Moshe Dayan

Extraordinary archive of 13 signed letters by Moshe Dayan to his wife and parents, handwritten on fragile prison tissue, smuggled out while held prisoner by the British from 1939 to 1941.

Autograph Letters Signed by Moshe Dayan, 13 letters consisting of 47 handwritten pages, in Hebrew and English, Acre Prison, Palestine, 1939-1941, as prisoner. Forty-seven leaves of fragile original prison tissue, each approximately 4.5" X 8.5", writing on rectos only, each mounted on brown card stock. Small handwritten numerical notation in upper right corner of each piece of card stock. Typewritten date in lower right corners. Text quite clean and fresh despite its fragility. Two small holes in card stock at upper margin without affecting text. A quite exceptional archive of documents in near-fine condition.

Moshe Dayan was one of Israel’s foremost soldiers as well as statemen. Born on a kibbutz in Palestine, he joined the Haganah while still a teenager, and agitated for independence from Britian. But his commitment to the liberation of the Jewish people was put to the test in October of 1939, when the British, nervous about increasing Jewish military activity, arrested the 24-year-old Dayan along with 42 other Haganah members for illegal firearms possession. The young freedom fighter was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. At this point, Dayan’s actions become obscured from history, as his words from prison were tightly controlled. However, in this unique and intimate archive of letters, written by Dayan on toilet tissue, the only paper he had available to him in the austere fortress-prison of Acre, he tells the story of his and his compatriots’ lives during this pivotal time in the history of the founding of the state of Israel. The first letter in this archive is dated December 19, 1939, three weeks after the birth of his first child (Yael, nicknamed “Yulik”).

As the months wear on, he describes his impressions of his imprisonment: “We are gathered here many types of Jews, the devil knows how and from where. In any case, they are very far removed from communal life and since there is nothing to do, nothing to think about, nothing to deal with and no way to stand out, they criticize every little thing, argue, squabble, aggravate and poke into the smallest detail of each other’s lives. Perhaps you know that at the beginning, meaning on the outside, I did not have the highest rank and in any case I did not need to take this problem into my hands. In the five months we have been in detention, there have already been four or five committees and several types of ‘government.’ The ‘defeat’ of each government and the ascension of a new one is a source of aggravation and endless arguments. In the end (I do not think this is the end there will certainly be many more changes)—I am now the sole ‘ruler.’”

In these intimate letters, he frequently expresses his love for his wife and daughter, and the difficulties of being a husband and father behind bars: “Don’t get too aggravated and don’t argue with my parents. I know all of their shortcomings and do not think that you need to be involved in the family if you don’t want to be… I did not do the one simple thing I should have done—I should have worked at home [and so not been arrested]… My Ruti, I daydream that suddenly, by some miracle, I will be able to come home to you, not just for a moment… There is neither a pickup truck nor a horse nor freedom here. Oh freedom, you know that any time I had a chance I would find a way to reach you, in any place, at any time, but now it will not be.”

Much time is devoted to his description of prison conditions, and plans and hopes for getting out. “You exaggerated in your estimation of the difficulty of two days in solitary confinement and of the last period in Acre and, in any case, about its effect on me. If I wrote anything in a depressed spirit, it was only because of a chance mood that occasionally overtakes me, unconnected to any particular physical difficulty. Obviously the ‘barometer’ drops whenever we think about the end and do not see any real chance for a change in the verdict.”

As the months wear on, he begins to study English in earnest, eventually writing some of his letters in the language. He provides a window into the hopes and dreams of Jews in Palestine in the early days of World War II. Other highlights of his letters include a description of a protest the prisoners held on Rosh Hashanah when the guards tried to end their prayers early, and Dayan’s description of his daily life in prison. “Do not even think about sending me private food for Passover… There is also no point in buying good things and bringing them to me when you visit. Buy more chocolate for Yulik, so she can eat and get dirty up to her ears and enjoy her life like a little sweetie with her pants hanging off of her.”

In 1940, with the war in Europe worsening, “both the British and the Palestinian Jews feared a Nazi invasion of the Middle East,” and as the Haganah prepared “to cooperate with British forces in defending Palestine… Moshe Dayan reentered the stream of history” (Katzberg, Foundations of Excellence). The British responded to the Nazi threat by releasing Dayan and his 42 fellow inmates on February 16, 1941, enlisting his and the Haganah’s assistance in the fight ahead. The final letter in the archive is dated February 11, 1941. Though less than a week before his release, Dayan did not know when the day would arrive, and expresses all of his frustrations about the uncertainties to his wife. Upon release, he immediately began the fight against the Nazis, and only four months later he would be wounded in the eye while battling Vichy forces in Lebanon, acquiring the eye patch that made him so recognizable while Israel’s Defense Minister. Some text in Hebrew.

Item: 53138

Price: $79,000.00
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Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan
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