Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Saison, Lechi and Chaim Weizmann

On the Saison period, this time against the Lechi.

Solving a 64-year-old mystery

On April 7, 1944, the eve of the Passover holiday, a British military convoy entered Yavniel, a moshava south of Tiberias. The soldiers and police, equipped with submachine guns, went directly to the home of Menachem Luntz ("Elazar," according to his underground code name), searching for a wounded fighter from the pre-state underground organization Lehi - short for Israel Freedom Fighters. The man, Shabtai "Zion" Drucker, was hiding there. The British surrounded the house, positioned their weapons and began to shoot. Only feeble fire was returned from inside the house.

In his book about the Lehi, a former member of the Irgun pre-state militia, Natan Yellin Mor wrote that the wounded Zion was hit by the British bullets, and asked Elazar to be merciful and kill him. Elazar acceded to the request of his comrade-at-arms and then fired the last remaining bullet into his own mouth. The British waited for several hours and only after no sign of life came from the besieged house did
they burst into it and find the two men sprawling there, lifeless.

For 64 years the Lehi people were convinced of the rumor that the British had arrived at the house in Yavniel as a result of collaboration with the Haganah, the rival underground organization, but they had no proof of this. The inhabitants of Yavniel denied, and still deny to this day, that anyone from the veteran agricultural
village had been involved in this. However, a film produced recently by the Association for the Perpetuation of the Legacy of the Israel Freedom Fighters and its Dead, provides the Lehi people with the proof that they wanted: The film, entitled "Gvorat yahid" ("Heroism of an Individual"), reveals for the first time a letter that the president of the Zionist federation, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, wrote to the prime minister of Britain at the time, Winston Churchill, in which he declares that the success of the police in the incident in Yavniel was due to the collaboration of the public, which gave valuable information to the police.

The letter, dated December 4, 1944, along with a memo that was appended to it and sent through Churchill's private secretary, are revealed in the film by former journalist Shlomo Nakdimon, a researcher of the underground and the period of the British Mandate. Nakdimon photocopied the documents at the British national archive in London. Weizmann, who was among the biggest supporters of cooperation with the British, complains there to Churchill about how the British were making up stories about the leadership of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community in Palestine), and accusing it of non-cooperation. He mentions the incident at Yavniel as evidence of the help that is being given by the Jewish public as a whole, as noted by a senior police official in Haifa.

In his book Yellin Mor relates that several days after the incident, "We began to receive information that one of people who lived there, who held a rank in the Haganah, and from its information agency, was the person who had informed the British that a suspicious fellow had come to Menachem Luntz's home, and it was he who gave them the precise information."

Luntz and Drucker, who were killed at Yavniel, are memorialized to this day thanks to a modest plaque...: "In this house, on April 7, 1944, before the nation came to despise a mechanism of oppression, alone and besieged in a final desperate battle facing many of the oppressor's troopers, stood fighters for Israel's freedom."

The events that led to the deaths of the two men began three weeks prior to that Passover eve. This was the time of "the saison" (the struggle conducted by the Haganah against insurgency against the British Mandate), and the Lehi was the most persecuted underground organization in Palestine. Its people decided that in encounters with the British, they would do everything to avoid being arrested, and
they began to conceal their personal weapons in their clothing.

On the morning of March 19, 1944, Yerachmiel "Elisha" Aaronson of the Irgun got off the bus at the corner of Mazeh and Petah Tikva Streets in Tel Aviv. A vehicle of the British undercover police, which was suspicious of him, stuck close by; in the end he was shot in a the stairwell of a building on Mazeh Street. His comrades wanted to avenge his death and during the coming days, they opened fire on British police in various places in Tel Aviv, killing several.

The two men given the task of printing the mourning notices for Elisha's death in Haifa were David "Ami" Holiansky and Yosef "Baruch" Rosenboim. On Saturday, April 2, Ami and Baruch came to a small garage on Tiberias Street in the city, which served as a storehouse for their organization. As Baruch leaned over the duplicating machine, his pistol slipped from the holster that held it under his armpit, and a
bullet was released and hit him in his abdomen. Ami went off to bring help.

He returned to the storehouse on Tiberias Street with Moshe "Yisrael" Bar Giora and "Zion" Drucker, but to their surprise they did not find Baruch. After investigation it emerged that he was nearby, getting medical attention from a nurse.

When he saw his comrades Baruch called out to them: "Run. They've called the police!" The two refused to abandon their comrade and then two British officers and a Jewish sergeant appeared on the scene. Yisrael, Ami and Zion ran to a balcony and fled. Baruch was seriously wounded in the exchange of fire.

In his book, Yellin Mor described what happened during those moments: "With the last vestiges of his strength Baruch cried out to the sergeant who was firing his weapon: 'Stop shooting. You are a Jew, lest I hurt you ...,' he warned. When the sergeant did not obey his warning, Baruch pulled out a grenade he had hidden in his pocket, pulled the pin and threw it at the sergeant by the window, who was
wounded in all parts of his body ... With blood dripping from his arteries, [Baruch] leaped from the bed, got to the balcony and jumped out."

He died of his injuries after he was tortured by British police. Zion, who was wounded in the leg in the shoot-out, was taken to the home of "Elazar" Luntz - in Yavniel. A few days later, as noted, the British police arrived there and the two men met their deaths.

...In his book, Yellin Mor relates that on the day after the events at Yavniel he was summoned to Eliahu Golomb, the commander of the Haganah, and heard details from him about the incident. Golomb, according to the author, described the dramatic occurrence and summed up: "I am very thrilled and excited. If you have managed to raise such fellows, no weapons will overcome you and no one will defeat you."