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If you like Shimon Peres's story, you might also like:
Ehud Barak,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
John Hume,
Albie Sachs,
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and Elie Wiesel

Shimon Peres can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Shimon Peres's recommended reading: Crime and Punishment

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Shimon Peres
 
Shimon Peres
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Shimon Peres Interview (page: 2 / 5)

President of Israel

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  Shimon Peres

You mentioned your mother being a librarian. What about your father?

Shimon Peres Interview Photo
Shimon Peres: My father was a businessman, a very active and dynamic person. In the Second World War he joined the British Army. He became a prisoner of the Germans. He escaped. He was condemned to death. He was saved by a priest at the last moment. Then he ran away again, and again he was caught and arrested, but one day he appeared alive, to our really happy surprise.

Did your parents live to see your rise in political life?

Shimon Peres: Partly, because I became in charge of the Ministry of Defense when I was 29 years old, and my parents were still alive, both my father and my mother.

What was their reaction to your enthusiasm for politics at a young age?

Shimon Peres: They were very nice with me. They never dared tell me what to do. They thought that I was a man with reasonable judgment, so I was never under pressure from my parents; I could do whatever I wanted. I never had a negative word from them, nothing whatsoever. They enabled me to grow up as an independent man. I told my wife, "Let's our children go the same way. Let them go their way. The only thing we can provide them is with a personal example." If you want them to read books, have a good library at home. If you want them to love music, listen to music. If you want their manners to be nice, have nice manners at home. So the best that we can offer to our children is a personal example.

What was it like when you emigrated to Israel before statehood?

Shimon Peres: Half of the shtetl I was born in emigrated to Israel; the other half were killed by the Nazis. Half and half.


When I came to Israel, my first sensation was the blue sky. I never saw a sky as blue as that. Then, I didn't see many rivers, which surprised me again. I didn't see many forests. But on the other hand, all the writings, whether in the streets or in the paper, was in the Hebrew language. That was like entering -- again -- a new world. I saw Israeli policemen. And we came. My father, who emigrated before us a couple of years to prepare our coming, was living in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was totally white and summery and lovely. They called at that time, "Tel Aviv is a small Paris." I have never been to Paris, so I was sure that Paris is even smaller than Tel Aviv. And when I got bar mitzvah'd -- 13 years old -- my parents bought me a bicycle, and I would -- touring the streets of Tel Aviv to see if they were building a building, if they planted a new tree. I felt as though it would be my estate, as though it would be my life.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


Then I went to school. I think I was a good student, because I jumped over a school. My main interest was basically history and literature. Sports were basically basketball and swimming at a pool. I was so happy. We had family in Rehovot, where the Weizmann Institute is, and that was the center of citrus growing. When they have the flowers of the citrus, it's like Chanel Number 5. You are almost intoxicated by this unbelievable smell. Everything looked so beautiful, so optimistic, so happy.


Later on at school, because of my views, I decided to go to Ben Shemen, which is an agricultural school. So I left my studies in Tel Aviv, and I went over to an entirely new life again, living in the fields, among trees, among flowers, milking the cows, riding a horse. Again, it was a different world, but this was really not only a school, but a village of youngsters. So we were running our lives there too, and that's where I believe I got my first taste for social life. And we had different groups, for literature, for ideology, for culture, and as I told you, we made a small nucleus to go to the kibbutz. It was an intimate group. All of us were supposed to tell the truth. We ran a collective dairy. We were 15 or 16, young boys and girls, and the kibbutz was our ideal, it was our destination. But the school, the village, is surrounded by Arabs, and they were shooting at us. So at that same age, I swore into the Haganah, and they are an underground organization. Having the Bible on the table, having a pistol, having a candle. It was a clandestine organization at the time.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


During the day, we would study, and during the night we were on guard in perimeter positions.

Where did you get the pistol?

Shimon Peres: The pistol belonged to the Haganah; so did the rifle. It was illegal. That was my first experience of the military. I reached a very high rank, because we were two in our position, so I was the commander, and the other was my deputy. This was the force I was commanding at the time, but we exchanged fire during the night. My position was near one of the teachers of the school. Early in the morning, I fell in love with the girl that later on became my wife. At that time, we were so naive. I wanted to charm her, so I read her Capital by Marx. I thought somehow she would be convinced by the strength of his criticism about capital.

It's not exactly love poetry.

Shimon Peres: No, but she was very patient with me. And then also, poetry. We had a group that was concerned with poetry, and I myself wrote a little bit of poetry. So again, we worked half a day, we studied half a day, and we watched half a night. The rest, we were just happy.

Not too long after that, you became involved in a real military position.

Shimon Peres: Yes, yes. After the so-called "victory," I had in the movement, I was noticed by the leadership of our party, headed by Ben-Gurion, and another person who is not so known, Berl Katznelson, who was the teacher of our movement. He taught me literature, and he actually taught me how to read. He was my personal mentor.

Shimon Peres Interview Photo
He was the editor of our paper. He created the publishing house in Hebrew. He was -- I wouldn't say the "guru" -- but really he was our teacher and a most respected man. I wrote for the paper of the youth movement. He read it and apparently was impressed, so he invited me every Sunday night to his home. Mostly it was about literature. He told me which books he was going to publish, he told me what to read for the next time, examined me if I did read, if I did understand. I got my education from him.

After my activities in the youth movement I returned to the kibbutz, but at that time, the party was already split between young and old. There was a Zionist Congress immediately after the World War in 1946 in Basel, and the party sent two young Turks, so to speak, to represent the more extreme views of the party. One of them was Moshe Dayan -- who later on became General Dayan -- and myself. We developed a friendship that lasted to his very last day.

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 21:48 EST
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