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The Scandalous Murder of Alexander Rubowitz

The Scandalous Murder of Alexander Rubowitz

In 1947 a Jewish boy, 16, was kidnapped from Jerusalem and never seen again. His alleged abductor, a British WWII hero, apparently got away with murder.

by

A blue plaque on a stone wall in the Rechavia neighborhood of Jerusalem seems to hold a special significance. One May evening in 1947, Alexander Rubowitz, 16, was abducted at that spot and never seen again.

Though only 16, Alexander was on a mission for the Lohamei HaHerut b'Yisrael, the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (known by their Hebrew acronym as LEHI). This group was dedicated to ending the oppressive anti-Semitic rule of the British Mandate and to establish the Jewish state of Israel. Tall, dark-haired and quiet, Alexander's easy-going manner concealed his ardent dedication to the war waged by the Jewish underground against the British Mandate in what was then called Palestine.

Alexander lived in the old Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem with his parents and three siblings. He belonged to the Brit Hashmonaim, a religious youth group and front organization for LEHI. Of its 150 members in Jerusalem, about 30 were engaged in secret activity. LEHI routinely used teenagers for distributing information as couriers and for transporting weapons. They were especially valuable for putting up wall posters, an essential task after LEHI lost its clandestine radio station in a police raid in 1946 and lacked a newspaper to spread its message and keep the Jewish public informed. The work was risky since the teenagers were susceptible to police patrols and frequently caught, though facing less severe punishment than adults.

Though the Rubowitz family sympathized with Jewish nationalism, they did not fully realize the extent of Alexander's activities until he was expelled from school. Afraid his perilous behavior would strain their mother's frail health, his brothers tried to persuade him to leave LEHI. However, Miriam Rubowitz surprisingly encouraged Alexander by affirming, "He has to go. They're all going now. He has to go and succeed."

Abandoning further schooling, Alexander woke before dawn to meet the nine other boys in his group and plaster LEHI messages all over Jerusalem. In the spring of 1947, when the struggle between the British and the Jewish resistance intensified, their work grew increasingly dangerous.

One May evening, Alexander headed for a mission in the center of Jerusalem. After passing through the crowded Machaneh Yehuda shuk market, he reached the leafy suburb of Rechavia. A woman standing on her apartment balcony noticed a teenage boy running down the street. From her high vantage point she could distinctly see the youth, who she later identified as Alexander Rubowitz, chased by a hefty, fair-haired man. Soon his powerful pursuer caught him near the intersection of Ussishkin and Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael Streets. Two young boys saw the man forcing Alexander into a waiting car, though he struggled so furiously it required the assistance of another man, emerging from the car, to push Alexander into the back seat.

British Major Roy Farran

Meir Cohen, 15, also observing the struggle, courageously walked over to the car and inquired who they were. The man replied in perfect English that he was a police officer, indicating his Police Identification Certificate. He then threatened to shoot Meir with his revolver. Meir heard a shout in Hebrew from inside the car, "I'm from the Rubowitz family!" He glimpsed Alexander in the back seat being hit repeatedly across the head. The doors slammed shut and Meir watched helplessly as the car drove away.

The two young boys who also witnessed the abduction found a man's hat which had fallen to the sidewalk during the struggle. Written inside the hat was the name of its owner: Roy Farran.

Alexander had been seized by an undercover police squad led by British Major Roy Farran, a known Arab sympathizer. His squad was one of two covert units charged with penetrating the Jewish underground. They showed little restraint and public documents suggest they tortured suspects.

Taking the boy to a deserted area outside Jerusalem (possibly Wadi Kelt near Jericho), his abductors hoped he would reveal the names of influential LEHI members. Bravely, Alexander refused to talk. Later Farran admitted to his commanding officer, Colonel Bernard Fergusson, that he had smashed the boy's head repeatedly with a rock until he died.

There was an investigation by the Palestine police force and Farran's hat, found at the scene of the abduction, was used as evidence. Farran was arrested, though Alexander's body was never found. After Farran fled custody twice, a court martial acquitted him on the grounds that, without a body, murder could not be proved. In October 1947, the entire investigation file was burned by the British authorities in Palestine which may have been an officially sanctioned cover-up.

A book, Major Farran’s Hat, by British historian David Cesarani describes this entire story in vivid detail. Though the Farran affair is now a footnote in history, it was a factor in Britain’s decision to divest itself of its man­date in Palestine. It further increased tensions between the Jewish people living there and the British. A few weeks after Farran's acquittal, the British troops were removed.

Roy Farran, in later years in Canada

In May, 1948, one year after Alexander’s murder, the Jewish state of Israel was established for which this brave young man had given his life. Attempts by the Rubowitz family to bring Farran to justice through criminal and civil proceedings were unfortunately futile. Lehi members sent a letter bomb to Farran’s home in England which killed his brother instead.

Farran repeatedly refused to discuss the abduction. A decorated heroic figure of World War Two, he later had a successful career as a newspaper publisher and politician in Canada. He died in 2006 at the age of 85, having quite possibly gotten away with murder.

In addition to the blue plaque in Rechavia that marks the place of his abduction, a street in Jerusalem was named after Alexander Rubowitz. As long as his body is not found, he is still officially considered missing. To his family, he will be forever missing.

Though only a small boy when his uncle Alexander was killed, Moshe Rubowitz knew who was responsible.

"In 1974, we traveled to Canada to try to meet with Farran to get any information that would lead to finding my uncle's body. But Farran's lawyer refused to let us see him. I only wanted to ask him where the body was buried so we can bring it to a proper Jewish grave.

There's just a stone for Alexander in Mount Herzl cemetery and until the 1970s we didn't even have that. Our sorrow and disappointment were so great," explained Moshe Rubowitz who named his own son after Alexander.

"I'm proud to be a nephew of that boy who gave his life for a state that hadn't existed at that time. Most of us didn't have a chance to know him but we all grew up with his memory as a hero."

June 17, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 8

(3) Gunther, June 25, 2017 11:54 PM

Be because we the good guys

"Why was this man allowed to live to ripe old age in Canada?"

Because Great Britain, France, and the USA are always viewed as the good guys in their respective history books particularly after World War II, it is one of many reasons why people like Farran and Bush, Jr., are allowed to get away with stuff like that

Anonymous, September 3, 2017 10:54 PM

Incorrect Analogy

How can you compare Farran to Bush?

(2) Anonymous, June 21, 2017 8:46 AM

Call it what it is. Murder.

It is particularly heinous to smash a 16 year old boy's head with a rock. Political terrorist or not, that is murder. Nelson Mandela did far worse, and was accused of far worse - the Johannesburg Train station bombing was a serious attack on a civilian population. Nonetheless, Mandela was given a trial and sentenced to life-imprisonment. Mandela was an adult, and charged with treason against the state. The Apartheid regime was particularly egregious, and yet they still gave Mandela and other political prisoners a trial. The man is a murderer and to decorate him as a hero is particularly vile. A 16 year old boy! Only God is Just and we can only say that either Hashem caused a repayment of a debt in a previous life, where such an event occurred in reverse, or that Hashem will mete out true justice.

(1) Gunther, June 20, 2017 2:02 PM

A bloody war on both sides.

To fair the Jewish underground kidnap and murder British soldiers. They also booby-trap the British corpses as well.

The kid knew the consequences if he got caught. That happens in all resistance movements whether it happen before World War II, during World War II and after World War II.

EJ, June 20, 2017 9:15 PM

A blood war yes, but who paid the highest price? Not Roy

What you say is true to some extent, but had the British not occupied and sealed off Israel, the Jews of Europe would have had a refuge to flee to. The British knew what the Nazis were up to regarding extermination having broken the enigma code in 1941. The British understood the seriousness of their actions (no escape route) would assist in the destruction of European Jewry. Their interest in the costal Mediterranean area was largely about colonial power and oil profits. These are the circumstances that led to the death of Alexander and many others who never made it to those safe shores.

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