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David Rubinger, 92, Photographer Who Chronicled Israeli History, Dies

In a rash moment of generosity amid the euphoria of victory, he snipped off a negative and gave it to an army spokesman, who promptly handed it to the Israeli Government Press Office. In his 2007 autobiography, “Israel Through My Lens,” written with Ruth Corman, Mr. Rubinger recalled that the press office “in turn made prints and started distributing them to all and sundry for a dollar apiece.”

Photo

Mr. Rubinger’s best-known photo, of the Israeli paratroopers. from left, Zion Karasanti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri at the Western Wall on June 7, 1967.

Credit
David Rubinger/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In retrospect, Mr. Rubinger said, he did not think it was a great photograph. He preferred one he took of the military chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, blowing the shofar by the wall while being held aloft on the shoulders of troops.

He wrote of the Western Wall picture, “What made it significant were the circumstances under which it was taken, and it was this that caused it to emerge as the symbol with which so many people identify.”

A courteous man, Mr. Rubinger could nevertheless be fierce in fighting to protect his copyright of the image, having practically given it away to the press office. He said, however, that without the photo’s wide distribution, his international reputation might not have spread so rapidly.

He was also known for his intimate portraits of Israel’s leaders, some in tender moments with their spouses or in their homes. He later revealed one trick of the trade: He always made sure to take a few extra photos of the leaders with their security guards in the frame, then sent the guards copies, ensuring good access the next time.

David Rubinger was born in Vienna on June 29, 1924, the only child of the former Anna Kahane and Kalman Rubinger. His father was a scrap metal dealer, his mother a housekeeper.

After Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Kalman Rubinger was picked up off the street and sent to the Dachau concentration camp and later to another, Buchenwald. He was released in early 1939 and made his way to England, with a permit obtained by a sister there. David and his mother remained in Vienna.

As a teenager, David became active in Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist socialist youth movement. In 1939 he was chosen under a youth quota system to immigrate to what was then British-controlled Palestine, which he called Eretz, Hebrew for “Land.” There he joined a kibbutz. Three years after he left Austria, his mother was deported by the Nazis to a camp in Belarus and perished there.

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Mr. Rubinger was particularly proud of his photo of the military chief rabbi, Shlomo Goren, with a shofar and being carried by soldiers at the Western Wall.

Credit
David Rubinger/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

At 18, with World War II underway, Mr. Rubinger enlisted in the British Army. He went on to serve in North Africa and Europe. As part of a newly formed Jewish Brigade, he also helped smuggle Jews to Palestine.

During those years he met Claudette Vadrot, the Frenchwoman who gave him the Argus. He bought his next camera, a Leica, in 1946, in postwar Germany — paying for it, he said, with 200 cigarettes and a kilo of coffee.

That same year, in Germany, he married his first cousin, Anni Reisler. It was supposed to be a fictitious marriage of convenience, to get Ms. Reisler out of Germany and into Palestine. It soon turned into a real marriage, if a tempestuous one. The couple moved to Jerusalem and had two children, Tamar and Amnon. Anni Rubinger died in 2000.

Mr. Rubinger is survived by his two children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

He fought in Jerusalem in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation, then put down his gun and joined the Israeli Army’s maps and photography services unit, which was supposed to help provide intelligence.

Developing his first photographs in a makeshift darkroom in the bathroom of his tiny apartment, he got his first job as a photojournalist with Haolam Hazeh (This World), an anti-establishment Israeli publication.

In 1997, Mr. Rubinger was awarded the Israel Prize, his country’s highest honor.

Meticulous about recording and cataloging his thousands of images, Mr. Rubinger eventually sold his personal archive to Yediot Aharonot, a leading Israeli newspaper, where he was also briefly employed in the 1950s.

Yet he continued to photograph, taking his camera everywhere. Even in old age he rarely put it down.

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