Monthly Archives: August 2011

Palgrave, William Gifford (1826-88) (Explorer who traversed hostile Arabian Peninsula – among other things)

William Palgrave


A scholar and a soldier, a Jesuit and a Jew, a French spy and a British ambassador – Palgrave was a man of contradictions, all of them highly compromising when in 1862-3, fortified by Pius IX’s blessing and Napoleon III’s cash, he attempted the first west-east crossing of the Arabian peninsula. To steely nerves and a genius for disguise he owed his eventual success; but not before both were sorely tested, when, as a Syrian doctor, he became the first European to enter Riyadh. The desert capital of the fanatical Wahabis, dangerous for an infidel at the best of times, was then doubly so as the sons of the ageing king Feisal intrigued for power. At one point, Palgrave was accused by a Saudi Prince of being a Christian, a spy, and a revolutionist, come to ruin the Moslem religion and state. But Palgrave bluffed his way out.
Palgrave’s father was interesting too – he was a child prodigy who at the age of eight translated Homer’s "Battle of the Frogs" from Greek into French. As an adult he changed his name from Cohen to Palgrave and converted to Christianity. He wrote many important historical works.
(Source – John Keay’s book Exploration – Classic Accounts of the Great Stories of Human Endeavour, and the Jewish Encyclopedia)

Monash, John (Australian Jewish General Praised By Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery as the best general in the Western Front)

General John Monash

John was born on 27 June 1865 to parents of Prussian-Jewish origin. In 1915 he was sent with the 4th Brigade (1,000 men) to Gallipoli, where he made a name for himself despite the fact that the campaign was a disaster. By June 1916 he was in France, as a major-general. Here he used raiding techniques frowned on by the British High Command, but they were impressed by his detail and precision in a war that was going very badly. He believed that: "the true role of infantry was not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine-gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, but on the contrary, to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in the form of guns, machine-guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved as far as possible of the obligation to fight their way forward."

At the Battle of Hamel Hill on 4-July-1918 his tactics won a well needed victory for the allies. Thereafter the A.I.F smashed its way through France, used as shock troops in an amazing serics of victories against the Germans.

He was often reminded that he was a Jewish colonel with no formal army background by many members of the British High Command. But he won the respect of his troops, and was knighted on the field by King George V.
He died on October 1931.

Vamberry, Arminius (Hungarian Jewish traveler and Orientalist, undercover explorer among the Persians.)

He was apprenticed at the age of twelve to a ladies dressmaker, but after becoming tutor to the son of the village innkeeper, he was enabled by his friends to enter the gymnasium of St. George, near Presburg. Later he studied at Vienna, Kecskemet, and Budapest. Vambery was attracted by the literature and culture of Turkey, and in 1854 he went to Constantinople. There he became a private tutor. About this time he was elected to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in recognition of his translations of Turkish historians. In 1861, disguised as a Sunnite dervish (a person who goes into mystical trances), he set out from Constantinople. He explored Persia and Afghanistan – the first journey of its kind undertaken by a European. Vambery could not take notes since he had to avoid suspicion. He returned to Europe in 1864 and became professor of Oriental languages in the University of Budapest. He became a publicist defending the English policy in the East as against that of the Russians.

Arminius Vambery as Dervish


Vambery’s gift for languages came in handy when he was playing the part of a dervish near Teheran. His companions having discovered that he understood European languages became suspicious. Vambery explained to them that "Allah had, as a reward for his piousness, blessed him with the grace of being able to talk in all tongues." The Persians believed it, and very soon the rumour went abroad that he was a miraculous Hadji who was conversant with every language. The Swedish Minister to Teheran, who had heard of this, proposed to put the holy man on his trial. A begging Dervish upon a Persian highway who knew Swedish was really unimaginable. Thus it would be easy for him to unmask the humbug. Accompanied by several Europeans and by Persian Court officials, he rode outside the gate where Vambery was sitting in Oriental fashion on his crossed legs. The Minister stopped in front of him, and suddenly addressed him in Swedish. Vambery just knew, in a poor way, how to read this language, but he was unable to speak it. However, not a muscle in his face moved; he slowly raised his eyes to the gigantic Swede, and all at once, distinctly and slowly, began to recite one stanza of Tegner’s "Frithjof’s Saga." This stanza had, somehow, remained in his memory, and it was indeed all that he could, coherently and without making mistakes, say in Swedish. The Swede hearing the lines of poetry in his mother tongue, spoken by the ragged, turbaned, begging Dervish, changed color, remained for a moment speechless, then sharply turned his horse round and spurred it away. He was scared and convinced of having experienced something supernatural. Even fourteen years later Vambery could not help laughing heartily when he described the stupefied countenance of the Swedish Minister.

(source: Max Nordau’s introduction to "The Life and Adventures of Arminius Vambery – written by himself" and The Jewish Encyclopedia)

Jacobs, Jack (Jewish medal of honor recipient in Vietnam)

Jack Jacobs

Col Jack H. Jacobs was awarded the medal of honor for his Vietnam War Service.

Col. Jack Jacobs, who entered military service through Rutgers ROTC, earned the Medal of Honor in 1969 for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam.
Jacobs was an advisor to a Vietnamese infantry battalion when it came under a devastating fire that disabled the commander. Although bleeding from severe head wounds, 1st Lt. Jacobs took command, withdrew the unit to safety, and returned again and again under intense fire to rescue the wounded and perform life-saving first aid. He saved the lives of a U.S. advisor and 13 allied soldiers.

Jacobs served on the faculty of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the National War College in Washington, D.C. After retirement, he founded and was chief operating officer of Auto Finance Group. As a managing director of Bankers Trust Co., he led Global Investment Management to $2.2 billion in assets and later co-founded a similar business for Lehman Brothers.

Stein, Sir Aurel (Jewish Explorer of the Silk Road)

Marc Aurel Stein

Aurel Stein was a giant of Central Asian scholarship. He was a explorer, archaeologist, geographer, and a phenomenal linguist. He was brought up in Budapest, Hungary, where he received a top-notch university education. He was fascinated by Orientalism and philology from an early age.

While studying Oriental manuscripts in England in 1887, Stein heard of a suitable job in India. But he yearned to explore the wild and treacherous regions of Central Asia, which first captured his imagination as a schoolboy, when he read about the exploits there of Alexander the Great. In 1900, he embarked on a great adventure which was to last for 30 years: the discovery of the lost cities of the Silk Road, the ancient trading route which once linked China to the Mediterranean, and along which silk first found its way to the West. Replete with priceless artefacts, its cities had lain buried in the deserts of Chinese Turkestan for 1,500 years.

Stein led extensive archaeological expeditions by camel caravan across the Taklamakan – the forbidding "desert of death" – and along hair raising mountain passes. They sometimes took over two years, during which he braved freezing temperatures, sweltering heat and sandstorms, and saw no other Westerner. He returned with treasures by the ton – sculptures and frescoes, ancient silks, manuscripts and other relics of a bygone Buddhist civilisation. He even unearthed the earliest known printed book. Then the Chinese banned him, branding him a "foreign devil" and "wicked bandit."

But Sir Aurel Stein was no bandit. He lovingly preserved and recorded what he had found for posterity.

For more detail, including a map of Marc’s route, see: an archeologist follows his dreams.

Rubin, Tibor (Concentration Camp Survivor, Korean War Hero, Medal of Honor Winner)

Tibor (Ted) Rubin

On the evening of October 30, 1950, in the dark, early days of the Cold War, Red Chinese forces mounted a massive nighttime assault on American troops at Unsan, North Korea. As overwhelming numbers of communist soldiers attacked Americans throughout the night and into the next day, a rifleman with the Army’s 8th Cavalry Regiment took up a 30-caliber machine gun at the south end of his unit’s line, following in the footsteps of three other soldiers – all of whom had been killed at the post.

When the rest of the American troops were told to withdraw, the rifleman never received the order, and continued "steadfastly manning" the machine gun until his ammunition was exhausted, according to Army records. The brave soldier’s "determined stand" single-handedly slowed the advance of the enemy in his sector, allowing the remnants of his unit to retreat southward, and to safety.

The brave acts that saved his fellow soldiers that October day represent only a small portion of the heroism symbolized by Corporal Rubin. On one occasion, Corporal Rubin "single handedly captured several hundred North Korean soldiers" after the breakup of the Pusan perimeter. Sworn affidavits from Corporal Rubin’s fellow soldiers document how, in another battle, when his unit was retreating, Corporal Rubin stayed behind to protect the "vital Taegu-Pusan road link" his unit would use to escape. According to his medal citation, during a 24 hour battle, Corporal Rubin "inflicted a staggering number of casualties" on the "overwhelming numbers of North Korean troops" assaulting the hill where he was stationed.

Yet, despite his glory on the battlefield, Corporal Rubin’s bravest deeds are generally considered to be his quietest. In the degrading, brutal confines of Korean prisoner-of-war camps, Corporal Rubin – a Hungarian-born Jew who survived the Mauthausen death camp in Austria – applied the survival lessons gleaned from his 14-month imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis to save the lives of some 40 fellow soldiers.

After receiving a serious leg wound during a battle in October 30, 1950, he was captured by the North Koreans and taken to the Pukchin POW camp, known to history as "Death Valley," and later to Pyoktong.

In the camps, Corporal Rubin recalled that "the biggest killer was dysentery." He and his fellow soldiers had been captured in their summer uniforms, he said, and the winter cold was unbearable. One of Corporal Rubin’s fellow prisoners, Sergeant Leo Cormier, described in a phone interview with the New York Sun, sleeping among 50 men in a 9 by 12 foot cell. "You wake up in the morning, and you reach up, and the body next to you was stiff as a board," he said. He added "If Ted wasn’t there, none of us would’ve made it out." Ted stole from the guards and made little cakes with leftover grain that he hid in his pants legs. Sergeant Cormier, who weighed 80 pounds upon his release from the camp, recalled "It tasted like manna from heaven." Tibor also force-fed soldiers who no longer had the will to eat and did more that we lack room for. He is a recipient of the Medal of Honor and two Purple Hearts.

Jacabowitz, Martin (German WWI aviator)

From June 1916 Martin became part of Fighter Squadron I of the German high command. He was repeatedly shot down at the battle of the Somme. In the fall, his squadron participated in the offensive against Rumania, and Jan 1917 in the battles over Macedonia where he was badly wounded in a dogfight. His leg was amputated. In spite of his wound, he still succeeded to shoot down the opposing British fighter.

Another German Jewish pilot of note was Leopold Ballin who shot down 3 allied planes. It should be mentioned that there were commanders who demanded photos of the shot-down planes. You can imagine the chutzpah of such demands given that Ballin’s plane had been hit 23 times, had lost its flaps for gaining altitude, and had other parts demolished as well. On the 22nd of April 1918, he was awarded the Iron Cross first class. The medal was awarded because he had distinguished himself in more than 41 flights above the enemy (our good guys) in the "defensive battle" in Flanders and in later battles. He accompanied infantry flying 30 meters above them.

Fritz Beckhardt

Of particular interest as a relative of mine (the blog author) from Wallertheim, Fritz Beckhardt, who had a swastika on his plane (before the swastika had its current connotations). He couldn’t imagine that his popular emblem would symbolize evil. It adorned his plane as he acquired the Iron Cross I, the Hohenzollern with swords, the Hessian medal for courage, the Hessian Ernst Ludwigs order, and the equivalent of our purple heart, as well as a silver chalice for bravery in air battle. He was in France at the beginning of the war, and fled back to Germany to participate in WWI, joining as a volunteer to take part on the Western Front among the infantry. Later he joined the air force.

Jacob Wolff


Aviator Jacob Wolff sent a circular which he called his justification to friends and relatives in Jan 10, 1916. "It didn’t want to get to my head that European governments so lacking in culture and so helpless to strike because of a triviality which three smart people could have solved in one day…. On the 2nd August I appeared at the district headquarters in Hamburg for service. I have to admit that this matter of unquestionable duty was very hard for me." Jacob was 46 years old at the beginning of the war, and so did not have to serve. He had 4000 employees in his factory in Hamburg, a fact which also would have freed him from military service. It was believed that good fighter pilots had to be between 19 and 22, and in fact the ages of 2 German air aces Immelmann and Bolke added up were less than his. By the war’s end he had a medal for saving somebody from drowning, and also got the pilots decoration, the Iron Cross first class, etc.
(Source – Judische Flieger by Felix Theilhaber (1924))

It’s hard to swallow for me that Jews fought on the side of the Germans and killed the good guys, but they thought they were fighting for their country, and were no worse in that respect than tens of millions of their fellow German citizens.

Jacob, Jack – Jewish general who led India to victory over Pakistan

Jack Jacob

In the annals of modern warfare, the 1971 war between India and Pakistan is regarded as a template of brilliance. Within 13 days, the Indian army routed Pakistan in one of the swiftest campaigns of the 20th century.
The major-general who masterminded and spearheaded India’s offensive, and who accepted Pakistan’s surrender, was Jack Frederick Ralph Jacob, the scion of an old Jewish family from Calcutta. A spry bachelor of 81 who retired in 1978, he considers that war the highlight of a long career as a soldier. Jacob joined the British army in the summer of 1941 while at university and when India was still a British colony. He did so, he said, "to fight the Nazis". He trained with Jordan’s Arab Legion. He returned to an independent India after taking a gunnery course in Britain, and then artillery and missile courses in the United States. "I didn’t plan to be a career officer," he said. "I like the army and stayed on."
He wrote a much-praised manual on desert warfare.
Looking back, he described his 37-year in the army as "the happiest and most enjoyable period of my life." Never once did he feel the sting of anti-Semitism in the Indian army. "But I had some problems with the British," he said. "I don’t like to talk about it."

Heilprin, Angelo – Explorer

Angelo Heilprin

In 1891, Angelo Heilprin became the first president of the Geographical Club of Philadelphia. He climbed erupting Mont Pelee on the island of Martinique in 1902. It had sent burning ashes and superheated steam at over 100 miles per hour, suffocating and scorching 40,000 people, and demolishing everything in its path. Soon after the news hit the Philadelphia headlines, Professor Heilprin was on his way south. When he arrived, the mountain was still sending out lava, steam, and toxic gases. Along with a journalist, George Kennan, he clambered up the steep flanks of the volcano until he could see the exploding guts of Mont Pelee just a few feet away. Kennan said: "I must pay the highest possible tribute to Heilprin. .. He is a superb mountaineer and the nerviest and pluckiest man I ever knew. The ascent was the most terrifying experience of my life".

Angelo was born in Hungary in 1853 and emigrated in 1856 with his parents to the US. He went to London where he studied at the Royal School of Mines with Huxley as his guide. There he received the Forbes medal for proficiency in Biology and Paleontology. He did great geographic exploration work in Mexico and elsewhere. The society gives out a Heilprin medal which it has presented to distinguished authors like Thor Heyerdahl, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, John Glenn and others.

Goldstein, Leah – Jewish Endurance Cyclist

Leah Goldstein

Leah Goldstein was not your typical little girl. At the age of six, she announced to her long-suffering parents that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her idol Bruce Lee and study martial arts. They told her she had to wait until she was at least nine, hoping that by then she would surely have outgrown the phase. But Leah reminded them of their promise on her ninth birthday and shortly thereafter enrolled in tae kwon do lessons in her hometown of Vancouver, BC. Just five years later, she had earned her black belt as National Junior Champion.

Switching to kickboxing, she went on to take the Canadian Women’s Bantamweight title in that sport by age fifteen. Fighting not only her opponents in the ring, but also her fair share of predictable male chauvinism outside of it, Leah handled both battles with perseverance and class. She remained focused, trained tirelessly and without losing a single fight in events across North America, all while juggling high school classes, became World Bantamweight Kickboxing Champion in 1987. On her way to a potential Hong Kong-based movie career, under negotiation by her longtime coach, she chose instead to take the less obvious road yet again and joined the Israeli army.

Joining the official Canadian National Cycling team within just two years of returning to Canada, she could soon be found on podiums throughout North America and Europe. In 2002, Israel offered her an Olympic scholarship to represent its flag at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Leah joined the newly formed Israeli National Team, but less than a month before the Olympics, suffered a crash at Pennsylvania’s Tour de Toona, during which she broke her right hand, abruptly ending her season.

Undaunted, she came back stronger than ever the following year, winning virtually every race she entered. But bad luck would strike again, this time in the form of a near fatal crash during the first stage of the 2005 Cascade Classic in central Oregon. Leah was clipped by another rider on a 70km/hr descent and landed face first on the asphalt, with several other cyclists falling on top of her. Her injuries included a broken pelvis, several broken ribs, a broken cheek, ankle and right arm, a dislocated and broken shoulder, the loss of 5 teeth and near loss of the tip of her left thumb and her top lip, as well as severe road rash over most of her body. She spent two weeks receiving multiple surgeries in a hospital in Bend before she could be moved back home to Vancouver, where she was again admitted to hospital for further observation.

Doctors said it was a miracle she had survived the impact. At the very least, the accident would have ended the career of most athletes. But not Leah’s. Determined as ever to prove wrong physicians, sports psychologists and those in the cycling community who told her she would never ride again, much less on a professional level, she began to train the second she was released from the hospital.
Exactly three weeks after the crash, stubborn as ever and with only partial use of her left leg and arm, she completed her first lap around her former high school’s track in her wheelchair, having convinced her mom and sister to take her there despite their protests. Another week later, she was up to 12 wheelchair laps and a thirteenth tentative one on a crutch. The following week saw her spinning on a stationary recumbent bike for five minutes at the gym and within two months of the accident, she was walking with crutches and was up to level 16 on a LifeCycle stationary bike. By October, she was back on her road bike.
Leah’s doctors were astounded by her rapid and remarkable recovery, but the cycling industry was still skeptical. No one would sign her, so she decided to go it alone in 2006, making it her best year to date, with 12 major wins, including two record-breaking hill climbs, an overall win at the prestigious Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and the first of four consecutive Israeli National Championship titles. It had become abundantly clear by now to all those involved that you don’t tell Leah Goldstein what she can and cannot do. It wasn’t long before she began to get offers from professional teams again.

In the fall of 2009, at her first official ultra endurance race, the Furnace Creek 508 in California, Leah was the only woman to finish under the worst conditions in the event’s history. Battling headwinds gusting up to 60mph during an arduous overnight traverse of Death Valley, she crossed the finish line in 6th place overall, with a time faster than even the majority of the relay teams.

Leah recently completed the infamous Race Across America. Dubbed “the World’s Toughest Bicycle Race,” the formidable 3000 mile course took her from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD in June of 2011. Almost half of the solo riders typically never finish the race, but Leah won Best Overall Female, Best in Age Group, Queen of the Mountains, Queen of the Prairies, and Rookie of the Year, despite suffering from a debilitating case of Shermer’s Neck after Day 4, a condition under which the neck muscles give out, making it impossible to hold up the head without assistance.

For more on Leah, see her website from which this posting is excerpted.