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Judith Maro: Writer and Jewish patriot who fought with Haganah in Palestine


Judith Maro took part in the campaign to establish the state of Israel, fighting with Haganah against both Arabs and the British in what was then Palestine.

The state was born in 1948 but by then, appalled by the bloody conflict between Israelis and Arabs, who also claimed Palestine as their homeland, she had left the Middle East and settled in Britain with her husband, the sculptor Jonah Jones, whom she had married two years previously. After their move to Wales, she felt such an affinity with her "new, old country" that she would allow her books to be published in English only after they had appeared in Welsh.

Born Ida Grossman in Dnepropetrovsk in the eastern Ukraine, she was brought up in Haifa, where her father was Professor of Mathematics in the Technology Institute. Her home was not religious and she did not attend the synagogue, though she was encouraged to read the Bible for the light it threw on the history of her people. At the age of three she and her parents witnessed the shooting of Jews by Arabs in the Old City of Jerusalem, an experience that left an indelible mark on her.

A precocious child, fluent in five languages including Hebrew and Arabic, she once told me she had read Stefan Zweig and Feuchtwanger by the time she was seven. The first shadow fell across her childhood when her best friend, a girl named Miriam, was taken back to France just before that country's fall in 1940 and was killed in Auschwitz a few months later.

While still at the Montessori school she attended, she stumbled on some documents that were of interest to Haganah, the people's militia dedicated to defending Jews and resisting British rule, and soon she was sworn in as a member. The movement became the most important thing in her life and she was to cherish the training it gave her in self-reliance ever after.

During the Arab uprising of 1936-39, she learnt Morse code and taught it to others defending the Kibbutzim against attack by the Kaukaji. Like many Jews of the time, she was a great admirer of Orde Wingate, the British captain who championed the Zionist cause and taught it military tactics. By the time she was 16 (she claimed never to have been an adolescent) she was a member of Hashomer, a youth movement inspired by Marxist doctrines.

During the Second World War Grossman joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and enrolled at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to read Law, though she eventually took a degree in Eastern Studies. At war's end, like all citizens of Palestine under the British Mandate, she was dismissed from the ATS and thereafter, for her, Britain became the power that was standing in the way of a homeland for the Jews.

Among her activities was boarding the boats bringing Jews who had survived the Nazi camps and preparing them for their new life in what was not yet Israel. To a British civil servant who asked her what a Jewish homeland meant to these wretched people that they were so desperate to make landfall, she replied, "It's quite simple: it's our country; it's ours, despite its conquerors, despite all the colonisers in times gone by and more recently."

She met Jonah Jones at Mount Carmel College, a British Army education centre, and after a whirlwind courtship carried on under the nose of the military authorities, married him in 1946 in a clandestine ceremony and without official permission. She spent the seventh-month War of Independence as an officer of the Palmach, the commando wing of Haganah, in the hills of Galilee. Only as the tension began to slacken did she think of joining her husband and then only with deep misgivings about leaving a country to which she was so passionately committed.

Her service with the ATS and her marriage to a Gentile caused difficulties for her on both sides of the political divide and she gradually realised there was no place for her in the new state of Israel. She had, moreover, seen enough of racial conflict and bloodshed. Even more critically, she despaired of seeing a unified, bi-national country in which Jew and Arab could live in harmony. She and her husband arrived in Britain in June 1947.

After several years on Tyneside, the Joneses settled on the Llyn pensinsula of north-west Wales, where Jonah Jones began earning a precarious living as a sculptor and calligrapher. In the rugged landscape of Snowdonia Judith found similarities with her native land, particularly in its Biblical toponymy. She also took to the area's hardy people with real affection, though sometimes wishing they would show more backbone in their dealings with English incomers. The children soon learned Welsh and grew up to be fluent speakers of the language.

Assuming the pen-name Judith Maro, and having followed her husband into the Church of Rome, she described her early years in a volume of autobiography, Atgofion Haganah (Haganah Memories, 1972) and drew on her experiences in a novel, Y Porth nid â'n Angof (1974), which later appeared as The Remembered Gate.

A collection of essays, Hen Wlad Newydd (1974), took its title partly from "Hen Wlad fy Nhadau", the Welsh national anthem, and partly from a novel, Old-New Land (1902), by the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl. Her novel Y Carlwm (1986) appeared in English as The Stoat in 2009. Extracts from her writings are to be found in Grahame Davies's anthology, The Chosen People: Wales and the Jews (2002).

A restless, vivacious woman who liked nothing better than an argument, Judith Maro was often to be met in the streets of north Cardiff, heavily scarfed against the rigours of the Welsh summer but always ready to stop for an animated chat about the latest political events in Wales and Israel.

She had found in her adopted country a peace which she had never known in the Holy Land. Shalom, Tangnefedd.

Ida (Yehudit Anastasia) Grossman (Judith Maro), Jewish patriot and writer: born Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine 24 November 1919; married 1946 Jonah Jones (two sons, one daughter); died Swansea 16 November 2011.


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