: Jewish Spies in Ottoman PalestineBy
: Date of issue
: retrieved 6 December 2009 but must be before 2001People/entities mentioned in this item:
Commentary (by JB) Abstract
The article about Weizmann must have been published in 1993-2000, since it refers to Ezer Weizmann as the "current president" of Israel.
It also contains at least one error since it says that "Ezer himself was a year old when Mina, his aunt, died" -- Ezer was born in 1924, so this suggests that Mina died in 1925/6 but she died after 1956
At a conference at Tel Aviv University a couple of weeks ago on the Middle East in World War I, lecturers pointed out that while there was indeed sympathy for the Allied cause among many Palestinian Jews, others joined the Turkish-German struggle against the Allies.
Among them, according to an American historian, was the sister of Chaim Weizmann, Mina. A physician, Mina allegedly undertook to serve as a German spy against the Allied cause at the same time that her illustrious brother in England was contributing as a chemist to the British war effort and hanging his hopes for a Jewish homeland on an Allied victory.
The sensational allegation concerning Mina Weizmann — apparently aired publicly for the first time — was made offhandedly by Prof. Donald M. McKale of Clemson University during a lecture on German intelligence activity in the Middle East during the First World War.
The Germans, who encouraged their Turkish allies to attack the Suez Canal in order to draw off British forces from the European theater, had difficulty recruiting local agents to spy on the British forces in Egypt.
"The Ottoman government refused to permit the Germans to operate freely," said McKale. "Subsequently the Germans recruited a number of Jews in Palestine as spies, hoping to exploit the hatred of Russian Jews for czarism.
"One such was Mina Weizmann, a Russian emigre physician in Jerusalem and younger sister of Chaim Weizmann, who lived in London and was the Zionist leader."
CHAIM, who would become Israel's first president, was born in 1874 in Byelorussia, the third of 12 children. Mina was the 11th child, 16 years younger than Chaim. The 12th child was Khilik, father of Israel's current president, Ezer Weizman. Ezer himself was a year old when Mina, his aunt, died.
McKale said in an interview that he had come across a reference to Mina Weizmann while researching German archives for a book on Germany and the Middle East. Mina, who was 24 when the war broke out, had been living in Jerusalem but worked during the war as a doctor in a Cairo hospital where she presumably had access to British military personnel.
She was arrested by the British as a spy, said McKale, and transported to Malta where she was imprisoned briefly.
"Then, most unusually, she was returned to Russia. It is unclear whether she was in fact a double agent working for the British or whether she really was a German spy and that her influential brother assisted in her release."
At least one other Palestinian Jew recruited by the Germans as a spy, Isaac Cohen, turned out in fact to be a British agent, McKale noted.
The American historian said that Mina Weizmann's identity as a German spy had been reinforced by the son of the man who allegedly recruited her, a German agent named Curt Preufer, the subject of one of McKale's books. The elder Preufer would later serve as a senior diplomat under the Nazis.
Preufer's son, who lives now in the US, told McKale that his father and Mina had meetings in a hotel.
"There is an implication that the two of them had an affair," said McKale.
ANOTHER speaker at the symposium, Dr. Jacob Markovizky of Haifa University, noted that leaders of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, encouraged Jewish youth after the outbreak of the World War I to enroll in the Turkish army.
"The Jewish elite, including teachers, felt that the mobilization of able-bodied young men into the Turkish army would be a tangible expression of Jewish loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. The Yishuv hoped that, in return, the Turkish authorities could, some day, recognize aspirations for a Jewish homeland in Palestine."
Students from prestigious high schools in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were pressured by the Yishuv leadership to enlist in the Turkish army for the sake of the long-term benefit of the Jewish community.
Some even became officers, but about one-fourth of the enlistees, feeling no sense of identity with the Ottoman empire, eventually deserted their units. Most of these were from Tel Aviv. Enlistees from Jerusalem were for the most part persuaded by the distinguished educator David Yellin to serve out their term, said Markovizky.