Avraham Stern (underground name Yair) was born in Suvalki, 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.
Stern was notable for his fanaticism in the armed struggle for Jewish independence, which, he contended, could succeed only if conducted by an underground force independent of all
legal bodies. 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.
In 1934, Stern was sent by the Irgun on missions to Poland and other European countries to purchase weapons and arrange for their shipment to Eretz Israel. In 1935, he obtained the first two Finnish submachine guns, shipping them in double sided boilers. Other weapons were transported in suitcases and crates belonging to immigrants.
Stern viewed the British, more than the Arabs, as the primary enemy of the Jews and the principal obstacle to Jewish independence. He advocated 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. In 1933, he wrote the poem “Anonymous Soldiers,” which became the anthem first of the Irgun and, later, of Lehi. A collection of Stern’s underground poetry, most relating to dedication, self-sacrifice and a longing for a sovereign Israel. was published posthumously.
Stern concluded an agreement with the Polish government in 1938, and arms acquisitions were accelerated. The weapons were transferred under Polish army supervision to Irgun warehouses in Warsaw and then shipped to Eretz Israel.
Stern was responsible for recruiting manpower and acquiring money. He also assisted at times in the landing of immigrants on the shores of Eretz Israel. Stern founded the “Yarden” group, which included some of the leading figures from assimilated Polish Jewry. He also established two periodicals: Liberated Jerusalem, in Polish, and the Yiddish daily, Die Tat.
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 at the beginning of 1938. These courses were part of a larger plan to eventually mobilize, train, and equip 40,000 fighters, who would sail for Eretz Israel and liberate it by force of arms. Stern also concluded an agreement with the Polish government that accelerated arms acquisitions. The weapons were transferred under Polish army supervision to Irgun warehouses in Warsaw and then shipped to Eretz Israel.
Following the issuance of the British White Paper in May 1939, the Irgun entered a new phase with a series of attacks against British military installations and personnel and members of the police force. On the eve of World War II, Stern was arrested by the British, together with members of the Irgun high command on September 5, 1939, and remained in jail until June 1940. After their release, the Irgun commander David Raziel subsequently issued a proclamation of ceasefire and cooperation with the British for the duration of the war.
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 group, Tzva’I B’Yisrael, later renamed Lohamei Herut Israel (Lehi) – Fighters for the Freedom of Israel. Others referred to the group as the Stern Gang.
The new organization went deep underground and organized in small cells. Its official organ, Bamahteret, published Ikkarei ha-Teḥiyyah (“The Principles of Renaissance”) formulated by Stern, which constituted the ideological and political platform of Lehi:
The Jewish people is a unique people.
The Homeland is here in Eretz-Israel with its borders as defined in the Torah.
Israel took Eretz-Israel by the sword. There it became a nation, only there would it be reborn.
- Redemption of the Land.
- The Re-establishment of the Kingdom.
- The rebirth of the Nation.
AND THESE ARE THE TASKS OF THE ORGANIZATION IN THE ERA OF WAR AND CONQUEST:
Educating the people to love freedom and encouraging its zealous loyalty to its eternal possessions.
Unifying the entire people around the flag of the Hebrew Freedom Movement.
Concluding pacts with all those interested in the war of the Organization and prepared to assist it directly.
Tempering and glorifying the fighting force in Homeland and in the Diaspora.
Constant war against all those hindering the achievement of the Destiny.
Conquering the Homeland by force from the hands of strangers, as our Eternal Possession.
AND THESE ARE THE TASKS OF THE MOVEMENT IN THE ERA OF SOVEREIGNTY AND REDEMPTION:
Renewing Hebrew Sovereignty over the Redeemed Land.
Setting up a social order in the spirit of Jewish morality and prophetic justice.
Rebuilding the ruins and reviving the desolation to prepare for the immigration and fruitful multiplication of millions.
Solving the problem of the gentiles by population exchange.
A complete in gathering of exiles in the Kingdom of Israel.
Glorifying the Hebrew People by becoming a first rate military, political, cultural, and economic power in the East and along the Mediterranean shores.
Reviving the Hebrew tongue as the national language; renewing the historical and spiritual identity of Israel; refining the national character in the melting pot of the Rebirth.
Building the Third Temple as a symbol of the Era of the Complete Redemption.
Beginning on March 2, 1939, the Irgun had begun broadcasting from a shortwave transmitter that was moved from place to place to conceal from the British. Lehi took possession of the transmitter after Stern split from the Irgun. Stern then wrote and sometimes read the scripts over the “Voice of Fighting Zion” radio station explaining Lehi’s objectives and determination to continue the struggle against British rule.
Meanwhile, Lehi launched attacks against British police and soldiers. The British responded violently, killing several Lehi members, and wounding and arresting many others. Stern maintained that, even in the face of the Nazi threat, it was the British who posed the greatest danger to the Jews. Doubting the Allies could win the war, he advocated an alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, believing these ties would assist the nationalist effort in Eretz-Israel.
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. Constantly on the move, the British discovered Stern’s hiding place in Tel Aviv on February 12, 1942, and killed him. The building is now a museum of the Lehi movement.
Jabotinsky Institute in Israel, Avraham Stern (Ya’ir) (Heb., 1956); D. Niv, Ma’arekhot ha-Irgun ha-Ẓeva’i ha-Le'ummi, 3 (1967), index; Loḥamei Ḥerut Yisrael, 1 (1959), passim; I. Eldad, Ma’aser Rishon (1950), passim; J. Banay, Ḥayyalim Almonim, Sefer Mivza’ei Leḥi (1958), passim; Yellin-Mor, in: Etgar, no. 23 (1962), 4–5; W.O. von Hentig, Mein Leben – eine Dienstreise (1962), 338–9.
Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente;
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved;
Photo courtesy of the Jabotinsky Institute, which takes no responsibility for the text.