Mickey Marcus

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David Daniel Marcus
Nickname(s) "Mickey"
Born (1901-02-22)February 22, 1901
Manhattan, New York
Died June 10, 1948(1948-06-10) (aged 47)
Abu Ghosh, Israel
Buried at West Point Cemetery
West Point, New York
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Israel Israel Defense Forces
Years of service 1924–1948
Rank Colonel (USA)
Aluf (IDF)

World War II

1948 Arab-Israeli War

David Daniel "Mickey" Marcus (22 February 1901 – 10 June 1948) was a United States Army colonel who assisted Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and who became Israel's first modern general[1] (Hebrew: Aluf). He was killed by friendly fire, when he was mistaken for an enemy infiltrator while returning to Israeli positions at night.

Marcus is the best known Israeli Machal soldier. He was portrayed in the 1966 Hollywood movie Cast a Giant Shadow that starred Kirk Douglas as Marcus.[2]

Early life[edit]

Marcus's parents, Mordechai Marcus and Leah (née Goldstein), came from Iași, Romania. Born on Hester Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Marcus was bright and athletic. He attended Boys' High School, in Brooklyn, and was then accepted at West Point in 1920 and graduated with the class of 1924. After completing his active duty requirement, he attended Brooklyn Law School. He spent most of the 1930s as an Assistant United States Attorney in New York, prosecuting gangsters such as Lucky Luciano. New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia named Marcus Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction for the City of New York in 1940.

World War II[edit]

After leaving active duty, Marcus continued his army service as a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps in the Organized Reserve Corps. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was recalled to active duty. He served initially as executive officer to the military governor of Hawaii. He was assigned ultimately to Civil Affairs in Washington whose mission was to plan for the establishment of occupation governments after Axis-occupied territories were liberated. Despite having no paratrooper training, Marcus volunteered for the D-Day invasion and parachuted into Normandy.[3]

Marcus helped draw up the surrender terms for Italy and Germany and became part of the occupation government in Berlin after 1945. During that time, Marcus was placed in charge of planning how to sustain the starving millions in areas liberated by the Allies, and clearing out the Nazi concentration camps.

He was subsequently named chief of the War Crimes Division, planning legal and security procedures for the Nuremberg trials.

Israeli military career[edit]

US Col. Mickey Marcus in 1948, the first modern Israeli general (Aluf).

In 1947, David Ben-Gurion asked Marcus to recruit an American officer to serve as military advisor to the nascent Jewish army, the Haganah. He could not recruit anyone suitable, so Marcus volunteered himself. In 1948, the United States War Department informally acquiesced to Marcus' undertaking, provided he disguised his name and rank to avoid problems with the British authorities of Mandate Palestine.[citation needed]

Under the nom de guerre "Michael Stone", he arrived in Palestine in January 1948, facing the Arab armies surrounding the soon-to-be declared State of Israel.

There, he designed a command and control structure for Israel, adapting his war experiences at the early Ranger school established in the Pacific theater to its special needs. He identified Israel's weakest points in the Negev south, and Jerusalem.

Marcus was appointed as Commander of the Jerusalem front on May 28, 1948, and given the rank of Aluf. (Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War, "Aluf" was equivalent to a Brigadier General. In the present-day IDF table of ranks, Aluf" is equivalent to major general.)[4] As no ranks were granted to Israeli high command at that time, he became the first general in the fledgling nation's army (see Israel Defense Forces).

He participated in planning Operation Bin Nun Bet and Operation Yoram against the Latrun fort held by the Transjordan Legion, which controlled the road and prevented Israeli troops from supplying Jerusalem, which was under siege.[5] While both attacks failed, Marcus helped plan and execute a makeshift winding road through the difficult mountains to Jerusalem—known as the "Burma Road" (named after the road built by 200,000 Chinese laborers during the Second Sino-Japanese War that later served the Allies to transport goods from Burma to China during World War II). This allowed additional men and equipment in to break the Arab siege just before the previously negotiated United Nations cease fire took effect on June 11, 1948.


Memorial Plaque for Colonel David Marcus at Union Temple of Brooklyn

A few hours before the cease fire, Marcus returned to his Central Front headquarters. He and his commanders were billeted in the monks' quarters of the abandoned Monastere Notre Dame de la Nouvelle Alliance in Abu Ghosh.[6] Shortly before 4:00 a.m., a sentry, Eliezer Linski, eighteen years old, and a one-year Palmach veteran, challenged Marcus, who he saw as a figure in white. When Marcus failed to respond with the password, Linski fired in the air and the man ran towards the monastery. He fired at the man, as did one or more fighters in a nearby sentry post. Marcus was found dead, wrapped in a white blanket. As an American Jew, Marcus knew very little Hebrew and failed to understand the Hebrew challenge, and Linski did not understand Marcus who responded in English.[7] Marcus wore no rank, although officers had been recognized by a ribbon pinned to their uniforms. As Marcus's body was removed from Abu Ghosh, a ribbon was found and placed on his casket.

His body was returned to the United States for burial, accompanied by Moshe Dayan and his wife Ruth, Yoseph Harel, and the wife of his aide de camp, Alex Broida.[8]

Ben-Gurion was suspicious of the initial report that Marcus had been shot accidentally.[9] The Haganah was composed of several factions whose lack of consensus over strategy and tactics was one of the reasons for Marcus's appointment as commander for Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion suspected that elements in the Palmach may have conspired to kill Marcus so he would be replaced. On the same day Marcus was shot, Ben-Gurion summoned Yaakov Shimshon Shapira—later Israel's Attorney General—and asked him to investigate the incident. Shapira's investigation was cursory. Despite conflicting reports concerning the number of shots fired, how many wounds Marcus suffered, whether the fatal wound could have been caused by Linski's rifle, and how and why Marcus may have been outside the monastery, he concluded that Linski shot Marcus in the line of duty. The report has never been made public.[10]


Marcus' grave is the only one in the West Point Cemetery at the United States Military Academy for an American killed fighting under the flag of another country. His gravestone at West Point reads: "Colonel David Marcus—a Soldier for All Humanity". A memorial plaque in his honor is located in the lobby of the Union Temple of Brooklyn where his funeral service was conducted. It reads "Killed in action in the hills of Zion while leading Israeli forces as their supreme commander in the struggle for Israel's freedom—Blessed is the match that is consumed in kindling flame/ Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart/ Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake/ Blessed is the match that is consumed in kindling flame—Dedicated by his fellow members of Union Temple of Brooklyn December 9, 1949." Ben-Gurion wrote to Marcus's wife Emma in Brooklyn, New York: "Marcus was the best man we had".[11] On May 10, 1951, Ben-Gurion laid a wreath at the Marcus grave, accompanied by Emma Marcus.[12] In January 2015 Israel's President, Reuven Rivlin, visited the United States Military Academy at West Point and spoke at Marcus' grave: "For me, he was the first general of the IDF in every sense of the word. He had a sense of purpose and mission, in the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces, he taught us how to act as an army in our early days, and was one of Ben-Gurion’s greatest military advisors. There is no one who better illustrates the strong bond between Israel and the United States."[13]

Kibbutz Mishmar David and the neighborhood of Neve David in Tel Aviv as well as numerous streets are named after him.[5] Colonel David Marcus Memorial Playground, on the north side of Avenue P between East 4th Street and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn is also named after him. 40°36′35″N 73°58′11″W / 40.60970°N 73.96959°W / 40.60970; -73.96959 (Colonel David Marcus Memorial Playground)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Jewish Historical Society. "Mickey Marcus: Israel's American General". Archived from the original on 2012-03-29. Ben Gurion named Mickey Marcus Lieutenant General, the first general in the army of Israel in nearly two thousand years. 
  2. ^ Ted Berkman, Cast a Giant Shadow (Doubleday, 1962). Berkman's biography is the only comprehensive biography of Marcus. It was the source for the movie by the same name.
  3. ^ Brody, Seymour. "A Hero In Both America And Israel". Florida Atlantic University Library. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  4. ^ » David "Mickey" Marcus
  5. ^ a b Isseroff, Ami (September 2008). "Mickey Marcus". http://zionism-israel.com. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  6. ^ Dan Kurzman, Genesis 1948, The First Arab Israeli War, 439 (1970)
  7. ^ Kurzman, 439-440; Mickey Marcus
  8. ^ Shabtai Zeveth, Moshe Dayan, The Soldier, The Man, The Legend, 149 (1972).
  9. ^ Kurzman, 441-442.
  10. ^ Kurzman, 443. Kurzman relates that he obtained access to the report in Zahal archives "only after the greatest difficulty."
  11. ^ Berkman.
  12. ^ "Israeli Wreath Is Laid by Prime Minister On West Point Grave of Col. David Marcus". New York Times. May 11, 1951. 
  13. ^ Rivlin Stresses US-Israel Relationship During West Point Visit Israel National News, 26 Jan 2015

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