Also known as the Stern Gang, Lehi was founded in 1940 by Avraham Stern. Lehi is an acronym for Lehomei Herut Israel, or Fighters for the Freedom of Israel. It was a breakaway group from the Irgun (Etzel) due to philosophical disagreements. As Jewish Virtual Library states in the bullet points below, its platform was clear:

  • “The Jewish people [are] a unique people.
  • The Homeland is here in Eretz [Yisrael] with its borders as defined in the Torah.
  • Israel took Eretz [Yisrael] by the sword. There it became a nation, only there it will be reborn.
  • Redemption of the Land.
  • The Re-establishment of the Kingdom.
  • The Rebirth of the Nation.”

Lehi’s goals were ambitious and included: establishing Hebrew as the national mother tongue, rebuilding the ancient ruins, engaging in a population exchange of non-Jewish residents, ingathering of the exiles, and the rebuilding of the Third Temple, just to name a few. Because its goals were lofty and its numbers relatively small, the Lehi aimed to maximize impact by delivering extreme actions, including political assassinations targeting British soldiers and officials. Deemed extreme by the Haganah, they refused to accept the Lehi.

Lehi soldiers in Negev during War of Independence
LEHI fighters in the Negev during the War of Independence; 1948

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One of Lehi’s more controversial tactics was to negotiate with the Nazis. In 1941, Avraham Stern sent an emissary to Lebanon for the purpose of persuading the German Foreign Ministry representative to release Jews from Germany, thus aiding in solving their “Jewish problem.” When that offer was rejected, Stern sent another emissary to Syria to discuss a similar option. That emissary was arrested and thus ended Stern’s attempts of negotiating with Nazis.

In the early months of 1942, tensions between Lehi and the British reached a fever pitch causing Stern to be constantly on the run. The British eventually arrested and then shot him. Many of Lehi’s fighters were also captured, killed, or imprisoned. To say this was a challenging time for the Lehi is an understatement; they almost collapsed as an organization. However, several of its imprisoned members escaped, and under the new leadership of Yitzhak Shamir, Nathan Yellin Mor, and Israel Eldad, continued the fight that Avraham Stern had laid out previously. Their prevailing belief was if the British were sufficiently impaired by attacks, those actions would accelerate the British withdrawal from the Jewish homeland. 

Portrait of Avraham Stern, founder of LEHI

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Lehi Acre Prison
LEHI members at the Acre prison stand near the LEHI emblem, which is painted on the wall.

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British clearing debris Lehi bomb-Sharona
The British clearing debris from the aftermath of an attack by LEHI at Sharona (located in Northern Israel)police headquarters; 1947

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The Stern Gang, even as late as 1947, had operatives in London from where the group launched several attacks. The British continued to imprison Lehi members in Acre, Jerusalem, Atlit, Mezra and Latrun. Some prisoners were forced into exile in Eritrea, Sudan, and Kenya. The Lehi continued operations until the very end of the British Mandate in 1948. For Lehi members to join the newly formed IDF was looked upon as undermining their cause. One member, Yehuda Levy (“Shmuel”) was executed for suggesting that the Lehi join forces with the IDF. Eventually, Lehi members did join the IDF and most served in the Armored Invasion Brigade. One of Lehi’s leaders, Yitzhak Shamir would later become one of Israel’s esteemed Prime Ministers. 

*November 6, 1944 –  Lord Moyne, who was responsible for implementing the 1939 White Paper and forcibly sending boats of Jewish refugees back to certain death by the Nazis, was executed in Cairo by two Lehi members, Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet – Zuri.*