top of page

The Cailingold family comes from the Belarusian Polesie. It was there, in Pinsk, that the outstanding Karlian Hasid Naftali Cailingold was born, who became famous between the two world wars as a bookseller and publisher of Jewish books.

Esther Cailingold, the granddaughter of Rebbe Naftali, was born five years after her parents arrived in Foggy Albion. It was published on June 27, 1925 in the Whitechapel district of London, which became a kind of Mecca for Russian Jews by the First World War.

Esti Cailingold studied well from the very first grade. After graduating with honors from a Jewish elementary school, she was admitted free of charge to the prestigious Collegiate School of North London. Not all Collegiate School graduates were going to continue their studies, but the girl made effort to get a scholarship to study at Goldsmiths College, one of the leading educational institutions of the humanities in the British Isles.

Esti chose pedagogy as her future profession. English teachers were needed not only in the girls' schools in Britain. Lady Cailingold wanted to apply her knowledge to Eretz Israel.

The question of repatriation to Palestine in the family was resolved long ago. How could it be otherwise, if Esther's father was, in his youth, one of the founders of the Zionist youth organization Ha-Shomer Ha-Dati? Esther's grandfather, Naftali Cailingold, had a hand in founding the Mizrahi religious Zionist movement and was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet Le-Israel). He regularly attended Zionist congresses and all the time waited for his son and his family to move from England to Jerusalem or closer to him - to Tel Aviv.

From her teens, Esther absorbed Zionist ideas. The girl took an active part in the activities of the Brit Halutzim Datiim (Union of Religious Pioneers), a religious organization engaged in preparing youth groups for repatriation to Palestine and work in kibbutzim.

In the summer of 1945, when the Second World War was already over, Esther and her younger brother, Asher, saw a war newsreel in one of the city's cinemas, depicting emaciated people who survived the Holocaust. The brother and sister barely sat up to the end – they were so stunned. What she saw made an indelible impression on the girl. Arriving home, Esther asked her father to let her go to Germany to volunteer with the survivors, but Moshe-Leib refused, insisting that his daughter finish her studies in college.

Esther obeyed her father's will. But one day, in August 1945, she left the house without telling her family where she was going. Soon, the girl already met Jewish teenagers who survived the horrors of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, at the airport near Carlisle, in the North of England. Without warning her parents, she got a job as a volunteer at the Windermere Absorption Center, where, at the initiative of the British Central Fund, children and adolescents were brought for rehabilitation.

As the new semester of college began, Esther returned to London as promised, but took on another burden. Cailingold, on her own initiative, opened a special center for child victims of the Holocaust on Mansell Street in London. This period of volunteering greatly influenced the girl. The stories of children who survived slave labor, concentration camps and death marches convinced Esther of the correctness of her family's views. The Jewish people needed their own home, the key to the survival of the Jews.

Having received a work visa as an English teacher, Esther Cailingold arrived in Jerusalem on December 1, 1946. In the ancient Jewish capital, a young British woman began teaching at one of the oldest and most prestigious educational institutions in Palestine – the Evelina de Rothschild School – the first Jewish school for religious girls with Hebrew as the main language of instruction.

When the girl's mother tried to persuade her to return to London, Esther resolutely refused: “England is not my country, London is not my home: my home is in Jerusalem”. Esther was determined to get to know the country and its people better. Within a few weeks, she made contact with her family, who lived mainly in the Tel Aviv area, including her grandfather, uncle, aunt and cousins who left Poland for Palestine in the 1920s.

She visited kibbutzim in the north of the country, took part in a dance festival in kibbutz Dahlia and several trips to the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert.

However, the acclimatization process was fraught with difficulties. The British imposed a curfew in Jerusalem. School work was also not easy. The British woman tried to combine her work as a teacher with volunteering at the Hadassah hospital.

On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted on the Program for the division of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. Remembering her father's words after the victory of the allied forces over fascism, Esther signed up as a volunteer for the “Haganah” the very next day.

The girl's decision to take up arms was associated with a painful change in outlook that she was experiencing in Palestine. Off the coast of Haifa and Tel Aviv, the Royal British Navy constantly intercepted ships carrying people who miraculously survived in German death camps. However, contrary to assurances, the refugees were not only not accepted, but were immediately deported to camps in Cyprus. Growing up in England, Esther felt betrayed by the government's indifference to the plight of unfortunate people.

While accepting Jewish children in England with open arms, the British engaged in incitement in the territory entrusted to them by the League of Nations in the Middle East. British newspaper headlines methodically turned public opinion against Jewish settlements, which ultimately endangered Jews in British cities.

Young boys from the Haganah were arrested by British soldiers almost every day. There were cases when the detainees were released right in the center of Arab villages, where they were immediately lynched by a raging crowd. Several times Esther even accompanied the Jewish fighters on guard, hiding their weapons under her clothes.

Esther Cailingold soon joined the Moria Reserve Infantry Battalion of the Etzioni Brigade. Only young girls who observed the Sabbath were serving in her department. Esther tried to combine her service in the reserve and work at the school. Training in military was short, and soon it stopped altogether. This was followed by an order: to determine which of the reservist girls are ready to be called up for active military service to help the mobilized men. Of the entire department, Esther Cailingold was the only one who agreed.

At the beginning of 1948, Esther left her job at the school of Evelina de Rothschild and enrolled in the army. The first position in the “Haganah” was, as it seemed to her, completely female – a cook at a post near the village of Suba.

Soon the friends from the old squad resumed the course of the young fighter. Esther persuaded her command to free her from the kitchen and joined the girls training in Beit HaKerem, an old neighborhood in western Jerusalem. Finally, she learned to shoot and disassemble personal weapons, and received basic combat skills.

Two weeks after the end of military training, Cailingold was sent to the Jewish village of Neve Yaakov, and again as a cook. There, she proved that she can defend the Motherland on an equal basis with men. During the unexpected attack of the enemy, the girl gave up cooking and flatly refused to go with other women to the shelter. She took a rifle and, in the front row of the defenders, hit at least six attackers with targeted shots. From a cook, the girl began to turn into a full-fledged fighter.

In early March 1948, new orders were received from the Haganah command, which did not allow women to take an active part in hostilities. The command decided to transfer all women to support personnel – to the place of men who went to combat units.

After several serious battles in Neve Yaakov, she was transferred to the permanent camp of the 6th Etzioni Brigade in the area of the Schneller shelter in Jerusalem. The girl was sent to detain the dodgers on the streets. Such an occupation was also not to her liking. Esther acutely felt the need to help in a more effective way than checking passers-by for certificates of exemption from military service. Therefore, in her free time, she began to perform other duties. She assisted the nursing staff who took care of the wounded, and also worked as an announcer for the illegal radio broadcasting service Kol HaHaganah, broadcasting every two days from an underground apartment.

Esther had another important espionage assignment. As a sophisticated and educated British woman, the girl in the evenings conducted conversations with British officers, extracting information from them for the Haganah Intelligence Information Service.

But Cailingold could not stay long in the rear. She applied to the Ministry of Defense with a request to be transferred to the besieged Old City of Jerusalem. Permission was obtained, but the difficulty was to get to the duty station. On December 29, 1947, the Arab militia blocked the entrance to the most ancient part of Jerusalem. The British sent a convoy of mail and provisions to Jerusalem twice a week, making sure that the Haganah fighters could not get there.

Under the guise of teaching documents and British citizenship, Esti spent several weeks trying to persuade British soldiers to take her with them. Esther got to the place of departure with her teacher's bag and suitcases, waited for hours for the column to leave, received a negative answer, but came again as soon as the next convoy gathered. She managed to get to the Old Town at the very end of April 1948.
On May 14, 1948, the British left Jerusalem in two large columns. Jewish forces occupied the territory of West Jerusalem. In turn, the Jordanian Arab Legion, which captured Latrun and staged the massacre in Kfar Etzion on May 13, 1948, entered the Old City of Jerusalem through the Lion's Gate on May 18.
Despite attempts to unblock HaRova HaYehudi, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the main forces of the Haganah were cut off from the rest of the defenders. 150 fighters, including very young soldiers, stood up to protect 1,400 residents of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem.

Esther Cailingold, who served in the blockaded Jewish Quarter, was appointed a liaison officer. She was instructed to move between positions and supply shooters with ammunition and provisions. Cailingold, under heavy fire, made her way between the points of defense, not paying attention to the every minute danger. Often she was trusted with one of the few remaining machine guns in the ranks. In attacks, she was in the forefront, and retreated one of the last.

On May 16, even before the main forces of the legionnaires approached, Esther came under sniper fire and was wounded in the side by a bullet. The girl fell on her back and, without asking for any help, managed to bandage herself. Her colleague who came to the rescue, tried to convince Esti of the need to retreat. She refused to leave, so she had to be taken away almost by force.

The severed heads of the captured fighters of the “Haganah” were used by Muslim fanatics to demoralize the defenders, exposing them on the walls of houses.

In the midst of the May fighting, Cailingold joined the unit commanded by Ahijah Ashiloni. The namesake of the Old Testament prophet before the war worked in the Old City as a policeman and was responsible for the outer defense belt of the Jewish Quarter.
In the hospital, the wounded Esther refused to stay, and on May 27, 1948, she secretly fled from there. Having made her way to the front line, the girl with Ashiloni and other soldiers began to fire at the upcoming enemy. Suddenly, the defenders heard a knock inside the building, on the roof of which their defense point was located. The defenders felt that something was wrong, but before they had time to go downstairs and run to the doorway, a deafening explosion crashed, and they were covered with pieces of concrete and reinforcement.

Esther had a broken spine. Soon she, along with her wounded fellow soldiers, was taken to the nearby hospital “Misgav Ladach”.

The next day, May 28, 1948, the Jewish Quarter fell. The Jews in the Old City had less than 40 people in the ranks.

Together with 118 other wounded, Esther was evacuated to the building of the Armenian school. The girl was paralyzed and in great pain, but she was fully conscious and could speak. Even in this situation, she continued to take care of everyone, warning her friend to be careful with the English soldier, who was supposedly left to help the wounded.

On the eve of her last Saturday, she asked for help in reciting the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer. On Saturday morning, the wounded sat at the school and watched the city burn. Some began to sing in unison religious hymns - and with their singing they awakened Esther. The girl asked for a painkiller. The prisoners of war did not have morphine; they offered her a cigarette. To this she replied barely audibly: “No, no. Today is Shabbat”. These were her last words.

On May 29, 1948, Esther Cailingold, a Haganah soldier, a British volunteer, died. The brave girl left her family and comfortable life in London to fight and die for the independence of Israel.

Only after her death did her friends find out that she had written several articles for the Letters to the Diaspora newsletter and other English-language Jewish publications. From these articles it is clear that Esther was a supporter of peace and creation, but when the time came to fight, she made a difficult, but the only right decision.

Esther Cailingold

1925 – 1948

bottom of page