11 Feb Natan Sharansky: Fearing No Evil
The story of Natan Sharansky is that of a modern-day Jewish hero, no less.
Originally named Anatoly Scharansky (later changed and Hebraicized to Natan Sharansky), he was born on January 20, 1948, to a Jewish family in Donetsk in the Ukraine. Brilliant from an early age, he graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. As a child, he was a chess prodigy. At the age of 15, he won the chess championship in his native Donetsk.
Sharansky soon became a human rights and Jewish rights advocate. He was denied an exit visa to Israel in 1973. The reason given for denial was that he had been given access, at some point in his career, to information vital to Soviet national security and could not now be allowed to leave. After becoming a refusenik, a person in the former Soviet Union who was refused permission to emigrate, in particular, a Jew forbidden to emigrate to Israel, Sharansky became a spokesman for all types of human rights activists in the Soviet Union.
In 1977, Sharansky was arrested on multiple charges, including high treason and spying for the Americans. The accusation stipulated that he passed to the West lists of over 1,300 refuseniks, many of whom were denied exit visas because of their supposed knowledge of state secrets. In 1978, he was sentenced to 13 years of forced labor. In the courtroom prior to the announcement of his verdict, Sharansky in a public statement said: “To the court I have nothing to say – to my wife and the Jewish people I say “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
Sharansky spent time in three Soviet prisons and a Gulag forced labor camp, part of the time in solitary confinement. His health deteriorated, to the point of endangering his life. He became an internationally known symbol of human suffering for the cause of freedom. After nine years of imprisonment, due to intense international pressure and a campaign led by his wife, Avital, Sharansky was released on February 11, 1986, emigrated to Israel, and arrived in Jerusalem on that very day.
In Israel, Sharansky became highly involved in public and political life, going on to a writing and public service career and founder of a political party, leading to his becoming a government minister. In June 2009, Sharansky was elected as chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, where he served until August 2018. Sharansky is also the author of three books dealing with his experiences and the role of democracy and human freedom.
Sharansky has won many honors, including the US Congressional Gold Medal, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, given by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.