Sarah Aaronsohn

Sarah Aaronsohn

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Sarah Aaronsohn
Sarah Aaronsohn In November 1915, Sarah Aaronsohn, a homesick young 25-year-old Palestinian Jew unhappily married to a Bulgarian Jewish businessman, fled her husband's home in Constantinople while he was away on a business trip. She set out by train for her home in Palestine. But first she had to cross Turkey. * * * * * Sarah Aaronsohn was born in 1890 to emigrant Romanian parents in the village of Zichron Yaakov on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Sarah, called Sarati, or "my Sarah" by her family, was outspoken to the point of rebellion. She had blue eyes, an oval face, an erect posture, and a full figure. She enjoyed riding her horse alone into the Palestine countryside, taking a pistol for protection against Arabs (she was an excellent shot), and vigorously arguing politics and the future of Palestine with her brother Aaron, a world-renowned agronomist by the time he was 30. Her sister Rivka, two years younger than Sarah, was her opposite - petite, shy and retiring. Sarah, proud and self-possessed, was the last woman in Palestine to listen with silent admiration to a man and would not patiently indulge Absalom's moods. In Constantinople, Sarah's in-laws all but kept her a prisoner in her husband's home, a free-born lioness in a cage. She broke off a letter to Absalom's sister with, "I can't continue writing, my tears are streaming, and my heart is breaking." In the spring of 1915, while Sarah was in Constantinople, two of her brothers, Aaron and Alexander, formed a spy ring with Absalom Feinberg. In that journey, Sarah had a vision of her own people's future under Ottoman-Turk rule that would haunt her for the rest of her days. Sarah was met by her brother Aaron near Haifa in mid-December 1915. Sarah was a hardy Palestinian settler but she was in a state of near-hysteria over what she had witnessed. Aaron, perhaps mindful of his sister's condition, waited a week and then told Sarah what had happened to Absalom. Far better than her brothers and Absalom, Sarah understood the Turks must be driven from Palestine. Sarah was part love object, part matriarch, and part spy goddess to a group of unruly young men who openly acknowledged that without Sarah they were lost. Sarah and Absalom had no way of knowing that, in fact, Aaron had made it to England, and was now in Cairo. In January 1916, the ever restless Absalom and another NILI spy, Joseph Lishansky (also in love with Sarah), put on Bedouin clothes and headed into the Sinai Desert with a Bedouin guide. Sarah only learned of Absalom's death in March 1917, when Lishansky, now recovered from his wounds, returned from Egypt. Lishansky, in love with Sarah, the man who had left Absalom dying in the desert, had to tell her what happened. Sarah and Joseph Lishansky, traveling by horse-drawn carriage, made long journeys, briefing the NILI members in place, recruiting new ones, and taking notes on everything of military significance ("On the way from Athlit to Haifa, we met the Arab military coastguards, patrolling, not on the coast, but on the highway!"). Sarah, who looked like an ordinary matron in a white blouse and blue suit, bribed her way into Nazareth, where she discovered a large arms dump in the courtyard of the Carmelite Sisters convent. Sarah had not told the NILI spies of Absalom's death for fear of demoralizing them. Armed with lists of names, they arrested Sarah. They tied her to a fence and whipped her, beat her badly, twisted her flesh with tongs, burned her palms, and pulled out her hair and fingernails, but she gave them no information. She shouted at the Turks in French, in Arabic, and in Yiddish: "You won't get anything out of me. You think that because I'm a woman, I'll be weak. I decided to defend my people lest you do to us what you did to the Armenians." Impressed, a Turkish general said, "She is worth a hundred men." The Turks prepared to transfer Sarah to Nazareth. Likely unsure how much longer she could hold out, Sarah requested and received permission to go home to change her blood-soaked clothes for clean ones. A rope was tied around her neck and, led like a dog by Turkish soldiers, she walked unsteadily into her home on badly swollen legs. Inside, the rope was untied and she went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. The Turkish soldiers heard the sound of water running from a faucet. Then a shot rang out from the bathroom. The soldiers broke the door open, looked in, and one bolted out of the house, shouting "doctor, doctor." A Zichron doctor appeared with his medical bag. "I found Sarah lying unconscious on the floor of the bathroom," he later wrote. "Blood was coming out of her mouth. He gave her a caffeine injection and she came to. "I beg you, kill me…I can't suffer any longer." The bullet from the gun, which Sarah had long ago carefully hidden in the bathroom for just such an occasion, had passed through her mouth and hit her spine, paralyzing her. She lived in agony for another four days, pleading for someone to put an end to her life, sometimes hallucinating, mumbling about the Armenians, asking that those attending her care for her father. Finally, on October 9, 1917, Sarah died. At some point before shooting herself, Sarah had found a way to write a note. "Remember to tell those who come after us what we went through. We have died as warriors and have not given way…They've come. I can't write anymore." Aided by the vital intelligence furnished by Sarah and her NILI spy ring, the British drove the Turks out of Palestine, which set the stage for the later creation of the state of Israel. Sarah Aaronsohn is buried in the Zichron graveyard but because she had committed suicide, a fence was erected to segregate her grave from the others. Sarah is considered to be Israel's Joan of Arc. He is currently working on a book about three women spies in World War I, one of whom is Sarah Aaronsohn. Sarah Aaronsohn

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