Jacob “Jack” Farj Rafael Jacob was an Indian military hero and the highest ranking Jewish officer to serve in the Indian Army.
Jack hailed from a long line of Iraqi Jews who moved from Baghdad to Calcutta in the 18th century. The family remained deeply religious, with a strong Jewish, as well as Indian, identity. Jack later said, “I am proud to be a Jew, but I am Indian through and through.”
Motivated by reports of the Holocaust of European Jews, Jack joined the British Indian Army in 1942. He graduated from Officer’s Training School later that year, and joined the Tunisia campaign to help the British Army fight German Field Marshal Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
After the war, Jack attended artillery schools in England and the United States. He developed a specialty in advanced artillery and missiles. Jack continued to serve in the Indian Army after India won independence from Britain in 1947. In 1963 Jack was promoted to Brigadier, and he commanded an infantry division during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. During this period, Jack composed a now-classic Indian Army manual on desert warfare.
Jack is best known for commanding India’s Eastern Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War. The war began in 1971, when the Pakistani military junta carried out a brutal genocide against the people of Bengal, in East Pakistan. Large numbers of Bengali students, intellectuals, religious minorities and nationalists were systematically annihilated by the junta.
The Indian state, led by Indira Ghandi, provided economic, military and political support to the Bengali nationist movement. In December 1971, India officially entered the war and Jack was the highest ranking Indian military commander. Within two weeks, his forces were victorious.
Jack negotiated the historic surrender of Pakistani troops in December 1971, leading to the creation of the sovereign nation of Bangladesh. Jack was known as “the mid-wife at the birth of Bangladesh.”
Jack retired from the military in 1978. In the following decades, he served as Governor of the Indian states of Goa and Punjab. In 2011, Jack’s bestselling memoir was published, entitled “An Odyssey in War and Peace.”
Jack died in New Delhi in 2016 at age 92. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that “India will always remain grateful to him for his impeccable service to the nation at the most crucial moments.”
The American Jewish Committee issued a statement mourning Jack’s death. “Jack Jacob’s contributions to peace and security in South Asia, as well as to the burgeoning and mutually beneficial relationship between India and Israel, are incalculable and enduring. A warrior, a man of peace, a patriot, a man of letters, and a committed Jew, he was a giant – and he will be missed.”
For serving his nation with courage, wisdom, and distinction, we honor Lt. General Jacob Farj Rafael Jacob as this week’s Thursday Hero at Accidental Talmudist.
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