harsgor - Reli Avrahami - February 11 2011
Michael Harsgor Photo by Reli Avrahami
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Renowned historian and writer Prof. Michael Harsgor died yesterday at the age of 87.

Harsgor, a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University and founder and longtime host of the "History Hour" program on Army Radio, is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren.

Born in 1924 in Bucharest, Harsgor joined the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair as a youngster and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his activity. In prison, he taught himself Hebrew and came up with the name Zikim ("sparks" ) for the kibbutz that a group of Romanians were then planning to set up in Palestine. In an interview with Haaretz about two years ago, he said the name came from a line he had translated from Pushkin, "from sparks shall come a flame."

In 1944, Harsgor and other prisoners were transferred to a concentration camp in western Romania. After World War II, he stayed in Romania to recruit and prepare 3,000 Jewish youths to move to prestate Israel. They set out in two ships, but the British authorities stopped them and sent them to a prison camp in Cyprus.

Harsgor finally arrived in the new state of Israel in 1949. In the late 1950s, he began teaching history at Tel Aviv's Ironi Daled high school, and he embarked on his academic career a few years later. In 1966, at the suggestion of a TAU professor, he flew to Paris with his late wife Tamar and their daughter Niva to get a Doctorat d'Etat at the Sorbonne - an especially prestigious academic degree. The French government published his doctoral thesis, about the councils of medieval French kings Charles VIII and Louis XII, in four volumes.

When he returned, Harsgor became an eminent, sought-after lecturer with a taste for anecdotes. This was one of the attractions of "History Hour," which started airing in 1983 and turned him into a household name.

"It was a huge privilege and an amazing experience to host with him," said Liad Mudrick, who replaced Alex Ansky as the program's co-host in 2005. "Aside from his phenomenal erudition and wit, he was a charming, sensitive person and a gentleman. No matter how stupid a question was, he always answered happily and generously, with a true passion for knowledge."

Harsgor's friends said he was the first in the history department to use a computer and to give a course on the status of women.

"He was a fascinating teacher," said his student and friend Prof. Benjamin Arbel. "The humor and freshness he radiated in his broadcasts and lectures inspired students."