Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Center Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 10

Volume 4, Issue 10
December 19, 2007

Attendance Number Now 351,053

On Monday, December 17, the number of visitors to the Begin Center since its inception exceeded 350,000. This averages out at 110,760 per year—a most impressive number that is higher per annum in actual terms than most American Presidential Libraries and in relative terms it is a higher figure than all the Presidential Libraries. Our latest information is that the attendance numbers at Presidential Libraries in the US continue to fall while in the case of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center the number are constantly rising.

Parashat HaShavua Attendance Strong

With the end of the holiday season here in Israel the Rohr Family Parashat HaShavua program is back to normal with attendances of between 400-500 persons every Thursday evening.

When the present series of lectures by Dr. Micha Goodman ends next week, the program will continue with another very well known and popular lecturer, Dr. Shelly Goldberg, who was one of the lecturers for the Hoshana Raba all-night study session at the Begin Center. Dr. Goldberg is a professor in the Department of Jewish Studies in the Bar Ilan University and her expertise is in Kabbalah and Chassidic studies. She will be covering most of the Book of Exodus for the Parashat HaShavua lectures.

Junior Knesset Resumes After Teacher Strike

Now that the teacher's strike is over, the Junior Knesset program, which had to be suspended for nearly two months, has resumed. The Educational Department, headed by Snir Zaidel is working extra hard to work with schools—including 10 new schools—to compress the ten-month program into the shortened school year. They expect to be able to bring all the participating schools to the year-end Knesset simulation day at the Begin Center in the specially designed mini-Knesset.

New Edition of White Nights at the Printer

All the technical work on the new English edition of Menachem Begin's book White Nights has been completed and the publishers expect copies to be available within a month. The new version includes English translations of extracts from the NKVD (the precursor to the KGB) files of their interrogation of Menachem Begin in the Lukishki prison where he was held on a charge of being an "agent of British imperialism." He was sentenced to eight years in a correctional labor camp and released in September 1941 when Germany invaded Russia earlier in June. Russia reached an agreement with the Free Polish Government in London (headed by General Sikorsky) facilitating the release of citizens in Russian prisons if they joined the Free Polish Army commanded by General Anders. Menachem Begin did so and he traveled south through then Persia and then west as a Polish soldier until he reached Palestine. His friends and co-leaders of the Polish Betar who were already in Palestine urg ed him immediately to get out of Polish uniform and join the Underground leadership of the Irgun Zvai Leumi. He refused to do so unless he was given an official discharge from the Poles as otherwise he could be listed as a deserter. He was allowed to leave in late 1943, and Menachem Begin began his underground career which led to his command of the Irgun till the conclusion of the struggle in 1948.

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By coincidence and related to the above story is the fact that the Archives of the Begin Center has just received the text of a book by Josef Mermelstein called The Six Years in the Soviet Union of Josef Mermelstein. He was in the Soviet labor camp with Menachem Begin and assisted him in various ways. Now a man in his 90s, he released the typed version of his book which ends with a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Menachem Begin on 2 November 1978 after the announcement that Begin was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace on 10 December of that year.

He apologizes for possibly overstepping the boundaries with the Prime Minister, but he felt that he had to write.

"…this Nobel Prize for you has its roots from 37 years ago, when we were on a wooden shop on the Pechora river on the way to Warkuta, to the coal mines.

We were squeezed together about 800 'people' in sub-human conditions. The squeeze was of such magnitude, that a group of young boys, the majority Jews, placed themselves on the deck, enduring rain and cold in the nights.

Finally the authorities resolved that at a certain place they would bring another ship.

It was more than correct that those who were on the deck should pass first to the other ship.

When they put the planks between the two ships, a group of Polish criminals wanted to be the first to pass. There was a group of strong Jewish boys that didn't want to permit it. It didn't take long for a fight to break out. Then at the exact moment, with the speed of a deer, you placed yourself between the two factions and let loose a strong shout: "Panowie" (Gentlem en) and they all became quiet. I don't remember exactly your words to them, but I remember the content of your splendid Polish. You explained to them simply the absurdity of what can happen and that Polish, Russians, Jews, Rumanians are all in the same abyss and that this incident could serve only as a spectacle for our guards.

The Poles recognized the truth of your words, and like with a magic stick, the Poles remained quiet, and the Jewish boys passed over the "bridge" and prevented the waves of the Pechora to wash the blood of Jews and non-Jews, then you won a prize…