PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN sits in the center of former Lehi members and others marking 75 years since the death of the group’s founder Avraham Stern.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
Anonymous Soldiers, the Stern Group anthem written by the movement’s founder Avraham Stern, rang out Thursday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Some 30 veterans of the organization, including 100-year-old Yaakov Yahel, came together to mark the 75th anniversary of Stern’s assassination by the British.
The Stern Group is also known by the name Lehi, an acronym for Lochamei Herut Israel, or Israel Freedom Fighters.
It was a militant break-away movement from Irgun, an acronym for Irgun Tzvai Leumi, or National Military Organization.
It was President Reuven Rivlin who suggested at the conclusion of the meeting that they sing the anthem, and it was his voice that rang out the loudest.
“We were the only underground movement that refused to collaborate with the British,” declared Jerusalem-born Yael Ben Dov, who was once active in Betar, then Irgun and finally the Stern Group.
She continues to espouse the group’s ideology as a supporter of Women in Green.
Stern Group historian Nechemia Ben- Tor, who had been a member of the Irgun, proudly announced that he had been recruited in Tel Aviv by Yitzhak Shamir, who walked and talked with Ben-Tor for an hour until finally persuading him to leave Irgun in favor of the group.
The Stern Group became more militant after the death of its founder – who was code-named “Yair” – and struck out at high-ranking British Mandate officials to avenge what they considered his murder.
David Shomron, who was heavily involved in the revenge strikes together with Yehoshua Cohen, said that there was no authoritative number of members in the Stern Group. Officials preferred to estimate based on the 830 members who fought with the IDF in the War of Independence. Shomrom estimated the number at closer to 1,900, because many people considered too old or too young to serve in the army fought with the Stern Group in 1948.
Members of the Rivlin family, including the president’s late sister, had been associated with Irgun. Although he was only a boy when independence was proclaimed, Rivlin recalled that the Stern Group and Irgun people were outsiders wondering what their place was in the new sovereign state.
That memory is one reason he works so diligently to promote national unity, he said.
Despite ideological differences, the common denominator of all the Jewish underground organizations was to establish a Jewish state, he said, and at Thursday’s ceremony they were being recognized for that.
The Irgun, also known by the name Etzel, was willing to join the British in battling the Nazis, as was the Hagana. The Stern Group refused, however, doing its utmost to remove the British from Israel.
Chairman of the Lehi Legacy organization Yair Stern, who is named for the father he never knew, echoed Rivlin’s sentiments, saying that 75 years after his father’s murder there has been a turnaround in attitudes toward underground fighters since the early years of the state, when Stern Group members were ostracized and denied medical treatment and jobs.
Today, stated Rivlin, they are treated with the respect due to them.
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