Esther's Zionism was reinforced by the horrors of the Holocaust
and British betrayal of the Palestine Mandate. She had been involved in Zionist youth activities. In 1946, she decided
to emigrate to the land of Israel, then Palestine, and applied for as post as an English teacher at the Evelina de Rothschild school in Jerusalem.
Esther arrived in Jerusalem in the turbulent period preceding the Israel War of Independence, on December
1. 1946. She witnessed the violence and British cruelty toward the Jews, including the interception of Aliya Bet
immigration ships such as the and the execution of Irgun activist Dov Gruner, and the drawn out saga of the refugee ships such as the
Exodus. Her letters to her parents began to show a
tougher attitude and an increasingly anti-British sentiment.
In autumn 1947 she joined the Haganah. She continued her teaching job
attending training camps. In January 1948 she left Evelina de Rothschild and became
a full-time Haganah soldier. In addition to military duties and continuing training she
was an announcer
for Haganah's English-language broadcasting service, and volunteered to join the defenders of the Jewish
Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.
In 1948, the Jewish Quarter housed about 1,700 civilians. This was the remnant of the Jewish community of about
5000 whose roots in the city dated back hundreds of years. Most had been forced to migrate by Arab riots in 1921, 1929
and in the so called Arab Revolt of 1939. Most of the
people were ultra-orthodox Jews, not Zionists, and mostly they were women, children and elderly. A tiny force of Haganah. Irgun and LEHI
soldiers were sent to guard it, commanded by Moshe Rousnak of the Haganah. Until the British left, it was possible to
infiltrate fighters under various guises, and occasionally to smuggle in weapons. The community was under siege. Arab
terrorists dynamited building after building.
Esther was convoyed into the Old City, ostensibly as a teacher, either at the end of April or begining of May, 1948 and reported
to Rousnak. She was made into a liaison between the outposts throughout the quarter, bringing food, drink and
ammunition. On May 16 the Arab attacks intensified, as the British had left Palestine. Esther was
lightly wounded and quickly returned to her duties after a field-dressing, often running along the exposed
rooftops to get between Haganah positions. On May 19, a small Palmach unit broke through the Zion Gate and reached
the beleaguered garrison. However, the Palmach was unable to send battle seasoned veterans, who were hard put to hold
out on Mt. Zion and were falling asleep standing up. The people sent to garrison the old city were rearguard
soldiers who could barely shoot a gun.
The same day, the Transjordanian Arab Legion, supplied and officered by the British, had invaded Jerusalem and began shelling the Jewish Quarter, which was contracting daily as
Arab irregulars advanced.
Against the 25 pound cannon of the British, mortars, and machine guns, with virtually unlimited supplies of ammunition,
resistance was hopeless. The defenders had mostly home-made Sten guns (automatic rifles). Esther Cailingold became a
Sten gunner, as there was no way to continue her role as liaison. On May 26, the Arab forces blew up a building as she
was entering it. Her spine was shattered. She
was carried to the Quarter's infirmary, manned by the Hadassah organization. As there were no supplies, and poor facilities, little could be done for her.
The infirmary patients were evacuated the next day, as the Arab Legion, under Abdulah al Tel, fired on it - a war crime.
Esther remained conscious and able to talk and continued to say her prayers.
The Hurva synagogue was blown up by Fawzi el Kuttub, an Arab Palestinian terrorist who had been destroying the buildings of the quarter
one by one. With the capture of the Hurva, twenty-five percent of the territory remaining had fallen to the Arabs. The
quarter would have fallen immediately, except that the captured area was full of shops which were thoroughly looted by
the Arab mob euphemistically called "irregulars." The Arab Legion soon conquered the Jewish quarter.
Fortunately, it had fallen to them and not to the "irregulars." The Arab Legion commander, Abdullah al Tel, prevented a
massacre, though he had to fire on the Arab mob to keep order. The Jewish Quarter was nonetheless ethnically cleansed.
Civilians who were healthy were transferred behind the Jewish lines (see
The Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem).
Defenders who were able to travel were taken prisoner of war, and the wounded civilians and defenders, including Esther,
were evacuated the remaining wounded to the safety of the Armenian Monastery (school by some accounts).
It was Shabbat - Sabbath, May 29, 1948. Wracked by a high fever, in unbearable agony, Esther Cailingold lay the floor of the second story of the
monastery with the rest of the wounded. There was no morphine left. An orderly proffered her a cigarette. She lifted her hand and started to take
it, but then she stopped.
"No," she whispered. "Shabbat." They were her last words. She died at about 5 PM. She was
22 years old. Her last letter, written 6 days earlier was preserved. According to one version, it was found under her
pillow. According to another, it was given to a comrade several days earlier.
Esther was posthumously enlisted in the
Machal and she was buried in Mount Herzl military cemetery in September 1950.
Esther's memory is preserved by the Esther Cailingold memorial forest at Kibbutz Lavi in the Lower Galilee, by a
scholarship fund at Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem, and on various war memorials including that of the Israeli Armored
Corps at Latrun. She is also honored in the Esther Cailingold society in North London, which belongs to of Emunah UK.
Esther's sister Mimi came on Aliya as well and married in Israel. Her husband wrote an
account of a meeting with
Esther Cailingold's Last Letter
Dear Mummy and Daddy, and Everybody,
If you get this at all, it will be, I suppose, typical of all my hurried, messy letters. I am writing it to beg of
you that whatever may have happened to me, you will make the effort to take it in the spirit that I want and to
understand that for myself I have no regrets. We have had a bitter fight: I have tasted of Gehenom [hell ed.] – but it
has been worthwhile because I am quite convinced that the end will see a Jewish state and the realization of our
I shall be only one of many who fell in sacrifice, and I was urged to write this because one in particular was
killed today who meant a great deal to me. Because of the sorrow I felt, I want you to take it otherwise – to remember
that we were soldiers and had the greatest and noblest cause to fight for. God is with us, I know, in His Holy City, and
I am proud and ready to pay the price it may cost us to reprieve it.
Don't think I have taken 'unnecessary risks.' That does not pay when manpower is short. I hope you may have a
chance of meeting any of my co-fighters who survive if I do not, and that you will be pleased and not sad of how they
talk of me. Please, please, do not be sadder than you can help. I have lived my life fully if briefly, and I think this
is the best way — 'short and sweet.' Very sweet it has been here in our own land. I hope you shall enjoy from Mimi and
Asher the satisfaction you missed in me. Let it be without regrets, and then I too shall be happy. I am thinking of you
all, every single one of you in the family, and am full of pleasure at the thought that you will, one day, very soon I
hope, come and enjoy the fruits of that for which we are fighting.
Much, much love, be happy and remember me in happiness.
Shalom and le'hitraot,
Your loving Esther
Moshe Rousnak's Commendation of Esther Cailingold
The commander of the Haganah forces in the Old City, Moshe Rousnak, wrote this letter to the parents of Esther
Cailingold, following his release from Jordanian POW camp in 1949:
I feel it is my duty to tell you about the late Esther Cailingold. She arrived in the Old City at
the end of April 1948 with the last group of teachers, and was assigned to guard duties, as were all the other teachers.
When the fighting began, all the teachers were drafted to full-time service and took an active part in
the battles. Esther fulfilled her duties beyond the normal call. As a brave fighter and as an experienced soldier she
stood steadfastly at her post and repelled every enemy attempt to charge. Her determination was an example and a source
of strength to the other fighters who were with her… She stood at her post for fully two weeks. In the last stage of the
battle, when most of the Jewish Quarter was already in enemy hands, Esther and a number of other young fighters fought
fiercely and valiantly in defense of the Bet-El bloc, the last remaining sector. In the course of the enemy onslaught,
Esther was mortally wounded and died a short while later. Her death was a serious blow to all those who knew her and
admired her bravery and her gallant stand as a fighter who knew no fear.
In the report that I submitted to G.H.Q., I made special mention of her as being worthy of commendation.
Moshe Rousnak 155529
C.O. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City
Jerusalem, April 7, 1949
Asher Cailingold: An Unlikely Heroine .Valentine Mitchell, 2000.
Collins & Lapierre: O Jerusalem. History Book Club, 1972.
Israeli and Zionist Biographiess General History of Zionism and the Creation of
Israel History of Israel and Zionism
Historical Source Documents of Israel and Zionism
Back to main page:
http://www.zionism-israel.com Zionism and Israel Information Center
This site is a part of the
Zionism and Israel on the Web Project
This site provides resources about Zionism and Israeli history, including links to
source documents. We are not responsible for the information content of these sites.
External Zionism Links
Please do copy these links, and tell your friends about
Zionism and Israel Information Center
Sister sites http://zionism.netfirms.com
Zionism Pages and Zionism and Israel On the Web
Friends and informative sites:
- Definition and Brief History - A balanced article that covers the
definitions and history of Zionism as well as opposition to Zionism and criticisms by Arabs, Jewish anti-Zionists.
Labor Zionism - Early History and Critique - Contribution of Labor Zionism
to the creation of the Jewish state, and problems of Labor Zionism in a changing reality.
Dvar Dea - Israel Advocacy
La Bibliothèque Proche Orientale
The Grand Mufti
- a Dutch Web site with many useful Jewish, Zionism and Israel links (in English too).
- (Dutch) Middle East Conflict, Israel, Palestine,Zionism...
Israël-Palestina Informatie -gids Israël, Zionisme, Palestijnen en Midden-Oosten conflict...
Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a European perspective - Dutch and English.