The Aaronsohn Saga

The Aaronsohn Saga

by Shmuel Katz




A celebrated botanist, who had won world fame as the discoverer of 'wild wheat,' Aaron Aaronsohn (1876 1919) created the first Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Palestine then under Turkish rule in 1910. His venture was supported and funded from the u.s. by a group which included Julius Rosenwald, Justices Louis D. Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter (both later on the u.s. Supreme Court), Judah L. Magnes (later President of the Hebrew University), and Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah. In World War I, reacting against the oppressive Turkish regime, Aaronsohn founded a Jewish spy organization, nili, to help the British in the forthcoming battle for Palestine. Here is told the story of Aaronsohn, who is revealed as a master of strategy, and his sister Sarah, whose self-sacrificing devotion to the cause shows her to be a great historic personality in her own right. Historian Shmuel Katz here rectifies the absence of a comprehensive biography of Aaronsohn and the nili spy ring. Meticulously researched British War Office intelligence documents and the letters and field reports of nili s central figures illustrate the crucial contribution made by nili to the British conquest of Palestine. Powerfully written, with deep sensitivity to the emotional lives of the people portrayed, The Aaronsohn Saga is both solid history and a marvelous read.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789652294166
Publisher: Gefen Publishing House
Publication date: 12/20/2007
Pages: 370
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 15 Years

About the Author

Shmuel Katz was born in South Africa in 1914. He moved to Palestine in 1936 but in 1939, invited by Vladimir Jabotinsky to come to London, he there founded the weekly Jewish Standard to promote the idea of a Jewish national army in the war against Nazi Germany. He returned to Palestine in 1946. A journalist, author, translator, historian, political activist, and book publisher, he has enjoyed a multifaceted career spanning many disciplines. A member of the High Command of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, member of the first Israeli Knesset, and advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977, Katz has been intimately involved in the entire history of the modern State of Israel. His books, written in both English and Hebrew and translated into other languages as well, include Days of Fire, Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, Battletruth: The World and Israel, the Hollow Peace, and Lone Wolf: A Biography of Vladimir Gefen Publishing House (Ze ev) Jabotinsky.

What People are Saying About This

Laurence Weinbaum

"...Katz s language is fluent and engaging, [reading] more like a novel than a work of history. He paints colourful portraits of all the main figures in the epoch and in doing so he also provides a fine picture of the life and times of the Yishuv and its relations with the outside world.' In the contemporary review of the 1936 travelogue Palestine on the Eve, by the Hungarian-born journalist Ladislas Farrago, a British writer wrote: day, truth will emerge from the well, and the Empire will learn what it owed to Aaron and Sarah Aaronsohn, Avshalom Feinberg, and others of that devoted band, who endured and died for their faith under the inspiration of Aaron. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts and meticulous scholarship of Shmuel Katz, it seems that one day may have finally arrived."--(Laurence Weinbaum, Jewish Affairs)

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The Aaronsohn Saga 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a tribute to Aaron Aaronsohn, his sister Sarah, and others who formed the ¿NILI¿ espionage organization in WWI Palestine to assist the British from behind Turkish lines. (NILI is the acronym for the Hebrew phrase ¿the eternity of Israel will not lie.¿) The goal of NILI was to see Britain take trusteeship over Palestine with eventual independence for a Jewish homeland. Also, aware of the genocide of Armenians by the Turks, NILI feared the Jews might be next without British intervention. This is an inspiring story, and one not widely known. Many Americans are familiar with the brave and ferocious leaders of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but not so with the early heroes of Zionism, reflecting, I presume, the still politically charged nature of the existence of Israel. The stories of the young NILI martyrs will stay with you after you learn of their courage and travails. Nevertheless, I have a number of criticisms of this author¿s presentation.Let¿s start with the title. Frankly, it just doesn¿t do the story justice. How would anyone know to care about this story?Only one map is included, showing the scope of NILI¿s activities within a small area inside Palestine. But because most of the story involves the logistics of travel between Palestine and other parts of the Levant, a map of the whole Middle East and Anatolia would have been helpful.Too many details bog down the narrative. For each operative, we get a recitation of the complete family tree. At times I felt like I was reading Numbers in The Torah.We are hurled into the adventures of Aaronsohn in medias res, and set into a literary thicket of trees. What forest are we in? Why was the Zionist movement so important to Jews and in particular to these Jews of NILI? One minute they¿re farmers and researchers; the next they are ardent Zionist spies. What happened?We also don¿t learn until page 211 what the British-Zionist relationship is all about or why Palestine mattered at all to the British. (On the former topic the author makes an interesting point about the British Cabinet¿s declaration in favor of Jewish aspirations: ¿¿not intended as an act of altruism towards the Jewish people, but a political undertaking aimed at turning the sympathies of Russian and American Jews (many of them neutral or even pro-German) towards the Allies. It was needed moreover as a preemptive coup in view of a possible pro-Zionist declaration from Germany¿¿)The author takes great pains to defend Aaronsohn against his detractors. Repetitive excerpts from Aaronsohn¿s letters complain about his perceived mistreatment and antagonism from others. There was fierce opposition to NILI from the Jewish community, but Katz would have us believe it was mostly from pettiness and jealousy, which did seem to be rife among these passionate ideologues. Katz largely elides broader issues however, especially the question of Jewish identity, which was of critical import during this time period. While he mentions (not until page 303) that Edwin Montague of the British Cabinet protested that Jews are not a nation, but a religion, Katz (himself clearly a strong Zionist) does not let readers know the basis or context of this roiling controversy.The beginning of the 20th Century in Europe marked a strong movement toward racial thinking, and in particular, the racial status of Jews. If, in fact, they were deemed to be a separate racial category, it was only a small step to concluding they were not entitled to the same privileges and protections as other citizens. German Jews especially had been experiencing a mini ¿enlightenment¿ prior to the promulgation of racist thought, and were loathe to jeopardize their newly acquired access to academia and politics. (See, e.g., Amos Elon¿s "The Pity of It All.") According to Elon, because a lot of the Jewish intelligentsia wanted to emphasize that their loyalty was primarily as German citizens, they converted to Christianity (to no avail, as it h
xorscape on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was excited to get "The Aaronsohn Saga" to review. I love history and am always amazed at the heroes produced during times of war. I became fascinasted by the story of Aaron Aaronsohn and his sister Sarah.Aaron grew up in a Jewish agricultural settlement and studied agriculture and botany. During World War I, the Aaronsohns created a spy ring known as Nili and worked with the British against the Turks. The story also covers the politics of the time. There are horrible things that happen as well as examples of courage and strength. This is a family that helped shape a region.I usually don¿t read stories of violence or such sadness, but this book provided such good information about a time and place I know very little about. It is well worth the read for anyone interested in the history of the region.
melannen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was somewhat nervous about getting "The Aaronsohn Saga" to review. While I love stories of naturalists, and stories about spies, and stories about World War I, I know very little about Zionism or the early history of the Israeli state. And this book, which I am reading in the new English translation of a Hebrew original, does expect a certain level of familiarity, with the people involved if not the specific events. That's part of the benefit of the book for me - this book was written in Israel for an Israeli audience, and so I don't expect to know all the background, any more than I'd expect a born and raised Israeli to know the details of the Arnold/Andre conspiracy. Reading history written by the other is always a valuable experience, and particularly for an American reading about and event like the World Wars, where the American narrative is, ah, singular. So this book did feel foreign, and to some extent that was a distancing effect that I had to force myself to work past.Luckily, the story this book tells is so gripping that I got pulled into it anyway. There is adventure and tragedy, star-crossed romance and arranged marriage, science and war, politics and idealism, personality and pragmatism. It focuses on the story of Aaron Aaronsohn, a remarkable man who had the ability to see clearly and the passion to turn his vision into reality at a great turning-point in history. The book covers his early life as the child of a pioneering Jewish agricultural settlement in Palestine, his scientific training and his work in botany and agronomy as he created - from the ground up - a U.S funded scientific station near his hometown, and his involvement (not always happy) in world Zionism and local Palstinian politics. As WWI comes to the Middle East he tries to find a way to harness the resources of his people to turn the outcome of the war to a victory for the Jewish state.The story really picks up when Aaron and friends finally manage to establish a working relationship with the British and create a secret, daring spy network called Nili throughout Turkish-controlled (and German-allied) Palestine, a collective of fearless and dedicated young and old people, men and women, accomplishing amazing things with almost no resources and in the face of constant danger - a danger that finally caught up with them, just weeks before the British victory that they had helped to build.This book does suffer in some ways. It exhibits what seems to be the common problem of historians working closely from paper sources - the book gives time and space to events based on how well-documented they are, rather than how important they are, so we get chapters and chapters of Aaron, frustrated and fighting the British bureacracy in minute detail, while the exciting and vital things happening among the members on the ground in Nili are summarized and mostly crammed into one chapter. Similarly, the publisher's blurbs talked about how the title of the book became "The Aaronsohn Saga" because Aaron's sister Sarah played such an important role in the events, and yet it seems like she got little more than the occasional passing mention and a grand death scene. And then there's another Aaronsohn sibling, Alex, who keeps popping into the narrative to do something activist, intriguing and barely descibed - and then disappearing with no elaboration as soon as his story isn't directly intersecting Aaron's. I feel like this would be a much richer book if it truly was the saga of all the Aaronsohns and of Nili instead of what seems to be, in places, little more than an annotation of Aaron's diary. On a similar note. parts of the book descend almost into panegyric, reading like a praise-song for Aaron at the expense of other parts of the story, and spend a lot of time telling up how amazing he is during periods where what he's doing is mostly fruitlessly fighting bureaucracy and alienating potential allies. I understand that nobody (even Aaron Aaronsohn) is a perfect h