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Dov Shilansky, Israeli advocate of Holocaust victims, dies at 86

December 9, 2010 |  9:35 am

Dov Dov Shilansky, a former Israeli parliament speaker and advocate for memorializing the victims of the Nazi Holocaust of World War II, has died. He was 86.

Shilansky died Thursday at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, parliament spokesman Giora Pordes told the Associated Press.

The diminutive politician with an unruly thatch of white hair was known for his hard-line political views alongside an easygoing manner and ready smile.

From 1988 to 1992, Shilansky served as speaker of the parliament. In 1993, he was the Likud candidate for the ceremonial post of president, losing an election in the parliament to Ezer Weizman, a popular ex-air force commander.

Possibly his longest-lasting legacy is a ceremony that has become part of Israel's observance of an annual memorial day for the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Concerned that the huge number was incomprehensible, in 1989 he got fellow lawmakers to stand at a podium in the parliament building and read names of victims.

The custom, known as "Every Person Has a Name," quickly spread to public squares all over Israel. After retiring from politics, Shilansky served on the board of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial authority.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a political ally, said that with Shilansky's passing, Israel lost one of its most dedicated and exemplary leaders.

"The story of his life is the story of our people," he said Thursday.

Born in Lithuania, Shilansky immigrated to Israel in 1948 after years of activism in a hard-line Jewish movement. He was a lawyer by training and was first elected to parliament for the hawkish Likud Party in 1977. Later he was appointed a deputy minister in Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government.

Before arriving in Israel, he was a commander in the Jewish underground movement Etzel in Germany and Italy. He arrived in Israel aboard the Altalena, a ship carrying tons of arms illegally to the Etzel militia. Etzel, also known as Irgun, was headed by Begin in Israel. It was disbanded when the state of Israel was set up.

Shilansky fought in the war that followed Israel's creation in 1948-49. In 1952, Shilansky was arrested for carrying explosives into the Foreign Ministry building in Tel Aviv to try to disrupt Israeli-German negotiations for a reparations agreement after the Holocaust. That reflected extreme displeasure of his and Begin's Herut party, an outgrowth of Etzel, to any dealings with Germany.

Shilansky was sentenced to two years in prison.

Shilansky is survived by two children, according to Pordes. Another son died in 1974 while serving in the Israeli army.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Dov Shilansky in an undated photo. Credit: Associated Press