My sister got away none too soon. One evening shortly after her departure, when I was standing in the doorway of our house watching the ever fresh miracle of the Eastern sunset, a Turkish officer came riding down the street with about thirty cavalrymen. He called me out and ordered me to follow him to the little village inn, where he dismounted and led me to one of the inner rooms, his spurs jingling loudly as we passed along the stone corridor.
I never knew whether I had been selected for this attention because of my prominence as a leader of the Jewish young men or simply because I had been standing conveniently in the doorway. The officer closed the door and came straight to the point by asking me where our store of arms was hidden. He was a big fellow, with the handsome, cruel features usual enough in his class. There was no open menace in his first question. When I refused to tell him, he began wheedling and offering all sorts of favors if I would betray my people. Then, all of a sudden, he whipped out a revolver and stuck the muzzle right in my face. I felt the blood leave my heart, but I was able to control myself and refuse his demand. The officer was not easily discouraged; the hours I passed in that little room, with its smoky kerosene lamp, were terrible ones. I realized, however, how tremendously important the question of the arms was, and strength was given me to hold out until the officer gave up in disgust and let me go home.
[ILLUSTRATION: HOUSE OF THE AUTHOR’S FATHER, EPHRAIM FISHL AARONSOHN, IN ZICRON-JACOB]
My father, an old man, knew nothing of what had happened, but the rest of my family were tremendously excited. I made light of the whole affair, but I felt sure that this was only the beginning. Sure enough, next morning—the Sabbath—the same officer returned and put three of the leading elders of the village, together with myself, under arrest. After another fruitless inquisition at the hotel, we were handcuffed and started on foot toward the prison, a day’s journey away. As our little procession passed my home, my father, who was aged and feeble, came tottering forward to say good-bye to me. A soldier pushed him roughly back; he reeled, then fell full-length in the street before my eyes.
It was a dismal departure. We were driven through the streets shackled like criminals, and the women and children came out of the houses and watched us in silence—their heads bowed, tears running down their cheeks. They realized that for thirty-five years these old men, my comrades, had been struggling and suffering for their ideal—a regenerated Palestine; now, in the dusk of their life, it seemed as if all their hopes and dreams were coming to ruin. The oppressive tragedy of the situation settled down on me more and more heavily as the day wore on and heat and fatigue told on my companions. My feelings must have been written large on my face, for one of them, a fine-looking patriarch, tried to give me comfort by reminding me that we must not rely upon strength of arms, and that our spirit could never be broken, no matter how defenseless we were. Thus he, an old man, was encouraging me instead of receiving help from my youth and enthusiasm.