International Book Fair’s Zev Birger dies at 86

Survivor of Dachau arrived in Israel in 1947, served country in many capacities before taking over book fair in 1983.

Zev Birger 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
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 challenge.
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.