Who was Sarah Aaronsohn?
A Woman and a Spy
Sarah Aaronsohn was born in Zichron Ya’akov in 1890 during the Turkish rule of Israel. Her parents were among the founding families of the village of Zichron Ya’akov in northern Israel.
Sarah was married for a short time and lived in Istanbul but returned home to escape her unhappy marriage. On the way back to Israel, she witnessed the Armenian genocide by the Turks, an event which apparently influenced her decision to act against the Turkish rulers of Israel.
On her return to Zichron Ya’akov, Sarah joined a spy organisation established by her brothers, Aaron and Alex, sister Rivka, and their friend Avshalom Feinberg which they named NILI. The name of the organisation comes from the initials of the biblical sentence – נצח ישראל לא ישקר – “the eternity of Israel will never lie.” The goal of Nili was to help the British army defeat the Turkish rulers. Sarah and her friends travelled throughout Israel collecting information about the Turkish regime which they then passed on to British agents in Egypt or to British ships sailing on the Mediterranean Sea.
One of the modes of communication between NILI and the British was carrier pigeons. In September 1917, the Turks caught one of NILI’s pigeons and broke the code used for communication with the British. A month later, the Turkish police surrounded Zichron Ya’akov and arrested the suspected members of the spy organisation including Sarah Aaronsohn. After four days of torture, she asked for permission to return home to clean herself and change clothes before being sent to another prison in Nazareth. Once home, she shot herself with a gun she had kept hidden in the bathroom and died four days later on 9 October, 1917. In her last letter she expressed her hopes that NILI would help create a national home for the Jews in Israel.
The Aaronsohn family home on the main road of Zichron Ya’akov has been turned into a museum dedicated to Sarah Aaronsohn and the other members of NILI.