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Margulies, Emil

(1877–1943), lawyer and Zionist leader. Born in Sosnowitz (Pol., Sosnowiec), Katowice province, to an Orthodox family, Emil Margulies became active in Zionism while studying law in Vienna, where he became acquainted with Theodor Herzl. In 1903, Margulies settled in Teplitz Schönau (Teplice Šanov) in northern Bohemia, where he worked as a legal clerk and promoted Zionism through lecture tours, leaflets, and proclamations in the local press.

Although Margulies faced resistance from Jews who were well integrated into the local German middle class, he established a network of Zionist organizations in such places as Teplitz Schönau, Trautenau (Trutnov), Saaz (Žatec), Aussig (Ústí nad Labem), Tetschen-Bodenbach (Děčín), Komotau (Chomutov), and Podersam (Podbořany). He also took part in all of the World Zionist congresses; was active on the executive committees of Keren Kayemet le-Yisra’el and Keren Hayesod in the Czech lands; served as vice president of the Central Zionist Committee for the Czech lands from 1910 to 1935 (after 1918 for Czechoslovakia); as chair of the planning committee for the World Zionist Congresses of 1921 and 1929–1935; and as chair of the Jewish Party (Židovská Strana) in Czechoslovakia.

Margulies promoted Herzl’s ideas about political Zionism even though most Czech Zionists supported the spiritual Zionism of Ahad Ha-Am and Martin Buber and the politics of Chaim Weizmann. Propagating the independent and self-confident politics of the Jewish national minority, Margulies took part in international negotiations on minority rights in the new states of Central and Eastern Europe after World War I. He initiated the Bernheim Petition to the League of Nations in May 1933 that was successful in gaining unanimous condemnation of Nazi anti-Jewish policies and temporary restoration of the rights of Jews in Upper Silesia. In 1935, to protest the decision of the executive of the Jewish Party to run for parliament on the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party list, Margulies withdrew from his position as chair.

An accomplished lawyer, Margulies prevailed in challenging a case of electoral fraud in 1925 in which two Slovak rabbis, Kalman Weber and Simon Hirschler, were involved. Weber and Hirschler had founded the Jewish Agrarian Party in Slovakia, which split the Jewish vote in elections that year and prevented the Jewish Party from sending a representative to parliament. In the trial, Margulies accused the rabbis and Agrarian politicians and proved that the Czechoslovak Agrarian Party had financed the pre-election campaign of the Jewish Agrarian Party in order to split the Jewish votes and to get more seats in the parliament for Agrarians.

After the Munich agreement of September 1938 and the annexation of Sudetenland to Nazi Germany, Margulies founded an organization of Sudeten Jews to coordinate their flight into central Bohemia and their further emigration. He himself managed to leave Czechoslovakia for Palestine on 15 March 1939, the day the Nazis occupied the rest of Bohemia and Moravia.

Suggested Reading

Meir Faerber (Färber), Dr. Emil Margulies: Ein Lebenskampf für Wahrheit und Recht (Tel Aviv, 1949).