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Chaim Weizmann

Biography of Chaim Weizmann

Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) (Hebrew:חיים וויצמן), Zionist leader and first President of Israel, was born in the village of Motol, near Pinsk, in the Russian Pale of Settlement, one of 15 children of a timber merchant where he attended a traditional heder; at the age of 11, he entered high school in Pinsk. Weizmann went on to study chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute of Darmstaat, Germany, and at the University of Freiburg, Switzerland, where, in 1899, he was awarded a doctorate with honors. In 1901, he was appointed assistant lecturer at the University of Geneva and, in 1904, senior lecturer at the University of Manchester.

Weizmann's first Zionist steps began at an early age, and from the second Zionist Congress onwards, he was a prominent figure in the Zionist Movement. In 1901, he helped found the Democratic Faction within the Zionist movement. At the 6th Congress, in Basle in 1903, he voted against the Uganda Scheme. At the 8th Congress in 1907, Weizmann's position on "Synthetic Zionism" was adopted.

During World War I, Weizmann helped the British war effort, developing a new method for manufacture of acetone. As a fervent Zionist, he was busy on the diplomatic front, trying to bring the cause of a Jewish state closer to British politicians and journalists. Weizmann's efforts culminated in the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917.

In 1918, he went to Palestine as head of the Zionist Commission to study conditions and make recommendations to the British authorities. During this time, he laid the foundations of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Seven years later (April 1925), he was to take part in the official opening of the institution. In June 1918, he traveled to Aqaba to enlist the support of Emir Feisal - leader of Arab Nationalism - for Jewish development work in Palestine. At the London Zionist Conference of 1920, he was elected President of the WZO. He held that office, as well as the presidency of the Jewish Agency, from 1929 on, until 1931, and again from 1935 until 1946.

In 1922, Weizmann reluctantly accepted the Churchill White Paper of 1922. After the Passfield White Paper of 1930, he angrily resigned his office, returning to presidency of WZO only after British Prime Minister MacDonald sent him a letter in which he renewed Great Britain commitments to the Jewish National Home.

In 1931, Weizmann was not reelected because of his continued support for the mandate. Over the next four years, he devoted his energies to his scientific work while continuing his endeavors on behalf of Zionism. He undertook fund-raising trips to the United States and South Africa, and threw himself into the work of rescuing Jewish refugees. In the early 1930's, he laid the foundations of the Daniel Sieff Institute at Rehovot, renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1949; in 1937, he made his home in Rehovot. In 1935, Weizmann returned to presidency of the WZO. In 1936, he presented the Zionist cause before the Peel Commission. In 1939, he bitterly attacked the 1939 British White Paper . During World War II, Weizmann pressed the British government to organize a Jewish fighting force, and went to the US to help in the preparation of synthetic rubber. After the war, when the Labor Party assumed power and failed to keep its pre-election promise to adopt a pro-Zionist policy, Weizmann's position as leader of the Zionist Movement came to an end. The 22nd Zionist Congress, in 1946, did not reelect him to the presidency.

Although Weizmann no longer held an official position in the Zionist Movement, he continued as principal spokesman of the Jewish national cause. In 1947, he appeared before the United Nations Special Committee of Palestine. Later that year, he made an unforgettable appeal at the UN General Assembly, in New York. In the next few months he was destined to be the primary architect of two achievements: the inclusion of the Negev in the United Nations' plan for a Jewish state; and the recognition of Israel by the United States.

In May 17, 1948, Chaim Weizmann was elected President of the Provisional Council and on February 16 1949 (or February 17), was inaugurated as the first President of Israel. Weizmann died on November 9 1952, after a long and painful illness. His grave was situated, at his own wish, in the garden of his home in Rehovot. Weizmann was survived by his wife Vera, and by his elder son Benyamin. His younger son, Michael, was killed in air action during World War II. His writings include an autobiography, "Trial and Error" (1949), which has been translated into several languages.

Ami Isseroff

See also: Testimony of Chaim Weizmann to UNSCOP.  Presidents of Israel


Adapted from The Jewish Agency for Israel biography of Chaim Weizmann


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