Life & Culture

My part in the attack on the King David Hotel

Finchley pensioner Miraim Abramoff recalls the Jerusalem bomb which killed 91


Sixty-six years ago, Miriam Issacaroff made an urgent call to her siblings in Tel Aviv, telling them she was sending her parents from Jerusalem to stay with them, asking them to keep them safe because "something big" was about to happen in the city.

It would change history. The 20-year-old, who had joined the Irgun a year earlier, knew that Jewish paramilitaries were about to plant a bomb at the King David Hotel, the headquarters of the British Mandate authorities in Palestine.

Now 86, with a married name of Abramoff and living in Finchley, she is one of the few surviving Israelis who played a part in the attack on July 22 1946. "I thought perhaps my brother or I would be killed. I told my parents we'd see each other soon. But I knew everything might not be all right."

She was the assistant to some of the highest-ranking members of the Irgun, who had confided in her about the plan two months previously. "I felt very weak that day. But I wanted the British out. We wanted our country."

Ninety-one people were killed when the bomb exploded, although the Irgun have always insisted the British authorities were given a warning to evacuate. The British denied a call was made to anyone with the authority to act. Abramoff is insistent, "It was 25 minutes before the bombing I know that the call was made."

The youngest of a large family, originally from Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan, Abramoff was born in the Bukharian quarter of Jerusalem. She remembers the hardships of growing up under British rule. "After six o'clock we could not leave the house, the streets had guards to make sure people didn't break the curfew. If they saw you, you'd be shot. I knew people who had been delayed by only five minutes, and they were shot."

The Issacaroffs were a prominent family in Jerusalem, known for their unusual, excellent food and entertainment of British officers. Her mother's cooking was to be a lifesaver for Abramoff's brother Pinchas. He had been the one first to convince a 19-year-old Abramoff to join the Irgun. "I wanted to show off in the uniform. I was never afraid, I thought if something dangerous has to happen, that's the way it's going to have to be. It's a war.

"I was working in the office of the Irgun's lawyer, Asher Levitsky. I gained the trust of the most important people. Even [Menachem] Begin would be in our offices. He was such a kind man. They told me everything, even attacks they were planning."

Brother and sister Issacaroff did not escape suspicion, Abramoff said. "One day, at five o'clock in the morning, the British came to take my brother.

"My father whispered to Pinchas, in our Bukharian language, 'If you have any papers on you, get rid of them, quickly, put them in the toilet.'

"And he whispered to my father: 'The British are surrounding me, I can't move, I can't go anywhere.' I knew it was up to me to sort everything out.

"I came outside with them as they took him away. They told me it was nothing to do with me. But I looked at the number plate of the car. I had to wait until seven o'clock until Mr Levitsky, the lawyer, woke up, and I told him they have taken my brother away.

"He phoned the British command, and I heard him say to the officers: 'Don't you realise whose son this is? This is the Issacaroff son. You've had dinner at their house. You have upset his parents, you must send him home.' Right away, they sent him home. God knows what would have happened to him otherwise."

At 24, Abramoff found herself heading straight for enemy territory, with a shidduch arranged for her to a second cousin, John Abramoff, who lived in London. "We got engaged by telephone. I left my whole life in Israel. But because I was in the army, I had the courage to go to London alone. And I have been very happy here. There was a community of Bukharian Jews here.

"I had to forget I was coming to the place that had been the enemy. It was inside me, but I had to keep those feelings locked up."

The couple had three daughters and five grandchildren. This September, recently widowed Abramoff will return to Israel for Pinchas's 90th birthday. When she returns to her home country, she always takes tea at the King David Hotel. "It is so beautiful there now," she says.

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