Theodor Kollek arrived in Palestine from Vienna with his family, at age
twenty-four in 1935. Born in Hungary into a Zionist family, he was named
after Theodor Herzl, a fellow Hungarian, father of modern Zionism.
1937 he was among the co-founders of Kibbutz Ein-Gev, a lone settlement at
the time on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee at the foot of Syrian
Mount Susita. He soon became a close aide to Ben-Gurion in the Jewish
Agency, embarking on important missions. In one, in 1939 he persuaded
Eichmann, then a minor official, to release three thousand young Jews to
England. In time he went on missions of Aliya Bet, illegal immigration and
arms procurements. He actively cooperated with the British in the early
1940’s informing on right-wing underground groups, such as the IRGUN and
met with Joel Brand on the latter’s mission and chaperoned him for a short
time after his release from British internment in Cairo. After
Independence, he became the Director General of the Prime Minister’s
office. Elected mayor of divided Jerusalem in 1965, he was re-elected five
times. Running for a seventh term at age eighty-two, he lost to the
right-wing LIKUD’s Ehud Olmert in 1993.
later, when asked why Joel Brand and his mission received such a shabby,
neglectful treatment in Istanbul and his virtual abandonment during his
British internment in Cairo, which smacked of collusion between the Jewish
Agency and the British in an attempt to put him on ‘ice.’ And why, the
leadership was reluctant to at least ‘fake’ negotiations, produce false
documents and let Brand go back to Eichmann? His reaction was, “…that it
was just too long ago for his memory to recall details…and after all, here
was a person, Brand, who came from enemy territory in the middle of a war;
what do you expect?” To the response, made with a degree of amazement,
that all refugees hailed from enemy territory, the very reason why they
were refugees, there was no further comment.
Teddy, as everyone called him, devoted his life to Jerusalem. He presided
over the unification of the city in 1967 and saw it flourish. His
mayoralty excelled as a result of his imaginative, innovative, courageous,
and intelligent approach and the leadership he provided embraced the
religious, ethnic and cultural diversity of this unique city. Teddy was a
mover and shaker on an international scale. Lauded internationally for his
legendary tenure, he preserved the old and energetically built the new.
Founder of the Israel Museum, the Mishkanot Sha’annanim where world name
artists could regenerate their creative juices in specially built, muse
inviting abodes, facing the Old City walls in their golden glow and
cultural and civic projects too many to mention. Teddy Kollek died in
Jerusalem at age ninety-six.
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