Tag Archives: USSR

Jew of the Week: Anatoliy Daron

The Jew Who Made Space Flight Possible

Anatoliy Davidovich Daron (1926-2020) was born in Odessa, Ukraine. An avid pianist, he initially wished to become a musician. At age 12, he read a book about space and was inspired to become a rocket scientist, with the hopes of one day flying to Mars. That same year, World War II broke out and the family fled to Russia’s Stavropol region. A few years later, the Nazi invasion came to his town just as he was graduating high school—he got his diploma, written by the principal on a scrap piece of paper, while everyone was fleeing! Doron went on to study rocketry in Moscow, and soon joined OKB-456, the Soviet state institution tasked with missile and rocket development, under the leadership of Valentin Glushko. There, Daron worked on the USSR’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). When the anti-Semitic Doctor’s Plot hit, Daron lost his job because he was Jewish. Thankfully, Stalin was soon out of the way, and Daron returned to his previous position. Daron’s team of engineers proposed that they could put a satellite in space using rockets similar to the ICBMs. They began working on the designs, but encountered serious problems. Then, while lying ill in bed with a high fever, Daron had an idea. It was the breakthrough the engineers were looking for, and ended up putting Sputnik, humanity’s first artificial satellite, in space in 1957. Historians mark this moment as the birth of the “Space Age”. It was in response to this event that the US government formed NASA (as well as what became DARPA). Not surprisingly, Daron became a Soviet hero and his family was moved out of their cramped one-bedroom, shared apartment to their own two-bedroom suite, together with a state-provided car and television. Daron continued to work for the Soviet space agency, and played a key role in making Yuri Gagarin the first human in space. He was the lead designer on the R-7, R-9, and UR-700 rockets, among others. All in all, he worked as a rocket scientist for more than 50 years, authored some 300 articles and patents, and was awarded the Order of Lenin. In 1998, Daron moved to the United States and spent the rest of his life there. When he passed away last year, he was described as one of the most important “unwritten figures in the history of space.”

Words of the Week

The Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, ‘You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?’ I tell them that the French went back to France and the Americans to America. But the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.
Vo Nguyen Giap, infamous Vietnamese general

Top left: Daron in the design room. Bottom left: The team that put the first man in space – Yuri Gagarin, sitting third from right, Daron standing, centre. (Image Source)

Jew of the Week: Yitzhak Shamir

In Memory of a Great Israeli Prime Minister

Yitzhak Yezernitsky (1915-2012) was born in what is now Belarus and spent his youth in Poland. As a young man, he joined Betar, the Zionist organization founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. After a short time studying law at the University of Warsaw, he made aliyah and changed his last name to “Shamir”, after King Solomon’s Biblical stone-cutting tool used to construct Jerusalem’s Holy Temple. Tragically, his entire family that remained back in Europe was killed in the Holocaust. Before his father was murdered by villagers, he reportedly said: “I have a son in the Land of Israel, and he will exact my revenge.” Shamir joined the paramilitary Irgun force to fight off British rule, and later was part of the more aggressive Lehi, or “Stern Gang”. For his activities, he was imprisoned a number of times. (During one imprisonment, he met his future wife Shulamit, who had been arrested by the British for “illegal” immigration, having escaped Nazi-allied Bulgaria by boat.) In 1946, Shamir was arrested again and this time exiled to Eritrea in Africa. He managed to escape by digging a 200-foot tunnel, and found asylum in France. Shamir moved back to Israel immediately after the Declaration of Independence in 1948. He participated in the War of Independence, and later joined the Mossad. One of his main missions was Operation Damocles, to assassinate former Nazi rocket scientists helping Egypt develop missiles. He later resigned from the Mossad due to controversy over that operation. In 1973, he was first elected to the Knesset as a member of Likud. He became Foreign Minister in 1980, and Prime Minister of Israel in 1983. A hard-liner, Shamir opposed the peace treaty with Egypt, blocked a planned 1987 “regional peace conference”, and opposed the 1991 Madrid peace talks. When the Soviet Union began to fall apart in 1989, many Soviet Jews were fleeing to the United States. Shamir stepped in to stop the “insult to Israel” (as he called it) and said Soviet Jews were not refugees, since they had a home in Israel. The US changed its refugee policy and henceforth most Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel. Similarly, when the Ethiopian government collapsed in 1991, Shamir ordered Operation Solomon to airlift 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Shamir steered the country through the difficult years of the First Intifada and the First Gulf War. During his premiership, Israel established formal relations with over a dozen countries. He stepped down as Likud leader in 1993, but continued to sit in the Knesset until 1996. It was Shamir who launched Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career by appointing him to his first post (Israel’s ambassador to the UN). He would later leave Likud due to disputes with his young protégé, and only returned to the party in 2001 to support Ariel Sharon. That year, he also received the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement. Shamir left politics entirely in 2004 due to declining health. He wrote two books, including an autobiography. He has been described as one of Israel’s bravest warriors and most influential leaders. His yahrzeit is this Sunday.

Words of the Week

In their war against Israel’s existence, the Arab governments took advantage of the Cold War. They enlisted the military, economic, and political support of the communist world against Israel, and they turned a local, regional conflict into an international powder keg.
– Yitzhak Shamir

Jew of the Week: Harriet Cohen

The Piano Sensation Who Saved Refugees

Harriet Pearl Alice Cohen (1901-1967) was born in London, England to a Jewish family with Russian heritage. She started playing piano in early childhood, and by age 13 won the Ada Lewis Scholarship and the Sterndale Bennett Prize from the Royal Academy of Music. A year later, she made her professional debut and soon became one of the most popular musicians in England. She was noted for resurrecting old English compositions that had been forgotten, as well as opening up Spanish and Russian music to the wider world. In fact, she was permitted to visit the Soviet Union (and perform there) in 1935, bringing back great compositions by contemporary Russians that she then performed around the world. While visiting Vienna in 1933, Cohen first recognized the plight of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. She decided to devote herself to their cause. Cohen went on to raise large sums of money to support the refugees, and worked with several organizations to bring them to safety. In 1934, she performed a special benefit concert, with Albert Einstein on the violin (!), to raise money. Einstein was only one of Cohen’s many admirers. Charming and witty, Cohen’s close circle of friends included H.G. Wells, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, and Chaim Weizmann. The latter won her over to the Zionist cause. Cohen made her first trip to the Holy Land in 1939, and quickly gained a reputation as a passionate Zionist. She fought so passionately, in fact, that it led to two assassination attempts on her life! Both for her musical contributions, and for her work with refugees, Cohen was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (one step below being knighted) in 1938. Unfortunately, she would later severely damage her right hand on broken glass, and could no longer use it. Undeterred, she continued to play and perform with her left hand only, and renowned composer Sir Arnold Bax (another admirer) wrote for her the Concertino for Left Hand. Bax would credit her with inspiring most of his compositions, while Albert Einstein referred to her as “the beloved piano-witch”. Cohen was also credited with bringing Bach back into the spotlight (listen to her play Bach here). She recorded music for films, too, and published two books. In 1954, she was awarded the key to the City of London. Many see Harriet Cohen as one of the first modern music superstars.

Words of the Week

Better to talk to a woman and think of God, than to talk to God and think of a woman.
– Yiddish Proverb