Sunday, October 12, 2008

Recalling Menachem Begin

From an article of remembrance by Yael Lotan, now a raidcal leftist but the daughter of a former Revisionist:-

House of dreams

...When Begin arrived in Mandate Palestine, he was a veteran in the Beitar Movement, and it was only natural for him to be in contact with my father, Binyamin (Benno) Lubotsky, a central figure in the movement at the time.

The commander of the Etzel underground then was Yaakov Meridor, but he didn't do well in the post and wanted to step down. One night, the heads of the movement met at our house in order to choose whom to appoint in his place. (About 30 years later, my father described the event in his memoirs, which were recorded by the Institute of Contemporary Jewry and eventually compiled in a pamphlet entitled "Memories from the Right Wing," published by Am Oved in 1990). I was almost seven years old, and accustomed to gatherings in our apartment. Incidentally, the apartment was in a house that was built in the 19th century as an inn near Jaffa Road, when there was not yet a city outside Jerusalem's walls. The two-story house, known as the Shiber House after its Arab owner, who owned a good deal of property in western Jerusalem and lived in an attractive villa in Talbieh - was long and as massive as a fortress. The large staircase that led to the top floor was outdoors, and there were only a dozen or so stairs inside the building. Downstairs, in the spacious yard, which was paved with stones, were two wells. Underneath the yard were two curved spaces, which had in the past housed camels and donkeys.

That night (in August 1942, according to my father's memoirs), they decided to appoint Menachem Begin as commander of Etzel, in place of Meridor. At the end of the meeting, my father accompanied the members as they left. Once outside, someone suggested they go raise a glass (perhaps at Fink's, the legendary bar?), and my father asked them to wait while he went to tell my mother he was going with them. But he didn't get back to them. Nor did he go home. The members thought he had decided to stay home, and my mother thought he had gone out with his friends. But in reality, he fell on the dark stairs inside the building. It was at the height of World War II and the darkness was complete. My father lay there almost unconscious, and almost an hour passed before one of the neighbors saw him and called for help.

...the ambulance came and took him to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus. Once there, they discovered that he had broken his hip - a particularly difficult and problematic break...He suffered a lot from heat and itching, and my mother would drip eau de cologne underneath the cast and scratch the skin with a long knitting needle.

When they removed the cast, it turned out that his leg had shortened by seven centimeters, and my father remained handicapped for the rest of his life. He was 33 years old. Naturally, he never forgot the night they appointed Begin Etzel commander - a decision he says he regretted soon thereafter.

Incidentally, the person who cared for my father most loyally and was a big help to my mother was an old friend, a Beitar member named Yaakov Hilvitch. He would eventually turn most of his friends over to the British, who smuggled him to the United States. He didn't inform on my father, however, a fact my parents attributed to his personal affection for them, especially for my mother (she claimed he just loved her soup).

Menachem Begin and his wife, Aliza, Binyamin and Beba Lubotzky,

and the children Eldad Bukspan and Yale Lotan

The photograph is of Menachem Begin, still in a Polish Army uniform, with his wife, Aliza, my parents and I. The boy was the son of members of the movement - his mother probably took the picture. It was taken on Bezalel Street, which would become Hillel Street, across from the Eden Hotel...There's no trace left of it - just as there's no trace of the impressive Shiber House, which was demolished not long after the 1967 war. In its place rose an ugly 14-story monster called the Rasko Passage.

For the sake of historical justice, I am obliged to note that my father quit Beitar a few years later and established a party called "The Nation's Movement for a Hebrew State," which joined the Histadrut Labor Federation. After the establishment of the state, the party dissolved and my father joined Mapai, precursor of the Labor Party. He always seemed a little foreign and unusual there, but his talents led him to several interesting posts. He continued to move leftward, objected strongly to the occupation after 1967, and in the last elections before his death, voted for the left-wing Moked party...

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