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Margolin, Eliezer

MARGOLIN, ELIEZER

MARGOLIN, ELIEZER (1874–1944), one of the commanders of the *Jewish Legion during World War i. Born in Belgorod, Russia, Margolin settled in Ereẓ Israel with his family in 1892 and lived in Rehovot. He was outstanding in agricultural labor and in affairs of self-defense. With the death of his parents and the difficult economic situation in the country, he went to Australia in 1900 and worked in agriculture and trade there. During World War i he joined the Australian army. He was noted for his heroism on the Gallipoli front (1915–16) and became acquainted with Vladimir *Jabotinsky and the volunteers of the Zion Mule Corps from Ereẓ Israel. He was transferred to the French front under the command of General *Monash and achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel. Jabotinsky met with him in London and offered him the command of the Second Battalion of the Jewish Regiment, which consisted mostly of Jewish volunteers that had arrived from the U.S. and Canada, the 49th Royal Fusiliers (among its members were Izhak *Ben-Zvi and David *Ben-Gurion). Margolin accepted the offer and, with the agreement of the military authorities, arrived in Palestine in the summer of 1918 as commander of the battalion. He also cultivated friendly relations with the Ereẓ Israel volunteers of the third battalion of the Jewish Legion, disregarding the norms of military hierarchy. His battalion broke through the Turkish front on the Jordan River and captured the Transjordanian town of Salt, of which he was made military governor.

In December 1919, when the Legion was officially given its Jewish name, First Judeans, with the seven-branched menorah as its symbol, Margolin became its commander. Margolin constantly struggled against the hostile attitude toward the Legion of the British military command and military authorities in Palestine. But his sense of order could not be gainsaid; he never revealed his deep relationship to the yishuv and the first nucleus of its self-defense network to the outside world. With the riots that broke out in Palestine in the spring of 1920, the armed legionnaires were dispersed, with Margolin's knowledge, throughout the Arab villages, an act that prevented further bloodshed. Margolin argued with his superior officers for his right to command the Legion in this manner, an attitude that was not usually accepted in military circles.

With the gradual dismantling of the Legion, the British Military High Command decided to establish the Palestine Defense Force, composed of a Jewish and an Arab unit. Margolin was destined to be the commander of the Jewish unit (March 1921). Riots again broke out in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffa (spring of 1921), and on May 1 Joseph *Brenner and his friends were killed. Jewish legionnaires, including discharged ones, took arms out from the military camp in Sarafand without Margolin's knowledge and used them to stop the riots. Margolin arrived in Tel Aviv on May 2, mobilized both in-service and discharged soldiers, and provided them with arms from the military stores. This act served as a pretext to abandon the plan of the Palestine Defense Force and finally disband the Legion. Margolin resigned from the army, rather than face a court martial, returned to Australia, and went into business. Throughout his life he longed to return to Ereẓ Israel. In 1950 his remains were transferred to Israel and reinterred in Reḥovot. A childhood friend from Reḥovot, the Hebrew author Moshe *Smilansky, described Eliezer Margolin in one of his stories, named after the Arab and Bedouin nickname for him, "Ḥawaja Nazar."

bibliography:

Tidhar, 5 (1952), 2324–25; M. Smilansky, Mishpahat ha-Adamah, 3 (1951), 167–76; B. Dinur (ed.), Sefer Toledot ha-Haganah, 1–2 (1954–63), index; Ever Hadani, Am be-Milhamto (19533), 178–81; E. Gilner, War and Hope: A History of the Jewish Legion (1969), index.

[Getzel Kressel]

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