Yesterday, 74 years ago, my small underground, Lehi, (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) attacked the main British train-repair facilities near Haifa. It was a part of the coordinated attacks by the three Israeli undergrounds, Haggana, Irgun and Lehi, all across Israel that eventually drove the British out of Israel. The substantial attacks on British airports, bases, and other facilities all across Israel continued for a time and the British public demanded from its government to “Bring the Boys Home.” It was just 2 years after WWII, England had 100,000 police and soldiers in Israel (one soldier for each six Israeli) in their attempt to subdue us. The British economy was in trouble and the British public was tired of war and the high cost it demanded. This is what broke the camel’s back and why the British gave Israel to the United Nations to solve the problem England faced.
The planning for the attack was at our third-floor apartment at 115 Rothchild Blvd. in Tel Aviv.
My responsibility was to direct each incoming Lechi planning-team member to a specific room so they would not know one another, according to Pinhas, my brother’s, instruction.
Pinhas (who was one of the original members of Lechi, joining our founder-Yair- Avraham Stern -to form Lechi, described each one of the arriving members and gave me their Lechi’ name. They stayed in 3 separate rooms for the long discussions. After some two hours, they left one by one, at intervals, not to be noticed.
Pinhas also described to me how our main leader, Michael – Itzhak Shamir (the future Prime Minister) – would look like a Chasidic Rabbi with all black clothes, a big black beard, and a big Chasidic hat too.
As Michael arrived, he did not know me and said: “Sorry, the wrong apartment.”
I answered him that that is ok and he was in the right place and took him to the right room.
Michael was wanted eagerly by the British and was in hiding, He changed his appearance to a Chasidic Rabbi at that period. And that was why he was arrested during the Otzer Hagadol (3/1947 Great Curfew) of Tel Aviv. The top British detective knew that Shamir was very hairy, and as Shamir was passing the detectives-post, as all men had to do, he was recognized, since he had his heavy beard, and was arrested.
I remember some of the details of the attack on the British railroad repair facilities, near Haifa where we lost 11 members in a British ambush as one of the groups returned from the attack too late.
Our attack was timed to last a specific time, and after the allotted time, the maximum time they could stay at the rail facility before British troops could arrive, the commander of the operation signaled with a whistle for everyone to leave the place. The group that was farther away in the facility did not hear the alert because of the explosions and stayed too long there. As they left late, they climbed onto a truck for the escape. The truck had steel plates around the back for safety, but the front driver cub was not protected.
The British prepared an ambush with heavy machine guns that started with nonstop fire that killed the 11 members on the spot despite the ineffective steel protection. Some members run away from the truck, but the British Military covered the area with a large number of troops and caught everyone who survived.
It was a shock to all members of Lehi then and extreme sadness. Some 44 members participated in the attack – they either were murdered or captured and sentenced to death. But the death sentence was rescinded later.
Yesterday, a dignified ceremony (with just two people for Corona safety) was held at Kfar Atta in front of the memorial where the murder took place. (Can be seen at the Lechi Museum website:
Matania (Menashe- my Lechi name)