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.

Foa, Edouard – French Jewish Explorer of Africa In The Late 1800’s

Edouard Foa

In 1880 Edouard Foa, at 19 years old, left his homeland of France for the wilds of Algeria, where he spent three years mapping the unknown reaches of its rivers. When he came home in 1885, having also explored the French Congo, he was famous, and was decorated with the highest award of the Paris Geographical Society, La Grande Medaille d’Or.

Then he was invited by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of Colonies to make a crossing of Africa from the Indian to the Atlantic ocean. His main exploration started in Gazaland, a little known part of Mozambique. His caravan had 380 members. But many times he would leave the caravan and make detours on his own, often at risk to his life. He started crossing Africa at the mouth of Zambezi, in 1894. For several months the expedition made its way up the Zambezi. There were long halts when the white men went off shooting big game. Foa ranks as one of the greatest hunters that have ever lived in Africa, something nowadays that we might not feel positive about. With a single gun he managed in two years to kill 30 elephants. Altogether his expedition secured for the Paris Zoological Museum several hundred specimens of African animals, including some that were very rare.
Edouard found that the great Lake Nyassa was wrongly marked on the charts, and he found the source of the Zambezi, a place which geographers had argued about for centuries.
In the effort to reach the great tributary of the Congo, the Kasai, he encountered great difficulties, the bearers refusing to undergo further hardships in the mountain. But he decided to cross the heart of the warlike and untamed Wanyambezi country, a home of cannibals. For 20 days he and his men trekked through the giant Congo Forest. Foa was the first white man to see these particular regions.
Finally, after a five and half months journey by canoe, the expedition reached Stanley Pool, and went on to Gabon, where in Dec. 12, 1897, the crossing of Africa was complete.
Foa wrote a book on hunting, full of excellent yarns, and some other books, His health, however, was broken, so he returned to Africa to seek the sun, but he died at the early age of 39 on June 29, 1901. (source "Rhodesian Jewry and Its Story – by Eric Rosenthal – you can find this document on the internet)

Blum, Arlene – Jewish Climber of the Highest Mountains In The World

Arlene Blum

Arlene Blum has often asked herself "What’s a nice Jewish girl from the Midwest doing at 21,000 feet, going down a knife-edged ridge all alone?"

Arlene organized and helped lead the first all-woman climb up Denali in Alaska.

She was also the first American woman to attempt Mt. Everest in 1976.

Two years later, she led the first-ever team of women up Annapurna.
One day she watched the movie "The Endless Summer", about three exuberant California surfers traveling the world in search of the perfect wave, and this gave her the idea of the "Endless Winter".

Beginning with autumn ascents in the European Alps, she could climb during the winter in Africa, spring in Iran and Kashmir, summer in Afghanistan, fall in Nepal, stop at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, then spend our winter in New Zealand and finish off in the South Pacific, exploring mountains under the sea with scuba gear.

She carried this plan out with some companions, and she sums it up: "At a time when U.S. travelers rarely ventured outside Europe and the Americas, we had found our way around the world month by month, carrying out expedition after expedition in some of the most spectacular mountain ranges on earth.

We had made three first ascents and had climbed higher than 23,000 feet."

She notes that the mountains in Ethiopia, Uganda, Iran, Kashmir and Afghanistan shortly after this became inaccessible to foreign climbers.
Arlene has also planned and went on a marvelous adventure trek along the Himalayas in Bhutan, Nepal, India, etc.
On the down side, Arlene lost some of her closest friends to avalanches and other disasters.

She also has a doctorate in biophysical chemistry and is responsible for having several toxic chemicals, used in children’s sleepwear, banned. She also did research in protein folding, and got one of her ideas by watching ice melt in the mountains – this gave her the idea of heating a ribonuclease and then cooling it rapidly to view it in a "partly folded" state.
Her website is at www.arleneblum.com.

Bernheim, Louis (A Jewish Belgian general in WWI)

Louis Bernheim

General Louis Bernheim was born Sept 1, 1861 in a suburb of Brussels, Belgium. By the age of 19, he had become a second lieutenant in the grenadier guards. Before he was 30, he was appointed to the chairs of military history and geography in the Royal military academy.

He wanted to be in active service, not teaching, and so in 1901 he left teaching and went back to active service. In 1904 he was promoted to major.

When WWI broke out in 1914, he was a colonel, and commanded the 4th infantry regiment based in Antwerp. In Nov 1914 he was appointed as commander of the third brigade group.

He commanded on the frontline, which was unusual in WWI, since most leaders stayed in the rear.

He and his entire units were so distinguished in those battles that the king awarded both to him and to the regiment the Leopold order.

In one of the trenches he was terribly wounded by shrapnel which exploded near him, a splinter of which penetrated his back near his spine. He was so eager to serve that 2 months after this he returned to active service.

This led to his being appointed to general and commander of the Belgian first army.

He helped the allied attack breaking through the forest of Houthulst, which until those days was considered impassible.

When Louis died, the cortege was followed by King Albert, his son Leopold, and all the ministers of the country as well as the elites of the country.

The final speech at his grave was by Count de Brockeville, the minister of war who said “his service to the fatherland, and his high abilities will survive for all eternity.”