TEL AVIV, Israel – Former Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky, who survived the Dachau death march at the end of World War II, died in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Dec. 9. He was 86.
Born in Lithuania, Shilansky joined the Irgun in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. Upon arriving in Israel in June 1948, he served as a combat officer in the War of Independence and continued to serve as a reservist, fighting in both the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars. In 1952, he was imprisoned for attempting to bring a suitcase bomb into the Israeli Foreign Ministry, in protest over the signing of a war reparations agreement between Israel and Germany. He served 21 months and was later completely rehabilitated.
He later earned a law degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and became a member of the Ethics Committee of the Israel Bar Association and the International Organization of Jewish Law Professionals.
In 1977 he was elected to the Knesset as a member of Likud, and was appointed the Knesset representative on the Committee for the Appointment of Judges. He was re-elected in 1981 and was made Deputy Minister in the Ministry in the Prime Minister’s Office.
After retaining his seat again in 1984 and then in 1988, he was appointed Speaker of the Knesset. After the 1992 elections he served as Deputy Speaker. In 1993, he was a candidate for President, but was defeated by Ezer Weizman. He lost his seat in the 1996 elections. In his later years, Shilansky became a respected elder statesman.
Perhaps known best for his efforts to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, Shilansky originated a ceremony that has become part of Israel’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day observance. Concerned that the huge number of six million victims was incomprehensible, in 1989 he got fellow lawmakers to stand on a podium in the Knesset building and read names of victims. The custom, known as “Every Person Has a Name,” quickly spread to public squares all over Israel.
“The People of Israel have lost one of its most dedicated and exemplary leaders,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in eulogizing Shilansky. “Shilansky was among the founders of the national movement who survived the Holocaust. He dedicated his life to ensuring the revival of the Jewish People on its Land….The story of his life is the story of our people.”
Shilansky was the author of two books: “Musulman,” the story of his early life; and, “In a Jewish Jail: From the Diary of a Political Prisoner,” about his experience in an Israeli prison.
Shilansky lost his son, Yossi, in the Yom Kippur War and his wife two years ago. He was buried alongside both in a special section of a Tel Aviv cemetery for bereaved parents of fallen soldiers.