How Time Spent in a Japanese POW Camp Created a Zionist War Hero

The one-armed Russian veteran and Zionist pioneer Joseph Trumpeldor distinguished himself for his courage in fighting in the Jewish Legion during World War I; he may be best known in Israel today for his death defending the Galilean village of Tel Hai from Arab attack in 1920. According to legend his final words were, “It is good to die for our country.” But less well known is the story of how Trumpeldor’s commitment to Zionism was shaped by his experience in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-5). As Dor Saar-Man writes, Trumpeldor was captured by the Japanese in the battle of Port Arthur, during which he had been hit by shrapnel and Russian doctors had amputated part of his arm:

The Japanese physicians re-operated on his amputation injury and managed to prevent a life-threatening infection. Wishing to demonstrate [to the West] their proper treatment of Russian prisoners of war, . . . the Japanese allowed the Jews among them to have a somewhat autonomous community life within the [POW] camp. The Jews resided separately and held their own events and cultural activities, including some Zionist activities.

Trumpeldor had been drawn to Zionism even before the Russo-Japanese war, but [his attraction to the movement] intensified during his captivity. Until then he had been exposed primarily to assimilated Jews. . . . But in captivity, surrounded by Jewish and Zionist comrades, he became a zealous Zionist. He devoted his energies to establishing and maintaining a Jewish community in the camp, and began correspondening with Zionist leaders.

He arranged various activities: Trumpeldor had the prisoners publish a newspaper in Yiddish, which was distributed inside and outside the camp and was quite successful; he [also] organized a school for Jewish soldiers. Though he was not religious, and was not particularly concerned with holidays and prayers, Trumpeldor made sure that all the prisoners’ religious needs were met. This included prayers, holidays, kosher food for Passover, Rosh Hashanah cards, and the like. . . .

When the war ended, Trumpeldor was released. He was determined to come to the land of Israel to continue Zionist activity.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Museum of the Jewish People

More about: History & Ideas, Japan, Jews in the military, Russia, Zionism

 

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism