"If history remembers me at all, in any way, I hope it will be as a man who loved the Land of Israel and watched over it in every way he could, all his life"
Yitzhak Shamir was an unusual Prime Minister. Public life requires from its participants a large ego. Shamir was without ego. He succeeded in turning this weakness into a strength that enabled him to achieve his political goals and realize the main principles of his worldview.
Shamir viewed public service and the positions in which he served as a vocation.
From his youth in the Betar Youth Movement in Poland, through his recruitment into the underground movements; first in Etzel and afterwards in Lehi; through his service in the Mossad intelligence agency and other special positions, including his time as Speaker of the Knesset, Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister, he was devoted to service of his people and of his country.
He belonged to the generation of those who believed that one must do everything possible in order to strengthen and empower the Jewish people who have always and, it seems, will always have to fight for their existence.
To this struggle he devoted all his strength, talents and determination, and he did indeed succeed in leading the country, in his time as Prime Minister, to significant achievements.
For his uniqueness and his enormous contribution, it is fitting the name of Yitzhak Shamir be engraved in the history of the State of Israel. In honor of his 100th birthday, we present the story of his life in this exhibition, with an emphasis on his activities for and on behalf of the people of Israel and the State of Israel.
Youth and Aliya
"My father, Shlomo Yezernitzky, had a small tanning factory. My mother, Perla, was more than kind, her wisdom shone through. We were three children: my two older sisters, Miriam and Rivka, and I, were brought up in a warm, crowded home.“
"Everything about my upbringing had to do with Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel), with what was happening there, and with my certainty – I can find no other word for it – that there would, one day, be a Jewish state and that I personally must work towards this."
Yitzhak Yezernitzky was born in Ruzhany, Poland. He studied at the nearby town of Vawkavysk. After graduating from the Hebrew Gymnasium, he attended law school in Warsaw. Following the riots in Eretz Israel, he decided to join the local youth movement, "Betar", and quickly became a devoted activist. His political views were greatly impacted by the works of Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
In 1935, Yezernitzky decided to leave his studies and go to Eretz Israel, where he enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He joined the Etzel underground movement in 1937. Yezernitzky asked his family to come to Eretz Israel, but they did not succeed to get certificates in time. Ultimately, the entire Yezernitzky family perished in the Holocaust.
Having joined the Etzel (‘the Irgun’) in 1937, when World War II broke out, Shamir opposed the restraint and cooperation between the British forces and the Etzel. He left the Etzel in 1941 and joined the Lehi underground movement led by Yair Stern.
Stern wrote the famous anthem:
"Unknown soldiers are we, without uniform,
and around us fear and the shadow of death
we have all been drafted for life.
Only death will discharge us from [our] ranks.”
Yezernitzky understood these words to mean that history decreed that the struggle of Lehi fighters for freedom from the British Mandate would be a life-and-death battle.
Mazrah internment camp and
the leadership of the Lehi
In December 1941, Yezernitzky was captured and imprisoned in the Mazrah internment camp north of Akko. While he was in the camp, he found out about the death of Yair Stern, the commander of Lehi.
Yezernitzky managed to escape from Mazrah camp, and joined a command triumvirate (with Nathan Yellin-Mor and Israel Eldad) that replaced Yair Stern. Shamir was in charge of operational activities.
Under the command of Yezernitzky , the Lehi underground executed a number of important missions:(L-R)
1. Lord Moyne was the British Minister of State in the Middle East until the Lehi assassinated him in Egypt in November 1944.
2. Lehi units attacked the train station in Lod, 1946
3.With British police on the hunt for him, Yitzhak Yezernitzky had to hide. In 1946, he hid disguised under the alias, 'Rabbi Dov Shamir '(pictured above.)
When he left the underground, he kept the name 'Shamir'.
Shamir was arrested in July 1946 and sent to a detention camp in Eritrea. While in exile, he wrote to his wife Shulamit:
"I believe that the day I will return home is getting closer. Together we will rebuild our home amidst the throes of our Jewish homeland, and I believe that the house we will rebuild will be nicer and warmer than it was before. You know, even the most precious and most loved things we learn to appreciate more and more in their absence…"
Shamir escaped from the detention camp with other members of Etzel in 1946.
He came to Paris through Djibouti where he remained until his return to Israel on May 20, 1948.
While Shamir was keeping a low-profile as a Lehi commander, young lady named Shulamit was assigned to keep him in contact the other Lehi members and the outside world.
When speaking about the beginning of his relationship with Shulamit, Shamir recalled:
"Shulamit, as a courier in Lehi, was given the responsibility to always know where I was, to collect and distribute the mail for me, to arrange my schedule and made sure I had enough food. She served as a messenger, exchanged telephone conversations and more than that, she was a confidante. Before long, we had built a love…"
In 1944 Yitzhak Shamir married Shulamit Levy, and they had two children, Yair and Gilada.
Shamir returned to Israel several days after the State was established.
In 1955, he was recruited by Isser Harel, the head of the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency).
Yitzhak Shamir acted to prevent German scientists in developing new weapons. He also helped France in the fight against the Algerian underground (FLN), introducing agents and weapons smuggling.
Shamir left the Mossad after 10 years of service.
In 1973, Shamir was first elected to the Knesset as a member of the Likud party headed by Menachem Begin. After the Likud came to power in 1977, Shamir was appointed as Speaker of the Knesset , and presided over the historical session of the visit of the President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat.
On March 10, 1980 Shamir was appointed foreign minister and held the position during the first Lebanon War
Shamir as Prime Minister
When Menachem Begin resigned in 1983, Shamir succeeded him as Israel’s seventh Prime Minister. He served as Prime Minister until the 1984 elections, where an equal split of seats between the Likud and the Labor Party resulted in the formation of a unity government with a leadership rotation agreement. Shamir spent two years as Foreign Minister and two years as Prime Minister. In 1988, elections were once again held and Shamir headed a 97-member coalition government.
The Gulf War
Yitzhak Shamir was the Prime Minister of Israel when the First Gulf War began.
The US entered the war and invaded Iraq during an operation called "Operation Desert Storm". Than, Iraq targeted Israel with Scud missiles.
Shamir decided to show restraint and not to fight the Iraqis in order not to undermine the US war effort. The policy of restraint by the Israeli government, received with appreciation by Israel’s allies and across the world.
Madrid Conference of 1991
The Madrid Conference of 1991 was a peace conference held from October 30 to November 1, 1991 in Madrid, Spain.
Attending the Conference were representatives from the United States, the Soviet Union, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Yitzhak Shamir led the Israeli delegation.
The Conference was a turning point in relations between Israel and Arab countries as it was the first time that Arab countries had agreed to sit with the State of Israel around one table.
Following the Conference, public sessions were held between Israel and Jordan, which led to a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994.
"My obligation to Zionism is not a career. For as long as I can remember, it was always part of my life.
Not an election victory nor an electoral defeat will affect my Zionism."
After his electoral loss in the 1992 elections, Shamir announced his retirement from political leadership.
He remained a Member of the Knesset until 1996.
Yitzhak Shamir passed away on June 30, 2012
"All of what happened to me since I first left Ruzhany, so many years ago was but a great privilege.
I had the opportunity to take part in great events and the biggest, without doubt, was being part of the birth of the Jewish State of Israel."
Yonatan Gan-Or, Rami Shtivi
Jessica Curhan, Yisrael Medad
GPO Photographs:Kluger Zoltan, Yaacov Saar,
Nati Harnik, Tsvika Israeli,
The Yitzhak Shamir Archives, The Menachem Begin Heritage Center