Jacob Farj Rafael Jacob (1923-2016) was born in Calcutta, India to a wealthy, religious Iraqi-Jewish family. Growing up, he had private Hebrew tutors before being sent to study at a prestigious boarding school. In 1941, Jacob heard reports of what was happening to Europe’s Jews, and decided to enlist in the Indian Army (then still under British command) to help the war effort. After graduating from officer’s training he was posted in Iraq to fend off an impending Nazi invasion. When the invasion was averted, Jacob’s unit was posted in North Africa, then transferred to Burma to fight the Japanese. Following the war, Jacob continued his military career and traveled to England to train at an advanced artillery school. In 1947, India achieved its independence, and Jacob returned to serve in its new army. By 1963, he had the rank of Brigadier, and two years later commanded the 12 Infantry Division in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. Using his experiences in this war, Jacob produced a training manual on desert warfare for the Indian Army. By the end of the 1960’s, Jacob was a Major General and Chief of Staff. In 1971, the Pakistani army suppressed a Bengali rebellion in its eastern territories, massacring as many as three million people. Jacob devised a military plan to put an end to the conflict, and commanded the invasion that defeated the Pakistanis. He personally flew to Dhaka to meet the Pakistani general Niazi, and bluffed him into surrendering his 93,000 troops, thus saving a bloody battle that would have likely taken countless lives. Jacob became a huge war hero and a household name across India and the newly-formed independent state of Bangladesh. He continued to serve in the Indian Army until 1978, and retired following 37 years of service. Jacob joined a political party and ultimately became governor of Goa and then Punjab. As governor, he focused on taking care of the poor, and saving the beloved forests from mining companies. His work also helped to formalize and improve relations between India and Israel, and paved the way for Indian-Israeli military cooperation. He visited Israel on several occasions, and even contributed family heirlooms to multiple Israeli museums. Sadly, Jacob passed away last week. His funeral at New Delhi’s Jewish cemetery was attended by top military and political figures. Jacob devoted his entire life to India, and died a single man, having never married or built a family. Click here to read more about his incredible life.
Words of the Week
The only place I encountered anti-Semitism was from the British in their army. Among Indians it does not exist. – Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob
Ruth Gruber (b. 1911) was born in Brooklyn to Russian-Jewish immigrants. By 15 she was already studying at New York University, and at 20 received a doctorate from the University of Cologne, which many believe made her the youngest person in the world to hold a Ph.D. While studying in Germany, she experienced Nazism first hand, and brought back some of the earliest accounts of these horrors to the US. Having always dreamed of being a writer, Gruber finally began her writing career in 1932. A few years later, she was among the first foreign correspondents in the Soviet Union. During World War II, Gruber served as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior. The seminal moment of her life came in 1944, when she was sent on a special mission to save 1000 Jewish refugees and American soldiers trapped in Italy. Their convoy of 29 ships sailed through treacherous waters and managed to arrive safely in the US. To protect her in case she was captured, she was awarded the rank of “General” (and therefore could not be killed by enemy soldiers according to the Geneva Conventions). This was America’s one and only mission to save Jews during the entire war. Gruber later helped these Jews gain the necessary documentation to stay in the US and not be deported. After the war, Gruber returned to journalism and was stationed in Israel for a time. She witnessed, photographed, and covered the famous voyage of the Exodus that carried 4500 Jewish refugees. She later assisted in the plight of Ethiopian Jewry. Gruber went on to write 19 books and many popular articles. She has won numerous awards for her work, and in 2010 a documentary about her life was released. Gruber will soon celebrate her 103rd birthday. She has been described as a “scholar, writer, journalist and humanitarian, a world class photojournalist.”
UPDATE: Sadly, Ruth Gruber passed away in November of 2016.
Words of the Week
Figure out what you’re willing to die for. Then live for it. – Rabbi Noach Weinberg
Shimon Kazarnofsky (1922-2012) was born in Lithuania. His parents immigrated to Israel in 1925 when he was just three years old. At 15, he joined the Jewish Underground and fought valiantly to establish the State of Israel. With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade and would receive four medals for his bravery in fighting the Nazis. Stationed in Italy at the end of the war, he stayed in Europe to run underground operations: hunting escaped Nazis and smuggling Jewish refugees to Israel. At the onset of the Independence War, Kazarnofsky (now going by his new Hebraized last name, Erem) returned to Israel and organized the first Officer’s School of the Israeli Army. He battled (and was wounded) on both the Jordanian and Egyptian fronts. In 1956 he commandeered the Sinai War, then served in 1967 as commander of special forces in the Six-Day War. Despite moving to California in 1970 (where his wife is from), he immediately returned to Israel in 1973 to fight in the Yom Kippur War. Erem finally retired from the military with the rank of Brigadier General, and returned to the United States where he worked tirelessly to raise support for Israel. He once said, “Every morning when I get up, I ask myself: What can I do to help Israel today?” Sadly, Erem passed away last Sunday.
Words of the Week
… I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations… They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more, and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.
– President John Adams, in a letter to F.A. Van Der Kemp, 16 February 1809