Memories of the Signatories of the Declaration of Independence - Selection of Interviews with the Signatories of ...
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Memories of the Signatories of the Declaration of Independence - Selection of Interviews with the Signatories of the Declaration of Independence with their Signatures
In 1961, A. Wartman carried out a series of interviews with most of the signatories of the declaration of independence, for the state's archives. Each of the signatories was presented with an identical list of 22 questions on the topic of signing on the declaration of independence and about his personal part in the signing ceremony, which took place at the old Tel Aviv Museum on 5 Iyar 1948. The interviews were recorded and also printed in Typewriter paper. At the end of each interview, the interviewee signed his name. Before us are 21 full interviews with signatures by the signatories of the declaration who were interviewed.
There are a total of 17 interviewees here with their signatures: David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Peretz Bernstein, Saadiah Kovshi, Yitzchak Greenbaum, K. Kahana, Meir Wilner, Sheetreet, A. Granot, Rachel Kagan, Chaim Moshe Shapira, Nachum Nir, Dr. H. Rosenblum, Rabbi Y. M. Levin, Aharon Zeitling, Zerach Warhaftig, Tzvi Luria, Moshe Kol, Mordechai Ben-Tov - personal stamp. Their personal signatures appear on the last page of the interviews [except for Tzvi Luria and Moshe Kol, who didn't sign].
This fascinating series of interviews sheds new light on the various events which accompanied the signing of the declaration of independence. Among the identical questions posed by Wartman: "Where were you and what role did you fulfill on the 29th of November 1947?" "What were your actions and roles from the day the decision was taken by the UN to the day of the declaration of independence, and thereafter?" "Where were you, and what were you doing in the two-three days preceding the declaration of the State?" "What was your opinion of the practical possibility of immediate establishment of the State?" "What was your part in the phrasing of the declaration?" "Which sections or parts thereof within the declaration raised differences of opinion?" "Which event from those days is especially engraved in your memory?"
Ben-Gurion, describing his day on November 29th, 1947: "That day I was in Kalia ... I was awoken late at night and told about the UN decision. Workers from the Dead Sea factory arrived immediately and danced. The next morning, I returned to Jerusalem where I saw the city in joyous celebration, dancing in the streets, and a huge crowd gathered in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency. I'll admit the truth, I wasn't happy. Not because I didn't appreciate the UN's decision, but because I knew what awaited us - war with all the Arab armies." Later: "My role since WWII: preparation for war with our neighbors, who I knew would attack us when we would establish a Jewish state. I dealt with two things: acquiring machinery for military industry in the United States, and acquiring light and heavy weaponry from Europe and other countries, which I will not name." To the question: "Can you describe your impression of the ceremony of the declaration of independence?" Ben-Gurion replied, "For me, I can express it in two words: joy and trembling. I was obviously happy, but I was cloaked in anxiety for fear of the invasion on the Arab armies. We were few in number and our weaponry had not yet arrived, it was still somewhere abroad." To the question, "Is there anything special you would like to impart to future generations who will listen to this recording?" Ben-Gurion replied: "I would like them to know that national sovereignty is not enough. Ingathering of the exiles must continue as well as moral and educational efforts to be a special people and light unto the nations."
In an interview with Yitzchak Greenbaum, he spoke, inter alia, about the lack of communication between war headquarters and the prime minister: "The relationship between HQ and the prime minister, who was also in the battlefields, was unclear ... The people at headquarters all claimed that the prime minister's involvement disturbed and disrupted operations. The results were dismal ... I opened a discussion about the resignation of the prime minister and the option of electing a replacement."
Meir Wilner, in an interview about his impressions at the declaration of independence: 'I felt that it was history in the making ... joy in my heart, but also concerns about those sitting around me at the time of the signing (Ben-Gurion, Sharett and Kaplan) that they did not desire actual independence, but to exchange the British master for the American one ..." [He also added an event he had heard from an old Arab, who told him in the presence of dozens of fellow villagers. At the end of the War of Independence, the Arabs were lined up in rows of ten in an Arab village, and each tenth was asked to step forward and shot by the IDF, despite lack of threat at that time, in order to instill fear in their hearts, so they not dare fight again].
An interesting detail from the words of Dr. H. Rosenblum: "A unique 'incident' happened to me ... when my name was called, and I ascended the stage ready to sign my name - 'Dr. Herzl Rosenblum,' as I always sign, Ben-Gurion turned to me in a firm voice and said: 'Sign Vardi and not Rosenblum!' I was clearly not in an entirely balanced mood, possibly under the influence of the celebratory ceremony and I didn't know why I had to sign the name Vardi, which was my newspaper pseudonym, but I signed as requested, 'Herzl Vardi' and that is how my name has remained forever on the declaration of independence ... at a later opportunity, I asked Ben-Gurion what moved him to request that I use the name 'Vardi,' and his answer was that he wanted more Hebrew names on the declaration.
In an interview with Moshe Sharett, he expanded on the issue of the various versions of the declaration between himself and Zalman Shazar and Ben-Gurion, and complained that Ben-Gurion changed the structure of the draft as he had initially formulated it: "I didn't mean to attack what he had added. But he changed the structure, which I regret to this day. I think that he removed the logical structure from the declaration." There is also an interesting story told about his part in establishing the state emblem. The committee for the establishment of the emblem had decided that the symbol of the State of Israel was to be a lion, from the verse, 'גור אריה יהודה' ['Yehudah is a lion cub'] and Sharett firmly opposed this: "I burst out at hearing this idea, and I said, do you presume that the symbol of our nation should be a predatory animal? ... Do we really want a predatory animal to express the image of this state? ... They were astonished and said: So what emblem would you recommend? I said, obviously, the menorah. A menorah is a source of light, the light of Zion, light unto the nations ... and they immediately accepted the suggestion, I was very happy."
Some of the interviewees indicated that they were concerned that a religious aspect to the declaration was lacking, such as the interview with Rabbi Levin: To the question, "Do you think that after 13 year since the establishment of the state, it would have been worthwhile to add to the sections of the official declaration or the change them?" He responded, "As Jews, we should have stressed that it is to be with the help of Hash-m. What was written is insufficient ..."
Some of the signatories described the great excitement they felt at the event, for example Rabbi Levin in his response to the question about an event that left an impression on him in those days: "I remember the day of the 29th of November, that is, half a year before the establishment of the state ... That night, I would think, there was not a single Jew here who slept, the whole settlement was in the street. I don't recall such joy, such enthusiasm, such excitement ... It was a great night indeed, I can compare that night to only one other, when Theodor Herzl's coffin was brought to the Land, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, who didn't even know him, came at 2:00 at night to escort him ..."
As for their feelings on the day of the declaration, one answer that repeats itself among many of those questioned was that the fear of war and invasion by the Arab armies clouded the celebrations of the ceremony, some even said that they gave the state no more than a few weeks to exist ... Interesting stories came up in the interviews about some of the government ministers who reacted in fear and crying in face of the invasion of Arab armies, with the concern that settlements in existence for decades could be lost [Saadiah Kovshi expands on this point. He was the sole Yemenite among the signatories, his words express the great concern that existed lest they suffer defeat at the hands of the Arab armies, to the point that they saw the declaration itself as a deed that could have been forgone, and for this reason, there were also proposals that the declaration should be delayed]. Dr. Rosenblum said on this topic: We heard the text of the declaration as it was read by Mr. Ben-Gurion, it was almost as if he was afraid he would not finish it and that the Arabs would surprise us in the middle." Moshe Sharett described: "There was unmatched exhilaration, and at the same time, a feeling of insanity, like a man standing at the edge of a cliff, about to jump into the gaping abyss. There was a feeling of standing on a very tall summit, with furious winds raging all around, and that we must hold out ..."
There were various opinions about choosing the name "Israel" - some of the signatories opposed it, and preferred "State of the Jews" [Yitzchak Greenbaum relates: "Most accepted Ben-Gurion's opinion that is would be easier to have a short name, not a two-word one, such as 'מדינת היהודים' and the name Yehudah (Judah/ Judea) is not suitable because the borders of our state are wider than those of the state at the time of the Chashmonaim], there was also an idea floated to call the state "Zion" which was rejected due to Ben-Gurion's opposition. In the interviews, there is also extensive reference to the Altalena affair and Ben-Gurion's part in the matter, the various versions of the text of the declaration, to the question about the future of the Jewish people in another 50 years (most of the interviewees responded that the most important value is to invest in Jewish immigration, more than in any internal issue in the country).
This is undoubtedly a one-time historic document of the first order of one of the most important events in the history of the State of Israel, from the people who formed it and experienced it themselves.
Provenance: Estate A. Vortman (the interviewer).
Dozens of stencil leaves with the interviewee's signatures. The collection has not been thoroughly checked. Aging marks and stains on some of the leaves, some have light tears in the lower margins with light damage to text. Overall fine condition.