Israel’s first general since Judah Maccabee
1. David Daniel Marcus was born in New York in 1901 to immigrant parents. He learned boxing for self-protection in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he went to school. He was admitted to West Point in 1920 and graduated in 1924 with an outstanding record.
2. After active service, Marcus attended law school. In the 1930s he served as federal attorney in New York and helped bring Lucky Luciano to justice. Mayor LaGuardia named him Commissioner of Corrections for New York City.
3. In 1940, he went back into the army. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to fight in the war. He parachuted into Normandy, saw fighting service, and helped draw up the surrender terms for the Axis powers.
4. The year was 1944: Marcus was in charge of planning how to sustain the lives of those in the areas to be liberated. He was responsible for the prisoners in the death camps; he entered the camps, coming face-to-face with the survivors and the dead. After the war, he was named chief of the War Crimes Division, planning for the Nurenberg trials. These experiences, as might be expected, turned him into a Zionist.
5. While the United Nations deliberated over the establishment of the State of Israel, Marcus was serving as a colonel in the US Army. He was wooed by Yitzhak Shamir to help pull together a ragtag set of citizen-soldiers into a fighting force. In January 1948, “Michael Stone” arrived in Tel Aviv, using the assumed name to satisfy the US authorities and to avoid problems with what remained of the British Mandatory authority.
6. He designed a command structure for the new army, wrote training manuals and identified weak positions. When, in May 1948, the new state was attacked by Arab armies, the new army of Israel was ready.
7. Marcus had prescribed hit-and-run tactics with the Egyptian army, a technique that worked well in the south. As commander of the Jerusalem front, he broke the siege of that city by building a new road – the “Burma Road” – to bring in supplies to the Jewish defenders; the Arab siege was broken just before the cease-fire took effect. Israel’s borders were kept virtually intact.
8. As a commander he inspired confidence in his men. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister [see my blogpost of October 9, 2013], named him Lieutenant General, the first general in the army of Israel in nearly two thousand years.
9. He did not live to see the peace. Six hours before the cease-fire, he was killed by friendly fire.
11. A biography about him was written in 1962 by Ted Berkman, Cast a Giant Shadow. A movie of the same name came out in 1966.
12. Kibbutz Mishman David and the neighborhood Neve David in Tel Aviv are named for him, as is the Colonel David Marcus Memorial Playground in Brooklyn.
In Haifa you’ll find David Marcus Street in French Carmel, just east of Tchernichovsky Street.