Kollek, Teddy (1911-2007)

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.

In 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 the LEHI.

He 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.

Years 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.

Back to the Cast