Trumpeldor, Joseph

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TRUMPELDOR, JOSEPH (1880–1920), soldier, symbol of pioneering and armed defense in Ereẓ Israel. Joseph's father, Ze'ev (Vladimir; 1830–1915), was a soldier in the army of Nicholas i. His son Joseph, born in Pyatigorsk (northern Caucasus), was sent to a religious school in Rostov-on-Don before he attended a Russian municipal school. Since, as a Jew, he could not attend high school, he studied dentistry. He was influenced by the idea of the collective commune as described by Tolstoy and practiced by the Tolstoyan settlers near his hometown. In Trumpeldor's mind, this ideal became intertwined with his concept of Zionism through the establishment of agricultural communes in Ereẓ Israel, which, if necessary, would be defended by armed force. In 1902 Trumpeldor was drafted into the army, volunteered for the 27th East Siberian Regiment, and was sent with it to Port Arthur. By volunteering for dangerous missions, Trumpeldor distinguished himself in the Russo-Japanese War (1904), in which he was severely wounded, and his left arm had to be amputated. Upon recovery, Trumpeldor asked his commanding officer to send him back to the front although he had the right to be demobilized. His request was granted and received mention in a special order for the day, in which he was promoted to the rank of a noncommissioned officer. When Port Arthur surrendered (late 1904), Trumpeldor was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan, where he worked for the welfare of his fellow prisoners and devoted special attention to the Jews among them, organizing a Zionist group and a group of Jewish soldiers, whose aim was to go to Ereẓ Israel and establish an agricultural commune there. In 1906 he was returned to Russia. Although a Jew, he received the rank of officer and was awarded several major decorations for distinguished service.

Trumpeldor entered the law faculty of the University of St. Petersburg, simultaneously working to form a group that would implement his idea of collective settlement in Ereẓ Israel. In 1911 Trumpeldor and his comrades, whose declared aim was the liberation of the Jewish people from national oppression through an independent existence in Ereẓ Israel, held their first meeting in Romny (Ukraine). In 1912, together with a group of his comrades, Trumpeldor went to Ereẓ Israel and worked for a time at the Migdal farm and the kevuẓah *Deganyah. He participated in the defense of the Jewish settlements in Lower Galilee. When World War i broke out, he refused to take Ottoman citizenship and was deported to Egypt. In Alexandria he advocated the establishment of a legion of volunteers from among the Ereẓ Israel deportees that would put itself at the disposal of the British to help liberate the country from the Turks. He accepted the British army's proposal to form the Zion Mule Corps (see *Jewish Legion), which he regarded as a first step toward the formation of a Jewish military force to liberate Ereẓ Israel. With the corps, of which he was deputy commander, Trumpeldor left for Gallipoli and between May and December 1915 took part in the major British offensive against the Turks. He set an example by his bravery and his willingness to undertake the most difficult tasks. After the Gallipoli campaign, Trumpeldor returned to Alexandria, and, after the corps' disbandment, proceeded to London, where he joined Vladimir *Jabotinsky in efforts to form a Jewish Legion from among the Russian Jews living in England, using a group of soldiers of the Zion Mule Corps as a nucleus.

In June 1917, Trumpeldor left for Russia to persuade the Provisional Russian Government to form Jewish regiments in the Russian army that could be sent to the Caucasian front and from there could break through to Ereẓ Israel. Trumpeldor was active in the Jewish Soldiers' movement in Russia and at its conference in Kiev, at which it was decided to form the General Federation of Jewish Soldiers in Russia and the General Federation for Self-Defense. He was elected commissar for Jewish Soldiers' Affairs. After the October Revolution Trumpeldor received permission to form the first Jewish regiment, whose chief objective was to combat the massacre of Jews; but the plan was canceled when Soviet Russia signed the peace treaty with Germany (January 1918). The regiment was disbanded and the Jewish defense organization outlawed; Trumpeldor was arrested at Petrograd but was soon released. He then devoted himself to the establishment of the *He-Ḥalutz movement in Russia, whose aim was to organize and prepare young Jews for settlement in Ereẓ Israel. He was elected chairman of He-Ḥalutz at its first conference in 1919, at which he demanded the introduction of military training for He-Ḥalutz members. He tried to gather groups of pioneers from various parts of Russia and to form centers for training and migration to Ereẓ Israel in Minsk and in the Crimea.

In 1919, Trumpeldor went back to Ereẓ Israel, stopping at Constantinople, where he founded an information office and a transit farm for immigrants and pioneers going to Palestine to the Jewish settlement Mesillah Ḥadashah. Upon arrival in Palestine, he proposed to the British military authorities to bring 10,000 Jewish soldiers from Russia as part of the Jewish Legion, and regarded the plan as a question of life or death for national existence in Ereẓ Israel. He also urged labor leaders in Palestine to unite into a single labor federation, which could efficiently absorb the new pioneering immigration. His proposal to form Jewish regiments was rejected. When news arrived of the danger facing the Jewish settlements in Upper Galilee, the scene of armed skirmishes between the French authorities and Arab rebels, Trumpeldor was asked to organize the defense of the settlements, and on Jan. 1, 1920, he reached *Tel Ḥai, which, together with the settlers and volunteers from the south, he began to fortify along with *Kefar Giladi and Metullah. On March 1, 1920, large numbers of armed Arabs attacked Tel Ḥai. During negotiations with their leaders, an exchange of fire took place in which Trumpeldor received a stomach wound. The battle continued all day. Toward evening, Trumpeldor was taken with other casualties to Kefar Giladi, but died on the way. His last words were, "Ein davar, tov lamut be'ad arẓenu" ("Never mind; it is good to die for our country"). Trumpeldor and five of his comrades were buried in the courtyard of Kefar Giladi; their remains were later removed to a new cemetery between Tel Ḥai and Kefar Giladi, where, in 1934, a memorial by the sculptor A. Melnikov was erected. The pioneers who arrived from Crimea shortly after Trumpeldor's death founded the Joseph Trumpeldor Labor Legion (*Gedud ha-Avodah), and named their settlement at the foot of Mount Gilboa *Tel Yosef in his memory.

The life and death of Trumpeldor became a symbol to pioneer youth from all parts of the Diaspora. Songs, poems, and stories were written about him. A collection of his correspondence, his diary, and memoirs, edited by M. Poznansky in 1922, became a standard text of the youth and pioneer movement. Trumpeldor inspired both the pioneering socialist movements and the right-wing youth groups. The movement Berit Trumpeldor (*Betar) concentrated on the military and nationalist aspects of his ideology and activity. A Trumpeldor House was established at Tel Yosef, and collects material connected with Trumpeldor's life and death and with the history of the Gedud ha-Avodah.


Me-Ḥayyei Yosef Trumpeldor (19452), includes his diary; P. Lipovetzky, Joseph Trumpeldor (Eng., 1953); N. Benari and A. Kena'ani, Yosef Trumpeldor, Po'olo u-Tekufato (1960); S. Laskov, Trumpeldor (1972); Dinur, Haganah, 2 pt. 1 (1959), 24–28, 50–51 and index; Syrkin, in: Mi-Bifnim (Feb. 1947), 360–70; R. Freulich and J. Abramson, The Hill of Life (1969).

[Yehuda Slutsky]