From rabble-rouser to recluse
Fifteen years after Menachem Begin's death, Avi Shilon has written the first biography about him and his extraordinary journey from the political fringes to the country's leadership and back.
The portrait of a lean man with an overbite and thin hair, self-described as "ugly," was circulated throughout the Yishuv, the pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine. The "Season," as it was dubbed, was at its height - the "hunting season," in which the organized Yishuv pursued activists of the underground organizations Irgun and Lehi. And the most-wanted man, Menachem Begin, commander-in-chief of the Irgun, was hiding out on Habashan Street in Tel Aviv, disguised as a rabbi named Yisrael Sassover. With him in the small apartment were his wife, Aliza, their firstborn son, Benny, and the Irgun operations officer, Eitan Livni, father of the current foreign minister.
The two fugitives whiled away the time playing chess. The year was 1944, and across Tel Aviv the Haganah - forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces - and the British security forces were rounding up Irgun members. Some of them were turned over to the British, who exiled them to East Africa; others were incarcerated in detention rooms that had been prepared on kibbutzim. Eliahu Tavin, the Irgun's chief intelligence official, was being held in a cave in Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek, where his Haganah captors pulled out his teeth, forced him to sit in his own excrement and pretended they were going to hang him. Those who escaped urged Begin to carry out potent reprisals. He refused vehemently: "I will never lend a hand to a war of brothers," he said.
Livni did not like the commander's passive stance. Four months after the start of the Season, he reported to Begin that members of Irgun were planning to abduct the head of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, Moshe Sharett, and one of the top people in Shai, the Haganah intelligence service, Ephraim Krassner.
"We have them under surveillance," Livni said. "We have suffered enough. The people can't take it." Begin, who had not been informed about the surveillance, was taken aback. He realized that his leadership was being challenged. It was an acute dilemma. If he refused, his revenge-hungry comrades were liable to revolt against him.
"It will not end well," he said to Livni, in an effort to dissuade him. "There will be no containing the passions and the cruelty." To which Livni replied, "If we don't decide to act, someone will do it on his own."
Begin suggested that Livni put the matter to a vote among the ranking Irgun commanders. The operation was rejected by a majority of one. Livni, though, kept pressing, until Begin offered a compromise: "I suggest we collect a hundred people, seize part of the Old City of Jerusalem, and raise our flag. We will fall there to the last man, but no one will be able to say that the Irgun did not fulfill its mission."
The suicide initiative stunned Livni. He took it as positive proof of the chief's unstable mental state. "I will refuse to carry out that command," he told Begin.
"Eitan," Begin retorted, "will you disobey me? Will you receive a command from me and refuse to execute it?"
"It is no simple matter to refuse you," Livni said, "but in any case you will never be able to collect a hundred people."
After that, the relations between the two palled somewhat, and Livni found a different place to hide. Begin remained faithful to his principles. Four years later, his cohorts wanted to take revenge for the sinking of the Irgun weapons ship Altalena. One of them suggested assassinating the nascent country's leader, David Ben-Gurion, who had given the order to fire at the ship. Begin went to the man's home and told him, "If you want to kill Jews, shoot me first."
"Begin bears tremendous responsibility for the success of the Zionist project," says the journalist Avi Shilon, who has just published a thick biography, ("Begin, 1913-1992," Am Oved publishers) the first comprehensive account of Begin's life (in Hebrew). "Let's take the last event that could have led to a civil war, the disengagement [from Gaza]. The settlers talked about the Altalena and about a new Season. What is Begin's ethos in this context? It is perfectly straightforward: there must not be a civil war. If someone different had headed the opposition on the eve of the state's establishment, things might well have slid into serious violence. Amid this, you can see how the suicide initiative that Begin suggested to Livni illustrates his flirtation with death."
Shilon, 32, is the editor of the op-ed section in the free paper "Yisrael Hayom" ("Israel Today") and holds an MA in the history of the Jewish people. He spent five years working on the complicated biographical project. In the history of Israeli politics, there does not seem to have been a more complex and multifaceted personality than Begin. "I come from a home with a deep Zionist consciousness," Shilon explains, "and when I was studying Jewish history, Begin's story riveted me, because it had not yet really been told from start to finish. I think Begin was the last ideological leader. Already in his own time he was a rare story, alluring in his peculiarity. The paradox between the orator to the masses at his peak and the thundering silence in his declining years is enough by itself to pique one's curiosity. The drama surrounding him is tremendous."
Isn't this too weighty a task for a young fellow?
"When you're serious, being young is just an advantage. At my age, Begin was already commander of the Irgun. For the biography, I made use of journalistic tools and was also meticulous about the academic tools and rules I acquired. As one who belongs to a generation that is supposedly non-ideological, I came to understand what a highly charged subject Begin remains. Precisely because of that, I felt I had an unalloyed perspective, a clearer view than the heavy, obscuring freight that is carried by Begin's contemporaries and their written materials."
The book is a first attempt to trace Begin's life from his childhood in Brest-Litovsk, Russia (now Belarus) to his enigmatic, self-imposed isolation on Tzemach Street in Jerusalem. Much of the book is devoted to the young Begin, particularly the period when he led the Irgun. For the section on Begin's period as prime minister, Shilon did not have access to the minutes of the cabinet meetings, which are still classified. He tried to complete the picture by means of interviews, some of which he conducted himself and others that were conducted for him by the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. He also consulted books, newspapers and other archival material. One of his achievements is an interview with Benny Begin, Menachem Begin's son, who since leaving politics has shunned the media.
Two years ago, Dr. Ofer Grosbard's book "Menachem Begin: Portrait of a Leader," infuriated Benny Begin with its psychological interpretation of his father. In response, he decided to cooperate with Shilon. "Benny Begin is an honest person," Shilon says. "He helped me shed light on other intimate aspects of his father's life, even though the conversation with him was confined to concrete matters. This biography in no way represents his opinion. I know that he was offered a million dollars to write his version, but is unwilling. He says that history should be written by historians and that members of the Begin family have no prerogatives."
The passage of time has only enhanced Menachem Begin's image. In a poll conducted by the daily Maariv this year, he took first place, ahead of Ben-Gurion, in the ranking of Israel's prime ministers. In light of the protracted failure in negotiations with the Palestinians, the peace treaty with Egypt stands out as one of the wisest political decisions made by an Israeli leader, if not the wisest. His successors have also helped glorify his reputation. In contrast to Sycamore Ranch and the real estate transaction on Cremieux Street, it is refreshing to recall a prime minister whose confidants discovered that he did not have enough money to buy a home of his own after his retirement. Instead of political appointments in the civil service made by cabinet ministers, we have Begin's admirable response to the demands of his loyalists when he became prime minister: "I did not come to power in order to dole out jobs to members of the Irgun."
"Begin's pattern of leadership was the total opposite of Olmert's, say," Shilon notes. "He said: I am taking the entire burden on myself, and if I fail, I will flagellate myself as punishment. Begin would certainly have resigned in light of the findings of the Winograd Committee [examining the handling of the Second Lebanon War], and he would not likely have called on a battery of lawyers. It's not by chance that there has been a positive transformation about how he is regarded."
In the early days of the country, Begin's image was radically different. In December 1948 he was given a cool reception on his first visit to the United States as leader of the Herut party. An open letter published in The New York Times and signed by such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, asserted that Herut resembled "Nazi and Fascist parties." Begin responded to the assault with humor: "It's true that Einstein is a genius of a type that is revealed once in a thousand years, but even so, I know more about mathematics than he does about politics."
In Israel, too, Begin encountered a similar attitude, as Shilon shows. "His eyes dart about and his thick upper lip trembles like an animal that is about to make an intoxicated charge at the blood," the publicist Arye Gelblum wrote in Haaretz, which at the time often likened Begin to Mussolini. In the 1960s, Ben-Gurion wrote to the poet Haim Gouri: "Begin is a saliently Hitlerite type, racist ... For him, all means justify the sacred end: absolute power ... The first time I ever heard a speech by Begin, on the radio, I heard the voice and the ranting of Hitler."
The abusive characterization was accompanied by special treatment, Shilon says. Begin claimed that the Shin Bet - the secret service - had him under surveillance. "On one occasion, when he was delivering a speech in the Knesset, he pointed up to the gallery and said, 'You, you who are following me.' People thought he was a bit off his rocker, but I believe he really was followed. It's true that he overdid it a little during a demonstration in the 1950s, when he pointed to a passing plane and said to the crowd, 'Let's wave hello to it.'"
It is not clear what the authorities feared. "Begin made an immense contribution to the crystallization of parliamentary democracy in Israel," Shilon maintains, and illustrates this extensively in the book. In the 1950s, when Ben-Gurion was going to order the Shin Bet to arrest the muckraking journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery, Begin warned Shin Bet head Isser Harel that he would "raise an outcry" if a journalist were arrested because of his opinions. When Prime Minister Golda Meir sent Shin Bet agents to the offices of cabinet ministers in an effort to find out which of them was leaking information to the press, Begin unceremoniously kicked them out. "In a democracy, the secret services do not have the right to supervise the government," he said. When he was elected prime minister, he told the Shin Bet chief, Avraham Ahituv: "I forbid you to use torture."
Even during the turbulent demonstrations against him during the Lebanon War, he adamantly rejected the importuning of the interior minister, Yosef Burg, to order the police to remove Peace Now activists, who posted a daily body count of Israeli soldiers outside his residence. "It is their democratic right," he said. During his years as a recluse, he urged his protege, Dan Meridor, who was then the justice minister, to complete the enactment of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.
Shilon: "He coined the phrase 'the holy ballot' in the first Knesset elections, in reaction to Ben-Gurion's term 'the holy cannon' for the weapon that fired on the Altalena. Israel Eldad [a right-wing ideologue] ridiculed Begin: 'How can you attribute holiness to a ballot?' After the state's establishment, Begin, who was then in a certain sense the leader of a gang - ideologically, that is - brought about immediate participation in the democratic game. In 1963 he suggested the annulment of the Military Government over Israel's Arab population, and he later called for the territories to be annexed and citizenship to be granted to the Palestinians. For dramatic decisions such as the bombing of the reactor in Iraq he had a majority in the cabinet, but he waited for a bigger majority. He waited in Lebanon, too.
"He had deep respect for the judicial system," Shilon continues. When he was prime minister and the High Court of Justice rejected construction at [the proposed West Bank settlement] Elon Moreh, his reaction was 'There are judges in Jerusalem.' It was not by chance that what broke him was the conclusions reached by the Kahan Commission of Inquiry after the Lebanon War. He took it very seriously when judicial accusations were hurled at him. There was none of the Yitzhak Rabin thing of 'Without the High Court and without B'Tselem,'" referring to the human rights organization.
Would he have appointed Daniel Friedmann justice minister?
"No way. One of Begin's most intrinsic traits was respect for the law and for the judicial system."
If he was so democratic, why did everyone call him a fascist?
"Drama was built into Begin's rhetoric and mannerisms, and the dramatic rhetoric made it possible to depict him as a fascist. Of course, his fiery speeches and the violent demonstration in the wake of the Reparations Agreement [with Germany] also played a part in creating that image." The demonstration Shilon refers to, held at the beginning of 1952, shows that the image was not groundless. On that occasion, as in his rabble-rousing speeches in the 1981 election campaign, Begin did not demonstrate exemplary civic behavior. "Ben-Gurion, the little dictator and the big maniac ... Based on reports we have just received, Mr. Ben-Gurion has stationed policemen with grenades and tear gas, which suffocated our forefathers, and he has prisons and concentration camps!" Begin shouted to a crowd of thousands in the center of Jerusalem. Hundreds of demonstrators then ran to the Knesset building - at the time located close by - and threw stones that smashed windows and landed in the plenum chamber. Yosef Burg urged Ben-Gurion to run for his life. Ben-Gurion refused: "If I leave, it will be the end of the Israeli parliament."
Shilon believes that precisely that demonstration, which at the time appeared to have the potential to end Begin's career (he was suspended from Knesset activity for three months after that), was actually the first step toward his achievement of power a quarter of a century later.
"Paradoxically, that demonstration shaped Begin as a serious opposition force who challenged Mapai [the ruling party, forerunner of Labor]," Shilon says.
Truth and responsibility
Before his victory in 1977, Begin had run for prime minister eight times. Of all the reasons that brought about Labor's removal from power after 29 years - the Yom Kippur War, the abhorrence of Mapai, the awakening of the Mizrahim (Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin) - Shilon casts the spotlight on the Six-Day War a decade earlier. The fact that the scorned opposition leader was brought into Levi Eshkol's government as a minister without portfolio on the eve of the war, softened his public image. Begin in fact displayed restraint and judiciousness as war loomed.
Shilon: "He suggested sending an emissary of the Mossad [espionage agency] to Europe in order to try to delay the war a few days. Now, on the eve of the battle, Begin, who from the first years had preached that Israel must conquer the territories on both sides of the Jordan, did not dare push for war. This is another example of the polarity between rhetoric and practice."
Begin was always a man of grandiose ideas, some of which were somewhat surrealist, to say the least. Shilon reveals that in the Yom Kippur War, Begin suggested to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, of which he was a member, that the IDF invade Damascus "with tanks flying the Israeli flag, load all the members of the Jewish community on them, and bring them to Israel." Part of the secret of his charm lay in the fact that behind the personality of the larger-than-life leader, whom many admired and just as many reviled, lay a simple, modest Pole, an ordinary Jew. It wasn't just the fact that he was the commander of the Israel Military Organization (the Irgun), yet did not know how to fire a pistol. When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat declared to the parliament in Cairo that he was ready to go to the Knesset, Shilon discloses, Begin and Aliza were watching a movie on television, as they did every Saturday evening. (Begin was also an avid fan of the long-running series "Dallas" and even hosted its stars in the Prime Minister's Bureau.)
A leader led
Some analysts believe that Begin was cajoled into signing the peace treaty with Egypt by his foreign minister and his defense minister, Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, respectively. "I don't accept that," Shilon says. "In 1975, at the Herut convention, Begin stated explicitly, 'We will be able to make concessions in Sinai.' And in any event, the ground for the agreement with Egypt was paved earlier. After all, Sadat had wanted to meet with Golda Meir, too, but she refused, and a similar attempt was made through [Romanian ruler Nicolae] Ceausescu. At the same time, it seems to me that in some cases Begin, perhaps because of his psychic makeup, wanted to be led. After the peace treaty, the Foreign Ministry prepared a document to mark the event, stating that the Begin government had decided to dismantle settlements. He saw the official document, had it stopped, and said, 'No, it was the Knesset that voted to dismantle the settlements.' What is the Knesset? It is him. In the same way he chose Dayan and Weizman as foreign and defense ministers. He knew what they wanted and where it would lead. The fact is that after the treaty with the Egyptians, when he wanted to prevent an agreement with the Palestinians, he brought about the departure of Dayan and Weizman. He knew when he wanted to be led and when he didn't."
In place of the moderate duo, Begin appointed two extremists, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon, as foreign minister and defense minister, respectively. The songs of peace were abandoned in favor of the guns of Lebanon, and Begin's second term, in marked contrast to his first, was a failure. Still, there were moments of pure fantasy. Shilon quotes a conversation that Begin had with the GOC Northern Command, Avigdor Ben Gal, in 1981, in which he proposed a solution for the problem of the Katyusha rockets that were being fired into Israel from Lebanon: "We will go in, seize the bearded one [Yasser Arafat], remove him from the bunker and put him on trial in Jerusalem, just like Eichmann."
Asked whether Sharon deceived Begin in the Lebanon War, Benny Begin and Begin's longtime personal secretary, Yehiel Kadishai, offered conflicting replies. Kadishai is convinced that Begin was not misled by Sharon, whereas Benny Begin believes there is no doubt that Sharon deceived his father. Shilon is inclined to adopt a dialectical approach: "Sharon did deceive Begin, if you view it like Benny - in other words, literally. Begin wrote to [U.S. President Ronald] Reagan that the operation would be halted after Israel advanced 40 kilometers into Lebanon, he made a similar statement in the Knesset, and he also told his wife, on the first day of the war: 'I am going into the bunker for 48 hours and then coming back home.' On the other hand, if you examine the development of the Lebanon War like a lawyer, you will find it very difficult to prove that Sharon deceived Begin, because Sharon made sure to get authorizations for all the operations - except that he got some of them after the fact and also on the basis of military constraints which he claimed were due to developments on the ground."
If your theory about Begin's awareness of being led by others is correct, then clearly he understood what Sharon was up to.
"Begin knew who Sharon was when he appointed him. He was warned: Sharon will drag you into Lebanon, be careful of him. Moshe Dayan told him that as he lay dying of cancer, in their last meeting. Simha Ehrlich [a senior cabinet minister] told him so, and Begin himself said it: 'This man is dangerous; he will end up surrounding my office with tanks.' He agonized over whether to appoint Sharon defense minister. So the question here pertains to responsibility and not to truth, and here my feeling is that this was the answer Begin gave to himself. Someone with a sense of responsibility as highly developed as Begin's could not give himself any other answer. In his years as a recluse, when he was willing to talk about Sharon, he said, 'You know, Sharon was afraid of me.' By which he meant that Sharon was afraid of him when he entered politics. In other words, Sharon was once afraid of me, but was not afraid of me in the Lebanon War."
The Lebanon War vanquished Begin and threw him into a deep melancholy from which he never emerged for the rest of his life. Shilon traces the depressive elements in Begin's personality back to his period as head of the Irgun. Even in the 1940s, Eliahu Lankin, who was the commander of the organization in Jerusalem, described Begin's mood swings. Israel Eldad related that in periods of pressure, Begin went into a "decline, and then he would grow insular and want to leave and resign."
A case in point is Begin's behavior after the sinking of the Altalena off the coast of Tel Aviv in June 1948. Begin disappeared from the area and wandered about the streets of Tel Aviv, silent, without his eyeglasses, which were lost in the sea, but "with the outcries of the wounded and the chaotic scene resonating in his ears," as Shilon writes. Again, after his defeat in the 1951 elections he became deeply gloomy, resigned as leader of the movement and went to Italy for a few weeks. This is a mysterious episode in his past, and Shilon, too, is unable to solve the riddle; he only mentions the rumor according to which Begin was hospitalized in a Swiss sanatorium for depression.
Was it the death of his beloved wife, even more than the Lebanon war, that finally broke him? Aliza is portrayed in the book as a figure who provided the equilibrium for her husband's mental fluctuations. As early as the 1940s, when Begin would tell her about his path from childhood in Brest-Litovsk to command of the Irgun and ask with great emotion, "Did you read in the paper what they wrote about us?" she would interrupt him: "Menachem, someone has to clean the house." "She was very familiar with the fall that followed the leap," Shilon says.
The coupled lived a modest life, and monasticism was evident in their personalities as well: both found it difficult to speak intimately about themselves. "Those around him noticed that when he found himself in a personal conversation, he tended to become bored quickly and retreat into himself," Shilon notes. "Aliza was no different. She never expressed weakness to her guests and acquaintances, and like her husband preferred to focus in conversation on the nation, the ideological path and the 'fighting family'" - meaning the Irgun.
Begin was on an official visit to the United States when Aliza died. He never forgave himself for not having been at her side. "When he got the news, I said to my wife immediately, 'This is the end, he will not be same person,'" recalls Begin's adviser, Harry Hurwitz. Batya Eldad, the wife of Israel Eldad, said Begin's decline was due to the fact that "Aliza wasn't there to push and tell him, 'Don't cry for yourself.'"
Was it Aliza's death that made his last bout of depression so acute?
Shilon: "In my opinion, the depression was not caused by Aliza's death. After the mourning period, he resumed vigorous activity. I think the conclusions of the Kahan Commission, after the Sabra and Chatilla massacre [perpetrated in September 1982 in two Beirut refugee camps by Israel's Christian allies with IDF troops stationed in the area], was the major catalyst in his decline. At the beginning of the war, Begin justified it on moral grounds: I am going to save the Christians, he said. He didn't talk only about the Katyushas and about liquidating the PLO.
"In the final analysis, the Kahan Commission's conclusions can be understood as imposing responsibility for the massacre on his government. The commission likened the massacre to the pogroms perpetrated against Jews. You can imagine what a comparison like that, and made by judges, did to someone like Begin, whose historical consciousness was based so powerfully on the perception of the Jews as victims. That was the start of the breaking point."
Shilon has much to tell about the period in which Begin was a "present absentee" due to his depression. In discussions he led, it was evident that "only his body was in the room," Yosef Burg said. Begin's military secretary, Azriel Nevo, related that when he sent him classified material it would "return without a reaction. Sometimes I needed concrete things, so I would phone him, and he would say, 'Listen, use your judgment. If it looks all right to you, then it's all right.' In practice, we did all the work."
His condition was kept secret from the Israeli public, but Washington suspected that something strange was going on in Jerusalem after Begin repeatedly postponed an urgent meeting with Reagan. Kadishai, Begin's secretary, who did all he could to restore Begin's spirits, suggested that he hold a few rallies, believing that the love of the masses would cheer him up. Begin refused. "You can't force someone to laugh," he said.
His condition worsened apace. At a meeting of Northern Command officers he fell asleep before the discussion began, and the embarrassed officers tried to wake him up. Even the state president, Yitzhak Navon, was appalled. "One day he comes to give me a report," Navon told Shilon, "and I hear him mixing up dates and people and events, with Yehiel Kadishai constantly correcting him: 'No, it's not like that, it's like this, do you remember?' But there was no way to hide it. I said: The man is not functioning and is not focused; he is mixing up dates and mixing up events. Afterward, this was confirmed by ministers."
"He was in a state of total apathy," Shilon sums up. "I am not a psychologist, and I don't want to get involved in defining what it was, because he was never examined. The most accurate description is: Begin was a paralyzed prime minister. He sat in his office and ate crackers with tea and lemon and did not speak, simply did not speak. The cabinet secretary at the time, Dan Meridor, relates that Miriam Gross, the mother of the captured soldier Yosske Gross, came to Begin's office, lay down on the floor and cried: 'Start talking with the PLO. Start talking with the PLO already.' Begin was in a hurry to get to another meeting and didn't know what to do. He didn't want to leave the room with the woman on the floor, crying. He went into a state of paralysis. It reached a state in which [Moshe] Arens, the defense minister, called him and he didn't want to talk to him - to the defense minister!"
On one of his last days in office, Begin read an op-ed piece by Yoel Marcus in Haaretz stating that the country was in a catastrophic situation. Meridor entered, and to his surprise Begin said, "What to do, Marcus is right." Not long afterward he resigned, unable even to muster sufficient energy to meet with the president and give him the letter of resignation. Shilon: "That was a shock to Dan Meridor - that Begin was not capable of going to the president."
In August 1983, two years into his second term, Begin went home, leaving a badly conflicted country, bleeding from a war he had initiated, worn out from a social clash he had cultivated between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, and groaning under spiraling inflation and an out-of-control economic policy.
"Begin had wanted to resign earlier, but was dissuaded," Shilon reveals. "There is testimony by Kadishai that Begin said to him, 'Enough, enough,' and Kadishai replied, 'What's the rush?' Dan Meridor felt what was happening, but asked himself, 'Who could be better than Begin?' When Begin was supposed to travel to Washington to meet with Reagan but was simply unable to, Meridor came to him and said, 'Listen, prime minister, you have to go, it is out of the question not to go.' Begin replied, 'That's right, it is out of the question for a prime minister not to go to meet with the president of the United States,' and said no more. In retrospect, Meridor understood that what Begin had told him was: That's right, I can no longer be prime minister."
Did Meridor regret trying to persuade him to stay on?
"No. Meridor says, and with much justice, that when he looked around he saw no one of Begin's stature. Meridor and Kadishai truly lived the Begin myth. I asked Aryeh Naor [Begin's first cabinet secretary]: You see a man who is done for, paralyzed, and you don't tell him, 'Mr. Begin, take a holiday, you look a bit down to me?' Naor replied: 'There is no such thing as talking to Begin like that.'"
His confidants rented a place for him on Tzemach Street in Jerusalem's Yefei Nof neighborhood, and Begin lived a reclusive life there until his death nine years later. Shilon: "In the first years, Begin was very depressed. He did not get out of bed for whole days. He received people who were close to him in pajamas in bed and he read a great many books. Mostly he listened. When his former military secretary, Azriel Nevo, came to update him about Operation Moses [which brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel], Begin asked two or three questions and that was all. Nevo had prepared himself and wanted to talk to him about his depression, but Begin said, 'Thank you very much for coming.' That was a basic sentence in those years."
Did he leave anything in writing from those years?
"Nothing - even though he had promised he would. He said he already knew the number of pages - 2,000 - of the book he was going to write, to be entitled 'From Holocaust to Revival.' People tried everything. They told him, 'Someone else will write it instead,' 'Just speak into a tape recorder.' He never said no, he always said, 'Soon, in a bit, this isn't the time.' I would say that this is self-reproach underpinned by integrity: I will not write the history now, when I don't have a happy ending, when I don't have my plan, when I know I faltered."W
Like us on Facebook and get articles directly in your news feed