Joseph Trumpeldor

Joseph Trumpeldor
Joseph Trumpeldor.jpg
Joseph Trumpeldor in the uniform of a British army officer but without visible badges, c. World War One
Born21 November 1880
Pyatigorsk, Russia
Died1 March 1920(1920-03-01) (aged 39)
Tel Hai, British Mandate of Palestine
Battles/warsRusso-Japanese War

World War I

Intercommunal conflict in Mandatory Palestine

AwardsCross of St. George

Joseph Vladimirovich (Volfovich) Trumpeldor (November 21, 1880 – March 1, 1920, Hebrew: יוֹסֵף וַולְדִּימִירוֹבִיץ׳ (ווֹלְפוֹבִיץ׳) טְרוּמְפֶּלְדּוֹר [ˈjosef tʁumpelˈdoʁ], Russian: Иосиф Владимирович (Вольфович) Трумпельдор [ˈjɵsʲɪf trʊmpʲɪlʲˈdor]), was an early Zionist activist who helped to organize the Zion Mule Corps and bring Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Trumpeldor died defending the settlement of Tel Hai in 1920 and subsequently became a Zionist national hero. According to a standard account, his last words, reminiscent of Horace, were: "It does not matter, it is good to die for our country."[1] That he ever said these words has been challenged. Various versions exist, based on two primary witnesses, Dr George Gerry who had arrived in Israel just two weeks earlier, and Abraham Harzfeld. His Hebrew was broken and stilted: he is known to have spoken Russian while his wounds were attended to. These days many consider the quote to be a legend.[2]

Early life

Joseph Trumpeldor was born in Pyatigorsk in the North Caucasus of the Russian Empire. His father, Wulf Trumpeldor, served as a cantonist in the Caucasian War, and as a "useful Jew", was allowed to live outside the Pale of Settlement. Though proudly Jewish, Trumpeldor's upbringing was more Russian than traditionally Jewish. Originally in training as a dentist, Joseph Trumpeldor volunteered for the Russian army in 1902. During the Russo-Japanese War, he participated in the siege of Port Arthur, where he lost his left arm to shrapnel. He spent a hundred days in the hospital recovering, but elected to complete his service. When he was questioned about his decisions and told that he was heavily advised not to continue fighting given his handicap, he responded "but I still have another arm to give to the motherland." When Port Arthur surrendered, Trumpeldor went into Japanese captivity. He spent his time printing a newspaper on Jewish affairs and organized history, geography and literature classes. He also befriended several prisoners who shared his desire of founding a communal farm in Palestine. On return from captivity, he moved to St. Petersburg. Trumpeldor subsequently received four decorations for bravery including the Cross of St. George, which made him the most decorated Jewish soldier in Russia. In 1906 he became the first Jew in the army to receive an officer's commission.

Due to his handicap he began to study law. He gathered a group of young Zionists around him and in 1911 they emigrated to Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. At first he joined a farm on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and then worked for a time at Kibbutz Degania.