke Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw), who was a radio propagandist in English for Nazi Germany. Then there are Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee, Americans who were convicted of espionage for selling secrets to the Russians.

Amir was born in Afula in 1942 to parents who had immigrated from Poland five years earlier. His father first worked paving roads. In 1940, following Italian bombing raids, the electric company moved its warehouses from Haifa Bay to Afula.

“My father was put in charge of these, on condition that he live in a shack on the premises,” says Amir, who grew up in that shack. In his free time, his father enriched his knowledge by reading the Hebrew Encyclopedia, which was written by the top experts in their fields.

After doing military service in the Intelligence Corps, Amir studied law in Jerusalem. He finished after the 1967 Six-Day War, opening his office in Afula in 1970.

It’s now a family business that employs his wife, son and daughter. Amir spends his days dealing with land disputes, wills and inheritances. Then there’s that hobby that fills his evenings with history.

Behind his desk he delves into stacks of encyclopedias, books and newspapers, and don’t forget the websites in different languages, in a bid to make his entries more perfect.

He sometimes contacts the families of people he’s writing about. He spoke with Viktor Grayevsky, the man who smuggled Khrushchev’s secret speech into Israel.

He obtained a photo of Boris Guriel, a department head in the Haganah’s intelligence service, from Guriel’s daughter. He also made contact with the daughter of the chief of the British Mandatory police in Palestine. After all, he needed the date of his death.

Amir wrote the entry on Avri Elad, one of Israeli military intelligence’s agents in Egypt, who was suspected of turning in other Israeli agents in the infamous Lavon affair.

“There was no source stating when he died, but I managed to cross-reference sources and determine that he died in 1993 in the United States,” Amir says.

As a lawyer he has particular interest in legal and criminal stories that rocked the country or the world. He has written about the Lazarovich-Kirzhner kidnap-murder affair in 1938, and the Avraham Graetz boat incident, in which a man took over a boat and threatened to sink it if his father wasn’t appointed an Israeli cabinet minister.

He has also written about the unsolved Wilma Montesi affair, which involved a murdered Italian model in the 1950s, possibly involving drugs and orgies. There are many other stories of kidnaping and murder, some of which were never solved.

Amir, whose family is one of the oldest in Afula, takes care to update Wikipedia entries relating to local history. “I’ve written biographies of several of Afula’s mayors; I’ve put in details about the 1948 war and World War II in relation to Afula.”

In addition, he wrote an entry on citizens of Mandatory Palestine who were returned from Nazi Europe in exchange for German Templers who were repatriated from Palestine to Germany. A second group of such returnees arrived in November 1942.

“Large forces of British police and military surrounded the platform at the Afula train station. Children received milk and biscuits and adults got a warm meal, prepared by the women of Afula,”Amir wrote in Wikipedia.

As Amir puts it, “I wrote this entry after my parents had died, but I’m sure they were among those welcoming the returnees.”