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Eliazar Margolin - An Anzac Zionist Hero
By Rodney Goutman
Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky are still familiar names in Israel, but few have ever heard of Colonel Patterson, commander of the Zion Mule Corps at Gallipoli and later of the Jewish battalions of the Royal Fusiliers in 1918.
Fewer still have ever heard of Eliazar Margolin, a Russian-born farmer from Rehovot who became an officer in the Australian army and won a Distinguished Service Order and several commendations for his frontline leadership at Gallipoli. Major Margolin, thrice wounded, was due to be sent home by the Australians when he transferred to the British Army to be appointed lieutenant-colonel in command of one of the Jewish Fusilier battalions, which he led in the battle for E-Salt in Trans-Jordan. But in 1921 he was deported to Australia by the British administration in Palestine, following his intervention in the Jaffa riots. He never returned.
Lazar Margolin (1875-1944) ran away to Palestine when he was 16. In Rehovot he was befriended by Moshe Smilansky, who, half a century ago, told me about Margolin.
Margolin grew grapes and enjoyed the life of a halutz (pioneer). But when the local economy collapsed in 1902 he was forced to sell his land; broke, he set out to make a new life in Western Australia. He became a naturalized Australian and joined the citizen force, a militia that later became the backbone of the volunteer Australian Imperial Force (AIF) that went to fight for Britain abroad. How this immigrant with a pronounced Russian accent obtained a commission in the Australian militia is not explained here.
In 1914 hundreds of Jews volunteered for the AIF, among them militiamen like Captain Margolin and Lt.-Col. John Monash, later General Officer Commanding the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac). Margolin was 40 when he sailed for the Suez Canal; Monash was 54.
Much of this book is devoted to known facts about early Zionist efforts, the hostility of Allenby's staff officers and the Mandate's officials to Jews.
How Margolin did so well as an officer is not explained. In fact, apart from the bare bones of biography, he does not come alive at all.
Author Goutman has little flair for narrative and tends to confuse military terms. Further, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, one of the Fusiliers and Israel's second president, was never prime minister, as Goutman claims twice.
In Australia, Margolin remained active in veterans' associations. His ashes were brought to Israel by his Australian wife and interred in Rehovot. His sword and medals are in the museum at Moshav Avihayil. Long ago, Moshe Smilansky based a story on him.