Zev Birger 311.
(photo credit: courtesy)
Jerusalem has lost one of its most dedicated public figures. Zev Birger, who was for many years the director and later the chairman of the Jerusalem International Book Fair, died on Monday from injuries sustained when he was hit by a motorcycle 10 days earlier after emerging from a concert at the Jerusalem Theater.
Birger was almost killed in Dachau and was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust.
He arrived in Israel in 1947.
Birger and his late wife, Trudi, were of that caliber of Holocaust
survivors who turned each day of their lives into a celebration, not
only for themselves but for the people around them and particularly for
the less fortunate.
Trudi Birger, who died in 2002 on her 75th birthday, had experienced the
horrors of the Kovno Ghetto and the Stutthof death camp. A
microbiologist by profession, her heart was with the poor who could not
afford dental treatment for their children. She could identify with this
need because as a child in a concentration camp, she had been beaten by
a Nazi guard who had knocked out her teeth.
She founded the Dental Volunteers for Israel Clinic in the capital’s
Makor Haim neighborhood in 1980, where all children were treated free of
charge after being referred by welfare authorities.
DVI was serviced by Jewish and non-Jewish dentists from many parts of the world.
Zev Birger was a longtime public servant before he became involved with
the book fair. He had been the director of light industries at the
Ministry for Industry and Trade, then deputy director of the ministry
and after that executive director of the Economic Council on Printing
and Publishing. He then became head of the Israel Film Center after
which he moved to Paris for several years to head the office of
International Creative Management and Film Marketing.
In 1983, he was persuaded by mayor Teddy Kollek to take on the
directorship of the International Book Fair. Birger never regarded his
role as a job, but rather as a labor of love.
He endeared himself tremendously to publishers, editors and writers – so
much so that in the mid- 1990s German publishers finally persuaded him
to publish his autobiography. An English hard-cover edition was later
published in 1990 under the title of No Time for Patience. It depicts
his idyllic boyhood in Kaunus/Kovno, Lithuania, the Zionist ideology in
which he was raised, life in Kovno’s Slobidka Ghetto, fruitless attempts
to escape the Nazis, forced labor and the atrocities he experienced in
the camp, liberation and the joy of being able to participate in the
establishment of the State of Israel.
Birger had a finger in almost every major cultural pie in Jerusalem.
Even though he was 86 at the time of his death, before being hit by the
motorcycle, he was agile and energetic, always looking for another
Jerusalem and the world of books are the poorer for his passing.
He was buried at the Givat Shaul cemetery on Tuesday, just a few hours before the onset of Shavuot.
He is survived by his sons Doron, Oded and Gil and numerous grandchildren.