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The History Of Betar
Shlomo Ben Yosef

During our long history in the diaspora, others shaped destiny for us as we, the Jewish people, produced many martyrs. The moment we took our future in our own hands the names of martyrs gave way to the names of heros. These heroes were simple men and women, but their names mark the beginning of a new era in our history.

Shlomo Ben Yosef in an example of such a hero for generations to come. His name became a symbol for the Jewish struggle for liberation and freedom. Yet he did not die on a battlefield, but on the gallows of Palestine - the first Jew to receive the death sentence in Eretz Israel for nearly two thousand years.

He was Born Shalom Tabachnik in the Polish town of Lutzk in 1913. From his father he inherited his modesty, his quietness, his stubborn will, and his strong character. As a son of a very poor family, the conditions of his childhood were difficult, but these difficulties helped strengthen his character. Even as a child he kept himself back from the general jokes of his friends at the cheder - the Jewish religious school. He was always quiet, dreaming, and reserved.

His study days were over soon after his Bar-Mitzvah. He now had to help support his poor family and worry about his future. A period of hard and bitter work to earn a living set in as he took positions as a clerk, a waiter, as well as many others to support his family.

Betar

He joined Betar Qen of Lutzk in 1928 and from that moment his life took on new meaning. In Betar he learned how to love his homeland, Eretz Israel. There he also learned to dream of a new life for himself and his people. He was taught that he was not a "Zhid", "a poor dirty Jew" - the epitaph that had been flung at Jewish youth by the gentiles till they no longer questioned or even resented it.

While working he learned more about the world around him. He saw how he, his parents, and all the other Jews around him were called Zhids. He saw the torment in the eyes for fellow Jews. He saw how the Poles made pogroms on them. But most of all, he saw something better in his heart.

That young heart burned with protest as his young fists were clenched in sorrow. He entered Betar through an instinctive feeling and the movement enriched his life.

Here he felt a new spirit. He studied the history of the Jewish nation. He heard about the Jewish heroes of the past. He found out that Jews were not always enslaved, insulted, and oppressed. He was taught that he was not a weakling who had to be afraid of all around him. He learned that he was the son of kings, the descendant of prophets, and a brother of the Macabees. He yearned to go to Palestine where there would be no more Zhids, but a free nation in a free "Kingdom of Israel." And here, in Qen Lutzk, he learned his first Betar song - The song which he sang ten years later with so much courage on the gallows of Akko.

Hachshara

When his father died in 1930, the seventeen year old boy took it upon himself to support his whole family. Yet he never missed an evening in the Qen, and he became one of the most active of it's members.

When the Polish Government gave permission for a military Hachshara, he was he first on the drill field to study the "Torah of the gun." He was always the first one, whether for a hike or a meeting. The broad-shouldered youth could be seen everywhere, a fiery glance in his eyes - always the first one.

Everyone in the Qen knew him - from the youngest Nesher, lion, to the oldest Mifaked, officer, and he in turn knew everyone. When anything had to be done, from the smallest thing like lighting of the stove in the Moadon, the meeting place, or distributing of pamphlets from town to town, he could be relied on to volunteer his services.

In 1931, a Betar Hachshara was founded in the town of Kazhitz. Shalom Tabachnik left home, despite the difficulties which faced his family, and arrived at Hachshara. He completed his Hachshara and returned to Lutzk in 1932, where he then completed his term of Hachshara Haganatit, military hachshara, and took charge of the Mazkirut HaQen. He also organized a Plugat Aliyah, an Aliyah platoon, which prepared to go to Palestine.

Aliyah

At that time, no certificates were available for Betarim to go to Palestine. Despite that obstacle, he joined a group of "illegal immigrants" and without a penny in his pockets left for Eretz Israel in August 1937. After smuggling himself across borders and as an "illegal" immigrant aboard a ship that landed in Beirut, Lebanon, he climbed aboard a Greek fishing boat heading south. When he asked to be taken further, they demanded money from him. Having none, they began to quarrel and he was cast overboard. He swam the stretch of water and finally, after crossing the Galilee hills, arrived at Naharia, thus fulfilling his life-long dream to be in Eretz Israel, and the Betar group of Rosh Pina.

The many months he spent on the way, and the hardships which he and many others endured has formed an undying part of Jewish Legend.

After he arrived safely in Eretz Israel, he immediately reported to the Plugat Ha-Giyus, the service platoon for Eretz Israel, at the settlement of Rosh Pina. Here he began cultivating the fields of the Galil.

Eretz Israel

He arrived in the midst of bad times in palestine. For two years, the Arabs had been rioting and terrorizing the Jewish population. Women and children were killed, settlements were raided, fields were burned and Jews were attacked at will. In the face of all this, Jewish youth remained silent.

But that did not deter Shlomo Ben Yosef, the Hebrew name Shalom Tabachnik adopted and was known by in Eretz Israel. He worked hard in the fields to help support the Maon. When the pogroms got bad, he went to the port of Haifa were he worked to send money back to Rosh Pina. It was dangerous to work in the open fields and he wanted to guarantee his fellow Betarim would not go hungry. When one days work in the Galilee would feed one person, His single days labor in the ports would feed twelve. Thus he supported his fellow Betarim, and with the extra money he earned, he purchased weapons to protect them with.

The Jewish leaders had proclaimed the policy of Havlaga, self restraint. This was a policy the British Government not only favored, but encouraged. The British did not want to have a Jewish majority in Palestine, else they may loose control of the land. The Arabs could therefore attack whenever they wished, but the "Jews had to prove that their intentions were peaceful."

The Palestine Police and Government were "unable" to find the Arab terrorists who would shoot Jews, such as Leiberman, the young Betari from Rosh Pina who was murdered while working in the fields. At the same time, Jews could not venture from one city to another, they were hostages in their own homeland.

To Shlomo Ben Yosef the way was clear. If the Government would not police this country, the Jews would protect themselves.

The Shot

On April 21, 1938, news was received that a contingent of Arab terrorists was on its way to attack Rosh Pina, but the report didn't say when. Preparations were being made in the near by Arab village of Djani. Open preparations in the Arab Village proved more and more evident of an imminent attack. Although the were exhausted from working the fields for sixteen hour a day and then spent six hour a night on guard duty for months at a time, they knew they had to do something. They could not just sit back while fellow Jews were about to be murdered.

In desperation, three of the youngest Betarim at Rosh Pina, Abraham Shein, Sholom Djuravin, and Shlomo Ben Yosef went out on the Taberias road. Perhaps they may get there before the time of the attack. Perhaps they might intercept the Arab terrorists in time. Perhaps they might frighten them away.

A car approaches. It was an car filled with Arabs who did not live in the neighborhood. The three young men stepped out into view to stop the car headed for Rosh Pina.

These, thought the youngsters, must be the terrorists. They fired a single shot in the air. The Arabs gained speed and within a few seconds vanished from sight. Shein, Djuravin, and Ben Yosef then waited until the a Jewish bus had safely passed, and with elated feelings that they had prevented a tragedy, returned to the Betar Maon in Rosh Pina. This time the police were not long in arriving.

The first was a Jewish policeman who suggested that Ben Yosef throw away his weapon. He refused to do this and within a few minutes, Shein, Djuravin, and Ben Yosef were led away in chains to Akko prison. They were proud of their actions. They did not resist.

The Trial

The trial opened May 24, 1938. On a very late Friday afternoon, June 3rd, with a face as pale a ghosts, the President of the Haifa Military Court pronounced the verdict. Shalom Djuravin was to be placed under medical observation, Abraham Shein and Shlomo Ben Yosef were to hang by the neck until they were dead.

The tense electric silence of the court room was broken by a dreadful shriek from Shein's sister. She understood no English, and for ten days she had been listening - a pitiful, hopeless, bewildered creature - to the evidence that would decide whether her little eighteen year old brother - now standing so proudly in the dock - was to live or die. This friday afternoon, she could see from the see of blurred faces around her, which it was to be. She collapsed in a fit of uncontrollable sobbing.

In a voice that stammered and shook, a Jewish interpreter tired to read out the verdict in Hebrew. He sat down, overcome before he got to the end.

The prisoners were led out. Ben Yosef stood up and shouted: "It is good to die for the Jewish State on both sides of the Jordan" and he went out with his two fellow Betarim - the only cool, detached and unaggravated people in the entire court-room.

After that came three and a half weeks of unceasing attempts to secure a reprieve. Appeals to the British Government and the Palestine Administration came from the Jewish national organizations, from the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, from two Anglican Bishops, The Lancaster Guardian, from the Polish Government, from Chief Rabbi Herzog of Palestine, from British Members of Parliament, newspaper editors, churches, and synagogues,

The cries of Ben Yosef's aged mother in Poland, who begged only that her young son's life be spared until she could reach Palestine to see him for the last time, went unanswered. Jabotinsky himself went to plead with Britain's Colonial Secretary, Malcolm McDonald. In thousands, the petitions came, but only in vain. Shein's sentence was commuted, but Ben Yosef was to be sacrificed.

Ben Yosef was executed in June, 1938. The entire Jewish world was shocked by this injustice and was deeply moved by the heroism of the young man in the face of death.

A Betari Until the End

On the morning of Wednesday, June 29, 1938, Shlomo Ben Yosef rose early. It was the day after he had told his last visitor "I will die like a man and a Betari. I am proud to be the first to be sacrificed for the Jewish People." He kept his word. Calmly, without haste, he washed, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and dressed in the white clothing supplied to him.

The British refused to give him his simple blue trimmed Betar uniform, even though they promised him he would be allowed to wear it. He told them he would not go willingly if not in uniform. After much deliberation, he agreed to go without it as long as he was able to apologize to his fellow Betarim for not having it on. "Very well," he said, "I will go. Let it not be said that a Jewish soldier is afraid of death."

He took a final glance at himself in a mirror, made sure that he looked as smart and clean as if he were in a Betar parade. He then walked out unflinchingly toward the scaffold. On the way, he heard the terrified shriek of an Arab murderer about to be hanged, He smiled contemptuously, and remarked to the escorting guards "It appears that we will even have to teach them how to die."

Shlomo Ben Yosef could then be heard throughout the prison singing Hatikvah. He climbed the scaffold fervently singing Shir Betar - "Lamut o Lichbosh et Hahar, to die or conquer the hill," - the first song he had learned in the far away Plugah at Lutzk. On the gallows he faced the executioner. Pride and defiance shone in his eyes, as he spoke his last words.

"I die with the name of Jabotinsky on my lips, sacrificing my life in the hope that the Jewish nation may learn the lesson that Havlaga, Self-restraint, is fatal.

 
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