Chaim Weizmann

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Chaim Weizmann
חיים עזריאל ויצמן
Хаим Вейцман
Flickr - Government Press Office (GPO) - President Chaim Weizmann.jpg
Chaim Weizmann, 26 March 1949
1st President of Israel
In office
17 February 1949 – 9 November 1952
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion
Preceded by Himself
(as Chairman of the Provisional State Council)
Succeeded by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
2nd Chairman of the Provisional State Council of Israel
In office
16 May 1948 – 17 February 1949
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion
Preceded by David Ben-Gurion
Succeeded by Himself
(as President)
Personal details
Born Chaim Azriel Weizmann
(1874-11-27)27 November 1874
Motal, Russian Empire
(Now Belarus)
Died 9 November 1952(1952-11-09) (aged 77)
Rehovot, Israel
Nationality Israeli-British
Political party General Zionists
Spouse(s) Vera Weizmann
Relations Maria (Masha) Weizmann, Dr. Anna (Anushka) Weizmann, Prof. Moshe Weizmann, Shmuel Weizmann - siblings
Children 2 - Michael Oser Weizmann (1916-1942)
Benyamin Weizmann
Profession Chemist
Religion Judaism

Chaim Azriel Weizmann (Hebrew: חיים עזריאל ויצמןḤayīm Wayzman, Russian: Хаим Вейцман Khaim Veytsman; 27 November 1874 – 9 November 1952) was a Zionist leader and Israeli statesman who served as President of the Zionist Organization and later as the first President of Israel. He was elected on 16 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952. Weizmann convinced the United States government to recognize the newly formed state of Israel.

Weizmann was also a biochemist who developed the acetone–butanol–ethanol fermentation process, which produces acetone through bacterial fermentation. His acetone production method was of great importance for the British war industry during World War I. He founded the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel and was instrumental in the establishment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Early life[edit]

Weizmann was born in the village of Motal near Pinsk in Belarus (at that time part of the Russian Empire). He was the third of 15 children born to Oizer and Rachel Czermerinsky Weizmann.[1] His father was a timber merchant.[2] Until the age of 11, he attended a traditional cheder. At the age of 11, he entered high school in Pinsk.


In 1892, Weizmann left for Germany to study chemistry. He began his studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Darmstadt. In 1894, he moved to Berlin to study at the Technische Hochschule Berlin. In 1897, he moved to Switzerland to complete his studies at the University of Fribourg. In 1899, he was awarded a PhD in organic chemistry.[3] In 1901, he was appointed assistant lecturer at the University of Geneva and, in 1904, senior lecturer at the University of Manchester.[4]

In Britain (1904-1937)[edit]

In 1910, he became a British citizen, and held his British nationality until 1948, when he renounced it to assume his position as President of Israel.[5] Chaim Weizmann and his family lived in Manchester for about 30 years (1906–1937).[dubious ]

While in Britain, he was known by many as Charles Weizmann, a name under which he also registered his ca. 100 research patents.[6][7] Near the end of the Second World War, it was discovered that the SS had compiled a list of over 2,800 people living in Britain, which included Weizmann, who were to be immediately arrested upon the success of an invasion of Britain in the abandoned Operation Sea Lion.[8]


Of Chaim Weizmann's fourteen siblings, twelve survived to adulthood. The majority of his family emigrated to Palestine, and two were also chemists; Dr. Anna (Anushka) Weizmann worked in his Daniel Sieff Research Institute lab, registering several patents in her name.[6] His brother, Prof. Moshe Weizmann, was the head of the Chemistry Faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.[6] However, two siblings remained in the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution, a brother, Shmuel, and sister, Maria (Masha). Shmuel Weizmann was a dedicated Communist and member of the anti-Zionist Bund movement. During the Stalinist "Great Purge", he was arrested for alleged espionage and Zionist activity, and executed in 1939. His fate only became known to his wife and children in 1955.[9][6] Another sister, Maria (Masha), was a physician who fell victim to Stalin's fabricated "Doctors' plot" in 1952 and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in Siberia. She was released following Stalin's death in 1953, and was permitted to emigrate to Israel along with her husband in 1956.

Weizmann was married to Vera Weizmann.[10] The couple had two sons. The younger one, Flight Lieutenant Michael Oser Weizmann (1916-1942), fought in the Royal Air Force during World War II. While serving as a pilot in No. 502 Squadron RAF, he was killed when his plane was shot down over the Bay of Biscay[11] His body was never found and he was listed as "missing". His father never fully accepted his death and made a provision in his will, in case he returned.[6] He is one of the British Empire's air force casualties without a known grave commemorated at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey, England.[12]

His nephew Ezer Weizman, the son of his brother Yechiel, a leading Israeli agronomist,[13] became commander of the Israeli Air Force and also served as President of Israel.


Chaim Weizmann is buried beside his wife in the garden of his home at the Weizmann estate, which is located on the grounds of Israel's science research institute named after him.

Political career[edit]

Early Years[edit]

Weizmann missed the first Zionist conference, held in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, because of travel problems, but he attended each one thereafter. Beginning in 1901, he lobbied for the founding of a Jewish institution of higher learning in Palestine. Together with Martin Buber and Berthold Feiwel, a document was presented to the Fifth Zionist Congress, highlighting this need especially in the fields of science and engineering. This idea would later be crystallized in the foundation of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in 1912.[14]

In 1904, Weizmann became a chemistry lecturer at the University of Manchester and soon became a leader among British Zionists. At that time in Manchester, Arthur Balfour was a Conservative MP representing the district, as well as Prime Minister, and the two met during one of Balfour's electoral campaigns. Balfour supported the concept of a Jewish homeland, but felt that there would be more support among politicians for the then-current offer in Uganda, called the British Uganda Programme. Following mainstream Zionist rejection of that proposal, Weizmann was credited later with persuading Balfour, then the Foreign Minister, for British support to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the original Zionist aspiration.[15]

Weizmann's passport photo, ca. 1915
Weizmann (left) with Faisal I of Iraq in Syria, 1918
Chaim Weizmann (sitting, second from left) at a meeting with Arab leaders at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, 1933. Also pictured are Haim Arlosoroff (sitting, center), Moshe Shertok (Sharett) (standing, right), and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (standing, to Shertok's right).
Weizmann (left) with first Turkish ambassador to Israel, Seyfullah Esin (c), and Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, 1950

Weizmann first visited Jerusalem in 1907, and while there, he helped organize the Palestine Land Development Company as a practical means of pursuing the Zionist dream. Although Weizmann was a strong advocate for "those governmental grants which are necessary to the achievement of the Zionist purpose" in Palestine, as stated at Basel, he persuaded many Jews not to wait for future events, stating:

A state cannot be created by decree, but by the forces of a people and in the course of generations. Even if all the governments of the world gave us a country, it would only be a gift of words. But if the Jewish people will go build Palestine, the Jewish State will become a reality—a fact.[16]

During World War I, at around the same time he was head of the British Admiralty's laboratories, Weizmann, in a conversation with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, suggested the strategy of the British campaign against the Ottoman Empire.

Weizmann was accused of combating the idea of a separate peace with Turkey. He considered such a peace at odds with Zionist interests. He was even accused of "possibly prolonging the war".[17]

In 1917, he became president of the British Zionist Federation; he worked with Arthur Balfour to obtain the milestone Balfour Declaration, which stated the following; His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country 2 November 1917.[1]. A founder of so-called Synthetic Zionism, Weizmann supported grass-roots colonization efforts as well as high-level diplomatic activity. He was generally associated with the centrist General Zionists and later sided with neither Labour Zionism on the left nor Revisionist Zionism on the right. In 1917, he expressed his view of Zionism in the following words,

We have [the Jewish people] never based the Zionist movement on Jewish suffering in Russia or in any other land. These suffering have never been the mainspring of Zionism. The foundation of Zionism was, and continues to be to this day, the yearning of the Jewish people for its homeland, for a national centre and a national life.

Weizmann considered that the issuance of the Balfour Declaration was the greatest single achievement of the pre 1948 Zionists, He believed that the Balfour Declaration and the legislation that followed it, such as the British 3 June 1922 Churchill White Paper and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine 1922 all represented an astonishing breathtaking accomplishment of the Zionist movement.

Between the World wars[edit]

On 3 January 1919, he and the Hashemite Prince Faisal signed the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement attempting to establish favourable relations between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. At the end of the month, the Paris Peace Conference decided that the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire should be wholly separated and the newly conceived mandate-system applied to them.[18] Weizmann stated at the conference that "the Zionist objective was gradually to make Palestine as Jewish as England was English" [19] Shortly thereafter, both men made their statements to the conference.

After 1920, he assumed leadership in the World Zionist Organization, creating local branches in Berlin [20] serving twice (1920–31, 1935–46) as president of the World Zionist Organization. In 1921, Weizmann went along with Albert Einstein for a fund-raiser to establish the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and support the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. At this time, brewing differences over competing European and American visions of Zionism, and its funding of development versus political activities, caused Weizmann to clash with Louis Brandeis.[21] In 1921 Weizmann played an important role in supporting Rutenberg's bid to the British for an exclusive electric concession for Palestine, in spite of bitter personal and principled disputes between the two figures.[22]

Weizmann persuaded the British cabinet to support Zionism by presenting their benefits of having a presence in Palestine rather than the French. Imperial interests with the Suez Canal as well as sympathy after the Holocaust were important factors for British support.[23]

During the war years, Brandeis headed the precursor of the Zionist Organization of America, led in fund-raising for Jews in Europe (and Palestine[24]). In early October 1914 the USS North Carolina arrived in Jaffa harbor with money and supplies provided by Schiff, the American Jewish Committee, and the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, then acting for the WZO, which had been rendered impotent by the war. Although Weizmann retained Zionist leadership, the clash led to the departure from the movement of Louis Brandeis and other prominent leaders. By 1929, there were about 18,000 members left in the ZOA, a massive decline from the high of 200,000 reached during the Brandeis years.[25] In the summer of 1930, these two factions and visions of Zionism, would come to a compromise largely on Brandeis's terms, with a restructured leadership for the ZOA.[26]

In 1936 he addressed the Peel Commission, set up by Stanley Baldwin, whose job it was to consider the working of the British Mandate of Palestine. On 25 November 1936, testifying before the Peel Commission, Weizmann said that there were in Europe 6,000,000 Jews ... "for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places where they cannot enter."[27] The Commission published a report that, for the first time, recommended partition, but the proposal was declared unworkable and formally rejected by the government. The two main Jewish leaders, Weizmann and Ben-Gurion had convinced the Zionist Congress to approve equivocally the Peel recommendations as a basis for more negotiation.[28][29] This was the first official mention and declaration of a Zionist vision opting for a possible State with a majority of Jewish population, alongside a State with an Arab majority. The Arab leaders, headed by Haj Amin al-Husseini, rejected the plan.

Weizmann made very clear in his autobiography that the failure of the international Zionist movement (between the wars) and all Jews to act decisively and efficiently in great enough numbers to migrate to the Jerusalem area was the real cause for the call for a Partition deal. This Partition deal was first formally mentioned in 1936 but implemented in 1948. Again Weizmann blamed the Zionist movement for not acting adequately enough during the best years of the British Mandate.

The Second World War[edit]

Weizmann's efforts to integrate Jews from Palestine in the war against Germany resulted in the creation of the Jewish Brigade of the British Army which fought mainly in the Italian front. After the war, he grew embittered by the rise of violence in Palestine and by the terrorist tendencies amongst followers of the Revisionist fraction. His influence within the Zionist movement decreased, yet he remained overwhelmingly influential outside of Mandate Palestine. In his Presidential statement at the last Zionist congress that he attended (Basle, 9 December 1946) he unequivocally said:

Massada, for all its heroism, was a disaster in our history; It is not our purpose or our right to plunge to destruction in order to bequeath a legend of martyrdom to posterity; Zionism was to mark the end of our glorious deaths and the beginning of a new path leading to life.[30]

First president of Israel[edit]

He met with United States President Harry Truman and worked to obtain the support of the United States for the establishment of the State of Israel. Weizmann became the first President of Israel in 1949. He served in this largely ceremonial position until his death in 1952.

Scientific career[edit]

Weizmann with Albert Einstein, 1921

Weizmann lectured in chemistry at the University of Geneva between 1901 and 1903, and later taught at the University of Manchester. He became a British subject in 1910, and while a lecturer at Manchester he became famous for discovering how to use bacterial fermentation to produce large quantities of desired substances. He is considered to be the father of industrial fermentation. He used the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum (the Weizmann organism) to produce acetone. Acetone was used in the manufacture of cordite explosive propellants critical to the Allied war effort (see Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath). Weizmann transferred the rights to the manufacture of acetone to the Commercial Solvents Corporation in exchange for royalties.[31]

First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill became aware of the possible use of Weizmann's discovery in early 1915, and Minister of Munitions David Lloyd George joined Churchill in encouraging Weizmann's development of the process. Pilot plant development of laboratory procedures was completed in 1915 at the J&W Nicholson & Co gin factory in Bow, London, so industrial scale production of acetone could begin in six British distilleries requisitioned for the purpose in early 1916. The effort produced 30,000 tonnes of acetone during the war, although a national collection of horse-chestnuts was required when supplies of maize were inadequate for the quantity of starch needed for fermentation. The importance of Weizmann's work gave him favour in the eyes of the British Government, this allowed Weizmann to have access to senior Cabinet members and utilise this time to represent Zionist aspirations. Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour at this time issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in support of Weizmann's Zionist objectives as Weizmann ascended to the presidency of the British Zionist Federation.[2]

After the Shell Crisis of 1915 during World War I, Weizmann was director of the British Admiralty laboratories from 1916 until 1919. During World War II, he was an honorary adviser to the British Ministry of Supply and did research on synthetic rubber and high-octane gasoline. (Formerly Allied-controlled sources of rubber were largely inaccessible owing to Japanese occupation during World War II, giving rise to heightened interest in such innovations).

Concurrently, Weizmann devoted himself to the establishment of a scientific institute for basic research in the vicinity of his sprawling estate, in the town of Rehovot. Weizmann saw great promise in science as a means to bring peace and prosperity to the area. As stated in his own words :

"I trust and feel sure in my heart that science will bring to this land both peace and a renewal of its youth, creating here the springs of a new spiritual and material life. [...] I speak of both science for its own sake and science as a means to an end."[32]

His efforts led in 1934 to the creation of the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, which was financially supported by an endowment by Israel Sieff in memory of his late son. Weizmann actively conducted research in the laboratories of this institute, primarily in the field of organic chemistry. He offered the post of director of the institute to Nobel Prize laureate Fritz Haber, but took over the directorship himself after Haber's death en route to Palestine. In 1949 the Sieff Institute was renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science in his honor, in agreement with the Sieff family. Weizmann's success as a scientist and the success of the Institute he founded make him an iconic figure in the heritage of the Israeli scientific community today.

Alleged involvement with 1945 revenge operation[edit]

After the Second World War, a Jewish group called Nakam formulated several plans to kill Germans in revenge for the Holocaust.[33] Nakam's leader Abba Kovner, a former Lithuanian partisan, testified that he had approached Weizmann (at that time, President of the World Zionist Organization) with plans for a mass poisoning and that Wiezmann had put him in touch with a chemist who arranged for a quantity of poison to be procured.[33][34] According to the story, Kovner did not tell Weizmann of his intention to poison millions of Germans via their water supply, but only of the backup plan to poison SS members who were in allied POW camps.[33][34] The lesser plan was put into operation in April 1946 at Stalag 13.[33] Kovner's story was repeated in 1998 by another Nakam leader Yulik Harmatz.[35] There is no independent evidence for the meeting and some historians doubt it.[34] Kovner's biographer Dina Porat wrote that Weizmann was not in Palestine on the date of the alleged meeting but allows that he might have met Weizmann in early 1946 instead.[33]

Published work[edit]

  • Chaim Weizmann (1949). Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann. Jewish Publication Society of America. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chaim Weizmann Of Israel Is Dead
  2. ^ a b Brown, G.I. (1998) The Big Bang: A History of Explosives Sutton Publishing ISBN 0-7509-1878-0 p.144
  3. ^ Biography of Chaim Weizmann
  4. ^ "Biography of Chaim Weizmann". Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  5. ^ Weizmann Reveals Truman Promised Negev to Jews; Surrenders His British Citizenship Weizmann Reveals Truman Promised Negev to Jews; Surrenders His British Citizenship
  6. ^ a b c d e "10 things we didn’t know about Dr. Chaim Weizmann" (PDF). The Weizmann International Magazine of Science & People. No. 3. Spring 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Glenda Abramson, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of Modern Jewish Culture. Routledge. p. 950. ISBN 9780415298131. Retrieved 18 March 2015. As a research chemist, he registered some 100 patents under the name Charles Weizmann. 
  8. ^ Schellenberg, Walter (2001) Invasion, 1940: The Nazi Invasion Plan for Britain, p. 260. Little Brown Book Group. ISBN 0-9536151-3-8. Accessed at the Imperial War Museum Amazon search inside
  9. ^ Family Trials
  10. ^ "Jewish Women Encyclopedia, Vera Weizmann". Retrieved 2012-06-08. 
  11. ^ Casualty Details Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  12. ^,%20MICHAEL%20OSER
  13. ^ Yechiel Weizman Another Brother of Dr. Weizman, Dies in Israel
  14. ^ Carl Alpert, TECHNION: The Story of Israel's Institute of Technology. ISBN 0-87203-102-0
  15. ^ Current Biography 1942, pp 877–80. The story goes that Weizmann asked Balfour, "Would you give up London to live in Saskatchewan?" When Balfour replied that the British had always lived in London, Weizmann responded, "Yes, and we lived in Jerusalem when London was still a marsh."
  16. ^ Chaïm Weizmann (1983). The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann: August 1898–July 1931. Transaction Publishers. p. 301. ISBN 978-0-87855-279-5. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  17. ^ Schneer, Jonathan The Balfour Declaration, 2010, p 273
  18. ^ International Boundary Study, Jordan – Syria Boundary, No. 94 – 30 December 1969, p.10 US Department of State
  19. ^ Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2004. Print. p. 228
  20. ^ Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2004. Print. p. 225>
  21. ^ Ben Halpern, A Clash of Heroes: Brandeis, Weizmann, and American Zionism (Studies in Jewish History) Oxford University Press, 1987
  22. ^ Shamir, Ronen (2013) Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  23. ^ [Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2004. Print. p.226]
  24. ^ Michael Brown, The Israeli-American connection: its roots in the yishuv, 1914–1945, p.26
  25. ^ Donald Neff, Fallen Pillars: U.S. Policy towards Palestine and Israel since 1945 [1]
  26. ^ Religion: Zionist Chiefs, Time, Jul. 28, 1930
  27. ^ Chaim Weizmann (1 January 1983). The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann: series B. Transaction Publishers. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-0-87855-297-9. On 25 November 1936, testifying before the Peel Commission, Weizmann said that there are in Europe 6,000,000 Jews ... "for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places where they cannot enter." 
  28. ^ Benny Morris (2004). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge University Press. pp. 11, 48, 49,. ISBN 978-0-521-00967-6. Retrieved 25 July 2013. p. 11 "while the Zionist movement, after much agonising, accepted the principle of partition and the proposals as a basis for negotiation"; p. 49 "In the end, after bitter debate, the Congress equivocally approved –by a vote of 299 to 160 – the Peel recommendations as a basis for further negotiation. 
  29. ^ William Roger Louis (2006). Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization. I.B.Tauris. p. 391. ISBN 978-1-84511-347-6. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  30. ^ The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Series B. Papers Volume II December 1931 – April 1952, Paper 87, pp.636–637, Yad Chaim Weizmann (1984), Library of Congress Catalog No. 82-17442
  31. ^ Local Industry Owes Much to Weizmann
  32. ^ "Chaim Weizmann Lab, Dept. of Organic Chemistry". Weizmann Institute. 
  33. ^ a b c d e Dina Porat (2009). The Fall of a Sparrow. Stanford University Press. pp. 216–235. 
  34. ^ a b c Ehud Sprinzak and Idith Zertal (2000). "Avenging Israel's Blood (1946)". In Jonathan B. Tucker. Toxic Terror. MIT Press. pp. 17–41. 
  35. ^ Michael Freedland (March 15, 1998). "The Jewish Executioner". The Observer. p. C1. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Rose, Norman. Chaim Weizmann: A Biography. Elisabeth Sifton Books (1986). ISBN 0-670-80469-X

External links[edit]