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Ben-Gurion Mentions Trumpeldor: Israel’s Most Famous Military Hero

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BEN-GURION, DAVID. (1886-1973). Polish-born, Israeli statesman who became Israel’s first prime minister after proclaiming its independence in 1948. ALS. (“D. Ben Gurion”). 1p. Postcard. Jerusalem, March 6, 1955. To Israeli historian and politician BEN-ZION DINUR (1884-1973). In Hebrew with translation. The postcard bears a postal cancellation that commemorates the 40th anniversary of the formation of Trumpeldor’s famous Zionist Mule Corps.

“On the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the ‘Zionist Mule Corps’ by Joseph Trumpeldor and his friends, the youth should know more about the personal example set by the members of the Second Aliyah, whose actions and heroism have become the personal educator [?] of the people…”

Joseph Trumpeldor in uniform

Joseph Trumpeldor


An early Zionist, Ben-Gurion moved to Palestine in 1906 to take up farming. Following his expulsion by Turkey at the outbreak of World War I, he rallied British and American support to promote increased Jewish immigration to Palestine, and after spending decades strengthening Palestine’s Jewish community, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the birth of Israel on May 14, 1948. He assisted in creating the Israeli army, often using military force to thwart Arab violence. After announcing his intention to leave public life, Ben-Gurion moved to the newly founded Negev Kibbutz Sde-Boker in early 1954. He never completely abdicated his leadership role, however, and in February 1955 Ben-Gurion returned to public life, first as minister of defense, in which capacity he penned our letter. Following his tenure as defense minister, he was reelected prime minister in November 1955.

David Ben Gurion

Born in Pyatigorsk in the North Caucasus, Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920) abandoned his training as a dentist to join the Russian army in 1902, losing an arm during the Russo-Japanese War. He returned to active duty, as quickly as possible, but was taken prisoner by the Japanese. After regaining his freedom, he became the most decorated Jewish soldier in the Russian army and the first Jew to be offered an officer’s commission. However, because of his disability, Trumpeldor, resigned from the military to study law. Increasingly interested in Zionism’s goal of establishing a Jewish homeland, Trumpeldor, immigrated to Palestine (Erez Israel) in 1911, then part of the Ottoman Empire, where he lived and worked on several collective farms, while helping defend Jewish settlements in the Lower Galilee.

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Russian-born Trumpeldor became an enemy alien in Ottoman Palestine and was deported to Egypt where he organized his fellow deportees into a military organization created to assist the British liberation of Palestine from the Ottomans. In 1915, Trumpeldor established the Zion Mule Corps or Jewish Legion, part of the 38th and 42nd Battalions of Royal Fusiliers and the subject of our letter. Most of the Jewish volunteers were sent to the Dardanelles during the Gallipoli Campaign, where they fought heroically against the Turks. They returned to Egypt and the corps disbanded in 1916.

By 1919, Trumpeldor had returned to Palestine, where he was instrumental in the immigration of Russian-Jewish soldiers to British-occupied Palestine. On March 1, 1920, the Jewish farming village of Tel Hai in the Upper Galilee’s Hulah Valley, came under attack by Shiite gangs from neighboring Lebanon who were searching for French soldiers. Anticipating trouble, a militia led by Trumpeldor and organized by the Jewish defense organization, Hashomer, arrived and a skirmish broke out resulting in a number of casualties on both sides, including the fatally-wounded Trumpeldor, who had been shot in the stomach. His last words were reported to have been, “Never mind, it is good to die for our country,” (“Ein davar, tov lamut be’ad artzeinu”) an expression that became as famous as Nathan Hale’s, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Trumpeldor remains, to this day, one of Israel’s greatest military heroes.

Born in the Russian Empire, Dinur became involved in Zionist activities around the turn of the century. He immigrated to Palestine in 1921 where he continued his academic career as a scholar of Jewish history. At the time of our letter Dinur was a professor at Hebrew University as well as a member of the Knesset and Minister of Education and Culture, succeeding Ben-Gurion in that post and serving from October 1951 until November 1955.

Written on an Israel Post postcard bearing a March 8, 1955 Jerusalem post mark and a second ink postal cancellation in Hebrew and English commemorating the Zion Mule Corps. With normal wear and a file hole in the right margin. In excellent condition.

Ben-Gurion Mentions Trumpeldor: Israel’s Most Famous Military Hero

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