Berger-Barzilai, Joseph

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BERGER-BARZILAI, JOSEPH (original name Isaac Zelaznik , from 1922 Barzilai ; 1904–1978), Israeli political scientist. Berger-Barzilai was born in Cracow. In 1920, having joined the newly created Zionist youth movement Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, he went to Ereẓ Israel. Two years later he joined the small founding group of the illegal Palestine Communist Party, of which he was appointed secretary.

In 1924 he visited Moscow and the Comintern Executive there. On his return he helped organize Communist groups in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Transjordan, and in his capacity as party secretary made contact with Arab leaders in Ereẓ Israel, notably Jamal al-Husseini. He secretly visited Moscow several times and in March 1929 had a five-hour talk with Stalin on Ereẓ Israel and Near Eastern affairs. During the Arab riots of 1929 he hid in the Arab village of Beit Safafa near Jerusalem, whence he directed Communist propaganda. In 1931 he was sent by the Comintern to Berlin to serve as secretary of the Anti-Imperialist League, whose chairmen were then Albert Einstein and Henri Barbusse. In 1932 he was called to Moscow to head the Near East Department of the Comintern and was given the name Joseph Berger. Two years later he was suddenly dismissed and expelled from the party, and in 1935 arrested for "Trotskyist agitation." Though he denied the charge, he was sentenced to five years' hard labor. In 1936 he was brought to Moscow as a potential witness against *Zinoviev; refusing to give evidence, he was sentenced to death. The sentence was unexpectedly commuted to eight years' imprisonment; 20 years later Berger-Barzilai learned that his life had been saved by his Jewish interrogator's sympathy for his Palestinian past. For more than 15 years Berger-Barzilai was sent from prison to prison and from camp to camp, undergoing such ordeals as a renewed death sentence which was later repealed, long hunger strikes, and physical torture. In 1951 he was released but condemned to exile for life in Siberia. Only in 1956, after the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, was Berger completely "rehabilitated" and accepted again into the party ranks. He left, however, with his family for Poland and worked for a while in the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw. In 1957 he settled in Israel, and henceforth assumed the double name Berger-Barzilai. During the long years of imprisonment Berger-Barzilai returned to his Jewish loyalties and religious faith. In 1968 he was appointed senior lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University, and rapidly became an international authority on Communist and Soviet affairs, publishing numerous interviews and articles in journals and the daily press. He was invited to lecture at learned institutions and appeared as a commentator on Israel radio.

He described some of his experiences in the Soviet Union in several books: in Hebrew, Zohar ba-Ḥaẓot ("Light at Midnight," 1962), Ha-Tragedyah shel ha-Mahpekhah ha-Sovyetit ("The Tragedy of the Soviet Revolution," 1968); and in a more comprehensive volume in English: Shipwreck of a Generation (American title, Nothing but the Truth, 1971).

His wife, esther feldman (1898–1972), described her life in the U.S.S.R. as the Jewish wife of an "enemy of the people" in Kele Beli Sogar ("Prison without Bars," 1964).

[Binyamin Eliav (2nd ed.)]

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Berger-Barzilai, Joseph

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