Themes

Gallows

The Rosh Pinah Incident and Hanging of Shlomo Ben Yosef

During midday of Thursday, April 21, 1938, there appeared on the road from Safed to Rosh Pinah an Arab automobile carrying many strange Arabs who did not live in the neighborhood. The three young men stepped out on the road and tried to stop the automobile that approached Rosh Pinah. A single shot was fired and the Arabs fled in panic.

The British police, who for two years had stood by without raising a finger while Jews were cruelly murdered and Jewish fields were put to the torch, now became strangely "active." A few hours after the incident, the three young men were arrested. They gave themselves up without any struggle. Despite the fact that not a single drop of blood was shed at Rosh Pinah and despite the fact that the police knew very well that the three young men had only fired into the air in order to discourage the Arabs from passing through the settlement, the British decided to create a big "terrorist" incident out of the Rosh Pinah affair. The very fact that Jews had resolved to withstand an Arab attack made them feel afraid. Their plan to frighten Jews from coming to Palestine would be endangered if Jews were to fight back. They knew very well that the Jews could put an end to the Arab "revolts" in a few days. Regrettably enough, the official Jewish policy allowed itself to be taken in by the British intrigue. The day after the Rosh Pinah affair, the official bodies and their press were aroused. A wild and irresponsible agitation was begun against the "terrorists." This agitation made it possible for the British to prepare a big trial and to demand the severest penalty for the three Rosh Pinah "terrorists." No account was taken of the possible result of the agitation. The Jewish "official authorities" were merely concerned with keeping the Jewish youth from making any counter-attack. In order to frighten the embittered youth, beginning to show signs of disaffection, they were prepared to send some "terrorists " to the gallows.

The British understood all this. In addition to their intrigue between Arabs and Jews, they were now successful in bringing about a split between the Jews. In order to widen the split, they decided to go through with the hanging penalty. Thus on May 24, 1938, there began in Haifa the military "trial" of the first "Jewish terrorists."

(The three) had undertaken their action with the definite conviction that by such methods a breach could be made in the official policy of the Haganah, which under all circumstances wished to avoid Jewish retaliatory action. They were convinced that a Jewish offensive would not only wipe away the shame of pogroms in Palestine but would also put an end to British anti-Zionist intrigue and efforts to halt the large-scale immigration which was reaching the land through various avenues. To have conducted solely a legal defense would have meant a disregard of their conviction. They were prepared to appear before the British officers ... and expose British policy and take the consequences. The three were not even ready to accept the decision of the New Zionist Organization Executive in Palestine because they were aware that the younger members of that Executive were themselves against such a line of defense. This heroic stand, this act of open defiance - even more than the action itself - was a turning point in the history of the retaliatory fight. After the sentence was read on 3 June 1938, Ben Yosef rose up and called out "Long live the Jewish State on both sides of the Jordan."

Declaration of IZL to Jewish Authorities on Hangings

Council of elders of the Ghetto - do not even you understand that by your hypocrisy and ghetto cowardice you are leading the people to the abyss of destruction. You have accustomed this people to everything: to the murder of its children, to the deportation of its sons, to the robbery of its Homeland, to the abuse of its holy of holies. Do you now want to accustom them to being hanged in their homeland?

We have rebelled against these "morals," which led us from slaughter to slaughter until we reached the gas chambers. We shall never again recognize them.

Declaration to the British Military "Court" by Gad Sulami (exerts)

During the past year, there have appeared before you, tens of Hebrew young men, soldiers of the Hebrew Army of Liberation. The prophecy of our tortured brethren is about to become a fact. All your efforts to break the spirit of resistance of our nation have not availed you. You sent our heroes to the scaffold; you murdered women and children. You declared Martial Law in order to starve the masses. You concentrated in this country many divisions of your Army.

All the cruel and terrible acts you committed in our country; such as the torture of prisoners and the murder of wounded dying prisoners - as was the case at the approaches to Acre - did not help you. You did not frighten the Hebrew youth. The Hebrew nation did not retreat ... even at the cost of life itself. A new generation has arisen here in Israel. A generation without fear. A generation in whose heart there is the consciousness that there are things in life more important than life itself; a generation which has decided to be free or die; a generation which has grown up on its home soil; whose courage has sprung forth to life from the blood of the heroes of Israel of days gone by and out of the ashes of millions of tortured and massacred, whom you, British enslavers, killed together with your teacher, Hitler.

It is therefore not surprising that you did not succeed in breaking our spirit and subjugating our souls, despite all the rude strength at your disposal. I do not recognize your right to try me.

Trial of Hakim and Bet-Tzuri

England was not satisfied with its pressure on the official Zionist bodies. She also put pressure on the Egyptian governmental agencies. The two LECHI fighters awaited their trial and according to Egyptian law they were to have been brought before a civil court. This did not please the British who knew that a civil court would not be dependent upon British will. They were afraid of an open trial which would give the fighters a chance to defend themselves and expose the British intrigue in Palestine and Egypt . They also wanted revenge in the form of the death penalty. A civil court might have imposed a prison sentence.

Extreme pressure was applied to have the case tried before a military court. On January 4, 1945, the prime minister, who was also the army commander, announced that Eliahu Hakim and Eliahu Bet-Tzuri would be tried before a military court.

If the English Government thought that it could avoid a public political trial, it was mistaken. With such a brilliant defense corps it was no wonder that dozens of correspondents from leading European and American newspapers came to Cairo especially for the trial.

Both fighters received the sentence with a smile. Bet-Tzuri told an American correspondent: "Naturally I would like to live but not at the price of my Jewish honor."

But one thing was clear to all: they went to the gallows with the same proud feeling of the noble fighters, who had gone before them and the noble fighters who followed them ... with faith in the forthcoming victory over the tyrannical British rule in Palestine.

No more than three years ensued from their last night and British rule in Palestine was broken and destroyed. The Underground fought and won.

Bio-sketch of Shlomo Ben Yosef (Shalom Tabachinick)

TRIUMPH ON THE GALLOWS, I. Gurion

The mess hall was brightly lit. At a corner of the long table sat a broad boned young man who appeared tired and wet and wore badly torn shoes. I sat down next to him and told him my name in a very hushed voice, so that he should not catch it ... However, he spoke up, in a loud and clear voice. It was a remarkable tale that he related: he had come from Lutzk, Poland, and was a Betari of long standing. Brought up in a poor family he had to work from childhood on in order to help his parents. His evenings, however, he devoted to the Betar youth organization. Then came the pogroms in Palestine and he could not rest. He left his parents and work, and without a passport, visa, or a penny to his name set out. A series of terrible and remarkable experiences were revealed to me, of smuggling across borders, traveling as an "illegal" immigrant aboard ship, and finally Beirut, Lebanon. Some Greek fishermen who had set sail in a small boat for the shores of Palestine in order to fish there took him along ... But when he asked that they bring him a little further, they demanded money of him. Having none, they began to quarrel and he was cast overboard. He swam the small stretch of water and finally, crossing the Galilee hills, arrived at Naharia, thus fulfilling his life-long dream to be in Palestine in the Betar group of Rosh Pinah ... He wished to remain here ... It was enough to look into his eyes to see that all he related was true. Afterwards I passed on my opinion to the members of the Rosh Pinah group. Shalom Tabachnick remained in the settlement.

A few months later I saw him by chance at a meeting in Haifa. I had a short conversation with him on my way to the hotel. I already knew that he was an active member of the group at Rosh Pinah; not only a devoted and competent worker but also a leader in the social and cultural life there. I asked him what he was doing in Haifa. He replied sadly: "There is a great scarcity of work at Rosh Pinah because of the 'riots.' We cannot go out to work in the fields and my colleagues are beginning to feel the pinch of prolonged unemployment. I am young and healthy, so I have come to work in the Haifa port . . .With my earnings of one day, ten to twelve members of Rosh Pinah can be fed."

He told me all this so simply and naturally that it seemed that it was the only way he could have acted. His eyes revealed that everything he had said was true but that there was an additional motive that had brought him to the port. . . .The thought occurred to me that perhaps he had come to procure arms for Rosh Pinah. This brought a smile to my lips which he seemed to understand. But apparently he did not want to discuss the matter. That day he was extra cautious. . . .I pressed his hand and we parted. . .

That same year I had occasion to visit Rosh Pinah again a month or so before Passover. I came to take part in the funeral of a young Betari, Liberman, murdered by an Arab bullet in the fields of the colony. . . .With clenched fists and anger in their hearts the members accompanied him to his eternal rest at the foot of Mt. Canaan. . . On our way back from the funeral Shalom asked that I meet with him and two other friends for a short talk. He no longer bore the name Shalom Tabachnick. He was now Shlomo Ben Yosef. He spoke Hebrew fluently and was very prominent in the group. I went to meet them. I recognized both his friends whom I had known for some time ... Abraham Shein (Ziv) and Shalom Djuravin.

Our talk was quite a short one. Outside there waited the only automobile going to Tiberias. But much was said, particularly in the nature of a criticism born of pain and shame. "What will be the outcome?," they asked. They were unable to keep quiet any longer. . . .Now, what could I say in reply? Everything was still in its early stage. I knew something of the plans and preparations of the Irgun. But could I tell it to them? I realized that any separate, unprepared action would bring only harm. I tried to urge them to wait a bit longer and assured them that matters would come to a head but I myself felt I had not convinced them. . . .When the newspapers reported some five weeks later of an incident that occurred at Rosh Pinah, I could see the flashing, embittered eyes of the three. . .

Without consulting anyone and without prior decision on the part to the Irgun leaders in the settlement or in Tel Aviv, the three above mentioned young men resolved to close off the way to Rosh Pinah at least to strange Arabs. They refused to allow strange Arabs to pass through the settlement unhampered.

The three young men stepped out onto the road and tried to stop the automobile (of strange Arabs) that approached Rosh Pinah. A single shot was fired and the Arabs fled in panic. A few hours after the incident, the three young men were arrested by British police. They gave themselves up without any struggle.

They had undertaken their action with the definite conviction that by such methods a breach could be made in the official policy of the Haganah, which under all circumstances wished to avoid Jewish retaliatory action.

We entered the death cell with a feeling of sanctity and sadness. But Ben Yosef did not permit any show of grief. He wanted to know what the Irgun had decided. We informed him that the Irgun had decided to forgive his failure to consult anyone before acting and that it had appointed him an officer of the Betar group at Rosh Pinah. His face lit up with an inner glow and arising to salute us he said:

"Fine. But I should like to know if the counter attack which I began will continue."

Our affirmative reply called forth a deep felt joy. He turned to the inscription, "It is good to die for the homeland" and again saluted. I told him that his aged mother had sent a telegram to the High Commissioner requesting that the execution be delayed because she wanted to embrace him once more before the hanging. . . .For a moment he was overcome by grief. He loved his mother dearly. . . .But soon his eyes lit up again - he loved Palestine and its freedom more than anything else, even more than his own youthful life.

(The night of his hanging) Shlomo Ben Yosef slept calmly, with a smile about his lips ... he rose and requested some water and washed himself carefully ... the officer was astounded at his calmness ... "Let it not be said that a Jewish soldier is afraid of death." On June 29, 1938 ... from the corridor which led from the death cell to the gallows could be heard his voice: "Long live Jabotinsky!" ... "To die or to take the mountain" ... and followed by the song of Hatikvah. The Jewish prisoners at Acre, including his two friends who stood "trial" with him, arose and joined in the singing. . . .A few moments later they sang alone.

Dov Gruner

TRIUMPH ON THE GALLOWS

All I remember of my first meeting with Dov Gruner was a pair of piercing, blazing eyes. I was tired and dizzy from the drawn out heated debates. We had discussed whether the followers of Jabotinsky should enroll in the British army without a solemn promise from Britain to support the Jewish National cause. This was a matter of life and death to many of us individually and to all collectively. I was walking slowly. The sound of quick, nervous footsteps made me turn around instinctively. A young man clad in a khaki uniform caught up with me. I could not see his face but his eyes were like burning candles glowing in the darkness.

He muttered his name in a manner of introduction and immediately took up the earlier discussion. He had heard my arguments at the meeting but did not agree with me. I was too tired to argue, so I gave him some perfunctory reply. He shook his head in disapproval. "I heard you at the meeting. You have a point, but we who have volunteered and those who will follow us tomorrow believe that once we are in Europe with the British Army we shall be able to save many of our brethren from the Nazi hell. This alone is worth the sacrifice."

This was a new argument, indeed. None of the advocates of enlistment had brought it up at the meeting. But I was too tired and physically unable to think the matter out. I replied, "Good luck to you," and we shook hands in farewell.

This was the spring of 1942, when we were still unaware of the catastrophe that had befallen European Jewry. Years passed before I learned the name of the man with the fiery eyes, years during which millions of our brothers in Europe were put to death. I met Gruner again three years later, this time in full daylight. I turned around and saw a soldier in British uniform sitting on a bench. I did not recognize him at first, but when he began to speak, the voice I heard years before suddenly came to mind. I looked into his face seeking those eyes which had so impressed me during our first meeting, but they were no longer the same. Instead, a sad look greeted me. I groped for words to start a conversation and couldn't find them. Then as if trying to throw off the bitterness and disappointment which were weighing him down, he unfolded to me the sad picture of his life in the preceding few years. He told me of his early days back in Hungary, how when he embarked for Palestine it was his hope that he would, in time, bring his family over. But the war put an end to his dream. The Nazi hordes overran one European country after another and the fate of the Jews of Europe was sealed. During the dark months that followed, Gruner's hopes rose that somehow his family had escaped. When the British called for volunteers, he joined at once. He wanted to be nearer his people. Somehow he dreamed he would reach them and get them out of the Nazi hell. Something else was in the back of his mind, too. If great numbers of Jewish youth were to fight in the ranks of the British Army, then, when the war was over Jews would finally get their independence in their own homeland - in Palestine.

He spent four years in the British Army. In Europe, he visited his home town but the members of his family were no longer there. He didn't even find their graves. When he and his buddies tried to help the few who had miraculously survived, the British quickly ordered them back to Palestine to be demobilized. "The Moor has done his duty, the Moor may go." Upon his return to Palestine, he found the gates of the country shut to Jews and its shores under strict guard. Small boats, having made the hazardous trip across the Mediterranean with the few who escaped the Nazi rampage, were being sent back by the British. The Struma and the Patria, with hundreds of refugees aboard, were mercilessly condemned to the bottom of the sea after being turned away from the shores of the Promised Land.

Gruner was bitter and disillusioned, and it would have been too cruel for me to remind him of our discussion three years before when I argued against joining the British armed forces. I asked him to come with me and have dinner at my home. At the table he somehow brightened up. My children listened with bated breath to his interesting stories about the Italian front, and two hours later, when we went down to the beach, Gruner no longer spoke of the past. Instead, he haltingly began to talk about his plans for the future. He was no longer despondent. Again he spoke of "fighting" and "saving." That unforgettable spark in his eyes struck me again. When we parted I asked him, "What does all this mean?"

"I am going," he said. And I knew then that he was going underground to become an unknown soldier in the Army of Liberation.

On 23 April, 1946, a group of Irgun dressed as British soldiers confiscated arms from the British depot at Ramat Gan. Gruner was shot. The British found him, later, among the fortress's prisoners, seriously wounded with a tommy gun in hand. In spite of his severe wounds, he resisted so stubbornly that it took three policemen to subdue him and yank the gun from him.

Gruner wouldn't talk until he saw his lawyer and the police wouldn't let him see a lawyer until he answered their questions. Finally, Max Kritzman was allowed to visit Gruner at the prison hospital in Jerusalem. Kritzman reported that Gruner was seriously injured and not receiving treatment. Machine gun bullets had shattered Gruner's jaw, and he suffered intolerable pain, particularly when he attempted to speak.

Gruner was the only Jew in the sick bay of the prison and he craved longingly for a cigarette. But when Kritzman tried secretly to leave some money with him, Gruner categorically refused to take it. "I know," he told Kritzman, "that this is Irgun money. Money that is destined to be converted into arms should not be wasted on cigarettes." Only when Kritzman promised him that he would deduct this money from his soldiers' pay, which was due him from the British Government, did Gruner accept. "British money," he said with a smile, "May go up in smoke." He asked Kritzman that henceforth he should be called Dov Gruner, and not Bela Gruner. A soldier of the Irgun should have a Hebrew name. Kritzman was very moved by this manifestation of courage, dignity and devotion.

Gruner was moved from Jerusalem prison to Latrun. This led many to believe that the British were trying to get out of bringing Gruner to trial. There were good grounds for this belief. Dov Gruner had a distinguished service record in the British army. The officer under whom he served had great sympathy for him. In the Ramat Gan operation not a single Britisher was hurt. Gruner, himself, had been severely wounded and had passed through an arduous ordeal for several months.

When an escape was planned, Gruner categorically refused because he did not want to endanger the comrades, who would have to "make him disappear" from Latrun. "My case is not serious enough to warrant taking risks," he argued.

In November, 1946, Gruner was transferred to Jerusalem prison. Kritzman, who at once proceeded to Jerusalem to see Gruner, brought back a categorical and definite statement:

"I want to appear before the British hangmen who call themselves judges as a soldier of the Irgun, regardless of the consequences."

During Gruner's speech at his "trial" he spoke calmly and with dignity. More than once the usually phlegmatic British officers lost their tempers and tried to stop him. But Gruner was not a man to be interrupted. Undisturbed by the frequent heckling of the "judges," the accused who turned accuser, delivered his statement to the last word.

The one man who remained calm and unconcerned all through the legalities involved was Gruner. Placidly he received the verdict, changed his prison garb to the red cloth worn by those who are doomed to die, moved into the death cell near the execution square and smiling, continued his consultations with his counsel. He was particularly eager to get in touch with his sister, Helen Friedman, in America.

Gruner realized that the British were scheming quietly to lead him to the gallows without anybody knowing about it. He at once notified his comrades. Gruner and the Irgun High Command were not swayed by the wave of optimism that his sentence would be commuted. Gruner refused to sign an appeal. He instinctively felt that the British were playing a devilish game. It was not convenient for them to carry out the death sentence at this juncture and they were seeking time. This and more: they wanted to break Gruner's determination not to recognize the legality of the British rule over Palestine. By getting him to sign an appeal, they hoped to accomplish just that.

The situation became a war of nerves, with the British granting privilege of visitors to Gruner if they thought the visitor would pressure him into signing the appeal. Even trickery was implemented, but Gruner was sharp enough to check with his Irgun contact, Kritzman, before doing anything. The Irgun published in newspapers their standing principle that each "prisoner" must decide for himself as to his stand on hanging or appeal because of the pressure the Jewish community was exerting on Gruner to sign the appeal. Gruner replied,

"I shall not sign. I shall not recognize the authority of the British to try me and to pass judgment."

Gruner and his comrades also awaiting death sentences sent an open letter from their death cell to the official leaders and all the go-betweens: "If you cannot prevent the British from carrying out their scheme of legal murder, we beg of you at least to leave us, their prisoners, alone and let us die in peace and with a clear conscience. Stop pressuring us into asking favors of an authority which we do not recognize as legal in our country." At their last Seder meal, Gruner remarked: "It would be interesting to know whether the leaders of the Jewish Agency appreciate the real meaning of liberation." "Let us go to the gallows with a clear conscience and an unspoiled record."

Helen Friedman, Dov Gruner's sister, never attempted to influence her brother to sign any petition whatsoever. With the intuitive love of a sister, she felt at once, upon seeing her brother in his cell, that her brother was determined not to yield on this matter of principle which was sacred to him and she didn't even mention or hint by a single word the matter of an appeal. When the British realized that she wouldn't serve their purpose they no longer were generous in granting her a permit for another visit with her brother.

Upon being transferred to Acre prison, Kritzman was allowed to see Gruner, and found them all in good spirits. They told him they were well aware that their end was near, and asked him to have Rabbi Arieh Levine see them before they were put to death. At half past two on the morning of 16 April, the Jewish prisoners in the fortress of Acre were awakened from their sleep by the powerful voice of Gruner who was marching to the gallows with the song of Hatikvah on his lips! Half and hour later they heard the voice of Drezner and at half hour intervals the voice of Kashani and lastly that of Alkashi; the fourfold murder was consummated.

Jewish prisoners removed from Gruner's body after his hanging the following note to the Irgun:

"Sir:

"From the bottom of my heart I thank you for the great encouragement which you gave me through these fateful days. Be assured that whatever happens I shall not forget the teachings of pride, generosity and firmness. I shall know how to uphold my honor, the honor of a Jewish soldier and fighter. "I could have written in high sounding phrases something like the old Roman 'morituri te slutamus,' but at this moment it seems to me that phrases are cheap and skeptics might say: Anyhow he couldn't help it. And they might even be right. Of course I want to live, who does not. But what pains me now that the end is so near is mainly the awareness that I have not succeeded in achieving enough. I too could have said: 'let the future take care of the future.' (Dr. Weizmann, when attacked at a Zionist Congress for his lack of vigorous opposition to British policies in Palestine, gave this answer - Editor's note) and mean while enjoy life and be contented with the job I was promised on my demobilization. I even could have left the country altogether for a safer life, in America, but this would not have satisfied me, neither as a Jew nor as a Zionist.

"There are many schools of thought as to how a Jew should choose his way in life. One way is that of the assimulationists, who have renounced their Jewishness. There is also another way, the way of those, who call themselves 'Zionists' - the way of negotiations and compromises. As if the existence of a nation were but another business transaction. They are not prepared for any sacrifice and therefore they have to make concessions and accept compromises. Perhaps this is a means of delaying the end but, in the final analysis, it leads to the ghetto. And let us not forget this: in the ghetto of Warsaw, too, there were five hundred thousand Jews.

"The only way that seems, to my mind, to be right is the way of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the way of courage and daring without renouncing a single inch of our homeland. When political negotiations prove futile, one must be prepared to fight for our homeland and our freedom. Without them the very existence of our nation is jeopardized and fight we must with all possible means. This is the only way left to our people in their hour of decision: to stand on our rights, to be ready to fight even if for some of us this way leads to the gallows. For it is a law of history; that only with blood shall a country be redeemed.

"I am writing this while awaiting the hangman. A moment like this one is not given to lie and I swear that if I had to begin my life anew I would have chosen the same way I have gone until now. Regardless of the personal consequences for myself. Your faithful soldier, Dov."

AVSHALOM HAVIV

Avshalom Haviv, age 20, was arrested in Tel Aviv following the attack on Acre Prison. He was born in Haifa. There he graduated from a secondary school and studied at the Hebrew University. For a few years he was a member of Haganah. When the Haganah began to vacillate and went as far as to collaborate with the British, he joined the Irgun. His parents, of course, did not know of this but because he loved them dearly he tried to prepare them for any eventuality.

"You must be prepared to see me with a noose around my neck," he once said to his mother.

A few days before he went on the Acre fortress attack he said to her: "I am ready even for death. I want you also to be prepared for the worst."

All this talk helped. His mother later sat in "court" and remained outwardly calm in her tragedy as she heard the death "sentence . . ."

MEIR NAKAR

Meir Nakar, age 21 when arrested in Tel Aviv following the attack on Acre Prison was born in Jerusalem. His parents were from Iraq. When he was only 16, he secretly left school and volunteered for the Jewish Brigade without revealing his true age. Upon his return from the army in 1946 he joined the Irgun. When his mother came to Acre to visit him for the first time he said to her:

"Be calm, mother. We shall laugh at the British; if not we, then our friends . . ."

YAAKOV WEISS

The fifth arrestee in Tel Aviv by the British after the Acre Prison attack was Yaakov Weiss, age 23. He was born in Czechoslovakia in 1924. At the outbreak of World War II, he had already completed a Hebrew gymnasium (secondary school) in Munkascz and fled to Hungary with his parents.

When Hungary joined with the Nazis and began to exterminated the Jews, young Erma, as a member of the Underground, had a special task to save as many Jews as possible. He somehow obtained documents from an Hungarian officer named Georgi Kotisch which enabled him to visit the various camps and remove groups of Jews on the excuse that they were to be tortured.

When American airplanes began to bombard military buildings Erma, as an "officer," was the first to rush to "save" the building and thus he obtained hundreds of passports which enabled Jews to hide out. Later, his own mother and his large family were caught on the way to Aushwitz with their false passports.

When the Russians occupied Hungary, his non-Jewish colleagues in the Underground offered him high positions in the new government. But the place where he lost his entire family and witnessed the murder of tens of thousands of Jews no longer held any attraction for him. He helped a surviving sister establish herself, and returned to his Underground activity, this time to organize "illegal" immigration together with the soldiers of the Jewish Brigade whom he had met.

His own turn came to sail for Palestine on an "illegal" ship. The British apprehended the ship at sea and arrested all the immigrants, whom they brought to Atlit, a concentration camp for "illegals." The Resistance Movement attacked the camp and feed 800 immigrants, among whom was Yaakov (Erma) Weiss, who immediately went to Nathanya and joined the local Irgun unit.

It was a frequent occurrence for people to embrace and kiss him in the streets. These were the Jews whom he had rescued in Hungary, as well as those whom he had helped reach Palestine. But Weiss had to avoid such meetings . . . He had already become active in the Irgun . . .

          *        *        *

 “And they shall be like mighty men treading down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle, and they shall fight because the Lord is with them, and the oppressor’s riders on horses shall be confounded and put to shame.”  (Zechariah 10)

 

(Shmuel Katz memoirs)

 

SHLOMO BEN-YOSEF

 

(Shlomo Ben-Yosef in Rosh Pina) decided that he must do something, by some demonstrative act make a protest somehow to rouse his generation to the mortal danger and to their duty.

 

Together with two younger members of the pelugah, Avraham Shein and Shalom Zuravin, he went out one afternoon in April 1938 to the main road and fired at an Arab bus.

 

Nobody was hit.

 

He then went back with his friends to a shed in the village, and waited, rifle in hand, to be arrested. 

 

For this, two months later, the British hanged him.

 

(The British) paid no heed to the thousands of appeals that poured in from all over the world.

 

Rabbis, Churchmen, University Professors, politicians, newspaper editors, Jewish communities, the Polish Government, the Jewish Agency – nothing and nobody moved them. 

 

They did not try to hide the motive of the judicial murder: expediency.

 

If Ben-Yosef meant to give an example to others, they would make an example of him.

 

Jabotinsky and his colleagues in London, after their direct appeals to the Colonial Secretary had been coldly rejected, made frantic efforts to find a legal loophole for an appeal to the Privy Council. 

 

On the eve of the execution Robert Briscoe, the Jewish Mayor of Dublin and an N.Z.O. leader, brought to Jabotinsky the hint of a precedent from the days of the Irish Rebellion.  All night, with the help of Lord Nathan, they vainly searched in legal libraries. 

 

They asked for a stray of execution to give them time.  Ben-Yosef’s lawyer, Philip Joseph, made a similar plea. 

 

All were denied.

 

Chief Rabbi Herzog in Jerusalem asked for the execution to e delayed for a day as it was Rosh Hodesh, (the New Moon) when no Rabbi could give the boy religious consolation.

 

It was denied.

 

The forty-eight hours before the execution were hours of intolerable tension. 

 

Demonstrations were organized in the cities and clashed with the police.

 

People left their work and their business, formed little knots in the streets that developed into spontaneous demonstrations.

 

Posters and placards, appealing, denouncing, calling to prayer, appeared on walls and windows.

 

Cafes shut.

 

Cinemas did not open.

 

The hours passed.

 

As each new edition of the newspapers announced a new refusal of the British to revise, to reopen the trial, to allow an appeal, at least to delay, the air was filled with rage and despair.

 

Ben-Yosef alone remained calm and poised.  

 

When a group of journalists were allowed to visit him on the eve of the hanging at Acre Gaol, it was he who comforted them.

 

          “Do not console me, I need no consolation.”

 

          “I am proud to be the first Jew to go to the gallows in Palestine.”

 

“In dying I shall do my people a greater service than in my life.”

 

“Let the world see that Jews are not afraid to face death.”

 

In his cell the journalists saw that he had written on the wall –

 

“To die or to conquer the height.”

 

Called in the morning for his last steps on earth, he washed meticulously, brushed his teeth, and drank a cup of tea.

 

As he walked the few yards to the death cell he sang the Betar hymn, and on the gallows he called out -

 

          “Long live the Jewish State.  Long live Jabotinsky.”

 

          *        *        *

 

Stark horror filled the so sorely-tried Jewish community in Palestine, where few had believed that the British would indeed kill Ben-Yosef.

 

Declarations of protest and grief filled the black-bordered posters that sprang up all over the country.

 

By the afternoon the Jewish Agency leaders had recovered their composure.

 

Workers and shopkeepers who had spontaneously struck were pressed back to work.

 

All were warned against disturbing ‘the peace.”

 

*Now renewed denunciations appeared – against the Revisionist.

 

*The British act, which showed how seriously Jewish retaliation might affect their anti-Zionist policies, achieved the post-factum cooperation of the Jewish leaders.

 

These called on the people to see “where Jewish retaliation led.”

 

The courage of Ben-Yosef was derided as the foolish sacrifice of a life.

 

They achieved their immediate purpose.

 

Their followers, shaken by the brutality of the execution, preoccupied with their immediate security problems, fell into line again.

 

But a new seed had been sown.

 

          *        *        *

 

1947:

 

The days were laced with the tensions of conflict.

 

Its tones were shrill and clamorous.

 

The British, in unconcealed rage at the resounding humiliation they had, brought searches and mass identification parades, with all their concomitant show of force.

 

Their police were arresting hundreds of young men as suspects.

 

In deadly juxtaposition the shadow of the gallows reappeared.

 

On the first of January sentence of death was passed by a British Military Court on Dov Gruner, wounded and captured nine months earlier in an attack on a police armoury at Ramat Gan.

 

The sentence was soon confirmed by the G.O.C., General Barker, and the execution appointed for 28th January.




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