Some 50 years ago a young American photographer, Wallace Litwin, snapped a remarkable picture of Dr. Anna (Hanna) Weizmann, Chaim Weizmann's sister and colleague, in her biochemistry laboratory at the Institute. When he recently donated the Anna Weizmann close-up and other prints to the Weizmann Archives in Rehovot, the gift evoked dramatic memories.
Litwin's debut as a professional photographer occurred in 1947 in the dungeons of the fortress of Akko (known as Acre in English) in British-run Palestine. He managed to take more than 200 "passport" photos of fellow inmates for forged IDs, crucial to the success of the historic Akko prison break organized by the Jewish underground.
"I had my camera and 20 rolls of film," he recalls. "The opportunity was heaven sent."
Litwin came to photography after years of travel and adventure. During the Depression and World War II, he worked in breweries, took machinist jobs in Africa and the Middle East, and served in the U.S. merchant marine on runs to Murmansk and the Philippines. "It was a lovely way of life," he says. He decided to become a photojournalist. It was an inspired choice.
Fresh out of photography school, he joined a group of 20 volunteers recruited by the American League for a Free Palestine. They boarded the S.S. Ben Hecht in New York, picked up 674 Holocaust survivors at Port-de-Bouc near Marseilles, and set sail for a clandestine landing attempt in Palestine. But the Royal Navy captured their ship. The Americans ended up in Akko with other freedom fighters and pri-soners, and escaped with them.
Among the unforgettable friends Wallace Litwin made in those turbulent days was Anna Weizmann, one of the original ten research scientists at the Weizmann Institute. She invited him to visit the campus to capture the excitement of scientific research in the newly independent State of Israel.
Litwin went on to a distinguished career with Town & Country and other leading magazines, doing museum-quality photography all over the world. Now 85, he lives near Tallahassee, Florida. As vigorous as ever, he travels everywhere on his big black motorcycle.