The Test of Blood and Fire
Yerachmiel "Elisha" Aaronson
By Nechemia Ben-Tor
At the beginning of 1944, the new Lehi underground was already active, set up by Michael and aided by dozens of fighters, veterans and newcomers, after Gera and his comrades had fled from Latrun.
Soon after the escape, the underground notified the people about a new front in the war against the foreign occupier, which had been halted after Yair’s death. The central committee developed a plan of attack, focused on key members of the British government.
The Lehi central committee members were of the opinion that the world’s attention needed to be turned to the situation in Eretz Israel, and so they needed to carry out an operation of significant weight, shaking the world and grabbing global attention.
Just before Lehi began its renewed war against the British, IZL declared its own resistance against the British, the Proclamation of Revolt.
This was a big day for Lehi. There could be no doubt that Lehi’s war, over the course of four long years, had inspired IZL, under its new leader, Menachem Begin, to the frontlines of the war against Britain, after a long period of ceasefire.
A new era had begun, one of collaboration between the two underground movements in order to liberate the homeland from the foreign occupier. Days of blood and fire had arrived for the fighters, days of the order: “Better killed than captured!” The central committee issued a clear directive to the fighters:
A Hebrew fighter cannot fall in captivity again without protecting himself. Never again will we go to prison, with our hands up, cowed by the enemies’ power. Rather, we will resist it, by bearing arms and using them against it. The enemy will know, and the nation will know, that a freedom fighter will never cower before the foreign occupier’s troops. He will prefer falling in battle to being taken prisoner by the enemy.
Though they knew that it could not guarantee their safety or self-defense, the fighters carried personal sidearm at all times, day and night. It was clear that this would probably create situations in which they would be compelled to use those weapons, and the enemy would always have superior firepower and manpower, with the odds against them. Nevertheless, the Lehi men carried, at all hours, weapons with them, wherever they went.
The clear decision was: never be imprisoned! However, the British police had their own improved methods for hunting the men of the underground. They would track suspects, stopping them suddenly, leaping upon them from armored vehicles which constantly moved through the streets.
More than a few British policemen paid with their lives for attempts to stop Lehi activities. Two days after IZL began its own activates, a squad of British police tried to stop Lehi men putting up posters in Haifa, and they were shot at. One officer and one constable were fatally wounded. Shortly after this, British police in Tel Aviv opened fire on Lehi men putting up posters in Tel Aviv; those guarding them returned fire, injuring a British policeman.
At the same time, the underground had some serious losses, both to the prison yard and the graveyard. In March and April of 1944, six fighters were arrested.
- Zvi Tabory was arrested in Bat Yam while being hosted by friends of his. While he was still asleep, British police burst into the home and stopped him before he could use his weapon.
- David Hameiri-Begin was arrested on Fireberg Street in Tel Aviv in a manhunt, and he was found to have a pistol in his position.
- Anschel Spielmann and Hasia Shapiro were arrested in the latter’s apartment on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, when they were surprised by detectives who had learned their whereabouts from informers. They were both found with pistols.
- Mattie Shmuelevitz went out to meet some young men who expressed interest in joining the underground. When he went out to meet them, he was apprehended by police. He attempted to flee and shot at his pursuers with his pistol, but the police overwhelmed him. He was hit by four bullets.
- Israel Eldad, member of the Lehi central committee, was a teacher in the Ben-Yehuda Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. Rumors of his membership in Lehi were flying among the members of IZL and the Revisionist Party, and they knew the police were after him. Three days before he was to retire from teaching and go underground, the police came to arrest him in the middle of a lesson. Eldad decided to flee! Trying to escape, he darted into the residence of one of his students, slipping into the bathroom and climbing out the window on a sewerage pipe. However, he slipped and fell, injuring himself seriously. He was captured and taken to the main prison in Jerusalem, where the trials of recently-arrested Lehi members were set to begin. Under Eldad’s direction, their trials would be reversed; the Lehi members would go from the accused to the accusers, indicting the British authorities for occupying the homeland of the Hebrew nation.
- On March 19th, 1944, Yerachmiel “Elisha” Aaronson, who was the supervisor of the Lehi supporters was killed on Mazeh Street in Tele Aviv. He noticed a police car following him, which suddenly stopped in front of him. Elisha was ordered to stop, but he began running away in order to escape. When the policy caught him, he drew his pistol and began firing at them. The police met this with a volley of gunfire. Elisha was killed on the spot.
The Lehi reprisal was not long in coming. Four days after Elisha was struck down, two British policemen were attacked and killed, after being tracked by Lehi men in Tel Aviv. In of these operations, Yaakov “Dov” Granek participated for the first time. He would later become known as “Blond Dov,” and he terrorized the British police and CID. In this operation, Dov fatally wounded a British officer.
In light of these operations, the British enforced a curfew in three large cities. The Jewish institutions were shocked, and they warned, “This terror will bring a holocaust upon the Yishuv!”
However, the Lehi activities continued, and in the meantime, there were additional sacrifices on the field of battle. Yosef “Baruch” Rosenbaum was injured in an armory in Haifa when a bullet was discharged from his pistol.
One of his friends stayed in the armory to protect him, while the second went to summon a doctor. In the meantime, a British officer arrived, along with a Jewish constable. His friend the sentry absconded.
Baruch, who was dying, warned the Jewish constable not to come near, then threw a grenade at them. The Jewish constable, who did not listen to Baruch, was killed, while the Englishman was wounded.
Baruch tried to flee, but his strength failed him and he collapsed. He was taken to the hospital, where the detectives, amid his dying breaths, tried in vain to get him to reveal underground secrets, until he passed away.
The days of blood and fire continued relentlessly. Five days after Baruch’s death, the police uncovered, due to informers, where two of his friends were hiding in Jabneel. Menachem “Eliezer” Luntz and Shabtai “Zion” Drucker were surrounded by British police, who opened fire on them. The volley was heavy, although the two fighters continued to return fire until their ammunition was almost exhausted. They turned their last bullets on themselves.
The Lehi reprisal came quickly. Three days after Drucker and Luntz were killed, Lehi men put a bomb next to the northern police headquarters in Tel Aviv. Two British policemen and one Jewish policeman were injured.
The next day, Lehi men attacked Major Y.P.W. Ford, commander of the Tel Aviv police, when he travelled in his automobile, but Ford managed to escape death. A few weeks later, he fled Eretz Israel and returned to England.
This was a heartening report for the underground. If a high-ranking officer would leave Eretz Israel after an attempt on his life, this was a sign that he valued his life more than his mission, and he saw no reason to die for the sake of the British Empire.