A Young Woman Keeps Her Secrets Under Pain of Death.
Seeking A National Home for the Jews.
Special to The Great War Project.
(1 October) A century ago, in the month of October, the situation for the Allies looks desperate on almost all fronts.
The fight for the Belgian village of Passchendaele is a stalemate with thousands of casualties on both sides. Killed and wounded are growing. Many soldiers are drowning in the mud and muck. On both sides.
Few American soldiers are ready yet – their training is too slow – and their commander, General John J.Pershing, explodes at the laconic pace of their deployment.
And at sea, writes historian Martin Gilbert, the Allies are not doing much better.
Russia has ships deployed in the Baltic Sea, but the Russian fleet there refuses to obey orders of the provisional government in Petrograd. While the Germans make plans for more attacks near the Russian shores, the crew of one Russian minelayer refuses to lay its mines.
On the Italian fronts, “the number of deserters has risen to 70,000.
And in Palestine, Gilbert reports, “the Turkish secret police have broken a valuable Jewish spy ring working for the British, and arrested one of its leaders, Sarah Aaronsohn.”
“For four days they tortured her,” Gilbert writes, “but she revealed nothing.”
“Then on October 5th, she killed herself.”
Sarah and her brother Aaron, were instrumental in creating a Jewish spy ring in Palestine, providing invaluable intelligence for the British there. As a result, the British began to look carefully at “replacing Turkish rule by a Zionist entity under British rule.”
“That summer,” Gilbert writes, “Lord Rothschild, leader of the Jewish community in Britain, gave the British government a draft formula for a Jewish National Home in Palestine, that would serve to encourage Jews in all the Allied armies to see the defeat of the Turks as an important aim.”
Writes Gilbert, “At first the British government moved slowly in its response. But on October 2nd British intelligence learned of a meeting in Berlin at which plans were made by the Germans and Turks to offer the Jews of Europe a German-sponsored Jewish national home in Palestine.
“This stimulated the British search for a formula that would make the Allied offer to the Jews more attractive.”
As for the story of Sarah Aaronsohn, reports of a Jewish spy ring in Palestine were circulating in Constantinople for some time, writes historian Scott Anderson.
The Turks favored the use of torture on the Jews they seized.
The Germans counseled a more subtle approach, all the time aware that they could use the support of the Jews in the war effort.
But in the case of Sarah Aaronsohn, the Turkish approach prevailed. She was seized at her family’s home near Jerusalem, tied to a post, and beaten and whipped mercilessly
But she kept her secrets.
The Turks ordered Sarah and the other Jews in the spy ring to be taken to prison in Nazareth. She asked permission to clean her bloodied face before a Turkish convoy would set out.
Reports Anderson, “At her family home, she was allowed to step into a bathroom unattended. Then she drew a revolver she had secreted in a cubbyhole in anticipation of just such a situation, and shot herself in the mouth.”
She was 27 years old.