Biography of Joseph Trumpeldor

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Joseph Trumpeldor

Amidst our diploma chasers and business mavins we forget that there have been and are some great Jewish heroes who had no diploma and who had no money but who had courage and a fighting spirit. No doubt, Ariel Sharon is one of these. Yet he, now prime minister of Israel, stands on the shoulders of those who went before him as all of us must. Therefore it behooves us to remember Joseph Trumpeldor, the first and perhaps the greatest fighting man Israel has produced.

Trumpeldor was born in Piatygorsk, in the Caucasus region of Russia in 1880. His father, like so many Jewish men, was conscripted into the Czarist army for 25 years in order to extinguish his Jewish identity. Nevertheless, his father remained a Jew and instilled a love for all things Jewish in Joseph. Joseph attended a gymnasium, which is a European high school for exceptional students. (The Greek word gyn means woman. Hence “gynecologist” or one who studies women and “logist” from logos or word. The original meaning of gymnasium among the ancient Greeks was a house of women who exercised inside while men exercised in the nude, outside. Time changed the meaning of the word to include all those who exercise. Hence the English usage “gymnasium”. In Europe the word attached to a school for women but later was assigned to schools for both genders.)

Joseph also studied dentistry but relinquished this interest after he heard of the First Zionist Congress, organized by Theodore Herzl in 1897.

In 1902 Russia and Japan fought a war which was eventually settled by the American President, Theodore Roosevelt. Trumpeldor volunteered to fight in the Russian army in an effort to prove that the usual European bigotry about “Jewish cowardice” was a lie. He therefore volunteered in the “shock troops” who defended Port Arthur against a Japanese attack. Consequently, Trumpeldor lost his left arm during another Japanese attack in 1904. Even the Russian bigots admitted that Trumpeldor had earned promotion and made him a non-commissioned officer. Thereafter, he received all four of Russia’s medals for bravery after returning from Japanese captivity. During his imprisonment in a Japanese P.O.W. camp he organized 500 Jews into a Zionist society.

In 1906 Trumpeldor became the first Jew ever to be promoted to commissioned officer in the Russian army. Nevertheless, Trumpeldor recognized that the Jewish community in Russia, and for that matter in Europe, could not survive and therefore he went to Israel in 1912 and settled in Dagania. In 1914, the Turks deported Trumpeldor to Egypt because Turkey had become an ally of Germany, and Russia, Trumpeldor’s homeland, was on the English side. England at that time governed Egypt.

There Trumpeldor joined the British army and formed a Jewish Mule Corps, the first Jewish fighting unit in existence since 70 C.E. (common era). The Corps was assigned to the battle of Gallipoli. That battle was a disaster for the British, Australian and New Zealand troops. Commanded by the Jewish Australian General Monash, the allies were slaughtered by the Turkish guns. Read about this in any book on the First World War or in any biography of Winston Churchill, who was held responsible for the disaster.

In any event, Trumpeldor fought with great courage in that battle. After the war he returned to Russia briefly in the hope of organizing a Jewish Legion, a concept turned down by the British. Then he returned to Israel.

It was now 1919 and Zeev Jabotinsky had founded the Revisionist Zionists, determined to fight for the establishment of an independent Jewish state in face of British duplicity. The British had promised such a state in the famous Balfour Declaration in an effort to gain Jewish support for their cause. But when the war over, the British sided openly with the Arabs and encouraged them to murder the Jews in Israel, which the British had taken from the defeated Turks. The Arabs, armed by the British, attacked all Jewish towns and villages. The Jews formed a self-defense army called Haganah, but in face of British weapons in the hands of the Arab killers, the Jews were outnumbered and outgunned.

Therefore, on March 1, 1920 a gang of Arab killers attacked the Jewish town of Tel Chai (Hill of Life) and a fierce battle erupted as the Jews defended themselves. Trumpeldor was badly wounded and died with the words “Ein Davar, tov lamut be-arzeinu,” or “it is good to die for one's country.”

After Trumpeldor and to this day Israel must be defended again and again by the heroes of Israel. Encouraged by the European haters and the so-called United Nations, the Arabs will try to kill us all. But now, thanks to Joseph Trumpeldor, Israel is a powerful state. Its armed forces are the spiritual daughters and sons of Trumpeldor as are we, as we stand with Israel now and forever, bimhayro v’yomenoo

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).

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