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Today my little Sarah we go to war...

By Ben Bresky
9/24/2008, 12:00 AM

I have always been fascinated by the song Alei Barikadot by Michael Ashbel, which was an anthem for the Irgun  underground in the 1940s in Israel. My friend Eitan called me the other day and we were chatting about current events. He told me that last year he attended the funeral of Sarah Livni. And then he started singing Alei Barikadot. The first line of the song is "today my little Sarah, I shall go to war..." I never knew this was referring to a specific person.

The following is a brief bio of Sarah Livni from this site

Sarah Livni was a member of the Irgun, a pre-state paramilitary organization, and was arrested by the British and imprisoned in Bethlehem. Sarah Livni was known as 'Little Sarah' during her Irgun days, and the famous song 'Alei Barikadot' begins with these words which was written by Michael Ashbel, another member of the Irgun. Sarah married Eitan, a fellow Irgun member, one day after Israel declared independence. The two were the first to be married in the modern state of Israel.

The following is a bio of Michael Ashbel from this site:

Born in Vilna, Lithuania, at an early age he joined Betar and later joined the Irgun in Poland. After the German invasion of Poland, he fled to Russia and joined the Free Polish Forces and reached Iraq. From there he made his way to Eretz Israel and joined the Irgun. Soon after, he joined the Fighting Force and took part in numerous operations, such as: the blowing-up of the British Intelligence offices in Jaffa, the attack on the military airfield in Lydda etc.

On March 6, 1946, he took part in the attack on the Sarafand army camp, and was injured in the exchange of fire, together with his friend, Yosef Simchon. They were loaded into a car, which set out for Tel Aviv in order to take them to hospital, but encountered a British roadblock on the way and were arrested. Two months later Ashbel and Simchon were placed on trial before a military tribunal and sentenced to death (June 13, 1946). However, the kidnapping of British officers by the Irgun forced the British High Commissioner to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment. Ashbel was wounded by British gunfire during the breakout of Acre jail and died of his injuries several hours later.

The lyrics of Alei Barikadot are from this site.


Raise Up the Barricades
by M. Ashbel

Today my little Sarah
We'll part as I go to war
To establish the state
On both sides of the Jordan
Harden your heart
And tighten your belt
Embrace me, take the Sten
And join me in the ranks
Raise up the barricades we shall meet
Do not cry For such is my fate Wipe away your tears

Raise up the barricades we bring freedom with blood and fire.
Rifle to rifle, barrel to barrel
Bullet to bullet we shall fire
Raise up the barricades we shall meet
And if on the gallows
I shall give my life for the nation
Do not cry
For such is my fate
Wipe away your tears
Hold the Sten close to your heart
And choose for yourself another
From the men of my squad

I found the song on a couple albums, Songs of the Underground, Songs of the Etzel and Lechi and Betar Songs. But I don't like the renditions of it. Its a kind of a dated style with lots of instrumentation and a chorus. Not the way I imagined an underground anthem.

You can listen here and here and also on my latest radio show here.

There is a cool album called Songs of Jabotinsky which has more modern versions of some 1940's songs, as peformed by Shlomo Artzi and other Israeli pop singers in the early 1970s.