From Tyranny to Freedom —
Mendel Schneerson’s Memoirs, 1920
These are the first pages of a memoir written by Mendel Schneerson in 1920. The memoir was written originally as part of his research for a book.
In these pages Schneerson recalls the Turkish persecution of the Jews in Zichron Ya’akov and in the nearby village of Hedera (today Hadera), writing also about Sarah Aaronsohn’s arrest, torture, and death.
Some excerpts from the original text:
“It was nearly 8 months after the beginning of the persecutions and oppressions by the Turks against the Jews in Palestine. The first blow happened at the beginning of October 1917, just on the Succot feast, when quite unexpectedly the Turkish Authorities visited the Jewish villages Zichron Jacob and Hedera and commence to arrest the inhabitans, to punish them and to torture in the most barbaros way…
… I asked the Mouktar … he suspected that the arrests were made in connection with espionage.…
I went home as quickly as possible and soon began to destroy all of the papers and documents and reports which could give me any trouble. Even with the dearest present of A. Fainberg, his last photo, I was obliged to depart, and with a broken hearth parted with the only souvenir of that brave, daring and gallant boy who lost his life in the desert... while he and another man, Lishansky were trying to cross the dangerous zone in an attempt to communicate again with the British Forces through the Atlit Station by the Sea. Thus he sacrificed his life in the hope to secure freedom for his country...
Real calamities and terrors burst this time upon Zichron Jacob. … At first the whole family of Aronson was arrested, then began the inhuman torture of the old Aronson and his daughter Sarrah.
But stronger than steel have been those two heroes and no sufferings, no pain in the world could force them to mutter a single cry, nor even a single word to express their terrible pains…
When Sarrah Aronson bruised and suffering from pains learned that she too was to be sent to Nazareth, made up at once her minde to commit suicide…
She asked to be allowed to go home and to change her dress… Entering her room she drew from a recess in the wall her small revolver which evaded the energetic search of the authorities and placing the barrel in her mouth pulled the trigger…
Sarah was buried with great honors and inspite of the gravity of the situation at those days... great masses followed her tomb and heavy mourning was all over the village.”
This first-hand testimony from the time of Sarah Aaronsohn’s arrest and death are a unique source. However, the text also includes violent descriptions that may not be suitable for your students. For this reason, along with the original document, we are also providing an abbreviated version which includes central passages but without the unsuitable text. The discussion points below relate to the abbreviated version of the testimony. If you choose to use the original document, you may want to adapt the discussion points.
It is important to note that the spelling and grammar mistakes are from the original document.
Teachers of Jewish Studies could use this text to learn about the story of NILI and the history of the Jewish people in Israel at the end of Turkish rule. This document could also be used when teaching about Jewish and Israeli heroes and heroines before Chanukah or on other occasions. English teachers could use this passage as an example of historical testimony at the beginning of the twentieth century. After reading this report, students could be asked to write a mock “first-hand testimony” of a different historical event.
Read the excerpts and give the text a title.
Who wrote this testimony and when?
Who made the arrests?
Who was arrested?
Why were these people arrested?
What do you think the connection was between Mendel Schneerson and the NILI spy ring? What were his feelings towards its leaders?
Who, according to the testimony, were the most tortured?
The testimony tells of Sarah Aaronsohn’s suicide.
Why do you think she she took her life?
When did the event described in the memoir take place?
When was the testimony written?
Do you think this is close enough in time to be accurate?
The text is the testimony of Mendel Schneerson. Do you think this is an entirely accurate account of the event?
How much is based on his own personal views?
What do you think is necessary to get an accurate account?
Why do you think there are so many spelling and grammar mistakes in the text?