A Confession: Uri Avnery Turns 93

Today is the last day of the 93rd year of my life. Ridiculous.

Am I moderately satisfied with my life until now? Yes. I am.

If by a miracle I could be returned to, say, 14, and travel all this long way again, would I like that? No, I would not.

Enough is enough.

In these 93 years, the world has changed completely.

A few days after my birth in Germany, a ridiculous little demagogue called Adolf Hitler attempted a putsch in Munich. He was put in prison, where he wrote a tedious book called Mein Kampf. Nobody took any notice.

The World War (no one called it World War I yet) was still a recent memory. Almost every family had lost at least one member. I was told that a remote uncle of mine had frozen to death on the Austrian-Italian front.

On the day of my birth, inflation was raging in Germany. My birth cost many millions of marks. Many people lost all they had. My father, a young banker, got rich. He understood how money works. I did not inherit this talent, nor did I wish to.

We had a telephone at home, a rarity. My father loved new gadgets. When I was three or four years old, we got a new invention, a radio. No one even dreamed of television, not to mention the Internet.

We were not religious. We lit Hanukkah candles, fasted on Yom Kippur and ate Matzot on Passover. Giving this up looked like cowardice in the face of the antisemites. But it had no real meaning for us.

My father was a Zionist. When he married my mother, a pretty young secretary, one of the wedding presents was a printed document stating that a tree had been planted in the name of the couple in Palestine.

At the time, the Zionists were a tiny minority among the Jews in Germany (and elsewhere). Most Jews thought that they were a bit crazy. A current joke had it that a Zionist was a Jew who gave money to a second Jew in order to send a third Jew to Palestine.

Why did my father become a Zionist? He certainly did not dream of going to Palestine himself. His family had been living in Germany for many generations. Since he had learned Latin and Ancient Greek at school, he imagined that our family had arrived in Germany with Julius Caesar. That’s why our roots were in a small town (I have forgotten its name) on the banks of the Rhine.

So what about his Zionism? My father was a “Querkopf”, a contrarian. He did not like to run with the herd. It suited him to belong to a lonely little group. The Zionists.

This quirk of my father’s personality probably saved my life. When the Nazis came to power – I was just nine years old – my father decided immediately to leave for Palestine. My mother told me much later that the trigger was a young German who told my father in court: “Herr Ostermann, we don’t need Jews like you anymore!”

My father was deeply insulted. At the time he was a highly respected court-appointed receiver, a person in charge of bankruptcies, famous for his honesty. For years a terrible economic crisis had ravaged Germany, and bankruptcies were plentiful. This…

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