A life underground
A week before this year's Passover seder, Shoshana Raziel, widow of the fourth Irgun commander David Raziel, passed away. Six months before her death, she spoke with Haaretz about their great love, their turbulent years in the underground and the double loss that left its mark on her life.
Passover 1938 was the happiest time of Shoshana Raziel's life. The day before the holiday began, she'd secretly married her beloved, David Raziel, and their week-long honeymoon that followed was filled with joy.
"I was 18 years old, in the third class at the teachers seminary, and David was 27," she recounted six months ago at her home in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood. "We were very poor and we married in secret. The day before the wedding I went to the hairdresser, but the immersion in the mikveh ruined my hairdo. The wedding canopy was put up during the day, in the yard of a building in Ramat Gan, in the presence of a minyan made up of parents, a few relatives, two witnesses from the Irgun [pre-state underground militia] and the rabbi. My father came in from America just for the wedding. Afterward, we had a family lunch in Tel Aviv."
What did you do after that meal?
"My parents went back to Jerusalem, David went back to dealing with Irgun business at the Leumit Kupat Holim [health maintenance organization] offices, and I went to visit Roni Stern, the wife of Avraham 'Yair' Stern and my music teacher. Roni and Avraham lived on the floor below us on Chen Boulevard. On the wedding night, David and I stayed at a hotel in Tel Aviv under an assumed name. It was the first time in my life I'd been inside a hotel. I couldn't fall asleep that night, and David was up until dawn writing.
"Every night during the week of Hol Hamo'ed we held modest celebrations in our parents' homes. The last night we went with some of David's friends, who were older than me, to the Old City walls and sang a funny Betar [youth movement] song called 'Let's Go Home Hand in Hand.'"
Thanks to Zangwill
Shoshana Raziel, who died a week before the seder this year, was the youngest child of seventh-generation Jerusalemites Hana and Haim Spitzer. Her mother founded the Talmud Torah school for Haredi girls in the city's Bukharan neighborhood, which became known as the Spitzer School. Hana Spitzer's efforts as a pioneer for ultra-Orthodox girls' education were condemned by the rabbis of the Old Yishuv, but she did not let that stop her.
"My mother was a strong woman who fearlessly ran the school for many years," said Raziel. "She was the daughter of Rabbi Zvi Asher Kahana Shapira, a scion of the Rivlin family. My father did not support her school and left the country for America after I was born. But within the Bukharan neighborhood, my mother was highly respected. Her school migrated from one rented apartment to another, until it was finally housed in the big Yehudayoff building. My mother also laid the cornerstone for a new religious school for girls near Bar-Ilan Street, but she didn't live to see it built. Today this school is an extension of Mercaz Harav yeshiva. The chief rabbi of Israel, the late Avraham Shapira - who was my mother's nephew - changed the name of the school."
When were you born?
"My precise date of birth is unknown. My birth certificate says I was born on the 26th of Heshvan 1918, but I think I was born on the first day of Shevat in 1919. I remember my mother and brothers celebrating my birthday on Tu Bishvat [Jewish Arbor Day]. A green dress with flowers was sewn for me for Tu Bishvat."
Where did you live and go to school?
"My mother lived with the five of us children next to the school in the Bukharan neighborhood. When I was 2 or 3 years old, my father came to visit us. When he came inside the house I was scared of him and hid under my mother's dress. My father was a stranger to me, but some years later I went to visit him in America. Later on, I also traveled to America as a representative of the Irgun. I started school and the seminary at an early age - not because I was such an outstanding student, but because my mother insisted on it and I had no choice."
How did you come to join the underground?
"One of my friends in the seminary, Pnina Horan, was older than me and had heard about the Irgun. I had another friend, Rachel Mark, whose boyfriend, Haim Dviri, was in the Brit Habirionim [a union of Zionist rebels] led by Abba Ahimeir. It was through them that I got to the underground. I was accepted into the Jerusalem branch of the organization, which met on the second floor of a bank on Mamilla Street. One of our friends was the guard at the entrance to the building and he also guarded our meetings there. Our group consisted of Rachel and Haim Dviri, Yaakov Hornstein, Yosef Hagalili and others.
"One day, Yosef didn't show up for a meeting. I asked Hornstein why Yosef hadn't come. Hornstein, who later became a distinguished, well-known journalist in Jerusalem, was known for his sense of humor and for kidding around. With utmost seriousness, he answered my question by telling me that Yosef Hagalili wasn't there because he'd been arrested and was in prison. I asked why he was arrested, and Hornstein told me he had been arrested after raping an Arab woman. As soon as I heard that I went straight to Abba Ahimeir, who was in the room, and quietly informed him that I did not want to be a member of the Irgun. He asked why and I explained that the members of the Brit Habirionim were bastards in their personal lives."
What was his reply?
"He ignored it and didn't respond. This episode just goes to show how naive I was, that I didn't get that it was all just a joke. I was a naive young girl when I joined."
How did your mother react to your joining the Irgun?
"She didn't know. At first I was afraid of how she would react, so I told her that I was off doing homework with girlfriends at their homes. My mother was a very busy woman and I was basically left to my own devices. My older brothers, however, knew that I was involved with the underground Irgun."
When did you meet David Raziel?
"I met him for the first time in the spring of 1932. I was 14 years old and a student at my mother's school. My mother had made an arrangement with the Irgun commanders, whereby they sent lecturers to the youth movement for girls that she'd started at the school. She let the Irgun use the cellar of the building to hide weapons and the classrooms for training. Irgun members were allowed to enter the 'Palace' - as it was called - by saying the password to the guard at the iron gate.
"At one of the meetings, there weren't enough girls so my mother forced me to come listen to a lecture on the Jewish writer Israel Zangwill. I was the principal's daughter and a bit bold, so I allowed myself to ask the speaker all sorts of questions at the end of his talk. After the lecture, my mother stayed to talk with the speaker. By the time they were finished the front gate was locked and he asked me to show him the way out. He liked me apparently. I agreed to show him out on condition that he tell me his name. That was my first encounter with David Raziel. He asked if I wanted to go someplace with him."
Did you go?
"I did. I fell for him, for his commanding leadership, for his sharp mind. I found out that he lived with his sister Esther on Yagia Kapayim Street in the Geula neighborhood. Whenever I could, I would pass by there. I pretended I was going to see his sister. On Tisha B'Av [a day to commemorate the destruction of both temples], there was a lesson for the Irgun girls in Geula near Esther and David's home. As I was walking down the street, Esther called out to me to ask if my friend Rachel Dviri had been arrested with the fellows from the Brit Habirionim. Then David invited me to stay with him while we fasted."
Did he involve you in any operations?
"One time I was babysitting my little niece, Rivka Friedman-Sneh, at my house and playing with her. Then David arrived and I told her to run home to her mother. He handed me a wrapped package and we walked together to the Tel Arza area behind the Sanhedria cemetery. We acted like a pair of lovers and I held the package in my hands. We strolled and chatted in the fields. I don't remember what we talked about. My mother was very worried when I hadn't come back."
'I didn't know I was pregnant'
David Raziel was forced to shift his hiding place to Neve Tzedek, as the Irgun headquarters operated out of Tel Aviv. Despite the distance, his relationship with Shoshana grew stronger and he would return to Jerusalem to see her. Before the wedding - notes Shoshana's nephew, Professor Arye Naor, in his book "David Raziel" - he gave her a personal revolver and a Bible inscribed with a quote from Isaiah.
After the wedding, the couple lived in various secret lodgings in Tel Aviv (on Chen Boulevard, Engel Street, Hanevi'im Street, Adam Hacohen Street). David Raziel was high on the list of men wanted by the British and he kept his marriage a secret so the British wouldn't arrest his wife. Shoshana used her maiden name and a job was arranged for her at the Hamizrahi School. She spent many evenings alone in their tiny apartment, to which no one was ever invited, except for members of the Irgun command.
In May 1939, David was arrested and Shoshana went with his parents to visit him in prison. She introduced herself as his sister. While he was imprisoned, she returned to Jerusalem and began teaching at her mother's school. The closet in her classroom served as a storage space for the nightly weapons instruction held there. One day someone warned them that the school was going to be searched. Shoshana quickly hid the weapons in the first-graders' satchels - and the girls carried the small packages to her mother's house in broad daylight.
In October of that year, David Raziel was released from prison. This was the only year the couple lived out in the open. "We lived at the end of Zefania Street in the Tel Arza neighborhood in Jerusalem," Shoshana recalled. "We maintained a full religious lifestyle and observed all the mitzvoth."
When did David set out on his last mission?
"On the Saturday night after Parashat Emor [in May 1941]. David told me he had to go to Tel Aviv. He said one of our guys had hit a British policeman on Yehuda Halevy Street in Tel Aviv. David said he needed to warn the shop owners not to give any information to the police or the British secret police. I sat on his lap, I hugged him and wept and pleaded with him not to go. I'd never behaved like that before. I never cried. David left our house in Jerusalem on a Saturday night and promised to be back within 10 days, by the following Tuesday. He left me at my mother's house in the Bukharan neighborhood in Jerusalem.
"He didn't come back. I waited another 10 days for him to return. When he still was not back, I decided to look for him in Tel Aviv. It was the Friday before the Shavuot holiday. I went to the Atid service taxi stand on Ben Yehuda Street near Mahane Yehuda to get a [shared] taxi to Tel Aviv. By total coincidence, two of my friends from the underground were in the same car. They apparently already knew that David had been killed, but they didn't tell me anything. They invited me to come to the Irgun, but I decided to go look for David in our secret apartments. I went from apartment to apartment, but I didn't find him."
What did you do?
"At that point I had to go to his parents' home. A dull fear had taken hold of me and I was afraid of hearing the terrible news. At that time of year the sun sets late, so before the start of Shabbat I decided to go see his parents. Their apartment was on the third floor of the building at 19 Nahmani Street. When I got there I was told that David was dead and they tore my clothing as a sign of mourning. His parents had apparently received the news shortly before I arrived, and because Shabbat was starting, they didn't sit shivah. I ran down to the neighbors' apartment on the second floor where there was a telephone and I called my mother and told her, 'I'm alone.' That's all I said. Just two words, and she understood immediately. My mother came to the Raziels' home and we stayed with them for Shabbat. When Shabbat was over I went back to Jerusalem with my mother to sit shivah.
"I didn't know that I was pregnant. I was 21 when David was killed and he was 30. We'd been married for three years. When he died I was in the first month of my pregnancy and I didn't know it. One day I didn't feel very well and my throat was hurting, so I went with a friend to the doctor. The doctor told me I was healthy so I returned to work as usual. I spent the months of my pregnancy at my mother's house in Jerusalem. Eight months later I gave birth to my baby. It was a Friday afternoon when I started to feel the contractions, so I was rushed to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus so as not to desecrate the Shabbat.
"My friend Batia Karlinsky, who is a midwife, stayed with me the entire night. She delivered the baby early Saturday morning. I planned to name him David Ben-David Raziel, but unfortunately the baby died that day in the hospital. That night, my brother-in-law Avraham Zimmerman, who was the secretary at my mother's school, took the baby's body and buried him on the Mount of Olives. The next day, Sunday morning, I was told that the baby had died. I wasn't told what happened to him. I burst out sobbing and didn't stop crying all day.
"A day and a half after I entered the maternity ward, I was back at my mother's house in Bukharan and I'd stopped crying completely. Two days later I resumed teaching at the school. In the mornings I'd walk by myself to teach first and second grade in Mahane Yehuda. My route took me through an area that was very sparsely built up. I walked alone, immersed in my heavy grief, my head filled with thoughts about my loss. I remember my tremendous loneliness and my thoughts about the disasters that had befallen me. The trauma affected me greatly. Before giving birth, I'd thought about getting married because I didn't want the baby to grow up without a father. These kinds of things occupied my thoughts day and night.
"I put up a small tombstone at the baby's grave with his name, David Ben-David Raziel. After the War of Independence, the Mount of Olives fell under Jordanian control. The horrible Jordanians desecrated the cemetery and uprooted the tombstones. After the Six-Day War, when Jerusalem was liberated, we went up to the Mount of Olives but couldn't find my baby's tombstone. My sister-in-law Esther Raziel-Naor, who later became a Knesset member for the Herut party, helped me a great deal and really supported me through the tough times. I was in very close contact with her children, Arye and Efrat Naor."
Victory over the empire
After her husband was killed (the circumstances of his death are detailed in the box on the previous page), Shoshana Raziel was determined to carry on his legacy, serving in the Irgun for six years. According to the Jabotinsky Institute archive, she commanded a company of women and in 1944 was arrested by the British and imprisoned for several months in the women's prison in Bethlehem. Following her release, she represented the Irgun on public relations missions to the United States and also headed the group's fundraising division in Paris. When the state was founded, Raziel devoted herself to establishing a new school for religious girls in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood. She also set about giving her husband's body a proper Jewish burial in Israel.
"My Aunt Shoshana went to great lengths to achieve her goal," says her niece Efrat Naor, who was closest to Shoshana during the last years of her life. "She overcame all the obstacles like a lioness and after a 19-year struggle she triumphed over the laws of the British Empire."
Initially, the battle to have the bones of her husband - an Irgun commander who many years after his death was posthumously promoted to the rank of general in the Israel Defense Forces - seemed like a lost cause. She was a young and isolated widow, a former member of the underground, taking on a world power entirely on her own.
Of her long and uncompromising endeavor, Shoshana Raziel said dryly and laconically: "On the first anniversary of my husband's death, I traveled with Yitzhak Berman [who later became Knesset Speaker] to my husband's grave in the British military cemetery near Habbaniya in Iraq. We arrived at his grave and I found that on the tombstone it said 'Ben-Moshe.' I asked the British officer to erect a new tombstone with the name David Raziel written on it, and that's what happened. Still, the British refused to move his coffin to Israel on the grounds that, according to military law, casualties are buried in the place they fell, and they didn't want to create a precedent at the height of World War II.
"Throughout the years, I kept pushing for David's bones to be brought to Israel. In December 1955, the Iraqi government permitted his body to be transferred to Cyprus, which was then under British rule. Every year I visited his grave in Cyprus. After Cyprus won its independence, Archbishop Makarios consented in 1961 to have David's bones brought to Israel for reburial. Mordechai Raziel wanted to bury his son in the family plot in Sanhedria, next to the grave of his mother Bluma. I insisted that David be buried in the military plot on Mount Herzl. When his coffin arrived in Israel, he was given a formal military funeral."
Efrat Naor adds: "My Aunt Shoshana was a great educator who took a pioneering approach among the religious Zionist population. When the battles of the War of Independence subsided, she founded the Yehuda Halevy School in Katamon that was open to girls from every community. She sparked a revolution when she adapted an education that was strict about mitzvah observance to professional training in various occupations, home economics, arts and music. Her innovation in enriching her students' horizons was unprecedented in terms of its boldness, and her decision to add boys to co-ed classes at the school was the crowning achievement of her educational advancements. Despite encountering much resistance, Shoshana did not relent and tenaciously pursued her educational work. She ran the school for decades and groomed generations of educators."
How did she cope with her bereavement?
"The first time she met David she knew that her fate was forever tied with his. Their years of marriage were brief and lacked privacy, but she treasured each and every moment of their life together. She consciously nurtured his memory. After he was killed, she continued his path by dedicating her life to memorializing his work. Shoshana was a tough and opinionated woman, but on the inside she was filled with love for David, for those dear to her and for the Jewish people. The last words she mumbled were 'A memorial service should be held.' After her death, Shoshana was buried in the Givat Shaul cemetery. For many years, she dreamt of being buried alongside her husband David on Mount Herzl, but she understood that the fulfillment of her wish to have him buried in the military section would keep them apart." W