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History & Archeology

A wealth of historical documents about the history of Jerusalem were released in honor of Jerusalem Day. The Israel State Archives – a unit within the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) – for the first time revealed 10,189 census files of Jerusalem residents from 1948, which were collected by the “People’s Guard’ in Jerusalem during the War of Independence.

The People’s Guard was established in Jerusalem in September 1947. This unit, which was led by Ze’ev Epstein (Avnat), recruited volunteers who were beyond conscription age as well as those who were not conscripted for medical reasons. The purpose of the unit was to maintain order in the city and deal with civilian challenges ahead of the possibility of the outbreak of war (similar to today’s Home Front Command). As part of the actions that were carried out during the War of Independence, the Jerusalem People’s Guard carried out a census in 1948. The objectives of the census were to collect detailed information on the buildings and the population in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, assist in activities such as providing supplies, mobilizing personnel and security, and locating shelters, flammable materials and tools for firefighting.

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With the start of the census, Jerusalem was divided into 16 topographic districts and each district was divided into sectors, census units and caretakers of properties. In total, 5,500 homes and 100,000 people were counted, which constituted approximately 805 of the Jewish population of the city at that time. Most of the Jewish neighborhoods, as well as the Arab neighborhoods that were conquered by the Haganah, were counted. Other neighborhoods were not counted due to the security situation. Among the data gathered were the addresses, ownership and physical descriptions of buildings. Lists were compiled of apartments, stores, workshops, offices, factories and institutions. Personal details about residents – such as age, place of birth, ethnic group, year of Aliyah, education and occupation – were also collected, as well as the names of, and ways to contact, next-of-kin, or an acquaintance who did not reside in the same building, in case of emergencies. Shelters, flammable materials and firefighting tools were mapped for each building.

After the census, the collected data were used in the allocation of essential resources such as food and water, the mobilization of personnel for the army and civilian services, the location of bomb shelters, fire prevention and post-war urban development. Today, the census is used a source of general and personal genealogical information for many in Israel whose families were in Jerusalem in 1948, and is a real treasure trove. It is also a source of important information in understanding daily life in besieged Jerusalem during the War of Independence.

The census contains entries for tens of thousands of residents among whom it is possible to identify public figures from various areas:

Former presidents, prime ministers and politicians such as David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Shertok, Golda Meyerson and Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi; rabbis and Zionist leaders such as Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank; military figures including Chaim Herzog, Yigal Sukenik (Yadin) and Rechavam Zeevy; educators and jurists. The census also includes those who fell in the war.

The Israel State Archives identified a public need for archival-genealogical material. To this end, in 2022. It began to select projects for registering, scanning, revealing and increasing access to collections of private information which it was legally possible to reveal. Among other materials, the People’s Guard collection, as described here, has been opened for study. The project took several months in which handwriting was deciphered, and the material was scanned, registered and revealed as per the foregoing.



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