YOSEF TRUMPELDOR - HERO OF TEL CHAI
Yosef Trumpeldor, one of the greatest heroes of modern Jewish history, was born in Caucasus, Russia, in 1880. Even though his father was conscripted into the Nicolai army, where he served for twenty-five years, he maintained his Jewishness and influenced Yosef in the spirit of Judaism. Yosef knew that he was a Jew and was proud of it.
After attending the gymnasium school, he studied dentistry. Yosef Trumpeldor became interested in Zionism after the first Zionist Congress, when he first learned of Theodor Herzl.
In 1902, when the Russo - Japanese war broke out, Trumpeldor volunteered for service in the Russian Army. He explained that, even though Jews were persecuted in Russia, he felt obligated to fulfill his duties as a citizen; and, what was more important he wanted to prove by his action that the charge of "Jewish cowardice" was false.
During the defense of Port Arthur he volunteered for service in the commando troops, which bore the brunt of the Japanese attacks. His name was soon the pride of the regiment. Once the commanding officer expressed the hope that, as he had no Jews in his section, there would be no cowards or traitors. Trumpeldor immediately stepped out of line and announced: "I am a Jew, sir."
During a fierce battle in 1904, Trumpeldor was hit in his left arm by a piece shrapnel. The arm had to be amputated. On leaving the hospital, he wrote to his commander, requesting permission to return to the front: "True, I have now but one arm, but it is the right one capable of handling a sword or rifle." Trumpeldor was promoted to a non-commissioned rank. He displayed such outstanding heroism that he received all four of the highest decorations for bravery - the only Jew in the Russian army to receive such honors. He was taken prisoner when Port Arthur fell, and spent a year in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, where he organized five hundred fellow Jewish prisoners into a Zionist society.
In 1906, when the war was over, Trumpeldor was introduced to the Czarina, and by royal order was promoted to the rank of officer - the first Jewish officer in the Russian army. But he was more interested in preparing a group of Chalutzim (pioneers) to go to the Land of Israel.
In 1912 he went with his first group of Chalutzim to Eretz Israel. He worked in Degina for some time before attending the Thirteenth World Zionist Congress in Vienna. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he was deported by the Turkish Government. In Alexandria, Egypt, he met Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who fascinated Trumpeldor with his idea of forming the Jewish Legion.
The offer to form the Jewish Legion was rejected by the British, but the Zion Mule Corps , in which Trumpeldor was a captain, was formed. Although Jabotinsky opposed the formation of the Mule Corps, he conceded in later years that Trumpeldor was right accepting his commission in the unit. At the head of the Corps was Colonel Patterson. But in 1916, Trumpeldor took over complete command of the unit.
He was always the first to face danger. Calmly, and with a deep sense of responsibility, he led the Jewish soldiers into the thick of the battle in Gallipoli. Colonel Patterson related; "During all the time of that terrible war, this gentle Captain showed an unparalleled valor and unflinching determination. By his devotion to duty he set an example to all. When bullets were showering upon us, I warned him to take heed, but Trumpeldor, with his charming, simple smile answered "never mind (ein davar), I am all right."
Meanwhile, Jabotinsky had succeeded in convincing the British War Office of the need of having a Jewish Legion. Trumpeldor's request to join it on its formation was turned down by the military command.
In 1917, he returned to Russia with the hope of founding a Jewish Legion there. While he was in Russia, the Communist Revolution broke out and nothing could be done. As the Jews were again in danger of Pogroms, he quickly organized a Jewish self-defense unit in Petrograd.
In the meantime the Communists had come to power and the self-defense unit was disbanded. Trumpeldor did not rest. He negotiated with many groups and finally founded the "Hechalutz".
In August 1919, Trumpeldor set out on his third and last journey to the Land of Israel. The war was over. There seemed to be fresh hope for the Jewish People's age old dream of a Jewish return to the Land of Israel and the creation of a National Jewish Homeland.
But trouble was brewing in the Land of Israel. On January 22, 1919, Jabotinsky wrote to Chaim Weizman, then the president of the World Zionist Organization about the growing danger Arab attacks against Jews.
Weizman did nothing, except declare that the British were on the side of the Jews.
Meanwhile, information reached Trumpeldor that the Arabs were preparing to attack the Jewish Settlements in the Upper Galilee in Northern Eretz Israel. The British had evacuated the area and the French had not yet taken over. Arabs were ambushing and raiding the Jewish settlements daily. The situation was critical. Trumpeldor became the leader of the defense group called the Haganah. He appealed for reinforcements but, his appeals were not answered. he warned the Jewish leaders that Metullah was on the verge of being destroyed and that the settlements of Kfar Giladi and Tel Chai were also in great danger.
On the morning of March 1, 1920 (the eleventh of Adar 5680) a group of several hundred Arab raiders made their first attack on the settlement of Tel Chai. A fierce battle erupted. At the height of the fighting Trumpeldor exposed himself when he attempted to close the gate to the settlement. He was fatally shot. When his comrades found him, he smiled and said "Ein davar (It is nothing) I only want a bandage." He then calmly directed the bandaging of his wound.
"These are my last moments. Tell our comrades to defend the honor of our people until the last." Trumpeldor said as he still directed the battle raging outside.
When a doctor finally arrived, he was too late to help Trumpeldor. His last words were: "Ein davar, tov lamut be-ad artsenu." (It does not matter, it is good to die for our land). Trumpeldor was memorialized by Jabotinsky who named the militant youth group Betar, Brit (covenant) of Yosef Trumpeldor, after him. A monument was erected over his grave at Tel Chai in his honor - a huge roaring lion.