Distinguished Israeli Historian Zvi Yavetz Dies at 87

Born in Romania in 1925, Yavetz escaped the Holocaust and fought for Israeli independence before becoming one of Israel's most esteemed professors and scholars.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The historian and professor Zvi Yavetz, among the founders of the Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University and recipient of the Israel Prize in 1990, died on Monday night at the age of 87. He was one of the first lecturers at Tel Aviv University and was head of the general history department, as well as serving as dean of the Humanities faculty. He assumed this role in 1956 at the invitation of Chaim Levanon, then the mayor of Tel Aviv.

Yavetz specialized in the history of ancient Rome, publishing numerous books and articles on the topic. His specialities included Augustus, Julius Caesar, Caligula and Tiberius, Cicero, Claudius and Nero.

Yavetz was instrumental in establishing the Humanities faculty at the University of Addis Ababa in 1960, and also helped found the colleges at Beit Berl and in Tel Chai. He was a member of the Council for Higher Education and founded a history periodical called "Zmanim" (The Times), published by Tel Aviv University.

Yavetz was born in 1925 in the town of Chernovitz, now in Romania. Following the German invasion in the summer of 1941 he was expelled, at the age of 16, into various ghettos and camps. His mother and most of his family were murdered in the Holocaust but he managed to escape Romania in 1944, fleeing in a small vessel with 20 other Jewish refugees who had bribed the Romanian officials.

The group made it to the shores of Turkey after their boat capsized. The Turkish authorities planned to return them to Romania, but after they went on a hunger strike they were transferred to the British authorities, who sent them to Cyprus.

Finally, with the assistance of Jewish soldiers serving in the British army in Cyprus, Yavetz reached the British Mandate of Palestinian, which would later become Israel.

He volunteered to serve in the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the underground Jewish resistance against the British, fighting in the famous battle of Sha'ar HaGai (Bab El-Wad). In the 1950s, when he realized that there were no survivors left from his mother’s family, he changed his name from Zucker to Yavetz, his mother’s maiden name. Following the War of Independence he completed his studies in history, which he had commenced before the war, at the Hebrew University.

The historian Zvi Yavetz has died at age 87 after a long and prestigious career.Credit: wikimedia

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