The Face Behind the Poster

Women's recruitment to the ATS (KRA\29)Archival material may be used in a wide range of contexts. Even though one might think that archival material is used only in historical research, it can also serve as an inspiration for artists and designers. Recently, a successful Israeli movie named “Zero Motivation” was released (in Hebrew: “אפס ביחסי אנוש”, directed by: Talya Lavie). The movie tracks the lives of "pen pushers" in the IDF. In one of the scenes, the officer, Rama, is given a farewell party, and on the wall behind her, there appears an old poster of an ATS soldier. This scene caused Naomi Segal, Professor at the Department of Culture & Languages at Birkbeck College in London, to jump out of her seat: The soldier in the poster was her mother! Naomi had in her possession photographs of her mother that were much like the one shown in the poster. She set out to find the original poster, and after a short search on internet, she found it in the Poster Collection of the CZA in Jerusalem.
Leah Seidemann with friends, 1939Naomi’s mother, Leah Seidemann, was born in 1921 in Teplitz, in Sudetenland, near the German border. Her parents met in the Zionist youth movement, Blauweiss; her father was a solicitor and represented the Jewish Party on the local council of Teplitz. In 1938, with the German annexation of the Sudetenland, the family was forced to leave Teplitz. The family spent a year in Prague, while it made arrangements to leave Czechoslovakia. They arrived in Palestine on an Italian ship, “The Gerusalemme”, and chose to settle in Tel Aviv. Leah was then almost 18 years old.
At that time, many members of the Yishuv volunteered in the British army, in order to help in the war against Nazi Germany. With the increased ability of Jews to join the Army, woman’s organizations and the Jewish Agency turned to Britain with the request to also allow women to join the army. The issue provoked mixed reactions in the Yishuv. However, the numbers of supporters grew, and in 1942 the first unit of women’s auxiliary corps underwent training in Sarafand (Tzrifin today). The Jewish women from Palestine enlisted into two units in the British army: the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) and the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). The women soldiers did not take part in the battles, but served in auxiliary troops as radar operators, telephone operators, drivers, nurses, secretaries and so on. In the course of the war about 4,000 Jewish women from Palestine served in the auxiliary forces.
The photo of Leah Seidemann on which the poster is based, 1944Leah Seidemann was one of the women who enlisted in the British army. She worked as a nurse and then as the organizer of nursing services in the British Army hospital on Mount Scopus. During her service she reached the rank of sergeant. In addition, she modeled for one of the recruiting posters of the ATS and also appeared in a JNF calendar that was given as a present to the soldiers. Naomi Segal sent us pictures of her mother seated at the wheel of an army jeep, on which the famous poster was based.
British army recruitment was of the utmost importance in the Yishuv during World War II. Therefore many recruitment posters and photographs of the soldiers can be found at the CZA. Here is a selection of photographs and posters related to the women’s corps.