The Zionist Archives was founded in 1919 in Berlin. With the rise to power of the Nazis in 1933, the Archives was transferred to the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. Over the years, its collections expanded, and after the Second World War, an increased effort was made to bring the scarce archival material that survived the war to Israel. In 1956, the 24th Zionist Congress declared the Central Zionist Archives to be the historic archives of the Zionist Movement, of the World Zionist Organization, and of the Jewish Agency. It was also resolved that all the offices of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency in Israel and in the Diaspora would be obligated to transfer the files, that are no longer necessary for ongoing work, to the Archives.
In 1987, a new building was inaugurated for the Archives. All the material that was in part preserved in external storehouses was transferred for storage to the new building. The spacious reading room began serving scholars and others. In the 1990s, the Archives began to computerize its large database, and subsequently to convert part of its collections to digital media. In 2004, the first website of the Archives was inaugurated. In the 2000s, the Archives decided to develop the field of genealogy. The Archives absorbed appropriate collections, and began to enable the general public to send requests to receive information about their family members.
Landmarks in The Archives' history
- 1919: Arthur Hantke, a member of the Zionist Executive, proposes to George Herlitz to take upon himself the role of archivist at the Zionist Executive Office that was located at that time in Berlin. Herlitz, who had experience in archival work, accepted the offer and began setting up a "Zionist Archives".
1933: With the rise to power of the Nazis, Herlitz succeeded in transferring the Archives to Jerusalem, and thus realized a plan, that had been pending for several years. 154 crates, that contained the assets of the Archive, arrived in Palestine at the end of the year, and were stored in the basement of the National Institutions. In the same year, the Archives' personnel as well, the director Georg Herlitz and his assistant Paul Graetz, also immigrated to Palestine.
- 1934: The CZA was reopened to the public. In Jerusalem, its areas of operation were expanded: files of the departments of the World Zionist Organization and its institutions, that were active in Palestine, were absorbed and the Archives also took upon itself to function as the historic archives of the institutions of the Yishuv and its organizations. That year, a systematic operation was initiated for the collection of archives of people who were active in the Zionist Movement and in the life of the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine.
- 1937: The personal archives of Theodor Herzl were transferred from Vienna to Palestine.
- 1948: Upon the establishment of the State, the CZA expanded the contents of its collections. Many files of the General Council (the Vaad Leumi) and of various departments of the Jewish Agency, were transferred to The Archives. In particular it should be noted that the files of the Political Bureau of the Jewish Agency were transferred to the Archives for preservation.
- 1955: Dr. Alex Bein was appointed Director of the Zionist Archives. Among the objectives that he set for himself, were the locating of archives of Zionist personalities and associations that survived the Holocaust, including the archives of Max Nordau and Nahum Sokolow, and their transfer to Israel.
- 1956: The 24th Zionist Congress convened in Jerusalem, defined the status and the functions of the Central Zionist Archives as the "historic archives of the Zionist Movement and Organization and the Jewish Agency". The Congress passed a resolution that "all the offices and institutions of the Executive of the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency in Israel and in the Diaspora are obliged to make all the files accessible to the Archives that are no longer necessary for their ongoing work."
- The 1960s: In light of the steady growth of The Archives' collections, the need arose to rent more storage room outside the building of the National Institutions. Subsequently, eight storage room were rented around Jerusalem. This situation brought the Executive of the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency to pass a resolution that it was necessary to erect a new building, that would gather in one place all the collections of the Archives.
- 1985: The construction of the new building began in proximity to the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. Architect Moshe Zarhi designed the new building, emphasizing the functions and objectives of the Archives: the preservation and storage of the collections, and the allotment of a special hall for study and research. The building has six floors: The reading hall, a lecture room, a lobby for exhibitions and the offices of the Archives are situated on the upper floor. The offices of the archivists are located on the fifth floor. The various collections are stored on four underground floors.
- November 1987: The new building of the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem was inaugurated.
- The 21st century: During the first decade of this century, the digitization of the various materials of the Archives is continuing and expanding: documents, maps, graphic items, and photographs. The computer system contains about 2,876,000 records, and about 12,518, 000 scanned documents, photographs, maps, posters and graphic material. The digitization of the maps, the photographs, and the graphic collections was made possible mainly thanks to the favorable collaboration with the Department of Judaism of Harvard University. In addition, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and the Claims Convention helped the Zionist Archives in the digitizing of archival materials dealing with the Holocaust period and their scanning.
Special events during the 2000-2011 decade
- 2003: The Map Collection of the Jewish National Fund was transferred from the Geography Department of the Hebrew University to the Zionist Archives. All the maps were scanned.
- 2005: A joint project of the Central Zionist Archives and the Israel State Archives, scanning the immigrants' registers between the years 1919-1974, was completed.
- 2008: The "Documentum" software was implemented, and millions of records were converted from the old system to the new one. Ever since, great efforts have been made to upgrade the capabilities of the software and adapt it to the needs of the researchers.
- 2010-2011: During these two years, two main trends were prominent: the massive intake of scanned material continued (maps, files, photographs), and the infrastructure was laid for the establishment of a new website, based on the "Documentum" software of the Archives.