Who was NATHAN FARMER?
The most conspicuous tombs in the Kinneret cemetery is that of Nathan Peasant. The tombstone tells the tragic story of Ernest Pollack who was a Zionist bourgeois who immigrated to Israel, where he discovered the great gap between dream and reality.
The dramatic illustrated tomb stone begs the question – who is buried here. First of all it wasn’t Nathan and he wasn’t a farmer either. He was born Ernest Pollack in Salzburg, Austria in 1900. His father, Ludwig, was a second generation rich Austro-Hungarian assimilated Jew who was high-ranking official who dreamed his son would be a doctor.
Ernest Pollack had different ideas. He was a gifted and in his youth he spent most of his time reading Schopenhauer, Kent, Hegr, Marquez, Nietzsche and others. He hung out in bohemia circles, preaching modesty, body and soul purity, and pre-marital sexual abstinence until he met Dora Schwartz. Dora was an Austrian Jew, a devout vegetarian, married, the mother of two sons (Hugo and Raphael) and an ardent Christian who worked among the Jewish youth. She organized a small group of young men, Ernst among them, teaching the main points of Zionism: the return from exile, returning to working the land and immigrating to Eretz Israel.
Within a few months, at the age of just 18, Ernst Pollack had a radical change in direction from intellectual genius, an awkward genius to a bigoted Zionist socialist, confident in his path and future.
About a month before his matriculation exams, Ernst abandoned his studies, burned his books, and changed his name to Nathan the Farmer – a name that expressed his dreams: to have broad horizons as the son of the wise man and a farmer who works his land, redeems his soul, and pours himself into the body of the new man – a person who creates from the land.
Ernest’s father refused to sign his son’s passport. Ernest responded with a mysterious illness: “His fever went up to life-threatening, a strange rash spread over his body. The doctors, who found no clinical explanation for the disease, persuaded the father to accept the son’s wishes.”
In 1920, the first aliyah – the first graduates of the Hashomer Hatzair movement – arrived in Israel. During their first months in Israel, they lived in makeshift camps such as Uom al-Alek and Beitnia Al-Alyat. Ernst set himself the goal of joining the same group of youths who dreamed of establishing an agricultural farm on the slopes of the Poriya Mountains overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Upon receiving his passport, Ernst-Natan recovered and left for Israel following the group. On January 24, 1920, he arrived in Jaffa. Tel Aviv was in his eyes the most beautiful place in the world, and so he wrote to his parents: “Everything is blossoming and the air is perfumed and intoxicating. People!!! They’re all wonderful. You hear Hebrew here. The children, builders and even the bank employees, imagine, speak Hebrew. I lived in a wonderful hotel, the food is delicious but very expensive. Breakfast – 15 cents.”
And went on to write: “Deep feelings of contempt fill my heart with my memory of the bourgeoisie sitting aimlessly in sick Europe… It makes me laugh, Dad, that you mention things like maturity and school. You probably don’t understand where your son is and for what… There’s no importance to anything but agriculture… I speak Hebrew well and will learn Arabic… But how much I feel sorry for all of you who sit and live and don’t know what for…”
After three days of auditing and monitoring with the government health official, Nathan was referred by the Bureau of Labour to Beitanya, a group of ‘young guards’: 26 boys and girls inexperienced, who sought to shape a new cleaner, more ideal society in a new land.
Among the members of the group were Meir Yaari, the old man who approached the age of 24, David (On) Horwitz, and headed by young Aryeh Alouil. “Yudehdka Yaari’ a preacher. Play writers, painters, musicians, who enjoyed dancing a lot.” Members of the group planted olives in the mountainsides, drunk on Freud and Niechze’s letters, with no practical experience, no roof, clothing and food. They advocated free sex and political activism and lived in the spirit of the romance of the East. The atmosphere in the camp was tense. The pressures were terrible. The individual’s life was subjected to strict rules, all in the name of “community.”
The story of Beitania Illit became a defining myth of the Hashomer Hatzair movement and was even reflected in Joshua Sobel’s play “Twentieth Night”.
In February of that year, Nathan wrote to his parents: “Dear parents… Well, I’m happy, happy! You can’t imagine how lovely it is. The settlement near Kinneret, near Degania is all full of palms and citrus. The mountains around us and the blue lake in front of us. In the background – the snowy Mount Hermon, which is higher than the Alps… I changed my name to Nathan the Peasant, please write by that name only. Yours, Ernest.
Ernst-Natan, his hands calloused from field work, kept in touch with his parents and two sisters, Trude and Greta, declaring that he had found his right way in life: “Floating happily: good health, I’ve been fat in my face, and the climate is having a positive effect on me.”
However he became ill and was admitted to the hospital in Safed: “The hospital is modern and clean. The doctors are wonderful and I found books written in German. I’m back reading.” He continued to preach jealously against any deviation from the rigid line formed between the workers of Bitanya: “Nothing but labor and agriculture matters.” When He got well, and went looking for work in Rosh Pina, and not returning to the Jordan Valley due to the harsh conditions and fever. The “happy farmer,” Ernest, continued to get sick, and without a home and without a solution – the new way he asked to go was blocked.
On December 3, 1920, a gunshot was heard in the middle of the night with the running to his home. Next to his body was a gun and fragments of sentences he wrote:
“… Ever since I was alive, it’s been hard for me to bear the contrast between will and execution… Just today after years of deliberations… I feel pretty strongly doing the deed… You didn’t know and you didn’t fear anything, because I was closed to you. Hidden. Don’t mourn. I had to be mourned when I was alive… Now I’m going to be happy… Everyone betrayed the road… Holistic astray… I no longer see hope and just for such a world… Don’t cry and don’t agonise over me, on the contrary, laugh… I was a victim of the subversive capital forces… Love and purity have no more place… I see no point…”
Ernest Pollack was not buried by his original name but by a name he adopted for himself upon immigrating to Israel: ‘Nathan Acher.’ His tombstone was painted by Aryeh Aloil, a member of Beitania Illit and later one of the founders of the Tel Aviv Museum.
Greta, Nathan’s sister, immigrated to Israel and is the grandmother of pilot artist Dan Hamitzer. In 1981, Dan Hamitzer investigated the affair and concluded far-reachingly that the group was nothing but a satanic sect headed by Meir Yaari. The beams of her friends were strange: Deb shot him in the head because of his love for Sarah, one lost his mind and another became a radical vegan. G-d was revealed to him and he went to a yeshiva and his friend became a communist and went to Russia.
Sites to visit:
Kinneret Concrete Tent
Cemetery, Alumot Junction in Upper Netanya