2010. Publishers: American Veterans of Israel Legacy Corp. with the American Jewish Historical Society. 36 pages.
NIS 30, $ 10.
Reviewed by Carol Novis
In the pantheon of heroes who have helped build the State of Israel, few have been more colorful than Col. David (Mickey) Marcus, the American officer who was recruited in 1947 as military advisor to David Ben-Gurion and the underground Haganah forces, and who played a significant role in the success of the War of Independence.
Not only did he serve as Supreme Commander of the Jerusalem Front, but his vivid, larger-than-life personality made him unforgettable. He was a West Point graduate – an unusual career choice for the son of Yiddish-speaking immigrants – a prizewinning welterweight boxer and a hard drinker with a sense of humor, who fraternized with everyone. (No wonder some people thought he was half-Irish.) That was one side of him; the other side was his formidable intellect, military and legal acumen and absolute devotion to the country of his birth and to Israel.
A year after his death by accidental shooting in June 1948, Ben-Gurion decided to honor his memory by publishing a written tribute, and instructed the army Publications Department to interview those who had known and worked with him.
The young American assigned to the task was Zipporah Porath, who had arrived in Jerusalem in 1947 in order to study at the Hebrew University, and then, caught up by events, joined the Haganah, served as a medic during the siege of Jerusalem and remained to make her life here.
Zipporah interviewed many of those who knew Marcus (though not Marcus himself.) The material was never published, but now, some 60 years later, she has written a fascinating pamphlet which is based on those interviews. Produced by American Veterans of Israel Legacy Corp in cooperation with the American Jewish Historical Society, the booklet makes use of material from the interviews she had conducted with officers and soldiers who served with him and others whose lives he touched.
The facts of his life are unbelievable enough, but what make this pamphlet mesmerizing reading are the anecdotes that pepper its pages.
Marcus was born in Brooklyn in 1901, the youngest of six children. He was a natural athlete and at West Point, won the Intercollegiate Welterweight title. After graduating in 1924 he served in the military and then studied law. His career was spectacular: by age 34, he had become the youngest judge on the New York bench. When World War II broke out, Marcus re-enlisted, became a Pentagon planner and after Pearl Harbor, executive officer to the military governor of Hawaii. He was with the forces in Normandy on D-Day and after the war was responsible for clearing out the Nazi death camps. He was an advisor to President Roosevelt at Yalta and to President Truman at Potsdam and set up the Nuremberg Trials. In 1947, at age 46, he returned home, ostensibly to a quiet law practice.
But then, Haganah heads had the brilliant idea of recruiting military experts in the US to help create a modern army for the soon-to-be-created Jewish state. Marcus, who had seen for himself the Nazi concentration camps, couldn't say no. In January 1948, "Mickey Stone" the nom de guerre he assumed, dropped everything and left for Palestine.
Not everyone thought he had that much to offer. Yigal Yadin (whom Marcus called "Eagle" in a comic mispronunciation of his first name) initially thought that an American could never understand the nature of the Palmach and what it had to face. He changed his mind the first time Marcus spoke to his rag-tag troops and told them they were one of the best armies he had ever seen in the world and with such men, victory was in the bag. A soldier in the unit recalled, "It raised our morale immediately. It went straight to the hearts of the men."
In his first report to Ben-Gurion, Marcus said, "I found less than I expected and more than I had hoped for," meaning the caliber of the human material.
Marcus stressed organization and streamlining the chain of command and he wrote training manuals that are still in use today. Ben-Gurion was so impressed that he wrote, "the expert.. has been a great blessing to us. It would be good if you could send at least more like him – and at once." And Marcus in turn felt fulfillment here. Zipporah quotes an acquaintance: "He seemed to have fallen in love with the whole Israeli experience. He found himself here."
This was in spite of the fact that Marcus's Hebrew vocabulary consisted of four words – shalom, be'seder, tov me'od and zu'yan (metzuyan).
Many people asked Marcus why he came. According to Zipporah, his standard reply was "See these veins? The blood of Abraham flows through them. That's what brought me here." Another of his favorite replies was "You gotta help your brother out in a fight."
Marcus helped the Palmach free the Negev and then took part in building a bypass road (The Burma Road) to relieve besieged Jerusalem. He was appointed Supreme Commander of the Jerusalem Front with the rank of Aluf, the first General in Jewish history to lead four brigades in an all-out operation.
But two weeks later, on June 11, he was tragically shot by a sentry, a new immigrant who had trouble recognizing the Hebrew password. He was one of 40 Americans and Canadians, MACHAL volunteers, who lost their lives in the War of Independence.
How lucky for Israel that it was able to inspire men of the caliber of Mickey Marcus to fight on our behalf. And how lucky for us that Zipporah Porath was able to make his story come alive.