Ha-Balkan Ha-Bo‘er (The Balkans in Flames)
Serving the Adopted Motherland in the Balkan Wars
Ha-Balkan Ha-Bo‘er (The Balkans in Flames), the memoirs of Yitzhak Halperin, are at the center of this article. Born in Palestine in 1890, Halperin was part of the so-called “first generation” – meaning Jews, natives of the newly established colonies in Palestine, who conversed in the Hebrew language and whose life and social productivity embodied the Zionist vision of the nation. Halperin volunteered to serve in the Ottoman Army in November 1911. Later, during the first weeks of the First Balkan War (October 1912-May 1913), he served on the Macedonian front before fleeing to Salonica, where he deserted. Published in Hebrew in 1932, Halperin’s memoirs can be read against both Zionist and Ottoman contexts. They shed light on various personal experiences and perceptions that can enrich our understanding of his particular ideological and ethnic group. In addition, his memoirs are unique as they describe the daily experiences of an Ottoman rank-and-file soldier who served in the Balkan Wars. As such, it offers different insights into the broader Ottoman context. Halperin’s memoirs expose two main topics: the related issues of identity, sociability, and friendship as they developed among the conscripts during his military service; and his clear disappointment with the poor performance and low morale of the Ottoman army before and during the Balkan Wars.
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