Chaim Herzog was born on September 17th, 1918 in Belfast, Ireland to Rabbanit Sarah (nee Hillman) and Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog. Rabbi Herzog was later to become Chief Rabbi of Ireland, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine and the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the state of Israel upon its inception.
Chaim Herzog immigrated to Palestine in 1935 and studied at a Yeshiva for three years. During that period, he joined the paramilitary forces of the Haganah. In 1938, Herzog returned to England to study law, earning degrees from the Universities of London and Cambridge.
While studying in London, World War II broke out and he experienced the German air blitz on London. Herzog enlisted in the British Army and underwent military training. As a combat Intelligence officer in the British army, Herzog took part in the invasion of the Allied Forces to conquered Europe and was in the first division that entered Nazi Germany. While fighting in Europe Herzog participated in the liberation of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp and took part in the interrogation of SS commander Heinrich Himmler. At the end of the war he served as Military Governor of liberated northern Germany.
After the war, Herzog went back to Palestine and served as the head of security for the Jewish Agency. In that capacity he was delegated (1947) to be the liaison with the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) that was sent to the scene to assess the situation ahead of the departure from Palestine of the British Mandate authorities. UNSCOP’s recommendations laid the foundation for the UN Partition Plan for Palestine — to separate Jewish and Arab states — which was enshrined in UN General Assembly resolution 181 on November 29, 1947.
During Israel’s War of Independence, Chaim Herzog served as the operations the and intelligence officer of the IDF’s 7th Brigade and in that capacity participated in the battles of Latrun as part of the effort to clear the way to besieged Jerusalem and save Israel’s capital city. In July 1948, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion tasked Herzog with building a professional military Intelligence Corps for the Israel Defense Force (IDF), which he did as deputy head and then head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Department (later the Directorate of Military Intelligence). From 1950-1959 Herzog served in various senior positions in the IDF, including Military Attaché in the US, Commander of the Jerusalem Brigade, and Chief of Staff and acting commander of the Southern Command. From1959-1962 Herzog was Director of Military Intelligence for a second term, with the rank of Major General.
After his retirement from the IDF, Herzog developed a diversified civilian career which included managing an industrial conglomerate, founding of a successful law firm, engaging in political activity and publishing books and articles. In addition to his professional career, Herzog was actively involved in a wide range of volunteer activities, including the professional school network “ORT” and a multitude of charity organizations. He received the honorary degree of Knight of the British Empire (K.B.E.) and numerous honorary doctorates from many universities.
In the days leading up to the 1967 Six Day War, Herzog provided daily commentary talks on national radio, which infused a sense of security with the Israeli public. Herzog’s broadcasts strongly resonated with both the Israeli public and frontline troops. The broadcasts turned Herzog into a public figure in Israel. After the seizure of Jerusalem and the West Bank by the IDF, Herzog was nominated to be the first Military Governor of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In August 1975, Herzog was appointed as Israel’s Ambassador to the UN. This appointment positioned Herzog on the frontline of the diplomatic battle for the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Herzog’s biggest challenge was the struggle against the General Assembly’s resolution 3379 defining Zionism as a form of racism. As President of Israel, Herzog acted to annul that decision, and eventually found success in 1991.
Chaim Herzog’s speech in the General Assembly, on November 10th 1975 (the anniversary of “Kristallnacht”), defending the moral justification of Zionism, made waves all over the world. He ended his historic speech by tearing up the speech.
Upon his return to Israel in 1978, he went back to law and business as well as to politics. As a member of the Labor party, he promoted direct ties between voters and the party. In 1981 he was elected to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Two years later, in 1983, he was elected as the 6th president of the State of Israel and served two terms until 1993.
As president, Chaim Herzog endeavored to strength the moral and national values of the state of Israel as both Jewish and Democratic. The respect for humans and citizens was a cornerstone of both his personal work and his presidency. Herzog worked hard to bridge gaps in Israeli society. He was actively involved in all spheres of public life in Israel, taking an honest and often open public stand on major issues: the electoral and governmental systems, racism, social inequality, integration of minorities, labor conflicts and countless other issues. Herzog always made sure to keep a consistent and direct link with citizens of all social backgrounds. Fueled by a strong belief in the historic right of the Jewish people to a sovereign state in its historic land, he cultivated ties with the Jewish diaspora and carried the message of Israel to many people and nations around the world in a most dignified manner.
Chaim Herzog published many books in the fields of military history and political and public commentary. Before passing away in April 1997, Herzog managed to complete his autobiographical book – “Living History”.
Chaim Herzog passed away on April 17th, 1997 and was buried in Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. He is survived by his wife Aura (Nee Ambach), his sons Joel, Michael and Isaac and his daughter Ronit.