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He fought. He killed. He conquered. He was a normal Jewish man who led what seemed to be a normal, even boring life in pre-state Israel. But Ezra Yakhin was anything but. As a young man, Yakhin was a postman by day, a LECHI fighter by night.
Ezra Yakhin tells of his time growing up very poor in Israel what was then called Palestine. Though he lived in Jerusalem, the home he lived in didn’t have a toilet, he had to leave his apartment to use a common bathroom for the building. Not having a kitchen in his house, his mother had to cook on a primus stove burner in the back yard of the building. Yet, Yakhin says he never felt like he was poor as a child because his friends and neighbors lived that way as well, so he didn’t feel any different. Life was difficult, but there was a growing sense of the revival of the Jewish People in their home, Israel. The dream of statehood had taken hold since the end of WWI when the British, now with its troops in the Middle East, had promised, then reneged, on allowing the Jews to establish their homeland.
It was oppressive living under British occupation who clearly favored the Arab nations. The Jews were not allowed to protect themselves against Arab theft, violence or pograms. Curfews were common and the obvious preference of the Arabs by Britain made it impossible for Jews to live and practice their Judaism freely.
Ezra Yakhin tells the story of how he wanted to help fight for the freedom of the Jewish nation. He had read about the actions of the mysterious heroes in the LECHI (Lochamei Herut Israel – Israel Freedom Fighters) underground. He yearned to join up but he didn’t know who to approach. All members were recruited secretly, so he had to try to send out hints to his neighbors and friends to let them know he wanted to be recruited, without making it too obvious, where someone might snitch on him to the British. Sometimes he would wait at night to see if he could spot the newer members of the LECHI whose job it was to paste posters up on lamp posts and city walls urging people to throw off British rule and gain independence. But these newly recruited members were also impossible to find. They had to be good at being invisible, because getting caught by the British putting up ‘freedom posters’ was a crime. All LECHI members were considered terrorists. They could be caught, imprisoned and tortured for information. Yakhin, so much wanting to join up to fight for Jewish independence, would wait at night to try to find anyone hanging up posters. However, even he couldn’t spot them. One moment there was nothing out of the ordinary, and the next, there would be a newly pasted up poster nearby, without a trace of anyone having been there.
Ezra Yakhin, still a youth, knew that his working at the post office would help the LECHI. British headquarters were at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and he knew the area well delivering mail and telegrams. Photos in his book, ELNAKAM, show the streets in Jerusalem near British headquarters filled with barbed wire. Apparently, the British were very fearful of the Jewish underground groups and protected themselves by keeping nearby streets ‘no man’s land’.
Yakhin tells how he finally succeeded in being recruited into the LECHI underground, the secret ways he used his job at the post office as a delivery boy to help with LECHI intelligence, and how he finally was trained for real military missions against the British occupation forces in Palestine. He also tells about the first time he had to kill.
Obtaining weapons for defensive purposes and for driving out British forces from the Land of Israel was one of the greatest challenges for the underground. Yakhin describes one of his attempts to steal a gun from a British soldier. In the scuffle, he was shot and wounded. Limping away and bleeding, he tried to find safety and help, but it was impossible to go to a hospital because there he would have been found by the British. He also describes the fate of his fellow freedom fighters who were either killed by the British mandate troops or the Jew-hating Arabs.
Idealistic and also in the throws of youthful love, he shares with us the story of the girl he fell in love with who was also a LECHI member – and what happened to her.
After WWII, the British were even more lustful in finding Jewish underground members because of their aiding Holocaust survivors trying to make it to the shores of the Land of Israel. The British were strict with their policy of curtailing Jewish immigration to Israel. In his book, Elnakam, Yakhin shows notices sent out by the underground which stated: “Since the arrival of the immigrant ship, ‘Exodus 1947′ and the banishment of its immigrants, the Israel Freedom Fighters have begun a systematic campaign against the enemy forces, its vehicles and installations.” The notice then goes on to show a list of strikes against British army patrols and bases. It is an impressive list of actions and Yakhin describes many of the scenes that could be scenes in a real action movie.
Yakhin also relates the heart wrenching story of his best friend who was kidnapped in broad daylight by the British and never seen or heard from again. British denials of any wrong doing filled and fueled news paper articles for quite some time. It wasn’t until much later that the truth came out that he had been murdered by the British who tried to cover it up.
The book ends with his telling how he was fighting in the streets of Jerusalem in one of the major battles for the Old City, the area of Jerusalem where the Temple once stood and the Western Wall continues to stand. It is the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people. In this fierce battle to liberate Jerusalem and at great losses of his friends and other (now) Israeli fighters, an explosive shell was fired in front of him and exploded. As he turned to shield himself, shrapnel cut though his helmet going through the back of his neck up through, and out of his eye. Rushed with the other wounded fighters to the hospital, he had to have surgery without being given anethstesia. Throughout the several hour ordeal, awake on the operating table as they worked on him, he kept repeating to himself in the grips of immense pain, “A LECHI Man doesn’t groan”. He ended up losing an eye from his massive head wound and has a glass eye until this day.
Yakhin is still active to this day. Though over 80 years old, he lives in an old Jewish neighborhood which, since the Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem, is now occupied by hostile Arabs. The apartment building he lives in is inhabited by a group of Jewish families and married couples who aren’t afraid to re-establish their Jewish roots there.
An excerpt from his book, Elnakam:
“No sleep for you tonight,” says Tanchum. “You’re to go to the Abu-el Bassal quarter and mark the movements of the army there. What we need is information about the movements of military vehicles in the path joining the Beit Yaakov and Zichron Yoseph quarters.”
We went to look for the place best suited for the look-out base, finally choosing the brick factory in Sadoff’s yard, where I could hide all night behind a pile of bricks and observe the movements of the vehicles on the path. I didn’t go home this time to tell my parents that I was “sleeping at a friend’s place,” I simply couldn’t face the fearful look in their eyes, knowing full well how anxious they would be. Obviously, they would not be slow in making a connection between my absence and the acts against the Brits, and their feelings, when I failed to return that night were not hard to imagine. On the other hand if I didn’t let them know in advance, they might comfort themselves with the thought that I had been caught breaking curfew and arrested. This wasn’t pleasant, but implied a fine at the most.
So – no going home. As curfew time approached I was ensconced behind my pile of bricks. Each of the neighbors nearby took a last look at the yard before lowering their shutters and locking their doors, and they all saw me there. To avoid their worried glances I slipped around to the other side of the pile, making myself fully visible to the patrols enforcing the curfew. Only after everybody was shut inside the houses did I slip back – only to be cordially invited by someone peeping through the shutters to go in and stay till the morning. Ignoring the invitation I waited tensely for darkness to fall.
The noise of army vehicles touring the area filled the night. Sometimes they would stop to permit a foot patrol to get out. At times, some men talking English, approached my brick pile, and I couldn’t tell whether they were just loitering or going straight for me. Hearing a vehicle approaching I would raise my head to see it, risking being seen by a passing patrol. I could hear them but it was too dark to see them. Conversely, I realized that my dark figure could be easily made out on the background of white bricks, and I was just what the enemy was looking for. There…. They were coming, now! They had seen me and where could I hide? They were getting nearer. Their English fell painfully on my ear. No place to run…. ”
If you want a book that will educate you, make you laugh and cry, show you miracles and is just one darned good read of a true story of the heroes that fought for the Jewish homeland after 2,000 years of forced exile, GET THIS BOOK, ELNAKAM.
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