Joseph Trumpeldor

  • Issue: January 1970
  • Plate no.: 276
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

"In Galilee, at Tel Hai, a valiant man has fallen," the schoolchildren of Israel are used to singing on the 11 Adar, the day on which Joseph Trumpeldor fell. In the popular epic Trumpeldor is remembered as one of Israel's national heroes. This title, however becoming to his image, at times causes us to forget his fruitful activity in the organization of the labor movement and in the initial endeavors to organize a Jewish army; it detracts from his image as a versatile leader, as a diplomat whenever the necessity arose, and as a writer on due occasion.

Joseph Trumpeldor was born in the Russian Caucasus on November 29, 1880. Upon completion of his studies at the Heder, a religious elementary school, he started learning at the public school of his town. Being a Jew he was not permitted to register at the local secondary school so he took to dental surgery instead and received his graduation certificate from the University of Khasan at the age of 20.

In 1901, after having received his mobilization order, he enlisted as a private soldier in the Russian army. In the war between Russia and Japan he was sent to the front and was seriously wounded in battle, as a result of which his left arm had to be amputated. After his recovery Trumpeldor asked to be sent back to the front, a request which was granted. In a special order-of-the-day he was decorated and promoted to the rank of second lieutenant.

In 1912 Trumpeldor migrated to Eretz Israel (then Palestine) together with some of his friends, who had chosen to work the fields of Havvat Migdal, near Tiberias, in a truly cooperative spirit. A year later he started working at Deganyah.

When in 1914 Turkey entered World War I on the side of Germany the inhabitants of Eretz Israel had the choice of either adopting Ottoman citizenship or leaving the country. Trumpeldor, visualizing that a German victory would be disastrous to the country, sailed to Alexandria, then within the British domain. There he founded, together with Ze'ev Jabotinsky and others, the Gedud ha-Ivri, ("Hebrew Legion") to fight together with the British for the conquest of Eretz Israel. The Legion was not allowed to take part in the fighting and was sent to the Straits of the Dardanelles to carry out transportation tasks. Nevertheless, Trumpeldor was convinced that the Legion would be the nucleus of the Jewish army to come. Thus the "Zion Mule Corps" came into being, of which Trumpeldor was made deputy commander, later becoming its commander.

February 1917 marked the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. In June of the same year, when the war was at its peak, Trumpeldor proceeded to Russia to negotiate with the provisional government there on the formation of a Jewish army to break through to Eretz Israel by way of the Caucasus and Armenia. The Kerensky Government seems to have sympathized with the proposal, but then Russia began to be shaken by rebellions and riots and the fear of pogroms against the Jews was imminent. Trumpeldor rushed to Petrograd to organize the defense of the Jews there and remained to be its life and soul even after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Simultaneously he began to organize the vigorous "He-Halutz" movement in Russia. At the first He-Halutz Congress, assembled at his initiative, Trumpeldor was elected as the movement's delegate for Eretz Israel, to pave the way for immigration and settlement.

In November 1919 he arrived in the country, met with numerous groups of workers, devoted himself to unifying the country's labor movement and published an "Appeal to the Workers of Eretz Israel" to this end. It was the time when the riots broke out in Galilee. The Arabs, rising against the French (who then were rulers of Galilee), gave vent to their feelings by attacking Jewish settlements, claiming the first victims among the settlers.

Trumpeldor rushed to Galilee and on the l1 Adar 5680 (March 1, 1920), while breakfasting at Kefar Giladi, he heard shots from nearby Tel Hai. Nine men, headed by Trumpeldor, rushed to the scene. The Arabs, who had surrounded Tel Hai, demanded to be allowed to enter, wishing to look for hidden Frenchmen. Trumpeldor consented. The Arabs burst inside and began to disarm the settlers. Trumpeldor gave orders to open fire and himself ran to close the gate in face of the penetrating Arabs. On his way he was twice shot in the stomach. When the fighting was over the wounded were transported to Kefar Giladi. Asked by the doctor how he felt, Trumpeldor answered: "Never mind, it is good to die for our country." A few minutes later he breathed his last.

In his memory and that of five of his comrades who had died together with him at Tel Hai, a monument was built in the shape of a roaring lion.

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Defense Of Tel Hai