Wednesday, December 8, 2021

"Mieczysław Biegun" - Who?


Mieczysław Biegun - an amazing fake news career about Menachem Begin

Here in Poland, even the smallest mention of Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel in 1977-1983 born in Poland in 1913, it is always remembered that his original name was "Mieczysław Biegun".

The problem is that it was not so!

Nobody knows who invented Mieczysław the Pole - or when, although suspicions are such that it could have been during the presence of the Anders Army in British Palestine in 1942-43. One can only guess what was behind the invented name. A nickname that makes him one of ours? April Fools Reverse Engineering of the Name Menachem Begin?

I don't remember any Israeli prime minister before him, but the 14-year-old stuck in his memory when Begin took the helm. From then on, he was a character I followed regularly and sometimes even closely - for example during Camp David and the First Lebanon War - until his resignation in 1983. Begin caught my attention again when I came to Poland, because his roots here are often emphasized: growing up in Brest, studying law at the University of Warsaw, epic wandering with Anders' Army from the Soviet Union to the Holy Land - and his supposedly proper name.

Just like almost everyone - from Norman Davies and President Duda to POLIN and the "Millionaires" jurors from September this year ("Mieczysław Biegun won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978 together with the president of: A. Poland B. Israel C. Egypt D. Czech ") - I have never doubted the truth of Mieczysław Begin. But why? Suffice that this surname is mentioned wherever Begin is mentioned. Moreover, it is known that many Jews adopted Hebrew surnames when they started a new life in Eretz Israel. David Grün became David Ben-Gurion; Golda Meyerson became Golda Meir; Ariel Scheinermann became Ariel Sharon.

Recently, while getting ready to write a series about the fathers of contemporary Israel coming from the lands of today's Poland, I immersed myself in reading about Begin's life - I focused especially on his life in Poland. I noticed right away that none of his numerous biographers (Eric Silver, Ned Temko, Avi Shilon, Yehuda Avner, Ofer Grosbard, Daniel Gordis) writes anything about any "Mieczysław". On the contrary: I found a lot in these works about giving him the name "Menachem". Further searches quickly revealed Begin's university documents, in which he has been listed - from 1931, that is from the very beginning of his legal studies - as Menachem Begin. Then I came across an interview on Polish Radio with Dr. Piotr Gontarczyk, a leading expert in revisionist Zionism in Poland, of which Begin was an outstanding figure. In this interview, Gontarczyk was dismayed, as I thought when he was asked about Mieczysław the Pole. After a while he replied, “I heard such versions, but always in the documents of revisionists, in the press, before the war as [some interferences on the part of the interviewer]. I have a copy of his file and he uses the name Menachem Begin all the time ”.

What about the years Begin spent in the Gymnasium Romuald Traugutt in Brześć nad Bugiem? Maybe the name of Begin there was Mieczysław Biegun? Soon I found several dozen-page-long publications drawn up by school administrators. And here is the information that sixteen-year-old Menachem Begin was one of the top students in his class and that he participated in a German-speaking group with his brother Herzl Begin. This solved the matter so much that in the article I wrote a week ago for Plus Minus about Begin, I considered "Mieczysław Bieguna" a myth. After all, since his name was Menachem Begin in the state high school, what were the chances that in the two private Jewish schools he had attended before, his name was Mieczysław? I decided that it was less than none.

In the next steps, I managed to enlist the support of my friend, attorney Bartłomiej Kachniarz, who knows the Belarusian archivist in Brest (Nikolai Aleksandrów), who examined the files of Begin preserved there. The archivist explained that no, he had never seen the name "Mieczysław Biegun" on any documents related to Menachem Begin. Kachniarz also contacted Dr. Gontarczyk, who wrote back to him: "In my opinion, he never used this name [Mieczysław Biegun]."

The full solution to the puzzle came only from the Menachem Begin in Jerusalem. In response to my question to the Center, I received the following reply:

Dear Mr. Steele, In response to your inquiry regarding the name of "Mieczysław Biegun", I can inform you that the Menachem Begin reviewed all documents relating to Menachem Begin's early life and we contacted the archivist of the Jewish Community in Brest. There is not a single document bearing this name. Moreover, on all of them there is a proper name "Menachem". Indeed, it is a myth and a forgery.

It remains a mystery, however, how it is possible that the name "Mieczysław Biegun" has become ubiquitous in Poland. I think that the simplest explanation is the one I shared with my Israeli friends - firstly, that "Mieczysław Biegun" has no pejorative connotation in Poland at all. After all, it appears literally everywhere, regardless of politics or other sympathies. Makes it ours. After all, Begin (which was often emphasized by both supporters and opponents) was genuinely very Polish. So much so that it is easy for Poles to exaggerate his Polishness. For example, with the story that in 1978 at Camp David spoke to Brzeziński in Polish at chess. Not true, but you wish it were!

Nevertheless, when I recall that in 2017 President Duda spoke about "Mieczysław Pole" not only in Jerusalem, but also at the Menachem Begin, I am a little surprised that the matter was not cleared up then.

Philip Earl Steele

* Philip Earl Steele - American historian and editor, former lecturer at the University of Warsaw. The author of the book "The conversion and baptism of Mieszko I" and many texts, especially religious studies, published both in Poland, Israel, the Czech Republic, the USA and Great Britain. His book will be published soon. Israel and Evangelical Christians: "An Alliance by God's Sent".

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A State Memorial Day for Menachem Begin

As published:

Knesset approves 1st reading of bill for Menachem Begin memorial day

NOVEMBER 24, 2021

The Knesset approved a preliminary reading of a bill to create a national memorial day in memory of former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.

The bill, proposed by Likud faction chairman MK Yariv Levin, passed with support from the coalition.

"This is the least that should be done for Menachem Begin, a great leader who himself designed important elements in Israel's identity," Levin said.

And from the Knesset site:

November 24, 2021

Knesset Plenum passes in preliminary reading bill for state memorial day for Menachem Begin

​In its sitting on Wednesday, the Knesset Plenum voted to approve in its preliminary reading the Bill for Commemorating Menachem Begin (Amendment—State Memorial Day), 2021, sponsored by MK Yariv Levin (Likud). In the vote, 41 MKs supported the bill versus one opposing vote. The bill will be turned over to the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee.

The bill proposes to dedicate a state memorial day to the memory and works of Menachem Begin. On this day, events will be held for commemorating Menachem Begin, a state memorial ceremony will be conducted, and IDF camps and schools will devote time to commemoration events and teaching about his accomplishments. As the 4th of the Hebrew month of Adar is Menachem Begin's date of death, it is proposed that this day serve as the state memorial day for Begin.

The explanatory notes state: “Menachem Begin's name is inscribed in the nation's history as one of the great leaders of the Jewish people in the twentieth century. Begin took part in the struggle for the state's independence, contributed to the democratic foundations of the State of Israel and strengthened them. He established the principle that there would be no civil war, eliminated social barriers, strengthened the unity of the people, made the first peace accord and more.

“In the past, the Knesset has affixed state memorial days for prime ministers, and there is no doubt that the influence, work and contribution of Menachem Begin are worthy of being memorialized in a similar fashion. The purpose of the bill is to inculcate the legacy and the values espoused by Begin and bring them closer to the next generations."

MK Levin: “This is the least we can do for Menachem Begin, an illustrious leader who shaped with his own hands important elements in the identity and the very existence of the State of Israel. I am convinced that teaching his legacy in schools, as proposed by the bill, will contribute greatly to the education of our future generation."

Minister Zeev Elkin responded on behalf of the Government, saying: “One cannot help but point at the famous sentence said by Begin in the context of an extended term of office, that 'a prolonged stay in power is a danger to the nation's freedom and the morality of its members, and it begets corruption.'"

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Menachem Begin's Arrest in 1937

In 1937, responding to the policy of the British Mandate power in Palestine to continue to restrict Jewish immigration into the country, Betar Poland conducted a demonstration outside the British Embassy in Warsaw.

As explained here,

The British created a system of criteria for determining the distribution of immigration certificates. The High Commissioner for Palestine was given the authority to determine immigration policy, the implementation of which was placed in the hands of the Immigration Department of the Mandatory Government. The certificates were to be distributed to four types of immigrant, according to defined criteria for each group...The group on which immigration limitations were imposed was the workers, people who had a chance of integrating into the labour market in the country [in other words, penniless halutzim - YM]...Most serious however was the situation of the Jews in Poland, the country with the largest population of Jews in Europe, about three and a half million people. Anti-Semitism in Poland had increased following the death of Pilsudski (1935), and the discrimination undermined the Jewish population's status and economic position. Desperate calls were made to organize youth groups...The year 1936 saw a drastic reduction in the number of certificates given by the British. The Arab Revolt which broke out in April 1936 further intensified British fears of losing Arab support. With London's decision to dispatch a Royal Commission to Palestine to examine the causes of the disturbances, [High Commissioner Arthur Grenfell] Wauchope proposed suspending Jewish immigration for the duration of the Commission's activities, in order to pacify the Arabs. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir William Ormsby-Gore agreed with Wauchope and told him that the Secretary of State shared his view that there should be a suspension of all permanent immigration into Palestine during the period of the Royal Commission's work, and until the government had dealt with its report.'...The decision to reduce immigration continued into the spring of 1937. The Jewish Agency Executive demanded 11,250 certificates from the government in the April-September 1937 schedule. The government only authorized 770 certificates of which 150 were kept in reserve...

With the situation for Betarim in Poland critical as not only were they discriminated against by the "certificate" system but by the Zionist Organization which severely limited their access due to political bias, it became a matter of life or death, and so they decided to demonstrate.

Here is the JTA report:

Of course, that should be Menachem Begin (or Beigin).

It was not the first time such a demonstration was conducted.