Crossroads


War is upon us, or at least its centenary. Among the large number of exhibitions, events and projects one stands out: the Berlin-based Europeana 1914-1918 project, born from the collaboration of a dozen of Europe’s leading public collections, which has collected and organized and is now publishing on the internet hundreds of thousands of documents, photos, movies and memoirs. Part of the collection is the 650 hours of film footage, which includes such rarities as the more than half-hour long movie capturing the big Palestinian offensive of the British General Allenby’s troops in September 1918.

The opening pictures start with a panorama of Nazareth, taken on 20 September, then we see the soldiers of the 4th Australian Light Cavalry Regiment entering on 25 September into the picturesque Tiberias on the western shore of Lake Galilee, one of the four holy cities of the Palestinian Jews. The Australian cavalrymen marching in endless rows are accompanied by the curious gaze of the local population, including Jews in caftans and shtreimel (2:04 – 2:42).

Then, at 3:50, a signpost shows up.


Above, more modestly, in Arabic, beneath, in clearly visible large letters, in German, it shows the road to the north: Nach Damaskus. Clearly, anyone who has already reached the holy city of Tiberias must already know where the closest metropolis of the same range is. But let us also see which is the other place – obviously of similarly great importance – to which the signpost points in the other direction.


Samach. For this city we would look in vain on the map of modern Israel. In March 1948 it was abandoned, after its about 3,300 Arab residents fled the city from the invading soldiers of the Jewish Haganah. On its former territory now we find the neighboring Degania Alef kibbutz which gradually grew upon it. However, in 1918, it was an important town on the southern shore of Lake Galilee, with an important station on the Jezreel Valley railway line connecting the Hejaz railway with Haifa. In addition, during WWI it also had a German military base with an airport, and on 25 September 1918 here took place one of the bitterest battles of Allenby’s offensive. So it rightly deserves its own signpost.

But what can be the third Middle Eastern metropolis, whose name we find under Samach?


It is not easy to read, the letters are smaller and more blurred. And there is also a number under the German word: 505. Maybe 505 kilometers? No. Because the word above it is not a city name, either. The text of the German inscription is:

Zum Kraftwagenpark 505.

But do not follow that sign. They have left the place for good.