Lehi Founder Avraham Stern Is Born
Avraham Stern Pictured in 1942. Photo: GPO Israel

December 23, 1907

Avraham Stern, who becomes one of the leading fighters against British rule in Palestine, is born into a Zionist family in Suwalki, Poland.

He immigrates to the Land of Israel in 1925 and briefly studies at the Gymnasium in Jerusalem before enrolling at the Hebrew University. He wins a scholarship to study literature and classical languages at the University of Florence. After his time in Italy, Stern returns to Mandatory Palestine in 1929 and enlists in the Haganah, marking the start of his armed struggle for independence. Stern believes in the necessity of underground forces apart from the mainstream movements to win the Jewish people their independent state, and he and a couple of other Haganah fighters break away to form the Irgun resistance group in 1931. Stern adopts his underground name, Yair, and organizes armed resistance to British military and government officials. He sees the British, not the Arabs, as the true enemy of the Jewish people.

After Arab riots in 1936, the Irgun splits in 1937, with some members returning to the Haganah while others remain in the Irgun under the new leadership of Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Stern travels to Poland to create Irgun training classes and to purchase weaponry. Upon his return to Palestine, the British imprison him from August 1939 to June 1940. When the Irgun suspends anti-British activities in 1940 because of World War II, Stern again breaks away and forms Lehi (Lohamei Herut Yisrael), also known as the Stern Gang. Lehi adopts a manifesto that leads to intense military attacks against the British. Stern doubts that the Allies will win the war and therefore advocates working with Nazi Germany. He establishes secret relations with the Germans and Italians and tries to persuade them to adopt a pro-Jewish policy in Palestine.

Stern’s extremism and some Lehi members’ thievery and violence produce resentment of the Stern Gang among Jewish settlers. They see Lehi as causing more problems than it solves. The British offer a reward for information leading to the capture of Stern, and they find his hiding place in Tel Aviv and fatally shoot him Feb. 12, 1942. “