Tuesday, October 23, 2007

They Have Guy Môquet; We Have Dov Gruner

The last letter from the young French Resistance member, Communist militant Guy Môquet, executed by the Germans on 22 October 1941, to His Parents has stirred up a storm in France because of Môquet's political/ideological path.

I decided to read the letter, not having know specifically of Môquet's historu previously. Here it is:

My darling Mummy, my adored brother, my much loved Daddy, I am going to die!

What I ask of you, especially you Mummy, is to be brave. I am, and I want to be, as brave as all those who have gone before me. Of course, I would have preferred to live. But what I wish with all my heart is that my death serves a purpose. I didn’t have time to embrace Jean. I embraced my two brothers Roger and Rino (1). As for my real brother, I cannot embrace him, alas! I hope all my clothes will be sent back to you. They might be of use to Serge, I trust he will be proud to wear them one day.

To you, my Daddy to whom I have given many worries, as well as to my Mummy, I say goodbye for the last time. Know that I did my best to follow the path that you laid out for me. A last adieu to all my friends, to my brother whom I love very much. May he study hard to become a man later on.

Seventeen and a half years, my life has been short, I have no regrets, if only that of leaving you all. I am going to die with Tintin, Michels.

Mummy, what I ask you, what I want you to promise me, is to be brave and to overcome your sorrow. I cannot put any more. I am leaving you all, Mummy, Serge, Daddy. I embrace you with all my child’s heart. Be brave!

Your Guy who loves you.

(1) His brothers in arms

I was educated on the resistance operations of the Irgun and the Lechi.

One of our heroes was Dov Gruner.

Born in 1912, in Hungary, he joined Betar in 1938, and two years later immigrated to Eretz Israel aboard the Skaria, an illegal immigrant vessel organized by Betar.

After spending six months in the Atlit internment camp, he joined the Betar unit at Rosh Pina, and then found his way to the ranks of the Irgun. In 1941, he joined the British army in order to fight the Nazi enemy, and together with his comrades in the Jewish Brigade came to the aid of Holocaust survivors in Europe.After his demobilisation, in March 1946, he resumed his activity in the Irgun and joined its Fighting Force.

While still on demobilisation leave, he took part in the requisition of weapons from a British army depot near Netanya. Ten days later, he set out on his second and last operation - the attack on the Ramat Gan police station where he was severely wounded, having been shot in the face. Captured by the British, he was sentenced to death. He was 35 when he went on April 16, 1947 to the gallows, together with his comrades - Alkahi, Dresner and Kashani after a long legal battle. He refused to take part in an Irgun plan to free him, informing his superiors that he was useless as a fighter and they should seek someone more fit to break out of jail.

He also left a letter, one written to Irgun leader Menachem Begin and I think it much better that that of Môquet. It is taken from the book The Conquest of Acre Fortess by Jan Gitlin, Hadar Publishers, 1982.


From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for the encouragement which you have given me during these fateful days. Be assured that whatever happens I shall not forget the principles of pride, generosity and firmness. I shall know how to uphold my honour, the honour of a Jewish soldier and fighter.

I could have written in high-sounding phrases something like the old Roman 'Duce est pro patria mori', but words are cheap, and sceptics can say 'After all, he had no choice.' And they might even be right. Of course, I want to live; who does not? But what pains me, now that the end is so near, is mainly the awareness that I have not succeeded in achieving enough. I too could have said: "Let the future take care of the future' and meanwhile enjoy life and be content with the job I was promised on my demobilization. I could even have left the country altogether for a safer life in America (*), but this would not have satisfied me either as a Jew or as a Zionist.

There are many schools of thought as to how a Jew should choose his way of life. One way is that of the assimilationists who have renounced their Jewishness. There is also another way, the way of those who call themselves 'Zionists' - the way of negotiation and compromise, as if the existence of a nation were but another transaction. They are not prepared to make any sacrifice, and therefore they have to make concessions and accept compromised.

Perhaps this is a means of delaying the end but, in the final analysis, it leads to the ghetto. And let us not forget this: in the ghetto of Warsaw alone, too, there were five hundred thousand Jews.

The only way that seems, to my mind, to be right, is the way of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the way of courage and daring without renouncing a single inch of our homeland. When political negotiations prove futile, one must be prepared to fight for our homeland and our freedom. Without them the very existence of out nation is jeopardized, so fight we must with all possible means. This is the only way left to our people in their hour of decision: to stand on our rights, to be ready to fight, even if for some of us this way leads to the gallows. For it is a law of history that only with blood shall a country be redeemed.

I am writing this while awaiting the hangman. This is not a moment at which I can lie, and I swear that if I had to begin my life anew, I would have chosen the same way, regardless of the consequences for myself.

Your faithful soldier, Dov

(*) Dov's sister, Helen Friedman, had immigrated to America.

And here is the TIME magazine report:

Soon after midnight, guards at old Acre Prison, near Haifa, entered his cell and shook Dov Bela Gruner until he woke up. Sleepy-eyed, bewildered, he was taken to a large, dimly lit room. There stood a gallows. There also stood three other men of Palestine's Irgun Zvai Leumi terrorist organization. This was their first notice that death had come for them.

A prison official asked the Jewish prisoners if they had any final requests. Yes, they wanted a rabbi to be with them in their last minutes. Said the officer: "You'll have to do without; we can't get one for you." Dov Gruner then asked if he might sing Hatikvah ("The Hope"), the Zionist anthem. The four men's voices rolled the mournful words of Zion.

Dov Gruner, Hungary-born British Army veteran who participated in a terrorist raid on a Palestine police post (TIME, Feb. 17), was the first to go. The others—23-year-old Eliezer Kashani, 32-year-old Mordecai Alkashi, 24-year-old Dov Rosenbaum—followed him to the gallows (they had been found with guns and whips in their possession soon after a British major had been flogged).

...At Safad a nervous British lieutenant called on Mrs. Helen Friedman, Dov Gruner's sister from Lancaster, Pa., and broke the news to her. She had seen her brother the day before and she had been told then that she could see him again this day. She sobbed, "Why did they do it? Why did they fool me?"

The British, ordinarily sticklers for procedure even in executions, had gone about this grim business in a secretive and notably un-British way...


Anonymous said...

stupid to compare letters of a 17 y old boy and a 35 y old man....(no offense to the writers of the letters and the circumstances).
How can you say the second one is ''better''? You DISrespect both by saying this.

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