For years, there has been a debate about whether Zionist hero Joseph Trumpeldor actually uttered the famous declaration attributed to him moments before he died of his wounds defending the Jewish settlement at Tel Hai in 1920: “It is good to die for our country.” But a handwritten letter from Trumpeldor to a bereaved father that is now being put up for sale by the King David Auction House proves that even if he never said those words, he believed in the sentiment.

In a letter to the father of one of the soldiers killed in the battle, Trumpeldor writes, “I understand that your heart is full of pain, but know that your son fell as a hero for the sake of the people of Israel and for the Land of Israel.”

The story began in April 1915, when the British Army established its Zion Mule Corps and Trumpeldor was appointed deputy commander of the regiment. That is where he first met one Binyamin Wertheimer, the son of an ultra-Orthodox family from Jerusalem, who volunteered to serve with the battalion.

Joseph Trumpeldor. Credit: Wikipedia.

“Every day, new comrades joined our ranks,” wrote Trumpeldor. “When young Wertheimer came, accompanied by his father, a skinny, uncared-for youth, his comrades immediately surrounded him and laughed at his long peyote [sidelocks], his dress, and his weak back.”

Wertheimer was shy, but despite his physical weakness proved himself to be a good soldier. Before the battalion departed for the front at Gallipoli, Wertheimer told Trumpeldor that he was afraid he would suffer a mental breakdown during the battle “and bring shame upon the legion, upon the Jews.”

But in the moment of truth—which occurred that July—Wertheimer became a hero.

“When Wertheimer appeared with his mules, the enemy kept up its fire. Wertheimer continued calmly. Another few steps and Wertheimer found cover and would reach his goal. But then, suddenly, he lost balance, made a great effort, took another few steps, and collapsed.”

A week later, Wertheimer succumbed to his wounds and was buried in Alexandria.

Some six months after his death, Trumpeldor received a letter from the dead soldier’s father, Yehoshua, in which he asked Trumpeldor to send him his son’s tefillin (phylacteries).

“The letter did not contain a shred of self-flagellation or an outcry of grief. The man from Jerusalem bravely showed his love for the land of Israel,” Trumpeldor wrote.

Trumpeldor responded to Yehoshua in Hebrew, because Yehoshua did not speak or read Russian. The letter is believed to have been one of only a few Trumpeldor wrote in Hebrew.

Bidding on the letter starts at $100,000. The auction will be held on Monday, June 24.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.