The following excerpt was written by Zev Jabotinsky in Warsaw, Poland on Tisha BeAv in 1937, TWO years before the Nazis invaded Poland.
“It is already THREE years that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry, who are the crown of World Jewry. I continue to warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer. I became grey and old in these years, my heart bleeds, that you, dear brother and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all consuming lava. I see that you are not seeing this because you are immersed and sunk in your daily worries. Today, however, I demand from you trust. You were convinced already that my prognoses have already proven to be right. If you think differently, then drive me out of your midst! However, if you do believe me, then listen to me in this twelfth hour: In the name of G-d! Let anyone of you save himself, as long as there is still time, and time there is very little. What else I would like to say to you on this day of Tisha BeAv is whoever of you will escape from the catastrophe, he or she will live to see the exalted moment of a great Jewish wedding – the rebirth and rise of a Jewish state. I don’t know if I will be privileged to see it, but my son will! I believe in this, as I am sure that tomorrow morning the sun will rise. Eliminate the diaspora or the diaspora will surely eliminate you.”
Zeev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky was born on October 17, 1880 in Odessa, Russia. At age 18, he left for Italy and Switzerland to study law, where he also served as a correspondent for several well known Russian newspapers. His dispatches and articles were widely read, bringing him recognition as one of the most brilliant Russian journalists. Jabotinsky signed each dispatch and article with his literary pseudonym Altalena.
The horrors of the 1903 pogrom against the Jews of Kishinev had the profound effect of spurring Jabotinsky’s Zionist pursuits. He became a pivotal force in organizing self defense units and fighting for Jewish minority rights in Russia. Jabotinsky was elected as a delegate to the 6th Zionist Congress, the last in which Theodor Herzl participated. During this period, Jabotinsky championed the spread of Hebrew language and culture throughout Russia, as well as the establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he left for the front as a newspaper correspondent. While in Alexandria, his meeting with Joseph Trumpeldor sparked the beginning of his unflagging efforts to establish a Jewish Legion. Jabotinsky was singularly intent upon this goal, and refused to divert the plan by creating an auxiliary unit instead. Following diligent endeavors in London, final confirmation was received in August 1917 to create the first Jewish Legion. Jabotinsky also served in the British army as a lieutenant, seeing duty in the assault on the Jordan River crossings in the campaign to free Eretz Israel (Palestine) from Turkish rule. During Passover, 1920, Jabotinsky headed the Hagana in Jerusalem against Arab rioters, and was condemned by the British Mandatory Government to 15 years hard labor. Following a public outcry against the verdict, he received amnesty and was released from Acre prison.
From 1921, Jabotinsky served as a member of the Zionist Executive and became one of the founders of “Keren Hayesod.” Following a series of policy disagreements on the direction of the Zionist Movement, however, he seceded. In 1925, Jabotinsky established the Union of Zionists Revisionists (Hatzohar), which called for the immediate establishment of a Jewish State.
In 1923, the youth movement Betar (Brith Joseph Trumpeldor) was created. The new youth movement, with Jabotinsky at its head, imbued its members with a military and nationalistic spirit. During the years 1928-1929, he resided in Palestine and edited the Hebrew daily “Doar Hayom,” while undertaking increased political activity. When Jabotinsky left Eretz Israel (Palestine) on a lecture tour in 1929, the British administration denied him re-entry into the country. From that point until his death in 1940, Jabotinsky resided in the Diaspora.
In 1935, after the Zionist Executive rejected his political program and refused to clearly define the aim of Zionism as “the establishment of a Jewish state,” Jabotinsky resigned from the Zionist Movement. He later founded the New Zionist Organization (N.Z.O), which purported independent political activity for free immigration and the establishment of a Jewish State.
In 1937, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, also known as Etzel or Irgun, became the military arm of the Jabotinsky movement, with him as its commander. The three entities headed by Jabotinsky, the New Zionist Organization, the Betar youth movement and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, were the three operative extensions of the Jabotinsky movement. The New Zionist Organization served as the political arm, maintaining contacts with governments and other political bodies. Betar educated Diaspora youth for the liberation and building of Eretz Israel, and the Irgun Tzvai Leumi was the military arm fighting the enemies of Zionism. These three entities synchronized their efforts in organizing the Af Al Pi illegal immigration. This dramatic, intricate rescue effort involved over 30 ships setting sail from European ports to bring tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to Eretz Israel.
Throughout this period of intense political activity, Jabotinsky continued to write prolific poetry, novels, short stories and articles on politics, social and economic problems. Among his works, The Jewish Legion, Prelude to Delilah (Samson) and The Five served as particularly profound inspirations for Jews of the Diaspora. Jabotinsky was fluent in many languages and translated some of world literature’s best known classics into Hebrew.
During 1939-1940, Jabotinsky was active in Britain and the United States in endeavoring to establish a Jewish army to fight alongside the Allies against Nazi Germany.
On August 4, 1940, while visiting the Betar camp in New York, Zeev Jabotinsky suffered a massive, fatal heart attack. His will stipulated the request to be buried in Eretz Israel, only at the express order of the Hebrew Government of the future Jewish State. His last will and testament was indeed fulfilled by Levi Eshkol, Israel’s third Prime Minister: in 1964, Jabotinsky’s remains and those of his wife Jeanne were re-interred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Zeev Jabotinsky will be inscribed in the annals of the history of the Jewish People as a distinguished politician, journalist and philosopher. A visionary and inspirational leader who fought unceasingly and passionately for the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish People.