Menachem Begin (1913 - 1992)
Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Prime Minister of Israel, 1977 - 1983

"Jews must be so strong that there will never be another Holocaust."

Menachem Begin was born August 13, 1913 in Brest-Litovsk, which was at the time part of the Russian Empire. He was the youngest of three children. As a child, he and his family were forced to flee into Russia to escape the fighting between the German and Russian armies in World War I. At the end of the war, they returned to Brest-Litovsk, which was by then part of Poland.

After graduating from the local public high school, Menachem began attending Warsaw University in 1931. He graduated in 1935 with a degree in law. A passionate Zionist from an early age, as a teen he had joined Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Betar youth movement. After college, he began working full-time for Betar. He quickly rose to important administrative and leadership positions, becoming the head of Polish Betar in 1939.

As World War II began, he encouraged thousands of Polish Jews to emigrate illegally to Palestine, just as the country was being closed off by the British government. He continued to work for the Zionist cause until he was arrested on charges of espionage in 1940 by Soviet authorities. He was sentenced to eight years in Siberia, but was released in 1941 along with over a million other Polish prisoners.

After his release, he joined the Polish army and was sent to the Middle East. His parents and brother remained trapped in Poland, and perished in The Holocaust. Only Menachem and his sister survived.

He had not been in the Middle East very long before he assumed command of the Irgun Zva'i Leumi (also known as ETZEL, the Hebrew acronym for "National Military Organization"). In this capacity, he directed Zionist operations against British authority in Palestine. He was behind many of ETZEL's operations, including the Akko prison breakout and the destruction of the central British administrative offices in the King David Hotel. 91 people - Jews and Arabs as well as British - were killed in the bombing of the hotel. The Palestinian government offered a reward for information leading to his arrest, but he evaded capture by living in disguise in Tel Aviv.

Following the reestablishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Mr. Begin and his associates founded the Herut party. He headed the party's list in all Knesset elections from the first, in 1949, to the tenth, in 1981 (although by then Herut had joined with several other political factions to form the Likud).

From 1948 to 1977, Menachem Begin was the leader of Israel's opposition. In the 1950's, he led the movement against accepting German reparations for the Nazi Holocaust. In May 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, Begin was instrumental in the formation of Israel's first government of national unity. He served as minister without portfolio for the national unity government's duration, from 1967 to 1970. In 1977, he was declared Prime Minister as a result of the elections to the ninth Knesset.

Shortly after he took office, Prime Minister Begin held a series of secret meetings between Israeli and Egyptian representatives. This resulted in formal meetings with Anwar Sadat, who was then the President of Egypt, to discuss the possibility of peace between their two countries. Over the course of the next two years, Begin and Sadat engaged in intermittent negotiations as they worked toward signing a peace treaty on behalf of Israel and Egypt, a feat which earned them the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. The treaty was based on the Camp David Accords, and they signed it in 1979 on the lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C..

However, in 1981 Begin ordered the Israeli air force to bomb Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor on the suspicion that the site was being used to develop nuclear weapons which might be used against Israel. And in 1982, under Begin's leadership and despite sharp criticism (from both international and Israeli sources), Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon. A treaty ending the state of war between Lebanon and Israel was signed in 1983, but was broken by the Lebanese less than a year later.

On the domestic front, Prime Minister Begin initiated "Project Renewal", which addressed long-ignored problems in Israel's urban neighborhoods. Steps were taken towards correcting inadequacies in education, social services, and housing. Begin also initiated "Operation Moses," and "Operation Solomon" in an attempt to save Ethiopian Jews by aiding and encouraging their immigration to Israel.

Begin wrote numerous articles, and two books: "White Nights" (1957), an account of his experiences in Europe during World War II, and "The Revolt" (1964), a history of ETZEL's battle for an independent Jewish state.

In November of 1982, his beloved wife Aliza died. A few months later, Begin resigned as Prime Minister and went into seclusion. He was seldom seen in public after his resignation. He died in 1992 and is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, next to Aliza.


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