Major Far­ran’s Hat: The Untold Sto­ry of the Strug­gle to Estab­lish the Jew­ish State

David Cesarani
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

Aplaque on Ussishkin Street in Jerusalem, a short walk from where I live, marks the spot where a six­teen-year-old boy named Alexan­der Rubowitz was abduct­ed by British police and mur­dered on May 6, 1947. He had been dis­trib­ut­ing news posters for the under­ground group LEHI, also known as the Stern Gang. 

At that time the British colo­nial admin­is­tra­tion was bat­tling ter­ror­ist acts by LEHI as well as the Irgun Zvai Leu­mi, two dis­si­dent Jew­ish mil­i­tary groups sep­a­rate from the Jew­ish Agency’s offi­cial Hagana army. The War Office appoint­ed a war hero named Roy Far­ran to head a coun­tert­er­ror­ist group to smash the Jew­ish gueril­la units. He con­fessed to mur­der­ing the Jew­ish boy, but his writ­ten con­fes­sion was judged inad­mis­si­ble at his court-mar­tial and he was acquitted. 

British his­to­ri­an David Cesarani, whose Becom­ing Eich­mann won a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, recounts this scan­dal of coverup, con­spir­a­cy, and diplo­ma­cy in the con­text of the last years of the British Man­date in Pales­tine. Major Farran’s Hat is a his­to­ry of those years that close­ly scru­ti­nizes the per­son­al­i­ties of the lead­er­ship and the deci­sions they made as Britain’s hold on its empire was becom­ing increas­ing­ly ten­u­ous and des­per­ate. It is also a grip­ping, sus­pense­ful account of a government’s inten­tion­al per­ver­sion of jus­tice. Treat­ing the Rubowitz case as a micro­cosm of the strug­gle for a Jew­ish state sheds new light on these world-his­tor­i­cal events as well as on the case itself. Index, notes, sources.

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