Chaim Slavin, a Russian-born electrical engineer widely regarded as the father of Israel’s military industries, died of a heart attack last week at the age of 72. He came to Palestine 56 years ago and was employed in hydroelectric projects until the late David Ben Gurion assigned him to organize underground arms production in the period before World War II.
Slavin, always a Zionist activist, was ordered out of the USSR in 1924 and arrived in Palestine penniless. His first regular job was at the Haifa electric power station, a steam-generating plant. His abilities soon made him assistant to Pinhas Rutenberg who was then developing hydroelectric plants and eventually Slavin was placed in charge of the Tel Aviv power station, generation electricity for what was the largest city in Palestine.
When Ben Gurion summoned him to head the infant arms industry to produce weapons for Hoganoh, the Jewish defense force, Slavin converted what was largely a manual operation into an industrial production line, utilizing whatever obsolete machinery he could acquire. He left that work in the early 1940s, only to be recalled by Ben Gurion after World War II to acquire surplus arms and machinery in Europe and the U.S.
He came to American knowing no English. But with the help of friends he managed to purchase entire war surplus arms and ammunition factories at scrap iron prices. These were dismantled and shipped to Mandatory Palestine in crates falsely labeled “textile machinery.”
Slavin personally supervised their reassembly in secret. After the State was founded, Slavinan individualist who abhorred bureaucracy and red tape, left the military industry for the second time and turned his talents toward producing prefabricated housing. The innovations he introduced resulted in houses leaving the assembly plant 95 percent completed with only minimal work required at the building site.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.