On Bloody Paths

By S. Cohen, translated by Dan Setzer

In April of 1917, the United States entered the Great War that had been raging in Europe for over three years.

We are used to reading stories and watching movies showing enthusiastic, patriotic young men rushing to enlist in the Army to serve their beloved country. We are not used to considering the large immigrant populations that were also called to serve their adopted country.

As a young man, S. Cohen had only been in the United States for seven years. Most of that time was spent bent over his workbench at the watch factory. Now he was being called to risk his life and possibly die for a country he knew little about, except that it had provided him shelter from an even harder life in Russia.

What motivated him? The Balfour Declaration and the promise of independence for Palestine. It is only alluded to in the selected passages below, but he and the other Jewish soldiers in his unit were enamored of the Jewish Legion fighting for the British in Eretz Israel.

On Bloody Paths Illo.jpg
An illustration from On Bloody Paths

In these selections, Cohen is in France and his first encounters with the war-weary citizens foreshadow the incredible hardships and dangers ahead. His unit then moves toward the front amid booming guns, rain, cold, mud, and panicked horses. He encounters soldiers returning from battle and gets his first glimpse of the horrors of war that he will soon be experiencing first-hand.

His descriptions of combat later in the book are unsentimental, brutal and graphic. His sacrifices and the sacrifices of the other Jewish soldiers are all the more tragic and barren due to the British refusal to free Palestine after the war was won.

—Dan Setzer