Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Center Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 15

Volume 4, Issue 16
January 29, 2008

Total Number of Visitors Since October 2004: 373,291

"A Prisoner and a Free Man" Says Benny Begin in Intro to White Nights

Much interest has been aroused by the new edition of White Nights by Menachem Begin in English which tells the story of his imprisonment by the Soviets in the Lukishki prison where he was subject to long complicated interrogations.

In this new edition, documents taken from the KGB archives include their minutes of the interrogation. Begin had reconstructed the interrogation from memory and remarkably their protocols coincide with his recollections.

The book contains an introduction by Ze'ev B. Begin in which he refers to his father's plight in the Soviet prison and during the interrogation and says in conclusion:

In captivity, in the anonymity of a jail, it is difficult to preserve the integrity of one's personality, but he insisted. To do so, he employed several tactics that permitted him in many instances to prevent his interrogators from dictating to him the parameters of their mutual relationship. One method was "study". He loved to study and did so all his life. He considered his tribulations in the Soviet Union an important life-experience. In prison he acquired the habit of concentrating his thoughts while walking back and forth in the cell, a habit that he well used later as a hunted commander of an underground. He considered his services as the commander of the Irgun Zvai Leumi as his most important role and instructively, his book, The Revolt, opens with the Lukishki Prison. Aft the "white nights" of interrogations, he was sent for "re-education" to the region of white nights in Russia's north and there defined clearly the approach that guided him also in the underground struggle: "Every end justifies the means? – No! The end justifies all the means? – No! Every end justifies all the means? – No! Never!"

In the humiliating conditions of the prison, hungry and fatigued, he wanted, as he wrote, "to be a 'Mentch", a human being," a word that conveys in Yiddish more than it does in English. NKVD Lieutenant Kianchenko was not all wrong when he denied that he conducted an interrogation. Between him and Betar head Menachem Begin an ideological confrontation took place over many hours. An entire chapter of White Nights is devoted to the climax of this debate, expressed in a human d rama which places a man's dignity on but one point: the interrogators demands that the prisoner sign a statement admitting his guilt in being the head of Betar in Poland. The prisoner, however, his head shaven, is willing only to sign that he admits to the fact that this indeed was his position. He tells of an all-night session, accompanied by shouts, blandishments and threats. A major came to the aide of the lieutenant but to no avail. The prisoner insisted—and the NKVD yielded. As he writes at the end of chapter 8, "he did not even deign to answer me. He tore up what he had written and wrote it out again, as follows:&n bsp; "I admit that I was Chairman of Betar in Poland,…" He writes that he was not the only Lukishki prisoner that distinguished between "admitting the fact" and "admitting the guilt", but again, one may wonder if he accurately described the event.

The pedantry of the interrogator has left for us the essence of that drama. It was a bit shorter than the prisoner imagined: it was the evening of December 13, between 8:30 and 1:00 AM. In the minutes only one question appears, with its answer:

Question: "Do you admit your guilt, according to articles 58-4 and 58-11 of the Soviet Criminal Law, that you were a member of the central committee of the Jewish nationalist bourgeoisie party of the Zionist Revisionists and the head of the anti-revolutionary Betar…?"

Answer: I admit that I was a member of the Zionist Revisionist youth movement Betar…"

"I did not yield," Menachem Begin wrote in his book at the end of this chapter. "I signed. I was taken back to my cell."

He was a prisoner, but he was a free man.

The book is published by Steimatsky and is available in their stores all over the country and in the Tal Klein souvenir store for 69 NIS.

IGF: "Most Exciting" Experience

The government appointed council of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center met on Sunday and heard reports on past activities, future plans and budgetary problems.

One of the items on the program was a presentation by the organizers and some of the participants in the Israel Government Fellows program.

The first group of participants, which is due to complete their 6 months program, are most enthusiastic about it and have described it as the most exciting practical experience they could have had. All of them had been placed as interns in government and other public offices. Three of them spoke of their experiences in the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Justice.

There were brief comments by Tamar Darmon, the Director of the program, and it was announced that the new group of 14 students from five countries is set to begin on 20 February.


Max and Vera Brozin of Johannesburg, South Africa made an unannounced visit to the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and were deeply moved by the concept, the structure, the museum and other features in the four-story building.

They asked to meet Harry Hurwitz whom they have known most of their lives. They were happy also to meet Freda Hurwitz.

Max Brozin was born in Middleburg, Transvaal, where the family were staunch supporters of the Revisionist Movement and hosted Menachem Begin on visits to that area where they lived.

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Phyllis and Sam Kaminsky of Washington, DC, who are enthusiastic supporters of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center visited on Sunday morning and by chance met with some of the heads of the Begin Center and Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation. They took time to see the temporary exhibit marking 30 years after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and also saw other features in the building.