Avraham Stern was born in Poland to a learned Zionist family. He
moved to Eretz Yisrael [Palestine] in 1925 and studied briefly at the
Gymnasia in Jerusalem before entering the Hebrew University. An outstanding student of the
humanities, Stern won a scholarship to study classical languages and
literature at the University of Florence. He returned to Eretz
Yisrael in 1929 and joined the Haganah,
and not long after left his studies to devote his energies entirely
to fighting for Jewish independence.
In 1931, a group of Haganah fighters, rejecting
what they deemed was moderation and restraint in the fight for Jewish
independence, broke away from the Haganah and formed an armed
resistance movement of their own, known as the Irgun.
Stern, whose views had become much more militant following the Arab
riots of 1929, became an active member of the Irgun. He took on
the underground name of Yair, in tribute to the commander of
the zealots at Masada,
Eliezer Ben Yair.
Stern, who viewed the British,
more then the Arabs, as the primary enemy of the Jews and the
principal obstacle to Jewish independence, called strongly for an
armed struggle against the British. With David
Raziel, he compiled a manual on the use of the revolver, the
first of its kind in Hebrew. He also wrote the poem Anonymous
Soldiers (1933) which became the anthem first of the Irgun, and
later, of Lehi. A collection of
Stern's underground poetry was published posthumously.
In 1937, following the Arab riots, the Irgun
split, with many of its members returning to the Haganah. Stern and
others who refused to accept Haganah leadership remained in the Irgun
under the command of Jabotinsky and continued their militant activities. Stern went to Poland to
establish Irgun training courses there and to obtain arms. Returning
to Eretz Yisrael, he was imprisoned by the British from August, 1939
to June, 1940.
Stern insisted that the struggle against the
British remain independent of any political linkage, even to
Jabotinsky's Revisionist party. He also vehemently opposed tempering
the resistance in any way, and thus, in August, 1940, when the Irgun
decided to suspend their attacks on the British during World
War II, Stern formed a radical splinter opposition group, known
as Lehi, an acronym for Lohamei
Herut Yisrael. He maintained that, even in the face of the Nazi
threat, it was the British who posed the major threat to the Jews;
doubting the Allies could win the war, he even advocated an alliance
with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, believing these ties would
assist the nationalist effort in Eretz Yisrael.
Stern's extremism, coupled with several robberies
committed by members of his group, earned Lehi the resentment of many
Jews in Eretz Yisrael, as well as the British. By 1942 the British
had offered a reward for Stern's capture. On February 12, 1942, the
British discovered and forced their way into Stern's hiding place in
Tel Aviv, and killed him immediately. The building is now a museum of
the Lehi movement.