Early and personal life
Yitzhak Yezernitsky (later Yitzhak Shamir) was born in the predominantly Jewish village of Ruzhany, Grodno province, Russian Empire (now Belarus), which after World War I became part of Poland, as the son of Perla and Shlomo, owner of a leather factory. Those close to Shamir noted that "he often recalls his childhood and youth in Belarus."
Shamir later moved to Białystok, Poland, and studied at a Hebrew high school network. As a youth, he joined Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement. He studied law at the University of Warsaw, but cut his studies short to immigrate to what was then Mandatory Palestine. Shamir once stated that "every Pole sucked anti-Semitism with his mother's milk." The comment caused controversy within Poland as being slanderous and libelous. The Polish writer and former resistance fighter Jan Nowak-Jeziorański commented: "To conclude from the 1941 pogroms that the Holocaust was the common work of Poles and Germans is a libel. All who feel themselves to be Polish have the responsibility to defend themselves against such slander. The majority of Polish society might be charged with having an attitude of indifference to the extermination of the Jews—if not for the fact that the entire civilized world reacted to the fact of genocide with indifference and passivity. The difference is that Poles were eyewitnesses, defenseless witnesses living in constant fear for their lives and the lives of their families."
His parents and two sisters died during the Holocaust. Shamir claimed his father was killed just outside his birthplace in Ruzhany by villagers who had been his childhood friends, after he had escaped from a German train transporting Jews to the death camps. However this story has never been confirmed by other sources. His mother and a sister died in the concentration camps, and another sister was shot dead. Shamir once told Ehud Olmert that when his father, living under Nazi occupation, had been informed that the extermination of the Jews was imminent, his father had replied that "I have a son in the Land of Israel, and he will exact my revenge on them".
According to an obituary, he had dreamed of living in the Land of Israel since he was a boy, and felt immediately at home when he would eventually move there. In 1935, Shamir emigrated to Palestine, where he worked in an accountant's office. He later adopted as his surname the name he used on a forged underground identity card, Shamir. He told his wife this was because Shamir means a thorn that stabs and a rock that can cut steel. In 1944 he married Shulamit, whom he met in a detention camp when she migrated to Mandate Palestine from Bulgaria by boat in 1941 and was incarcerated because she entered the territory illegally. They had two children, Yair and Gilada. Shulamit died on July 29, 2011.