Yitzhak Gruenbaum

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Yitzhak Gruenbaum
Yitzhak Gruenbaum 1948.jpg
Date of birth 24 November 1879
Place of birth Warsaw, Poland
Year of aliyah 1933
Date of death 7 September 1970(1970-09-07) (aged 90)
Place of death Gan Shmuel, Israel
Ministerial roles
1948–1949 Minister of Internal Affairs

Yitzhak Gruenbaum (Polish: Izaak Grünbaum, Hebrew and Yiddish: יצחק גרינבוים, born 1879 died 1970) was a noted leader of the Zionist movement among Polish Jewry between the two world wars and of the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine, and the first Interior Minister of Israel.

Education and journalistic career[edit]

Gruenbaum was born in Warsaw, Poland). While a student of jurisprudence, he began activities on behalf of the Zionist movement and engaged in journalism. He served as editor of several periodicals widely circulated among Polish Jewry, including the Hebrew Ha-Zefirah and the Hebrew weekly Ha-Olam. Under his editorship, the Yiddish daily, Haynt, took on a pro-Zionist slant.

Political career in Poland[edit]

On the political scene in Poland, Gruenbaum headed the Al Hamishmar radical Zionist faction. In 1919 he was elected to the Sejm (Polish parliament), where, together with Apolinary Hartglas, he organized a "Jewish bloc" that united most of the Jewish parties. He was the moving force in forming a collaboration with other minority parties represented in the Sejm, including Germans, Ukrainians, and others, to form a Bloc of National Minorities alliance in 1922, that acted to represent the rights of minority populations in Poland. His efforts brought about an increase of Jewish representation in the Sejm, which was accompanied by a rise of the political zionism. Gruenbaum was known for his courageous and militant stance against his opponents and on behalf of minorities' interests, while equally critical of the ultra-orthodox party Agudat Israel and Jewish lobbying.

In Mandate Palestine and during the Holocaust[edit]

In 1933 Gruenbaum made aliyah to Mandate Palestine. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.

During the Holocaust, he served on the "Committee of Four" chosen at the outbreak of World War II to maintain contact with Polish Jewry and aid in their rescue. In 1942, when word reached the Yishuv of the mass extermination by the German occupying forces taking place in Eastern Europe, Gruenbaum was chosen to head a 12-member Rescue Committee comprising representatives of the various parties. Due to circumstances prevailing at the time, their rescue efforts failed to accomplish much.

At the war's end, he endured a personal crisis involving his son, Eliezer Gruenbaum. The latter, a Holocaust survivor, was accused in Paris by two other Jewish Holocaust survivors of having served as a Kapo and acting cruelty towards Jewish prisoners. During his son's detention and trial, Gruenbaum remained at his side. The matter was eventually closed; not long afterwards, Eliezer Gruenbaum fell in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Zionist leaders, arrested in Operation Agatha, in detention in Latrun (l-r): David Remez, Moshe Sharett, Yitzhak Gruenbaum, Dov Yosef, Mr. Shenkarsky, David Hacohen, and Mr. Halperin (Isser Harel) (1946)

In 1946, Gruenbaum was among the Jewish Agency directors arrested by the British and interned in a detention camp at Latrun.

In Israel[edit]

Gruenbaum was among a group of 13 leaders forming the provisional government of the emerging State, and, as a member of Moetzet HaAm, signed its declaration of independence. Between 1948 and 1949 he served as a member of the Provisional State Council and was the first Minister of the Interior in that formative period. His initial stance was with the General Zionists, but as time went on moved leftward. He became an adherent of the Mapam socialist-Zionist party, and was known as a declared secularist. Gruenbaum headed an independent list in the elections for the first Knesset, but failed to obtain the minimum number of votes to secure a seat.

He was later a candidate for President in the 1952 presidential election alongside Yitzhak Ben-Zvi of Mapai, Peretz Bernstein of the General Zionists and Mordechai Nurock of Mizrachi. However, he was well beaten by Ben-Zvi.

Post-political career[edit]

Following his exit from politics, Yitzhak Gruenbaum undertook the editing of an Encyclopaedia of the Diaspora Communities and numerous other volumes, including The Zionist Movement and its Development. He spent his later years on kibbutz Gan Shmuel, and died in 1970. The Alonei Yitzhak educational institution is named for him.

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