Avraham Stern

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Avraham Stern
Flickr - Government Press Office (GPO) - Avraham Stern (Yair)-2.jpg
Native name
אברהם שטרן
BornDecember 23, 1907
Suwałki, Russian Empire
(present-day Poland)
DiedFebruary 12, 1942
Tel Aviv, Mandatory Palestine
Buried (32.072°N 34.804°E)

Avraham Stern (Hebrew : אברהם שטרן, Avraham Shtern), alias Yair (Hebrew : יאיר; December 23, 1907 – February 12, 1942) was one of the leaders of the Jewish paramilitary organization Irgun. In September 1940, he founded a breakaway militant Zionist group named Lehi, called the "Stern Gang" by the British authorities and by the mainstream in the Yishuv Jewish establishment. [1]

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel; the modern version of which is spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

Irgun zionist terrorist group

The Irgun was a Zionist paramilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the older and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah. When the group broke from the Haganah it became known as the Haganah Bet, or alternatively as haHaganah haLeumit or Hama'amad. Irgun members were absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces at the start of the 1948 Arab–Israeli war. The Irgun is also referred to as Etzel, an acronym of the Hebrew initials, or by the abbreviation IZL.


The Yishuv or Ha-Yishuv or Ha-Yishuv Ha-Ivri is the term referring to the body of Jewish residents in the land of Israel prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. The term came into use in the 1880s, when there were about 25,000 Jews living across the Land of Israel, then comprising the southern part of Ottoman Syria, and continued to be used until 1948, by which time there were some 630,000 Jews there. The term is used in Hebrew even nowadays to denote the Pre-State Jewish residents in the Land of Israel.


Early life

Stern was born in Suwałki, present-day Poland (then part of the Russian Empire). During the First World War his mother fled the Germans with him and his brother David. They found refuge with her sister in Russia. When he was separated from his mother the 13-year-old Avraham earned his keep by carrying river water in Siberia. Eventually he stayed with an uncle in St. Petersburg before walking home to Poland. At the age of 18, in 1925, Stern emigrated on his own to Palestine. [2]

Suwałki Place in Podlaskie, Poland

Suwałki(listen) is a city in northeastern Poland with a population of 69,210 (2011). It is the capital of Suwałki County and one of the most important centers of commerce in the Podlaskie Voivodeship. Suwałki is the largest city and the capital of the historical Suwałki Region. Until 1999 it was the capital of Suwałki Voivodeship. Suwałki is located about 30 kilometres from the southwestern Lithuanian border and gives its name to the Polish protected area known as Suwałki Landscape Park. The Czarna Hańcza river flows through the city.

Poland republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

Russian Empire Former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

Stern studied at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. He specialized in Classical languages and literature (Greek and Latin). His first political involvement was to found a student organization called “Hulda,” whose regulations stated it was dedicated “solely to the revival of the Hebrew nation in a new state.” [3] During the 1929 riots in Palestine, Jewish communities came under attack by local Arabs, and Stern served with the Haganah, doing guard duty on a synagogue rooftop in Jerusalem’s Old City. [4]

Mount Scopus mountain in Israel

Mount Scopus (Hebrew: הַר הַצּוֹפִיםHar HaTsofim, "Mount of the Watchmen/ Sentinels"; Arabic: جبل المشارف‎ Ǧabal al-Mašārif, lit. "Mount Lookout", or جبل المشهد Ǧabal al-Mašhad "Mount of the Scene/Burial Site", or جبل الصوانة is a mountain in northeast Jerusalem.

Jerusalem City in the Middle East

Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally.

1929 Palestine riots

The 1929 Arab riots in Palestine, or the Buraq Uprising, also known as the 1929 Massacres, refers to a series of demonstrations and riots in late August 1929 when a long-running dispute between Muslims and Jews over access to the Western Wall in Jerusalem escalated into violence. The riots took the form, in the most part, of attacks by Arabs on Jews accompanied by destruction of Jewish property. During the week of riots from 23 to 29 August, 133 Jews were killed and between 198–241 others were injured, a large majority of whom were unarmed and were murdered in their homes by Arabs, while at least 116 Arabs were killed and at least 232 were injured, mostly by the British police while trying to suppress the riots, although around 20 were killed by Jewish attacks or indiscriminate British gunfire. During the riots, 17 Jewish communities were evacuated.

Stern’s commander and friend Avraham Tehomi quit the Haganah because it was under the authority of the local labor movement and union. Hoping to create an independent army, and also to take a more active and less defensive military position, Tehomi founded the Irgun Zvai Leumi ("National Military Organization" known for short as the "Organization"). Stern joined the Irgun and completed an officer’s course in 1932.

Avraham Tehomi Jewish militant

Avraham Tehomi (1903–1990), also Avraham T'homi, was a Jewish militant who served as a Haganah commander, and was one of the founders and first commander of the Irgun. He is best known for the alleged assassin of Jacob Israël de Haan.

During his life Stern wrote dozens of poems embodying a physical, almost sensual, love for the Jewish homeland and a similar attitude towards martyrdom on its behalf. One analyst referred to the poems as expressing the eroticism of death together with de-eroticism of women. [5] Stern’s poetry was heavily influenced by Russian and Polish poetry, especially Vladimir Mayakovsky’s. [6] His song Unknown Soldiers was adopted first by the Irgun and later by the Lehi as an underground anthem. In it Stern sang of Jews who would not be drafted by other countries while they wandered in Exile from their own country, but rather who would enlist in a volunteer army of their own, go underground and die fighting in the streets, only to be buried secretly at night. One of the commanders of Lehi, Israel Eldad, claimed this song (along with two others, written by Uri Zvi Greenberg and Vladimir Jabotinsky) actually led to the creation of the underground. [7] In other poems from the same period, up to eight years before he founded the Lehi underground, Stern detailed the feelings of revolutionaries hiding in basements or sitting in prison and wrote of dying in a hail of bullets. One example of his poetry is: “You are betrothed to me, my homeland \ According to all the laws of Moses and Israel… \ And with my death I will bury my head in your lap \ And you will live forever in my blood.”

Vladimir Mayakovsky Russian and Soviet poet, playwright, artist and stage and film actor

Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky was a Soviet poet, playwright, artist, and actor.

Israel Eldad Israeli philosopher

Israel Eldad, was an Israeli Revisionist Zionist philosopher and member of the pre-state underground group Lehi.

Uri Zvi Greenberg Israeli politician

Uri Zvi Greenberg was an acclaimed Israeli poet and journalist who wrote in Yiddish and Hebrew.

Stern became one of the university’s top students. He was awarded a stipend to study for a doctorate in Florence, Italy. Avraham Tehomi made a special trip to Florence to recall him, in order to make him his deputy in the Irgun. [3]

Florence Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,084 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a country in Southern and Western Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the enclaved microstates San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe.

Stern spent the rest of the 1930s traveling back and forth to Eastern Europe to organize revolutionary cells in Poland and promote immigration of Jews to Palestine in defiance of British restrictions (this was therefore known as “illegal immigration”).

Stern developed a plan to train 40,000 young Jews to sail for Palestine and take over the country from the British colonial authorities. He succeeded in enlisting the Polish government in this effort. The Poles began training Irgun members and arms were set aside, but then Germany invaded Poland and began the Second World War. This ended the training, and immigration routes were cut off. [8] Stern was in Palestine at the time and was arrested the same night the war began. He was incarcerated together with the entire High Command of the Irgun in the Jerusalem Central Prison and Sarafand Detention Camp.


Flag of the Lehi movement. Flag of the Lehi movement (blue on white).svg
Flag of the Lehi movement.

While under arrest, Stern and the other members of the Irgun argued about what to do during the war. He founded Lehi in August 1940 initially under a different name, it adopted the name Lehi, a Hebrew acronym for Lohamei Herut Israel, meaning Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, in September 1940. [1] The movement was formed after Stern and others split from the Irgun, when the latter adopted the Haganah’s policy of supporting the British in their fight against the Nazis.

Stern rejected collaboration with the British, and claimed that only a continuing struggle against them would lead eventually to an independent Jewish state and resolve the Jewish situation in the Diaspora. The British White Paper of 1939 allowed only 75,000 Jews to immigrate to Palestine over five years, and no more after that unless local Arabs gave their permission. [9] But actually Stern’s opposition to British colonial rule in Palestine was not based on a particular policy; Stern defined the British Mandate as “foreign rule” regardless of their policies and took a radical position against such imperialism even if it were to be benevolent. [10]

Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv. The room where Abraham Stern, Lehi commander, was shot by a British policeman on 12/2/1942. Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv.JPG
Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv. The room where Abraham Stern, Lehi commander, was shot by a British policeman on 12/2/1942.

Stern was unpopular with the official Jewish establishment leaders of the Haganah and Jewish Agency and also those of the Irgun. His movement drew an eclectic crew of individuals, from all ends of the political spectrum, including people who became prominent such as Yitzhak Shamir, later an Israeli prime minister, who supported Jewish settlement throughout the land, and who opposed ceding territory to Arabs in negotiations; Natan Yellin-Mor who later became a leader of the peace movement in Israel advocating negotiations and accommodation with the Palestinians, and Israel Eldad, who after the underground war ended spent nearly 15 years writing tracts and articles promoting extreme right wing, nationalist brand of Zionism.

Stern began organizing his new underground army by focusing on four fronts: 1) publishing a newspaper and making clandestine radio broadcasts offering theoretical justifications for urban guerilla warfare; 2) obtaining funds for the underground, either by donations or by robbing British banks; 3) opening negotiations with foreign powers for the purpose of saving Europe’s Jews and developing allies in the struggle against the British in Palestine; 4) actual military-style operations against the British.

None of these projects went well for the new underground. Without money or a printing press the stenciled newspapers were few and hard to read. The bank robberies and operations against British policemen resulted in shootouts in the streets and both British and Jewish police were killed and injured. A British sting operation entrapped Stern into attempting to negotiate with the Italians and Germans, and this further tainted Lehi’s reputation. [11]

In January 1941, Stern attempted to make an agreement with the German Nazi authorities, offering to "actively take part in the war on Germany's side" in return for German support for Jewish immigration to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state. Another attempt to contact the Germans was made in late 1941, but there is no record of a German response in either case. [12] These appeals to Germany were in direct opposition to the views of other Zionists, such as Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who wanted Britain to defeat the Nazis even as they wanted to expel the British from Palestine. [13]


Grave of Avraham Stern in the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery. PikiWiki Israel 5687 abraham stern(yair) grave.jpg
Grave of Avraham Stern in the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery.

Wanted posters appeared all over the country with a price on Stern’s head. Stern wandered from safe house to safe house in Tel Aviv, carrying a collapsible cot in a suitcase. When he ran out of hiding places he slept in apartment house stairwells. Eventually he moved into a Tel Aviv apartment rented by Moshe and Tova Svorai, who were members of Lehi. Moshe Svorai was caught by British detectives who raided another apartment, where two Lehi members were shot dead, and Svorai and one other wounded were hospitalized. Stern’s Lehi “contact”, Hisia Shapiro, thought she might have been followed one morning and stopped bringing messages. On 12 February 1942 she came with one last message, from the Haganah, offering to house Stern for the duration of the war if he would give up his fight against the British. Stern gave Shapiro a letter in reply declining the safe haven and suggesting cooperation between Lehi and the Haganah in fighting the British. A couple of hours later British detectives arrived to search the apartment and discovered Stern hiding there. It was the mother of one of the "Lehi" members who inadvertently led the police to Stern's hiding place in Tel Aviv. [14] Two neighbors were brought to attest to the propriety of the search. After they had left, Tova Svorai was also taken away so that Stern was alone with three armed policemen. Then, in circumstances that remain disputed today, Stern was shot dead. [15] [16] [17]

The "most secret" report made by the police to the British mandatory government said, "Stern was ... just finishing lacing his shoes when he suddenly leapt for the window opposite. He was half way out of the window when he was shot by two of the three policemen in the room." [17] Assistant Superintendent Geoffrey J. Morton, the most senior policeman present, later wrote in his memoirs that he had feared Stern was about to set off an explosive device as he had previously threatened to do if captured. [17] [18]

The police version was dismissed by Stern's followers and many others[ weasel words ], who believed that Stern had been shot in cold blood. [17] Morton successfully sued four publishers of books which claimed he murdered Stern, including the English publisher of The Revolt , [17] which settled without consulting the author, Menachem Begin, who wanted to go to court. [19] Lehi tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Morton at least three times. [20] Binyamin Gepner, a former Lehi member who in 1980 interviewed another policeman Stewart who had been present at Stern's death, said that Stewart had effectively admitted Stern was murdered but later refused to repeat it. [17] The policeman whose gun was trained on Stern until Morton arrived, Bernard Stamp, said in a 1986 interview broadcast on Israel Radio, that Morton's account was "hogwash." According to Stamp, Morton pulled Stern from the couch on which he was sitting, "sort of pushed him, spun him around, and Morton shot him." Stamp has been cited saying Stern was killed while unarmed with no chance of escape. [21]

Tova Svorai recalled in a memoir:

"At about 9:30 there was a knock at the door, too gentle a tapping to signal the presence of the police. Yair…went into the closet, and only then did I open the door. At the door stood the 'good' detective Wilkins with two men behind him. Wilkins was always very polite, too polite perhaps. He asked me why I hadn't gone to visit my husband Moshe and if I weren't worried about him. I told him that if I had gone to the hospital I would have been arrested immediately. They searched my room…then they went downstairs and brought two neighbors, women, so they might have witnesses…they went over to the closet…one of the policemen opened it. Yair was nowhere to be seen. The policemen thrust his left hand into the closet and began searching, and when his hand came upon Yair he pulled him out. At the same time he put his right hand into his back pocket and took out his gun. I ran between him and Yair and said "Don't shoot! If you shoot, you shoot me"…. in my innocence I thought I had saved Yair's life…how wrong I was. They made him sit on the sofa…more detectives appeared, they had handcuffs and used them to bind Yair's hands behind his back….they told me to get dressed and go downstairs…I got into a small car…suddenly I heard three shots." [22]

His son, Yair, born a few months after Stern's killing, is a veteran broadcast journalist and TV news anchor who once headed Israel Television.


A memorial ceremony attended by Israeli politicians and government officials is held each year at Stern's grave in the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery in Givatayim. [23] In 1978, a postage stamp was issued in his honor.

In 1981, the town of Kochav Yair (Yair's Star) was founded and named after Stern's nickname.

The place "where he was shot is a museum and place of pilgrimage for a growing number of hard-right youths". [24]

In January 2016, actor Steven Schub originated the role of Avraham 'Yair' Stern in the world premiere of historian Zev Golan's play The Ghosts of Mizrachi Bet Street, based on the life of Avraham Stern directed by Leah Stoller and S. Kim Glassman at The Jerusalem Theatre in Israel. [25]

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  1. 1 2 Nachman Ben-Yehuda. The Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel. Madison, Wisconsin, USA: Wisconsin University Press, 1995. Pp. 322.
  2. Zev Golan, Free Jerusalem: Heroes, Heroines and Rogues Who Created the State of Israel, p. 203
  3. 1 2 Nechemia Ben-Tor, The Lehi Lexicon, p. 320 (Hebrew)
  4. Zev Golan, Free Jerusalem, p. 198
  5. Moshe Hazani: Red carpet, white lilies: Love of death in the poetry of the Jewish underground leader Avraham Stern, Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 89, 2002, pp 1-48
  6. Yaira Ginossar, Not for Us the Saxophone Sings, pp. 73-78, 85 (Hebrew)
  7. Zev Golan, Free Jerusalem, p. 59
  8. Zev Golan, Free Jerusalem, pp. 153, 168
  9. J. Bowyer Bell, Terror Out of Zion, pp. 47-48
  10. Israel Eldad, The First Tithe, p. 84
  11. Nechemia Ben-Tor, The Lehi Lexicon, p. 87 (Hebrew)
  12. Heller, J. (1995). The Stern Gang. Frank Cass.
  13. Elliot Jager , "Terror Out of Zion," Jewish Ideas Daily.
  14. James Barr (27 October 2011). A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the struggle that shaped the Middle East. Simon and Schuster. pp. 317–. ISBN   978-1-84983-903-7. It was his mother who then inadvertently led the police...to Stern's hiding place in Tel Aviv, where ...Morton shot the...leader dead
  15. Zev Golan, Free Jerusalem, pp. 231-234
  16. Zev Golan, Stern: The Man and His Gang, pp. 41-45
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 I. Black, "The Stern Solution", The Guardian, Feb 15, 1992, page 4.
  18. Geoffrey Morton, Just The Job, Some Experiences of a Colonial Policeman, pp. 144-145
  19. Max Seligman, attorney for M. Begin, letter to Oswald Hickson, Collier and Co., Solicitors, March 25, 1953, file no. 923, in Jabotinsky Institute Archives, file 49/3/13
  20. Nachman Ben-Yehuda (1993). Political Assassination by Jews. State University of New York Press. p. 174. ISBN   0-7914-1166-4.
  21. Zev Golan, Stern: The Man and His Gang, p. 45
  22. סבוראי, משה וטובה (1989). מאצ"ל ללח"י: סיפור אישי (in Hebrew). הוצאת המחברים. p. 363. (Moshe and Tova Svorai, From Etzel to Lehi: A Personal Story, self-published, 1989, p363)
  23. Ginsburg, Mitch (20 February 2012). "The Rehabilitation of an Underground Revolutionary". Times of Israel . Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  24. Making of a martyr: How the killing of the head of the Stern gang echoes down the years, economist.com.
  25. Orit Arfa (January 21, 2016). "Searching for Stern". The Jerusalem Post .

Further reading