Preservationists Up in Arms Over Historic Safed Home

A historical 1920s home in Safed's Old City may be torn down, and preservationists are up in arms.

The Unger House was recently purchased, and the new owner was given permission to add two more stories. But some fear the home may be torn down altogether - even though the entire Old City has been declared a historical district marked for preservation.

Alter Unger, a religious scribe, and three of his children were killed in the home during the 1936 Arab riots. The house was then abandoned, and became a weapons cache for the Haganah pre-state underground in the 1940s. The Haganah brought dignitaries to the home during the War of Independence, to show them that residents' money had been used properly, to enable the Haganah to buy arms.

Destroying the home would be "a historical and cultural crime," said Yaakov Shenkman, a historian and researcher of Safed history.

Safed resident Meir Hameiri was 4 years old when the Unger family was massacred. "That night my uncle came to our house and begged us to go sleep in another more protected house, for fear of riots. We slept right under the window facing the alley and we heard the rioters' footsteps. They apparently were trying to find the [pre-state Revisionist] Beitar movement's militia. [On the way], they saw the door of the Ungar house open, went inside and massacred them."

Hameiri said the city was shocked by the incident. "For years the house was a living memorial to the horrible massacre. We would pass by and look through the window. Everything remained as it was. Nothing was touched. Not the kitchen or the children's bloodstained toys. To this day, I get chills when I pass the house."

The Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites claims the permit to add floors to the house also allows the owner to destroy it, and has asked that it be reconsidered.

However, the Safed Municipality said that the new owner has presented all of the necessary plans, and that the building permit has strict conditions. The owner will have to restore anything he destroys, the city stated, adding that a memorial will be built at the site.

The municipality noted that the home will be back in use again, and said objections to the plan came too late.

The regional director of the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, Yael Sivan, who is also a member of Safed's architectural committee, said the plan was approved without the presentation of relevant information and documentation about the house and its history.