1975: Lex Aronson, aid worker

Add comment December 15th, 2019 Headsman

Dutch Jewish aid worker (A)Lex Aronson was hanged on this date in 1975 in Iraq.

Aronson (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) had survived Bergen-Belsen as a child* — his grandfather was not so fortunate — and gone on to a peripatetic career in global relief work that took him to Israel, Syria, Gabon, Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, and points beyond.

The last point beyond was Kurdish northern Iraq, during the terrible Iraqi-Kurdish war there of 1974-1975.

By the accounts of his friends, Aronson was a free spirit, a man of idealism and wanderlust. By the account of the Iraqi government that arrested him, Aronson was an Israeli spy.

There’s a published collection of his correspondence; in a letter to his mother dated March 13, 1975 — the last he would post before his arrest 11 days on — achingly shows him eschewing a judicious evacuation in order to press onward into the teeth of a devastating offensive Iraq had launched on March 7.

the political bosses here have decided that all foreigners should be evacuated. By foreigners, they are referring to a few press photographers, the team of five English from “Save the Children,” and yours truly. The hospitality is so extensive here that at the first sign of a threat, they are stepping out of their way to secure the safety of their guests. The local bosses mean well. However, what daddy has in his head, he doesn’t have in his arse… by which I mean that whatever I have set my mind to, I don’t give up easily.

I was determined to go to Badinan. I went from one political office to another, pestering all the leaders save for Barzani himself. Finally, I was rewarded with a letter of introduction to all the Kurdish military commanders requesting that they give me the help necessary for me to reach my goal.

A subsequent letter by a Save Our Children doctor to Aronson’s father in early 1976 explained something of the circumstances in the following days that led to his capture,

I saw your son on 20 March 1975. He was breakfasting with me at the home of the leader of the Barzan community, Sheikh Abdullah, in preparation for a journey to Badinan. He was taking medicine and other equipment with him so that he could set up a surgery to treat the inhabitants of a single community somewhere in that area. He had bought a donkey to convey these items, but unfortunately this had got lost between Senidan and Sideka, over the pass to the east of Hassanbeg Mountain with the snow so deep that no donkey could traverse it.

The donkey was under the control of two Pesh Merga (Kurdish Freedom Fighters). Apparently they became separated from your son and he had no idea of the [whereabouts of?] this medicine or his passport and money. He was travelling against the advice of the Kurds in the border area who were keen (at that time) that all foreigners should get out as quickly as possible. For this reason, he retraced his steps to try to find the donkey, yet wanted to press on towards Amadiyah. He had spent a day or so looking. He asked me to look for the animal. I made inquiries in both Sideka and Semilan, but I could not find it. However, as at that stage there was total chaos in these villages, it was not at all surprising that I was so unsuccessful. I must explain that he was in danger, as he had no identification papers with him when I saw him.

A confusing and, for his loved ones, anguishing period ensued his arrest. The Iraqi News Agency announced his execution on November 3, only to retract that announcement shortly afterward and clarify that he remained alive, still facing execution. His parents for months thereafter received notes scribbled on cigarette packages which meandered through smuggling channels at indifferent speeds, but with the irresistible implication that their son yet drew breath — and so they kept up their struggle to save him via appeals and publicity well into 1976, when the Iraqi embassy in March 1976 finally notified them that he was long since hanged.

“Nobody can imagine how we feel now,” his father told the press. “All hopes smashed at once. There is nothing left to fight for. Now we can only try not to get too depressed.”

* He was a passenger on the “Lost Transport”, a train of inmates evacuated from Bergen-Belsen that ended up with no destination as the Reich collapsed, and were eventually liberated by the Red Army.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Jews,Kurdistan

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