Thieves in the Night
(First edition: London: The MacMillan Co. 1946)

Thieves in the Night is a novel set in Palestine in the years 1937-1939, but it recounts a much longer span of Jewish and Palestinian history. Koestler built the atmosphere of the novel basing himself on his own experiences in Palestine in the late '20s, mediated by all that had happened in the meanwhile, i.e. Koestler's entrance and disillusion with the Communist party, the Holocaust and the ambiguous British policy about Palestine.

The main character, Joseph, is strongly autobiographical in his feelings and vividly recalls Koestler's positions. He is a British with a very mild way of living his Jewishness, and lands in Palestine to join a Kibbutz. The atmosphere of the Kibbutz is politically very active, with a strong Leftist orientation and almost each member of the Kibbutz has his own ideas about the settlement and the Arab-Jew relationships to be established.

Joseph integrates in the Kibbutz but undergoes a political drift towards the extreme Irgun movement, that was preparing to underground resistance to the British in order to build up (if needed, with violence) a Jewish state in Palestine. Joseph keeps living in the Kibbutz, covertly working with the Irgun.

Joseph might be entrusted with Koestler's agenda, but in practice Koestler and Joseph end up in two diametrically opposite situations: Joseph moves from the Left to the Irgun and fights for the establishment of the Jewish state, Koestler in the '20s entered Palestine as an ardent Irgunist, was rejected as a member of a Leftist Kibbutz, and after a short time returned to Europe, to join the Communist Party.

But the years had gone by, the dark cloud of the Holocaust still lingered over Europe, and thousands of refugees and displaced persons were rejected at the Palestinian borders by the British administration: Koestler felt the urge to do a strong political move, and in effects the novel caused endless discussion, especially in Great Britain, the country where Koestler lived and that administered Palestine.

In this novel, Koestler wanted to show the reasons that were moving the Irgun's and similar groups to terrorism against the British and to a struggle for Jewish independence: all of Koestler's doubts about the Palestinian situation had to be set aside in order to help this struggle and in order to convince the British public that independence had to be granted somehow. I doing this Koestler contradicted the position that so strongly he had been defending, i.e. that in political life the ends do not justify the means. In this case, he argued, up to a certain measure the ends of establishing a Jewish state justified the means of resistance, and even somehow violent resistance, to the Mandate administration.

This book marks the high point of Koestler's Zionist activism after the frantic years of the '20s: shortly after the foundation of the State of Israel, with Promise and Fulfillment and Judah at Crossroads he underwent a deep transformation that made him forget (or declare he forgot) his Jewishness. Thieves in the Night is therefore a very important page in the complex history of Koestler's relationship with Judaism.