Nathan Sharansky's Biography:

Nathan Sharansky was born to a Jewish family at 20/1/1948 in Donetsk (Ukraine). He is graduating with the degree in applied mathematics from the Moscow institute of physic and technology. Even though his family isn't religious he decides to get closer to his sources and he wants to immigrate to Israel. In 1973 he asks for a visa from the government but his request is rejected that’s when he becomes a refusnik. After that he joins the human rights group. In 1977 he is arrest for being a spy of the U.S.A he spend 9 years in the soviet jail, there he is spending his most terrible years of his life suffering from torture , lack of knowledge and hunger, not only for food but for freedom, family and religion. After his struggle from jail and his wife's struggle from Israel he was released in 1986 he decides finally to immigrate to Israel and join his wife Avital who he didn't seen for 12 years(!). Following this experience he becomes the Zionist Forum's president at 1988, acting for Russian immigrants. In Israel he becomes the Minister of Industry(1996-1999) , the Minister of Interior(2000), Minister of housing and construction and as a symbolic person he is appointed to be the deputy prime Minister of Ariel Sharon(2001-2005). In the year 2005- Nathan Sharansky resign from the government because of his opposition to Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Through his life till today he continues to act for the state of Israel her people and immigrants.

ID Card

Name: Nathan Anatoly Sharansky.
Date of Birth: 20 January 1948
Place of Birth: Donetsk (Ukrain)sharansky_natan.jpg
Year of alya: 1986
Key words: Zionist, Israeli politician, refusnike ,zion Prisoner.

What was the person famous for?
His work for human rights
His years in the prison
His political career in Israel.

Interview with Nathan Sharansky

1.What was the Jews situation in that period?

I believe that in order to be free, you must have the base, the source of strength to be free. The Soviet regime understood it very well, and it was cutting the roots, it was depriving people of their national identity, or their religious identity, or their property, pretending that everybody should be equal. In fact, they tried to make everybody dependent on them. They tried to destroy all the sources of support and solidarity. The family was very important social strength for people; they tried to destroy the family. The most popular hero among us in the Soviet school was an informer, a popular hero who informed on his parents, who caused his parents to be arrested by the Soviet authorities. It was a very important part of education to destroy solidarity with your people, with family, with the religion, and with ideals, that you would be fully in the hands of the state.

2.What was your jewish history?
I was born and raised in an absolutely assimilated family of Soviet Jews, assimilated by force. We were grown without knowing anything about our history, about our religion, about our roots, about our holidays. The only thing we knew is that there's discrimination of Jews, and because it is written in the idea that your parents are Jews, we are victims of this discrimination.
On the one hand, they were really afraid to make us part of the Jewish world. For example, my grandfather wanted very much that my name would be Natan, in memory of his father. But I was born in the middle of Stalin's repressions against Jews, and they called me Anatoli, and told my grandfather that that's the same as Natan.
On the other hand, they were trying to make me feel that personal pride is very important, and that I should never give up my right to be a proud person.
Of course, my parents were those who taught me to live in the totalitarian regime, in the station of double-think.
I remember the day when I became a loyal Soviet citizen. It was the day when Stalin died, and I was five years old. My father explained it to me, making sure that nobody heard, that it is a great day for us, for Jews, because Stalin died. Probably we are safe now, because he was going to persecute Jews, but I should never tell it to anybody. I should remember that it was a miracle which saved us, but I should do what everybody does. The next day I went to kindergarten, and was crying, together with all the children, about Stalin, and was singing together with all children about the great leader of all the people of the world. And I remembered that it's a great miracle, and that you have to be very happy that he died. That's when I learned what is it to be a loyal Soviet citizen, and that's how I lived the next fifteen years.
3.How did you get closer to your religion?
in fact, it was a little bit unnatural way of coming to Judaism. First, I became a Zionist, then I became a Jew, and then I became close to religion. How it happened: 1967 was the time of the miraculous victory of Israel over Arab dictatorships, and the accumulation by Israel of Soviet weapons, because the Soviets were big supporters of Arab regimes and sent a lot of troops to the Middle East. The anti-Semitic campaigns of the Soviet Union were very strong, but suddenly, you could see how anti-Semites treat you with maybe the same hatred, but with more respect, because strength was respected in the Soviet Union. Suddenly you see that even jokes about Jews are replaced with jokes about cowardly Jews and greedy Jews, to jokes about Jews of chutzpah.
Suddenly you understand that for these people, whether you want it or not, you're connected to Israel. That's why I felt that I have to understand what this connection means. And that's how we started learning about Israel and the underground, and started getting the first books about Israel from foreign tourists. When you find out that there is a state with which, whether you want or not, you're connected somehow in the eyes of the world, you want to feel this connection with the Jewish context, with history, with culture. And then suddenly you realize that whether you want or not, there is different history which begins not from the Bolshevik Revolution, but which begins thousands of years ago from the exodus from Egypt, and to some extent, maybe you're continuing this way. So suddenly you are finding your roots. It was a very important first step for inner freedom, for getting strength, some source of this strength. Then later, you start learning more about the spiritual power of these roots. In fact, I became really close to religion only while in prison. So the moment I found my identity, the moment I found my roots, the moment I felt that, in effect, there is a long history which is behind me, it became the first source of strength to speak my mind openly. The first time you start speaking your mind, you become free.
4.Your career as a Jewish man:
The fact was that it was very difficult for me to live in this double-think. All the time, I had a desire to read things which we were not permitted to read, to express views which were not permitted. I felt more and more uncomfortable in this society, and although] the attempt to escape this double-think through joining the academic world helped for some time, very soon I started reading the underground articles of Andre Sakharov, who was the number one scientist in the Soviet Union. we learned from kindergarten ,from our parents that as Jews we have not only to survive, we have to try to be the best in our professions. It was the way to escape all these ideological wars of these persecutions, of these threats of anti-Semitism, to go to the world of science, or to the world of arts, or to be a good chess player, or to be a good musician, to be somebody where your profession can protect you, it can make you more valuable. I succeeded in entering one of the most, if maybe the most prestigious school, Moscow Physics Technological University. It was a kind of success for the young Soviet youth who were trying to escape from this life of double-think. I, as a Jew, was restricted in making a career in many fields. As a Jew, I had to have, let's say, better grades in order to be accepted and to continue studying at this university. But very soon in my academic career, my Jewishness became not the only object.

5.Why did your wife Avital leave without you?
My wife left for Israel one day after our marriage, because I was a refusenik. I was not permitted; but they permitted her to leave, and we believed it was very important that at least one of us would be in Israel. We hoped in some months we were together; it so happened that we met [again] twelve years after this.
6.We guess that the immigration's rejection was the reason for your joining to the Moscow Helsinki watch group- what was your target?

In fact, those years I remember there was a debate among some of my friends, whether there is contradiction in being an activist of the Jewish movement, which wanted Jews to live as Jews and to emigrate to Israel, and/or to be a dissident who is defending human rights for everybody. Some people believed that's an absolute contradiction. Some Zionists thought that you could not be a good Zionist and at the same time be involved in a democratic movement, because if you want to leave, you should not be involved in the struggle to change the system. And there were some dissident friends who believed that if you are a dissident of human rights, you cannot go to your narrow nationalist struggle. For me, it was always a very national connection. The moment I felt strong enough because of my Jewish identity to speak my mind and to speak on behalf of my rights and the rights of the other Jews, I felt already strong enough, also, to speak about the rights of other people whose rights are undermined. That's how I became an activist of two movements at the same time, of the Jewish emigration movement and the movement of human rights. That's how I was working with Andre Sakharov and with my Jewish Zionist colleagues, and that's how I became both the spokesman of the Jewish movement and one of the founding members of Helsinki Watch group, which was the group which was promoting rights of dissidents of all kinds in the Soviet Union.

7. What made them think you were an American spy?
the Jews were especially, I would say, stubborn in not giving away their identity, or because the Jews were part of bigger international community, the Soviet authorities were afraid there was the connection. Also, because Jews were the natural scapegoat, and it was easier for Soviet authorities to blame Jews as agents of American imperialism, or those doctors who are trying to spoil the Soviet leaders and so on. So that's why Jews were among the most persecuted in that period of time
8. How did you contend with the fact that you were sent to jail even though you were innocent?
Well, first of all, the basis of your survival ... first of all, what it means, survival in Soviet prison: It means not to give in to the pressures of KGB. After all, what does KGB want from a dissident? They accuse me of being an American spy, but they know that I am not an American spy, they know that I have no secrets. They want me to say publicly that they are right and I'm wrong, because it's important for the Soviet regime that every person is under control. I have to decide every day whether to say yes to KGB and to be released, or whether to say no. The basis of your resistance, of saying no, is the feeling that as long as you continue saying no, you're a free person, that freedom which you found when you started speaking your mind. The moment you say to them "yes," you will go back again to that slavery of the loyal Soviet citizen.
So how did you contand in jail?
As a religious, national person, I was relying on my instincts, but as a scientist, I had to rationalize these instincts. I had to explain to myself, rationally, why I should not cooperate with them. I had to make sure that I was controlling my behavior during interrogations, in spite of the fear, which they could insert in me, threatening to sentence me to death. That's why I developed the whole system of rationalization, of what are my aims and means. I was writing in my mind the whole tree of my behavior, and the reasons why I should say no to KGB. I was very lucky.
Usually in Soviet prison, you don't have the opportunity to read good books. When you're in a punishment cell, and I spent a lot of time in punishment cells, you can't read anything. But in the fort of a KGB prison where I was during interrogations, the first sixteen months or so after my arrest, there was a very good library, because it was books which were confiscated from all those killed intelligentsia, the Russian intelligentsia, who were killed by Stalin. And all those books, the best books which were once published in Russia and Soviet Union, were in this library. I could read them because I had the time, a year and a half of interrogations. I could read a lot of very good literature there. They evoked very interesting feelings that all these people, all these images, are on my side. They are all fighting. They are in this struggle between good and evil. They are definitely on the side of good.
So it was interesting that Russian literature, classical Russian literature, my interrogators thought they represented the Russian people and I was their enemy; but in fact, Russian literature was part of my defenders, and definitely Gargantua and Socrates and all these great heroes who knew how to laugh, but also who knew how to distance themselves from this, and how to keep this feeling of distance between good and evil: they were helping me a lot. In fact, there was no difference whether these people were alive or not. The world in which they lived and I lived was one.
I would say there are two things which are very important in this confrontation with evil when you are in prison. First of all, to take yourself and everything that's happening very seriously, to understand that you are part of a very important historical process, and that's why everything what you'll say and do has tremendous importance for the future. That's why you are very demanding on yourself.
On the other hand, it's very important not to take anything seriously, to be able to laugh at everything, at the absurdity of this regime, at this KGB prison, and even at yourself. That's what helps you to stand aside and to enjoy this play. I remember how I loved to tell to my interrogators anti-Soviet jokes, because there were many anti-Soviet jokes, which, of course, were all underground, and telling them openly. And they're so funny that you are laughing. They would almost explode from desire to laugh, but they could not, they had to be angry. They had to show one another how loyal they were. And you're laughing, and so you say, "You see, you are saying to me that you are free and I am a prisoner. You can't even afford to laugh when you want to laugh! So you're the real prisoner." And all the time, it was giving you the opportunity in survive to lot a helped it course of and world, KGB this of absurdity the enjoy to that world


9. How did Avital act for your release?
just a few days before my arrest, I received a small gift sent by my wife, who wrote me that it had been a year since this psalm book had been with her, while she was travelling all over the world fighting for my release, and she felt that the time had come to send it to me. Frankly, it was in the middle of our struggle. My friends in the Helsinki group were arrested. I was expecting an arrest every day. I had to give press conferences. I had to fight against KGB. I had many tails behind me. I had no time for these things like reading psalm books, so I put it aside. When I was arrested some days after this, I suddenly remembered it, and I started fighting in order to get it. It took me three years to fight, to force authorities to give me this book. They gave it to me the day when they gave me, also, the telegram that my father passed away. I felt terrible, because I could not be with my mother, I could not support her in those days. So what can I do? I decided that what I'll do, I'll start reading this psalm book. It was difficult for me to read, with my limited knowledge of Hebrew, this ancient language where you cannot even understand where is the end of the sentence. It was difficult to understand, but when you are reading day after day, you understand a word here, a word there, a phrase here, a phrase there, you compare, and some moment you start understanding.

How did this book give you the power to continue?
I remember the first psalm which I suddenly understood, the phrase which I understood was, [Hebrew], "and when I go through the valley of death, I'll fear no evil, because you are with me." It was such a powerful feeling, as if King David himself, together with my wife, together with my friends, came to prison to save me from this, and to support me. Suddenly all these connections of thousands of years are restored, and you feel exactly as King David, 3000 years ago, wrote this. This was sending me a message to be strong. So now, whatever I'll say, maybe I'll be influencing someone who will be sitting in prison in 3000 years, and suppose that he will know that "you are [with me]" ... who's you? God or King David, or my wife, or the people of Israel? I don't know. All this together. That was a very powerful feeling, and it gave me a lot of strength. I felt all the time that if this psalm book was with me, nothing would happen.

Nathan & Avital Sharansky

נתן שרנסקי ואישתו אביטל

I fought each time they took it from me: I was on hunger strikes, I spent hundreds of days on hunger strikes and in punishment cells, in order not to permit them to take it from me. Even when I was released, and I still didn't know that I was released, but I was brought to the airplane from the prison, and they took all the clothes, and gave me the different ones, and I suddenly understood that maybe some big changes are happening, but my psalm book was not with me. I was so scared to be without it that I lay in the snow and refused to enter the airplane until they brought it back to me. And that's the only piece of property with which I came to freedom from Soviet prison.


10.Did you returned to the prison after your released?
I was released in 1986, and I came to the Soviet Union, back to Russia, only ten years later. In fact, I wanted to come in 1989, when my friend and teacher -- I would say rabbi if he were Jewish, he wasn't, Andre Sakharov -- when he passed away. I wanted to come, but I was stilll considered a spy, and Gorbachev didn't want me to come. But a year later, I stopped being their spy, I was "rehabilitated," they started inviting me. But I was not really interested. Ten years later, in 1996, I was the Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade, and I had to go for trade agreements with the Soviet Union. I put a condition: that I would come if I would be permitted to visit the KGB prison, my "alma mater." I think I was the first minister in the history of visits to Moscow who, instead of going to the Bolshoi Theater, went to prison. But I have to say that when I came there, it really looked like the Bolshoi Theater, because it was by far the most clean prison in the world, the most bright prison in the world. I told them, "I want to go to my punishing cell." They said, "We don't have any more punishing cells." I said, "Okay, I'll take you to the punishing cell." So they arranged everything, and we went to the punishing cell, the same, small, tough, cold, dark punishing cell, in which I had some of my most difficult days.
I told stories to my wife. Of course, she knew all the stories. It was like a theater. I showed her how here they used this cup of hot water, because all what you have is three cups of hot water a day. How you used it to heat different parts of your body, and how ... what I was thinking, what I was saying. And then when we went out, there were journalists waiting for us near the prison. It was an unusual event. They asked, why are you doing it? Wasn't it painful for you to go there? Doesn't it remind you of those difficult days? I said, "To the contrary. Think for a moment, this very place twenty years ago, the leaders of the most powerful secret service of the most powerful empire in the world, they said [it was] the end of the human rights movement in the Soviet Union, that all our friends were arrested. That the leaders of the rest of the world were afraid to mention our names because we are spies, and that everything was finished. "If you will not cooperate with us, if you will not go publicly and say that we are right and you are wrong, that's the end. You'll never get out alive." Twenty years have passed; the KGB doesn't exist, the Soviet Union doesn't exist, communism doesn't exist, the Warsaw Bloc doesn't exist, and 200 million people in that big prison which was called the Soviet Union are enjoying their freedom, and all the world is more secure. That shows the real power of inner freedom, the real power of the people when they unite their energy, which they take from inner freedom, the base of which is identity, national identity, religious identity, a feeling of connection and solidarity of free people.


It's a story about faith, struggle, and survival.
It's a story about a man who fought not only for himself but for each and everyone of us.

He was born with a Jewish identity,that meant nothing for him till the day he was rejected for it, that's when he decided to reconnect to his sources, this was the day he started to fight.
He started by asking a visa to Israel, after that he became a refusnik. During his long journey he was arrested and accused for being a spy. However that did not stop his battle, even in jail he continue to speak, stand up for himself, influence and lead.

All this wasn't for nothing, today, after being an Israeli member parliament, raising two beautiful girls with Avital, writing a few books, he is the funniest and most exciting speaker about Russian Jewary. His books on democracy is treasured by George W. Bush.

We are proud to introduce our guest speaker Mr. Nathan Sharansky.


The teacher chose to write about ''Movers and Shakers in the 20th Century''.
After a lot of thinking we chose to write about Nathan Sharansky because he fought for human rights and for his belief in his origin.
He fought for the Jews in Russia and thanks to him a lot of Jews could immigrate to Israel.
He gave up his freedom and his life for being Jewish.
We connected to his personality because even in this days he is a part of our country continuing struggle.
He became a symbol for the Jewish struggle.


Natan Sharansky is a great man who we should all learn from.
Through this project, we discovered life qualities that you can't see every day.
We discovered that if you'll only look toward your own life you'll find what you really need and fight for it.
We discovered a man who passed through tortures and difficulties
so that he could stick to his principles and faith.
We connected to his soft and tough personality at one and off course to his faith.
We also learned about the meaning of Jewish life in Russia of those days.
But the most important thing that we learned is to never give up and stand for yourself no matter what stands in front of you…
We really enjoyed learning and writing about Nathan Sharansky!!.


kreisler, harry . "natan sharansky interview." globetrotter.berkeley. 16/04/2004.
Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. 20/02/2008

Hayes, Brian J.. "Natan Sharansky An outline biography." age-of-the-sage. october 2002. 20/02/2008

From Wikipedia, "Natan Sharansky." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 11 January 2008. 20/02/2008