»I request to be admitted as a student for this semester; I am a refugee from Austria,« explained Isak Wurman in his application to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in January 1940. Clearly evident in the student applications received by the Hebrew University from young European Jews prior to the State of Israel’s establishment was their experience of migration and flight. The various documents in the application files reveal the course of the applicant’s migration and escape and tell of the refugee candidates’ distress and hopes. While their reasons for applying to the university included the desire to study there, escape from the dangers they faced in Europe was no less (and perhaps more) of a motivation. First and foremost, the candidate had to convince the admissions officer on Mount Scopus that he or she was deserving of the university’s request on their behalf for a certificate to Palestine from the British Mandatory government.
The correspondence between Wurman and the university continued for nine months. On 26 March 1940, he sent a registration form along with his photo, a copy of his birth certificate, his CV, proof of his studies from the University of Vienna, and a recommendation letter from the Viennese Hebräischer Lehrerverband (Hebrew Teachers’ Union) attesting to his occupation as a Hebrew teacher. Wurman’s documents indicate a lengthy migration path, which already began in his childhood when World War I broke out and his family left his birthplace – Nadwórna, Galicia– and proceeded westward, to Vienna. His registration form states that he was »currently stateless.« Despite this, his CV does not address his plight as a refugee and instead focuses on its primary purpose as supporting documentation for his application. Written in prose style, this is an ego-document, a brief autobiography as it were, which describes the series of events that led the writer to his decision to apply for admission; each event mentioned, be it private or political and historical, was carefully selected to serve the overarching aim of being admitted to the university and of obtaining a certificate for Palestine.