The Flight of a Magen David: A Jewish Fighter Pilot in the Second World War – IV: To Battle In a Hurricane

If Phil Goldstein’s P-38 was unusual in terms of the name it carried – JEWBOY – then one other second world war fighter plane – a Hawker Hurricane of Number 213 Squadron, Royal Air Force – was notable for the symbol it carried:  A Magen David; the Shield of David.

The pilot?  Flight Officer Gordon Steinberg, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force from Toronto.

Sadly, he did not survive the war.

A biography of Gordon’s too-brief life from Canadian Jews in World War II – Part II: Casualties (the companion volume to Canadian Jews in World War II – Part I: Decorations, both published in 1948) follows:

FLYING OFFICER GORDON STEINBERG, J-17346, of Toronto, died of injuries received while in action near Alexandria, Egypt, on February 17, 1944.  He was forced to bail out of his plane as a result of enemy action.  He was buried at sea.

Flying Officer Steinberg enlisted in the air force at Toronto on September, 1940.  He was trained at St. Hubert, Victoriaville, Dunnville, Regina, and at Yorkton where he was awarded his pilot’s wings on November 6, 1941.  In December of the same year he landed in England and proceeded for further training as a fighter pilot.  Flying Officer Steinberg went to Africa in June, 1942 while the Axis forces were pushing the Allied Eighth Army back into Egypt.  Attached to the 213th R.A.F. (Middle East) Squadron, he participated in the battles in which Montgomery’s forces repelled the enemy.  He was attached to the Eighth Army all the time this force was advancing across the African continent from Egypt to Tripoli.  While in Africa Flying Officer Steinberg was commissioned and promoted three times, attaining the rank of flying officer a few months before his death.  He visited “Palestine” several times on his leaves and developed a great interest in the country.  The R.C.A.F. wrote to his family:  “Flying Officer Steinberg completed 92 operational flights.  His duties included patrols, air-sea rescue searches and scrambles against enemy aircraft.”

Born in Toronto on October 9, 1914, Flying Officer Steinberg was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Steinberg of 127 Maria Street.  He attended Strathcoma Public School and Hamberside Collegiate Institute from which he was graduated in 1934.  Flying Officer Steinberg had been a member of the Jewish Boy’s Club.  Prior to enlistment he had been employed as a salesman, clerk and truck driver.  A brother, Private Lawrence Steinberg, served in the army. 

An aspect of F/O Steinberg’s life not touched upon in the biography is the fact that he’d married in November of 1941, while training to be a pilot.  His wife was Ruby Alma (Schopf) Steinberg, who resided at 3251 Dundas Street, in Toronto.  Also not mentioned were his four siblings (Bernice, Lawrence, Lily Ann, and Louis), as well as his mother, Bella (Nagelburg).  Like his father, Bella was born in Austria and naturalized as a Canadian citizen.

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F/O Steinberg’s death on his 92nd operational mission was not due to enemy fighters, flak, or weather.  It was due to mechanical failure:  The engine of his Hurricane fighter failed in flight.

On February 17, 1944, he departed at 9:30 A.M., with Flight Sergeant S.G. Pickford, from 213 Squadron’s landing ground at Ikdu (also known as “Edku”: a town in the Beheira Governorate, east of Alexandria and very close to the shore of the Mediterranean sea) on a convoy patrol mission.  Approximately one hour later, while over the sea roughly between Marsa Matruh and Alexandria, his engine cut as dense black smoke poured from it.  F/O Steinberg called F/Sgt. Pickford over his radio indicating that he was going to bail out. 

This, he immediately and successfully did.

The loss of his plane and his parachute descent were witnessed by Royal Hellenic Navy Commander N. Sarris aboard the escort destroyer H.H.M.S. Themistocles, who immediately steered his ship towards the position at top speed.  He reached the location (31 26 N – 29 16 E; about 35 miles west-northwest of Alexandria) about ten minutes later.  Through the dedicated efforts of the Themistocles’ crew F/O Steinberg was eventually found, but sadly, his life could not be saved. 

He was buried at sea that afternoon.

The following two images, obtained from The National Archives in Kew, extracted from the Squadron Record and Squadron Summary for No. 213 Squadron, cover the events of 17 and 18 February 1944.

Air Ministry Squadron Operations Records
Air Ministry Squadron Operations Records

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As is typical for Casualty Files covering deaths of servicemen in the British Commonwealth forces (analogous to Individual Deceased Personnel Files for American military deaths), the documentation for F/O Steinberg includes a detailed inventory of his effects, which is shown below: 

What is notable in the list of F/O Steinberg’s possessions is obvious and clear mention of his yarmulkah, or kippah (“1 small black cap”), tefillin (“2 prayer straps”), and tallitot (“4 Jewish shoulder capes”), amidst a variety of the typical personal possessions of a serviceman and aviator. 

Later that year, his wife Ruby, who F/O Steinberg designated as the recipient of his small estate, instructed authorities to, “…give his holy books & religious articles to some religious institution. – Thank You”. 

With the passage of over seventy-three years and the absence of documentation (assuming any notes were kept, in the first place), there is almost certainly no way of knowing what eventually became of these items.  One imagines that they found their way back to the Jewish community of Montreal, or, that they were donated to a synagogue, school, or Jewish family in Alexandria.  Whoever received them likely never knew of the bravery, dedication, or identity of their original owner, but no matter.  It would be nice to think; it would be nice to dream, that F/O Steinberg would have been satisfied knowing that their purpose and meaning would continue.  

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F/O Steinberg’s name is commemorated on Column 281 of the Alamein Memorial, in Egypt. 

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As for the Hurricane?  As shown in the photo, P/O Steinberg’s “personal” aircraft carried a Magen David composed in the style of interlocking triangles, in two colors (one light and one dark) painted on the forward fuselage.  While his Casualty File and Number 213 Squadron’s historical records for February of 1944 indicate that he was lost in Hurricane IIC BP563 (a plane with over 250 flight hours), and Number 213 Squadron’s Hurricanes were identified by the code letters “AK”, neither set of documents list the aircraft’s specific, individual identification letter.  In the absence of other photographs of the plane, it is impossible to tell if F/O Steinberg was lost in his “own” plane, or another aircraft.   

The image below, from History of War, shows a Hawker Hurricane in North Africa, with the letters “AK” indicating its assignment to Number 213 Squadron RAF.

The 213 Squadron Association website carries a photo essay – The Hornet’s Sting – that appeared in FlyPast magazine in 1995.  Two images show Hurricanes bearing the Squadron’s “AK” code letters, while a third image shows over thirty of the squadron’s pilots at a Christmas Party at Ikdu in 1943.  Perhaps F/O Steinberg was among them?

References

Forman, Wallace R., B-17 Nose Art Name Directory, Phalanx Publishing Co., Ltd. (Specialty Press), North Branch, Mn., 1996

Forman, Wallace R., B-24 Nose Art Name Directory, Phalanx Publishing Co., Ltd. (Specialty Press), North Branch, Mn., 1996

Canadian Jews in World War II – Part II: Casualties, Canadian Jewish Congress, Montreal, Quebec, 1948.

RHS Themistocles, at
http://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/5921.html

Number 213 Squadron RAF

At Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._213_Squadron_RAF

At History of War, at
http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/213_wwII.html

Number 213 Squadron Association, at
http://213squadronassociation.homestead.com/

Number 213 Squadron Association – The Hornet’s Sting (From FlyPast magazine No. 175, 1995), at
http://213squadronassociation.homestead.com/Flypast/flypastarticle.html

Hawker Hurricane IIC in No. 213 Squadron Service, at
http://www.historyofwar.org/Pictures/pictures_hurricaneIIC_213sqn.html

The National Archives (Kew), Royal Air Force Operations Records Books 1939-1945, at
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/raf-operations-record-books-1939-1945/

 

 

 

 

Flight in The Great War: Lieutenant Sol Wise, Aerial Observer, Armée de l’air – II: Biography, Briefly

In February of this year, I presented an article from a September, 1918 issue of The American Israelite concerning Lieutenant Sol Wise, a nephew of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who served as an aerial observer in Escadrille (Squadron) Br 111 of France’s Armée de l’air.  That article – in reality, a transcript of a lengthy letter written by Lt. Wise to his parents in July of 1918 – is a clear account of the life of an aviator on the Western Front during the final year of the “Great War”.  Lieutenant Wise presents a vivid picture of aerial combat, and, gives details – in an almost light-hearted way – about aspects of daily life between combat missions (accommodations, food, and the Escadrille’s Cadillac 8 automobile) at BR 111’s bases at Villers-en-Lieu and Pars-les-Romilly. 

Further research has shown that the article in The American Israelite was not the only account that Lieutenant Wise penned about his war experiences.  This was found at Ancestry.com.   

Intriguingly; disturbingly; curiously (and more…) despite the accumulation and collation of all this information, no publication resulted from this vast amount of material, at least in terms of a volume (or volumes) presenting biographies for and details about the military service of American Jewish soldiers during the First World War.

Fortunately, Lieutenant Wise received, completed, and returned his copy of the AJC’s questionnaire.  This is presented below.  In light of the details in the article from The American Israelite, the information recorded by Lt. Wise is surprisingly sparse, but it’s still an interesting supplement to that 1918 publication.

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Sol’s WW II Draft Registration card, also from Ancestry.com, is shown below.

Sol passed away on January 5, 1974, and is buried with his wife, Florence (Stevenson) Wise, at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens, in Fort Pierce, Florida.

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References

U.S., WWI Jewish Servicemen Questionnaires, 1918-1921 (on Ancestry.com) at:
http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1765

Wise, Sol, Interesting Letter From Aviator, The American Israelite, September 9, 1918

Escadrille VB 111 – VC-111 – Sop 111 – Br 111, at
http://albindenis.free.fr/Site_escadrille/escadrille111.htm

Biographical Profile for Sol Wise, at FindAGrave.com

Photograph of Sol Wise’s matzeva by FindAGrave contributors Ken & Nancy

Thoughts from The Frontier: The Jew As a Soldier (Book Reviews), by Abraham G. Duker (Jewish Frontier, December, 1945)

“And we must remember that this book was written not as a historical record for ourselves, but primarily as a weapon against anti-Semitism.”

* * * * * * * * *

“Curt Riess, who has done much literary introduction of late, adds to the general confusion by proclaiming that to think of Jews “as a group is not logically justifiable”.  According to him Jews are “not a nation, not a religious community, not a race.  Furthermore, Zionists form only a relatively small percentage of all Jewish people in the world.”  Mr. Riess also recommends that the book should be widely read.  The reviewer disagrees.”

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This item is a dual book review from late 1945 by Abraham G. Duker, covering publications dealing with Jewish military service.  The first book – Fighting For America – 1944 Edition, covers Jewish military service in the United States’ armed forces during the Second World War, based on information gathered by the Bureau of War Records of the National Jewish Welfare Board through that year.  The second, The Fighting Jew, presents a historical overview of Jewish military activity and participation from (as can be understood from the review) as far back as the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-135 (or, 136) C.E., while primarily emphasizing the modern era and contemporary times.

While Abraham Duker’s brief review of Fighting For America could be deemed skeptical but appreciative, his opinion of Ralph Nunberg’s book is – charitably phrased – highly dismissive.

Regardless of the books’ differences in content and style, and the lack of historical accuracy of the latter (!), a shared quality of the works would seem to have been the imperative of validating the bravery and patriotism of Jews, within both the immediate (WW II) and long-term historical context.  As such, and as correctly perceived by Duker regarding Fighting for America, one (not the only) purpose of that book was to refute antisemitism.  (Of course, this would have been based on the assumption that antisemitism is amendable to refutation by logic and reason, in the first place…)  

Duker is correct in deeming these works to be part and representative of Jewish “apologetic literature”, examples of which most strikingly appeared during and after the First World War, some even appearing in Germany amidst the Franco-Prussian War.  Regardless, the information amassed in at least some such books – which have varied tremendously in terms of comprehensiveness, style, and physical format – is still historically valuable. 

I would take issue with Duker’s implication that the lack of a publication covering American Jewish service in WW I, was due to the fact that the impetus to create such a book did not exist at that time – in the late ‘teens and through the 1920s – among American Jewry.  Actually, it did.  Certainly, more than sufficient information had been amassed by the Office of War Records of the American Jewish Committee, that could have eventuated in such a publication, perhaps as multiple volumes.  That it was not produced – that the project seems to have been “shelved” – was, I would suggest, due to the tenor of the times: Amidst overlapping currents of economic and social uncertainty, and worse, much of American Jewry – at least, as perceived, influenced and led by its ostensible, nominal, de facto leadership – adopted a survival strategy of collective self-effacement.

In any event, regardless of the impetus behind its creation, Fighting for America and its related and larger 1947 two-volume publication, American Jews in World War Two are valuable (albeit highly incomplete) reference works.

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FIGHTING FOR AMERICA, A Record of the Participation of Jewish Men and Women in the Armed Forces During 1944, New York, The National Jewish Welfare Board, 1944, 290 pp.

THE FIGHTING JEW, by Ralph Nunberg.  With an Introduction by Curt Riess.  New York, Creative Age Press, 1945, 295 pp.

A significant index of the status of the Jews in the world today, their fears and uncertain view of their own future, is the relatively large number of publications on the subject of Jews and military prowess, two of which are here examined.  Fighting for America is reminiscent of similar volumes published by Jewish communities in Europe, Africa, and Australia following World War I.  The fact that no such publication appeared in the U.S. at that time, and that American Jewry is the first to produce one after World War II, is in itself an indication of the spread of this type of apologetics, whose effectiveness has been amply tested in the crematoria of Europe.

Fighting for America is an incomplete record of the heroism of Jewish members of the armed forces.  It is incomplete because unlike Catholics, “Americans of the Jewish faith” do not take their religion or community adherence seriously enough to establish a unified system of records of births, marriages, and affiliation.  The Jewishness of Sam Levine, Bernard Shapiro, or Norman Friedman is beyond doubt in most cases.  A student of Jewish history will easily spot the Sephardic Abe Condiotti.  He will hesitate before identifying Gilbert Stein, Lou Charles Lerner, or Harold Monash.  But it takes much research to identify as Jewish names like Bertram N. Sheff, Martin Rockmore, Morris Saunders, John Stark, or George J. Smith.  The Welfare Board’s Bureau of War Records has done it in these cases; more power to its staff.

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Lt. Abraham Condiotti, as seen in the Philadelphia Bulletin of June 8, 1944.  An article about him appeared in The New York Times on the same day.  Strangely, though a brief account of his deeds on D-Day appeared in Fighting For America – 1944 Edition, his name never appeared in 1947’s American Jews in World War Two.

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Apologetics or no apologetics, it is still nice to know that the Jews have done their bit in this war for America.  They have contributed their share in all branches of the service; for instance, 40% of all the Jewish physicians in this country were members of the armed forces.  That such enthusiastic participation may be misjudged can be attested by the talk so frequently heard in the barracks that “the Jews have all the easy jobs”.  In addition to lists of decorations and citations, the volume includes ample examples of heroism on the part of men and women, including members of the commonly scoffed at Chaplains’ Corps, whose achievements on behalf of interdenominational amity are emphasized.  More should have been said, however, about what the chaplains have done for the “displaced” Jews, a story which puts many a respectable relief organization to shame.  But the “public relations” angle places achievements on behalf of Jews last on its list.  And we must remember that this book was written not as a historical record for ourselves, but primarily as a weapon against anti-Semitism.

***

The Fighting Jew is a hurriedly composed yet well written pot boiler of facts and fiction, put out in an effort to prove that the Jew is not a coward.  It is evident that the author is not a student of Jewish history.  Otherwise he would have included the Khazars, Berek Joselewicz, and members of Hashomer, and a host of other Jewish warriors.  Had Mr. Nunberg stuck to his subject without wandering off to discuss problems, social and historical, which he is manifestly incapable of handling, and had he, in addition, taken care to do some serious research and check his data, a decent book for juveniles might have emerged.  As it is, this volume contains too much misinformation.  And it is a pity, for its author can do good popular writing.

The book begins with a justifiably gruesome description of life in the Warsaw ghetto, regrettably, culled from second-hand sources.  The Polish underground’s distrust in the Jewish capacity to fight, rather than ordinary anti-Semitism, is given as the reason behind the Polish refusal to supply the Jews with arms.  Klepfisz, a truly heroic figure, is melodramatized as almost the sole leader of the resistance, to the extent that the author puts in the mouth of the ghetto defenders the question whether “this Michael Klepfisz might not be one of the tribe of David, the Messiah, whose coming had been promised to the Jews for their hour of greatest need.”  Melodramatic suspense is created by making the reader wait till the end of the volume for the outcome of the struggle, while the book turns to ancient history.  The Biblical period is disposed of in one page.  The Maccabeans rate but three quarters of a page.  No chronology is given.

This is followed by a fifteen page thriller of the revolt against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem.  Errors abound.  Nunberg makes the completely unjustified assertion that following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jews no longer went “to battle for a Jewish cause or [did they] die for the survival of the Jewish nation…  Now they fought for whatever country had become their home.”  This, by all rules of logic, should have excluded much of the subsequent material.  But the author, unimpressed by his own generalizations, deals albeit too sketchily with the subsequent revolts against Rome and Persia, the Jewish kingdom in Yemen, and the wars against the rising Mohammedans.

A major portion of the book is devoted to America, the “promised land”.  The author’s grasp of seventeenth century conditions is indicated in his statement that Jews resented the fact that “Dutchmen, Frenchmen and Englishmen” had been “forbidden to settle in New Amsterdam just because they were Jewish”.

In his treatment of “the fight for equality” in Europe, the arduous course of emancipation is sophomorically simplified.  Napoleon is described as a man “who gave much thought to the Jewish problem,” and a lion’s share of space is given his general, Andrea Massena, the Duke of Essling, whose Jewish origin is still a matter of speculation and who never identified himself as a Jew religiously.  The Dreyfus case, where there is no shadow of suspicion of martial accomplishment, is treated as background to a brief story of Herzl and Zionism, which in turn is woven into a presentation of Jewish heroism in World War I.  Jewish self-defense in Palestine in 1936 is discussed without mentioning its national and social motivation, typified by the policy of Havlagah (self restraint).  The word Haganah is not in the index.

Following a greatly simplified and rather inaccurate picture of political events which preceded World War II, the author devotes a chapter to the prowess of Jews in that war, with Russian and American Jews receiving most attention.  Much more could have been added.  Nevertheless this chapter is the best in the book, which ends with a description of the final resistance of the Warsaw ghetto.

Curt Riess, who has done much literary introduction of late, adds to the general confusion by proclaiming that to think of Jews “as a group is not logically justifiable”.  According to him Jews are “not a nation, not a religious community, not a race.  Furthermore, Zionists form only a relatively small percentage of all Jewish people in the world.”  Mr. Riess also recommends that the book should be widely read.  The reviewer disagrees.

– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow – 2014

Thoughts from The Frontier:  Great Sorrow and Small Solace (Jewish Frontier, January, 1945)

“Come and see – Jewish soldiers with the Magen David!”

***

And there are encounters with old Jews.  Yesterday we had an inspection – a military routine at which our rifles and revolvers were checked.  On a balcony stood two old people – an old Jew and his aged wife, who had been dragging themselves from the front to the South.  They stood watching the scene and weeping.  Without uttering a word they stood up there, their eyes streaming.  And many of the boys could not tear their eyes away from the weeping eyes of a Jewish mother.

***

Sir Clifford’s mind seems to be occupied with two worries: first, he is anxious to keep the doors of Palestine closed; second, he is afraid that the stream of refugees might be turned to England and America. 

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This article, published in the Jewish Frontier in early 1945, movingly recounts meetings between Jewish refugees in Italy, and Jewish soldiers serving of the Jewish Brigade.  The article is actually in the form of three essays, by soldiers “Eliyahu”, “Moshe”, and “J.B-R.”.  Their full names are not given, perhaps because the war was then ongoing. 

Presumably, they were members of the “Jewish Brigade” (also known as the “Jewish Brigade Group”, and “Jewish Infantry Brigade Group”) which was itself comprised of three infantry battalions (1st, 2nd, and 3rd, and, the 200th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery) of the Palestine Regiment, which itself was created in 1942. 

In view of the time-frame of the article’s publication it was presumably written some time after October and December of 1944, while the Brigade was engaged in the Italian Campaign as part of the British Eighth Army. 

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Great Sorrow and Small Solace
Letters from Palestine Soldiers on the Italian Front

Jewish Frontier
January, 1945

WE HEARD that in the town of Terni on the road to Ancona there were about one hundred Jews.  H. and myself set out for Terni, arriving there towards evening.  We thought that a hundred Jews in a small town would be easy to locate.

For a long time we walked around town without finding a single Jew.

Finally, in desperation, we began approaching every person whose physiognomy suggested a Jewish origin, addressing him with Shalom, but no one replied to our salutation.  We had with us the address of a Jew by the name of Gil and began looking for him.  The place turned out to be the building of the Fascist youth which was now converted into a Refugee Center.  It is a large house containing many refugees of different kinds, such as Italians from bombed out cities, Yugoslavs and others.  One corner was set aside for Jews.

After wandering from office to office we were taken charge of by an Italian woman official, who went with us to look for the only Jew whose name we knew.  We did not find him.  While walking I told the lady that it was very important for me to find some Jewish refugees.  She took me into a small room, where we saw an old woman with a face that told stories of horror and sufferings.  At the sight of a soldier, the woman made a peculiar motion as if to ward off a blow.  I was actually frightened by that motion.  When it transpired that she was the wife of the man we were looking for, I addressed her in Yiddish an in German, telling her I was a Jewish soldier from Palestine.  She then began crying, laughing screaming, all at once and she called her children and neighbors together shouting in Yiddish:

“Praise and glory be to Thee, Ruler of the Universe, that we have lived to this day!”

The small children clung to us and looked straight into our eyes with petrified expressions on their faces; their eyes seemed to me like one large tear.  I felt my whole “gallantry” break down before these glances.  A mother of four children spoke with tears in her eyes:

“Dear boys, you have come to help us – do something for our children…”

Pointing to the children I said: “We may be able to help them right away in a practical way, by training them for Palestine, by hakhshara.”  I thought I would have to explain the meaning of the word hakhshara.  But that very instant I was surrounded by children who covered me with kisses and tears.  From that moment there never ceased the clinging and the mute look into my eyes, telling me more than words could of the Jewish child’s yearning for redemption.

In the house we learned the first details about that group of Jews.  There are about one hundred Jews in the town.  Some of them have been to all the concentration camps, in Calvaria and Campagna, until they reached this section of Italy.  And here it is that the miracle of liberation took place.  Others have never been in concentration camps; for nine years they hid in the snow-covered mountains, and only recently, when the region was freed, did they come out of hiding.

The children took us to the hotel where refugees are fed by AMG and which therefore serves as a center for all the Jews.  There we lived through moving scenes:

One man rushed into the hotel crying:

“Come and see – Jewish soldiers with the Magen David!”

At first those inside refused to believe the news and thought it was a joke.  But in a minute we were surrounded by many Jews – Yiddish-speaking, French-speaking, Serb-speaking, German-speaking, Italian-speaking Jews, who did not always find a common speech but who now found the common language of hearts beating in unison.  They pounced on us madly, embracing us or merely touching our insignia with trembling hands and then kissing their fingers, as one salutes a mezuza or a Scroll of the Law.  The children, who were rather timid at the beginning, daring only to pat our uniforms, now came closer – and again I saw the great tears in their eyes.  No one spoke.  There was only the affectionate touching and the hugging.  The grown-ups wept aloud on seeing the excitement of the children.  And everybody repeated: “Well for us that we have lived to see this day!”

We entered the spacious dining room and on all sides came requests: “Sit by our side!”  We sat down near a small group of youngsters and children, but the old woman who argued that she had been the first to welcome us claimed a privilege and took a seat opposite us…

Later in the evening we decided to have a talk.  An Italian Jew opened the discussion with a few moving words about this great and unexpected holiday, the first recompense for the suffering they had endured.  And in order to emphasize the bond between the soldiers, the emissaries of the Land of Israel, and the ruined Diaspora, he asked that we address a few words to them in Hebrew.

I began with a few words in Hebrew, telling them about the aspirations of the Jewish soldier and his dreams of the great day of meeting his rescued brethren, which is the deepest aim of our war.  H. translated my words into German which the chairman rendered into Italian.  The atmosphere was charged with a strange tension when the Hebrew words were heard.  Those who did not understand them behaved as they would at a solemn religious rite while the considerable number who did follow my words reiterated every one as it was pronounced.  There was constant drying of tears.  Bliss radiated from the children’s eyes.

We went on to the second part of the discussion, which was the most important one.  At the request of most of those present I spoke in Yiddish.  I explained the object of our visit.  I warned them against illusions, telling them that our possibilities were limited but that we could help them in certain respects.  The crowd became emotional again.  I told them of the opportunities of hakhshara, about the possibility of putting them in contact with certain institutions, such as the Palestine Bureau and the Joint Distribution Committee.

Questions were asked about the chances of entering the United States.  I told them the sad story of the famous Roosevelt “guests” at Oswego, merely confining myself to facts and refraining from comments.  No more questions were then asked about America.

The next day, from nine o’clock in the morning until six in the afternoon, we engaged in private talks with every one who sought one with us.  I cannot recall such a hard day’s work in my life.  The tension rose from minute to minute.  Every one had his own tale of woe.  In every conversation, without a single exception, there came a sudden pause, a moment when the speaker lost his power of speech.

A man of sixty-four years of age came in.  It is worth noting that we were usually surprised on being told of the ages of our interlocutors.  We always imagined they must be younger, because they usually looked about fifteen years less than their true age.  This may be explained by the fact that they are the sturdiest who managed to survive such harrowing experiences.   The sixty-four year old man looked like a forty-five year old.  He had been a rich man in Rumania.  His wife was “taken away” by the Germans.  Of all he had there was only one daughter left who was in Palestine and his only hope in life was to establish contact with her.  Yes, there was something else he had left.  He took out of his pocket a bundle of documents bearing witness to twenty years of Zionist activity in many fields.  Suddenly came the pause.  The three of us remained petrified without looking at one another’s face.  As he left the room the Jew said: “Don’t be surprised, boys!  After four years I have just opened my heart for the first time.  How can one help being moved?”

A fifty-year-old Jew came in looking at the most forty years of age.  He spoke with a great deal of humor, in a juicy, idiomatic Yiddish.  He had been a rich man in Belgium.  His wife was “taken away.”  His two sons were with him.  Immediately he announced:  “I want you to know that I do not want for anything.  But I will not forego the right of spending a few minutes with you.  That is coming to me!”  he was a bit of an Orthodox Jew and he interspersed his narrative with pointed remarks at the expense of the Ribbono shel Olam (Ruler of the Universe): One day he saved himself from the Germans by hiding in a pigsty.  He then resolved not to allow the Ribbono shel Olam to be accustomed to have his Jews live in a pigsty and he moved into a room…

We had brought along some foodstuffs, presents from our soldiers.  We tried to find a suitable form for distributing those gifts.  Here too we were witnesses to moving scenes.  One man kissed the package of cigarettes he received: “No, I shall not smoke them.  They are sacred – they bear a Hebrew inscription…”  The same occurred when a Jewish girl got a cake of soap with a Hebrew inscription.  Another girl, a member of a Zionist youth movement in Germany, actually danced on getting a package marked in Hebrew Shai la-Hayal (soldier’s gift package) – sent from Palestine.

An old man from France presented me with a precious gift, a French yellow badge with the inscription Juif in the Magen David.  He parted with the badge with the remark: “That is for the Archives in Jerusalem.’  “But in Berlin,” I assured him, “I shall carry it on my chest.”

We selected four children as candidates for the hakhshara (training farm) – two boys aged 13 and 14, and two girls aged 17 and 18.  They had been hiding in monasteries and private homes where they were indeed saved from the executioners but where they were subjected to pressure to adopt Christianity.  As we strolled with the children through the town we met a local woman who had saved one of those families during the most critical days, but insisted that they adopt Christianity.  The children introduced her to me.  She was touched to see how attached the children had become to me.  But suddenly one of the girls jumped up: “Oh, it is so wonderful that we have remained Jews – or we wouldn’t be fit to go to Palestine.”  For a moment the atmosphere was strained…

Soon all relief the refugees receive from AMG will be discontinued.  They were offered space in an Italian hostel for the poor under impossible conditions.  Most of them will be left without any livelihood whatever.  Only three of them work for the government.  Until now they existed on the proceeds of the sale of their belongings, but by now they have left only what they wear on their persons.  The refugees from Trieste and Fiume hope for the liberation of their cities.  Some would be ready to go to Palestine immediately, others hope to be granted that opportunity after they will have found their relatives.

When I took leave of them for the second time at seven o’clock in the morning – many of them came to the hotel in the morning – they loaded us with so much hope and affection for the Jewish soldiers that they will be justified only if we strain ourselves to the very utmost to help them.

ELIYAHU.

____________________

ONE MEETS Jews here, many Jews.  Yesterday there was quite a gathering.  When we arrived in this district we discovered a group of Jews who had already met some of our men a week or two after they were saved from the Germans.

Yesterday we had a visit from the children who are going out for hakhshara.  Unlimited confidence was necessary to induce a Jewish mother, after all the experiences of the past years, to take her to a training farm.  It is not as simple as it sounds.  The children went along with us.  They are incapable of eating.  After the first meal they all took sick.  They are not used to eat their fill.  In the evening we had a discussion.  At first we spoke and then the girls.  What the lips failed to tell the eyes told in the unmistakable language of affection and trust.

It was an atmosphere which purified and uplifted us too.  There was present a Jewish-British captain, a shrewd and smart-alecky “Galician”, who, as he told us, was a Communist.  He was deeply moved by that evening.  It would take long, he told us, until he would “recover “ from the “blow” he received that evening.  There were many things he saw in a new light.

And there are encounters with old Jews.  Yesterday we had an inspection – a military routine at which our rifles and revolvers were checked.  On a balcony stood two old people – an old Jew and his aged wife, who had been dragging themselves from the front to the South.  They stood watching the scene and weeping.  Without uttering a word they stood up there, their eyes streaming.  And many of the boys could not tear their eyes away from the weeping eyes of a Jewish mother.

MOSHE.

____________________

BY NOW you must have heard the first reports of the activities of the representative of the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees in Italy, Sir Clifford Heathcote-Smith.  In Lakhayil, the publication of the Jewish transport units in the British army in Italy, a few interesting details about this matter were published.

Sir Clifford called a meeting of all the Jewish refugees in Rome.  About seventy or eighty men and women were present.  The official agent of the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees reported as follows: (1) There are immigration certificates available for ten heads of families, which will be issued to those who have parents or children or a husband or wife or brothers or sisters in Palestine.  (2) The Italian government acceded to the request of the Intergovernmental Committee to grant citizenship to refugees who have been in the country for five years and whose conduct has been in accordance with the law.

Sir Clifford sought to explain to his listeners that Jews have no prospect of entering Palestine.  Palestine, he repeated many times, is a small country, a very small country, which can by no means take in the Jewish refugees.  He illustrated his point by taking out his handkerchief and spreading it before his audience.  “Do you see this handkerchief?” he argued, “Can you make it larger?  Can you make a quilt out of it?  No more can you make Palestine capable of absorbing you.”

Sir Clifford also discussed at length the subject of citizenship.  All the countries in the world, Sir Clifford said, will be closed after the war.  After the war many Jewish refugees are sure to return to their countries of origin, and the Allies will compel the conquered nations to permit the Jews to return to their countries.  But, to be sure, there will be Jews who will refuse to return to their countries of origin on account of their dark memories of the past.  These refugees must begin to think about their future now.  The world will surely be closed.  The healthiest thing would be to accept the magnanimous offer of the Italian government.

After his address the emissary of the Refugee Committee had an opportunity to hear the opinion of the Jewish refugees.  They were very grateful for the noble attitude of the Italian government; very grateful to Sir Clifford Heathcote-Smith; but they did not want any citizenship rights: as far as they were concerned there was only one country, one Homeland – and this was the only citizenship they demanded.

Among those present there was only one person who availed himself of the right to ask for further information on the matter: would he be deprived of the right to receive relief as a refugee if he agreed to become an Italian citizen?  Sir Clifford put him at ease: he would continue to receive relief after becoming an Italian citizen.  The gathering was still under the impression of another metaphor Sir Clifford had used in his address: changing shirts.  He knew Jews, said the agent of the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees, who had had one passport, a second passport, and a third passport, and who changed citizenship as one changes shirts.  The refugees brought up that sentence several times in their discussion with Sir Clifford, not in anger or in bitterness but with sorrow and with a firm resolve: that has been the case in the past but now there is enough of that.  They would no longer change countries and citizenship like shirts.  There was going to be an end to all that!  What they wanted was Palestine and Jewish citizenship!

Sir Clifford spoke again.  Palestine is a vain illusion.  Jews must be realists.  Jews are not so badly off in the Diaspora.  Witness the position of the five million Jews in the United States (the listeners must have thought: Why aren’t we being offered United States citizenship?)  Jews must remain in the lands if the dispersion.  “I regret that you refuse to consider reality.  A sacred fire in one’s heart is a beautiful thing, but life is a realistic business.”

A single woman who took the speaker’s word as to the smallness of Palestine, begged that the Jews be given any little bit of a country (una pezzaa di terra), no matter how small, describing with her hands how small that country would be – so long as it would be ours.  “If there is no more room in Palestine, let it be in England, let it be in Germany (protests from the audience, expressions of disgust): “We don ‘t want to see their horrid faces any more!”).  Let it be anywhere, aren’t we human beings just like others?”  Sir Clifford expressed his sorrow and offered some consolation: “Look at the position of other nationalities.  Look at the Letts, the Lithuanians, the Estonians.  They have countries…  Soon they may not have them…”  He ended with a call for “loyalty”.  The audience replied with the signing of Hatikva, which was sung with anguish, with defiance.

One of the refugees presented to Sir Clifford the written petition of the refugees who demand only immigration to Palestine and Palestine citizenship.  There were present in the hall some Jewish soldiers from Palestine, the United States, and South Africa.

Sir Clifford’s mind seems to be occupied with two worries: first, he is anxious to keep the doors of Palestine closed; second, he is afraid that the stream of refugees might be turned to England and America.  As a British gentleman, he feels sorry for President Roosevelt who “tried so hard” until he was able to admit those famous “thousand guests” into America.  “He could not admit any more by any means.”  And what could densely populated England or her Dominions, so heavily laden with populations, do?  It is unrealistic and misleading to expect the British Empire, especially after the war, to be able to admit Jews.  But what is to be done with the Jewish refugees?  The “emissary” has been losing sleep and has been spending his days looking for a way out and a radical solution.  Deeply concerned as he is, he could not be content with the reply given him by the refugees in Rome, and he went on a tour to the small towns.  He met refugees everywhere who had just been liberated from the Nazi yoke and he opened up to them his heart, which is “open” to the needs of the Jewish people.

The “emissary” puts a great deal of intellectual effort into the attempt to solve this grave problem – the problem of the refugees’ future after the war.  Since Palestine is only the size of a handkerchief, while England and America are closed, every refugee must try to get himself settled in a country where he is at present.  The Italians have magnanimously consented to grant the rights of citizenship to every refugee who desires it.  The same will probably be done by other countries, such as Yugoslavia and Rumania.  “They, too, will comply with the request of the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees.”  Thus, automatically and simultaneously in all countries, a final solution will be found for the refugee problem.  But Sir Clifford is not satisfied with this alone.  He has, besides, a new scheme for settling Jews in Libya.

Lately he visited the village of A_____i where about fifty refugees are to be found.  After a rather long address if “enlightenment,” he put the following three alternatives to a vote: (1) adopt Italian citizenship; (2) migrate into Palestine; (3) a new territory in Libya.  Not one vote was cast for Italian citizenship.  The vote went partly for Palestine and partly for the new “secure” territory in Libya (Sir Clifford having convinced his hearers that there was absolutely no more room left in Palestine).

But Sir Clifford was indefatigable.  He went on a tour to other refugee centers in Italy, with a verve and determination worthy of more constructive purpose in behalf of refugees.  In one of the localities the refugees expressed their desire to be transferred to Bari and thence to Santa Maria so that they might find it easier to go to Palestine.  Sir Clifford, who is usually soft-spoken, this time raised his voice in excitement: “You are talking too much.  Hitler also liked to talk a great deal and tell lies – and he brought a calamity upon the world.  I hate to hear words which do not contain a particle of truth.  Palestine cannot absorb any Jews – and that is all there is to it!  You must draw the necessary ‘conclusions.’”  This time he did not put the alternatives to a vote; he still remembered his failures in other places.  But he was more candid; he warned the Jews that they were not being tolerated anywhere and that the Arabs would not tolerate them either.  He added an interesting political observation: “Palestine was never promised to the Jews.  It belongs to the Arabs.  Get it out of your heads!”

Before the general meeting, Sir Clifford spoke to each refugee separately and wrote down his request.  Finally he declared: “Every one has his own pet desires – whoever heard of so many nonsensical demands?”  But Sir Clifford is not always rude; at times a lyrical note steals into his speech.  He shared with his hearers his wide experience which he acquired in his encounters with many Jews and he ended on a melancholy note: “In all my discussions with the Jews I came across only one sensible person.  It was an old woman who told me ‘Send me wherever you like, but send me where I can find some peace.’”  He added: “This is an instance of that wisdom which most of you lack.”  And again the old colonial official muttered angrily: “The refugees are dullards who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

This man who is waging such a vigorous anti-Zionist campaign is an important official of the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees, a body which so far failed to rescue Jewish refugees but seems to be able to introduce a positive solution of the refugee problem.  We know that this man is a faithful servant of the White Paper.  But his recent activities transcend even the provisions of that document.  Who gave him the right to humiliate refugees who are isolated from the rest of the world and who had hoped to find in him an emissary of the United Nations, a man concerned with their welfare?

But the worst feature is that man’s handling of the question of actual immigration into Palestine.  Wherever he comes he brings with him “the last remaining certificates,” which he distributes in a very simple manner: he brings ten certificates to every place.  Rome with its eleven thousand Jews, A_____i with its fifty Jews – all get ten certificates each.  And the distribution of the certificates is done without consulting the Palestine Bureau or the Immigration Department of the Agency or any such institution, but according to his own discretion.

Jewish soldiers who have been in the army for several years find compensation for all the hardships they have undergone in helping the refugees, in spending some of their time with the Jewish youth, to alleviate their distress and to give them comfort.  But now come alien officials to destroy what they have done.  We will by no means put up with this diabolical game.  We will not suspend our activities among the refugees – the work of rescue, of training pioneers, and of bringing them cheer and hope.  We shall continue to provide opportunities of hakhshara for the youth and opportunities for learning productive work for the adults.  Under the restricted conditions of our military life we shall nevertheless go on planting seeds of faith in the realization of Zionism and in the possibility of the true solution of the refugee problem – immigration to Palestine.

J.B-R.

– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow, 2010

References

Jewish Brigade, at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Brigade

Palestine Regiment, at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine_Regiment

 

 

 

Thoughts from The Frontier: Newton on The Restoration of The Jews, by Franz Kobler (Jewish Frontier, March, 1943)

“…the street shall be built again, and the walls even in troublous times.”

Perhaps it was not surprising that amidst the darkness of the Second World War, the Jewish Frontier published an essay by Franz Kobler, which concerned Sir Isaac Newton’s theories concerning the political – and spiritual? – restoration of the Jewish people.

Born in Bohemia in 1882, Kobler, a prolific writer with an interest in Zionism, was an Austrian citizen and lawyer by profession. Following the Anschluss in 1938, he and his wife fled to Zurich, and then London.  They were able to join their son in San Francisco after the war’s end.  He resided in Berkeley until his death in 1965. 

____________________

“MR. NEWTON is really a very valuable man, not only for his wonderful skill in mathematics, but in divinity also, and his great knowledge in the Scriptures, wherein I know few his equals.”  These words by John Locke, the philosopher, were fully confirmed by Newton’s posthumous literary work.  It became manifest to a surprised posterity that the great scientist had devoted the same ingenuity and patience to the Bible as to natural phenomena and mathematics.  It might be even supposed that the studies of divine things were more important to him than his epoch-making computations as the greater part of his unpublished writings related to theological subjects.  It has been established beyond any doubt that Newton’s scientific genius was inseparable if from his deep religiosity.  According to L.T. Moore, Newton’s biographer, “it is the most striking evidence of the sanity of Newton’s genius that, while he speculated on such problems as the nature of space, time and substance) … he saw they could not be included in the scientific method.  The conclusion of such speculations always ended for him in the acceptance of a divine providence, of whose design we have an intuitive knowledge sufficient for us to predict with considerable accuracy a limited order of events.”

This faith in providence was linked with an unshakable conviction of the divine origin and truth of the Scriptures.  Newton was extremely opposed to Deism, which developed rapidly towards the end of his life.  Against Toland, Tindal and Collins, he strongly advocated the authenticity of the sacred texts.  Nevertheless, his religious opinions deviated from the prevalent creed of that time.  Prophecy was for him the only source of the divine message.  “The authority of emperors, kings and princes is human; the authority of councils, synods, bishops and presbyters is human; the authority of the prophet is divine, and comprehends the sum of religion, reckoning Moses and the apostles among the prophets, and if an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than what they have delivered, let him be accursed,” he wrote.  Newton was, however, critical in dealing with particular Biblical texts, as shown in his work “An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of the Scriptures, In a; Letter to a Friend.”  This profound discussion of “the two Trinitarian proof texts, 1 John v. 7, and 1 Timothy iii. 16,” showed much similarity with the method of the contemporary French scholar Richard Simon, the initiator of Biblical criticism.

A remarkable achievement of Newton’s theological studies is also his contribution to the doctrine which since the early beginnings of the Puritan movement made the question of the Restoration of the Jews a central point.  This doctrine emerged from millenarianism which had been revived towards the end of the middle ages and linked, on the British soil, with “English Hebraism,” the deep trust in Scripture, and in the truth of Prophecy.  The main feature of this doctrine consists in the faith that the Kingdom of God cannot be established on the earth until the Jews will be restored to the land secured to them by the everlasting covenant.  It was generally assumed that the Jews would embrace Christianity, at that time; but different opinions developed, especially on the decisive question: if they will be restored before or after conversion.  At the time of Newton’s birth the doctrine of the Restoration of the Jews was already elaborated by teachings of scholars and tradition.  A new stage had been inaugurated in connection with the Civil War, marked by revolutionary efforts and eccentric attempts for an immediate realization of the millennial hope.  In the year of Isaac Newton’s birth (December 25, 1642), John Archer, an outstanding leader of the Fifth Monarchy Men, published his book “The Personal Reign of Christ upon Earth,” predicting that this reign would begin in 1666 and be preceded by “the deliverance of the Israelites” either in 1650 or in 1656.  This was, however, only one of many similar predictions.  The disappointments that followed – especially the failure of Sabbatai Zevi, whose appearance had produced feverish expectations even in England – however, did not check the development of the doctrine of the Restoration of the Jews, or any of the activities for realizing the aim.

In the same way as Puritanism gained victory in the revolution of 1689, the faith in the Restoration of the Jews was saved for the period: following the overthrow of the Stuarts.  John Milton became the messenger of that faith during the last years of his life.  In his “Paradise Regained” he foretold “a wondrous call” by which God will bring back the posterity of Abraham “to their native land.”  Milton’s posthumous work, De Doctrina Christiana, also shows him as an adherent of the doctrine of the Restoration of the Jews.  Locke, too, may be counted among the representatives of this doctrine.  The author of the “Essay on Human Understanding,” in his Paraphrases of St. Paul’s Epistles, writes: “However they (the Jews) are now scattered, and under subjection of strangers, God is able to collect them into one Body, make them his People, and set them in flourishing condition in their own land.”  Thomas Burnet, author of the “Sacred Theory of the Earth,” dealing with the problem of trhe Restoration of the Jews, devoted a rather voluminous dissertation, De Futura Judaeorum Restauration, to his “celebrated question,” as he termed it.  He contemplated the Restoration of the Jews as an important and indispensable part of the apocalyptic events, and maintained that the Restoration of the Jews will not take place before the great cosmic events due at that time. 

Sir Isaac Newton, too, affirmed the millenarian teaching and the doctrine of the Restoration of the Jews.  He relied entirely upon the predictions of the Bible, drawing conclusions with the same certainty as from the mathematical principles.  His method of interpretation, however, differed from that of Burnet and other millenarians.  Newton’s main sources of the millenarian eschatology were the Book of Daniel and the Revelation of St. John, both of which were the subject of profound studies.  The results of these studies are contained in the “Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John,” published five years after his death in 1733.  A passage in the Book of Daniel has, in Newton’s opinion, a decisive significance for the question of the Restoration of the Jews.  Newton regards this passage, Chapter ix, 25*, as a prophecy not yet fulfilled.  He tries to lift the mysterious veil which surrounds verse 25, and to reveal the sense of this yet unfulfilled prophecy: This part of the prophecy being therefore not yet fulfilled, I shall not attempt a particular interpretation of it, but content myself with observing that, as the seventy and the sixty-two weeks were Jewish weeks ending with sabbatical years, so the seven weeks are the compass of a Jubilee, and of the highest nature for which a Jubilee can be kept; and that, since the commandment to return precedes the Messiah the Prince 49 years; it may perhaps come not from the Jews themselves, but from some other kingdom friendly to them, and precede their return from captivity and give occasion to it; and lastly, that the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the waste places is predicted in Mich. vii. 11, Amos ix. 11, 14, Ezek. xxxvi. 33, 35, 36, 38, Isa. liv. 3, 11, 12, lv. 12, lxi. 4, lxv. 18, 21, 22, and Tobit xiv. 5, and thus the return from captivity and coming of the Messiah and his kingdom are described in Daniel vii, Rev. xix., Acts i., Mal. Xxiv., Joel iii., Ezek., xxxvi., xxxvii., Isa., lx., lxii., lxiii., lxv., and lxvi., and many other places in Scripture.  The manner I know not.  Let time be the interpreter.”

This cautiously formulated “Observation” of the great naturalist is one of the first interpretations by which the historical-political reality entered into the doctrine of the Restoration of the Jews.  The commandment coming forth from a “kingdom friendly to them” is, although still a religious phenomenon, essentially different in its appearance from Milton’s “wondrous call” or from the miraculous conversion, which Joseph Mede, the master of English Millenarianism, and his followers declared to be the prerequisite of the Restoration of the Jews.  Thus Newton’s splendid realism, regarding miracles as in a certain sense natural phenomena, became triumphant.  He kept also outside the adventurous road of Thomas Burnet and avoided any fantastic mixture of mysticism and science.  Here again, Newton tried “to predict with considerable accuracy a limited order of events,” expecting the intervention of an earthly power into the destiny of the dispersed people and daring the conjecture that this step will cause its Restoration, like the decree of Cyrus.  It may be recalled that in 1695, during the lifetime of Newton, the Dane, Oliger Paulli, appealed to King William III to re-erect the Jewish Kingdom.

Newton, anxious to be no less precise in predicting historic events than in calculating astronomical phenomena, did not predict any detail, and did not speculate on the question as to which was the kingdom friendly to the Jews.  There is, however, no doubt that Newton, a true and ardent Protestant, could not bear in mind any other power than a Protestant Kingdom.  It is reasonable to assume that Great Britain was at least one of the powers destined, according to Newton’s conjecture, for the issue of the “commandment.”  In an even more restrained manner, Newton dealt with the Restoration itself.  The many carefully chosen quotations, mostly from the Prophets, clearly indicate his full confidence in the coming of the event.  He refused, however, to make more particular assertions, with definite decision: “The manner I know not.”  But a characteristic hopeful turn is given in the sentence: “Let time be the interpreter.”  A wise modesty linked with deep trust in the truth of prophecy and the Divine rule of history shine out of these five words uttered by a man who transformed the idea of Universe.

The effect produced by Newton’s “Observations,” and particularly by his attitude towards the Restoration of the Jews, was considerable and can be traced in the later development.  In l747, William Whiston, himself an outstanding pioneer of the doctrine, referring to Isaiah’s prophecy on the ships of Tarshish. (chap. lx, 9, 10), thought that the British nation and the States of Holland are probably chosen for the purpose of assisting the return of the Jews.  Whiston was Newton’s intimate friend and temporary successor as professor of mathematics at Cambridge, and was obviously inspired in this conjecture by Newton’s remark that a kingdom friendly to the Jews would help in the Restoration.  Even more certain is the connection of Newton’s “Observations” with Samuel Collet’s “Treatise of the future Restoration of the Jews and Israelites to their own Land,” published in 1747.  In this work the foresight and the absence of any conversionist tendency deserve special attention.  Here the passage from Newton’s “Observations” dealing with the “forthcoming commandment” has been quoted literally.  Collet himself supposed that “Some commandment will go forth (but from whom is not said) to cause them (the Jews) to return from their present dispersion, and to build Jerusalem.”  Half a century later, James Bicheno, impressed by Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt and Syria, wrote his remarkable book, “The Restoration of the Jews: the Crisis of all Nations” (published 1800), in which, for the first time, political action is urged upon Great Britain, in favor of the resettlement of the Jews in Palestine.  This book contains also a historical survey of the authors and works dealing with the question, and in this connection Sir Isaac Newton is mentioned as having accepted the distinction made by the ancient prophets between the first return, when the Jews should build a temple inferior to Solomon’s, and the second, when they should return from all places of their captivity and build Jerusalem.

No time, however, was more appropriate to renew the memory of the interpretation which one of Britain’s greatest sons applied to a prophecy on the Restoration of the Jewish people than these present-days.

*”Know also and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to cause to return and to build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks, the street shall be built again, and the walls even in troublous times.”

– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow – 2014

Reference

Guide to the Papers of Franz Kobler, at the Center for Jewish History, at
http://findingaids.cjh.org/?pID=121536

 

 

 

Thoughts from The Frontier: The Chastisement of God, by Chaim N. Bialik (Jewish Frontier, May, 1942)

A poem, by Chaim N. Bialik, translated by Abraham Moses Klein, famous Canadian-Jewish poet and writer from Montreal.

____________________

THE CHASTISEMENT OF GOD

Translated from the Hebrew by Abraham M. Klein

          The chastisement of God is this His curse:
That you shall your own very hearts deny
To cast your hallowed years on foreign waters, –
Your tears on luminous false threads to thread,
To breathe, your breath in marble alien,
And in the heathen, stone to sink your soul.

          The teeth of the gluttons of your flesh drip blood –
But you shall feed them also your own souls;
And Pithom and Rameses for those that hate you
Shall you erect, your children used as brick.
Yea, and their cry, from wood and stone arising,
Within the portal of your ear shall die.

          If one of these shall grow an eagle’s wings
For ever from his eerie shall you fling him,
And should he, mighty, thirsting the sun, soar upwards –
No, not for you shall sunlight be revealed,
And not on you effulgence glow when his
Pinions divide the clouds, a path for sun!
For high upon crags, shall he lift up his scream;
The echo thereof shall not your ears attain.

          So shall you, one by one, the noblest spurn
And so shall you at least remain bereaved.
Your tent has laid waste, and glory fled from your hearth,
Calamity and terror shall be yours.
The foot of God shall spurn your threshold, and
Joy shall not tap your windowpane.
Seek you your ruins for prayer – you cannot pray;
Summon consolatory tears – in vain;
Withered shall be your hearth, a cluster of grapes,
Shrunken, flung in a corner of the [vine]
Wherefrom the hearth-rejoicing sap shall never rise
Nor ever shall restore the soul that [pities].

          Yea, you shall stir the hearth to find cold stones
Where in the chilled ashes mews the [cat].
In grief and sorrow shall you sit.  Without,
The melancholy world; within you, dust.
Dead flies in your windows you shall then behold,
And in the desolate cracks, the spider’s web;
And you shall hear the shaking of the wall,
And in the chimney, wailing Penury.

Thoughts from The Frontier:  What Shall We Write?, by Shlomo Katz (Jewish Frontier, May, 1940)

As described in the prior post – Thoughts From the Frontier: The Jewish Frontier, 1933-2005 – here is the full essay by Shlomo Katz which was published in the May, 1940 issue of the Jewish Frontier

It was published some eight months after German’s invasion of Poland marked the beginning of the Second World War; one year and one month before the German invasion of the Soviet Union; over a year and a half before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Doubtless Shlomo Katz, in obviously speaking for himself, was articulating the thoughts of many others, in words that in some sense are still pertinent today:

“…why doesn’t he choose Jewish themes for his work, in addition to the others that had been haunting him?  This, precisely, is his dilemma.  He frequently cannot.  Born or raised in this country, the process of cultural assimilation has progressed quite a distance.  The ties that bind the young Jewish writer to Jews are almost certainly entirely those with the immediate Jewish community with which he comes in contact, whose peculiarities he not only knows but also shares.  The concept of the Jewish people throughout the world as a unit may not be strange to him ideologically; he may even argue in favor of such a concept where political theories are concerned.  But personally he has already lost the feeling of unity with the larger whole to a great extent.  Only the slimmest cultural and psychic ties bind him to Jews of Poland, Palestine, Germany or Russia.  That is why he cannot feel about the tragic fate of the European Jews in the same distant and detached terms as he feels about the fate of the Chinese people, for example.  But at the same time he is too far removed from them to be able to identify himself with Polish or German Jews in a personal manner.  The immensity of the tragedy appalls him; he feels directly concerned, but not sufficiently to make him a living part of the drama.  Between him and the European scene there lie years, years that count in building up one’s personality, of life in America.  These years, with all the cultural baggage that was accumulated in them, he does not share with Europe’s Jews; and they stand between him and them.

“Anyone who has given even cursory attention to organized – or for that matter unorganized – Jewish reaction to events in Europe cannot but help notice this manifestation.  On the one hand there are editorials full of sorrow, indignation and protest.  Occasionally there is a protest meeting here and there.  If the meeting is well prepared and there is an imposing array of cantors to intone the deeply moving chant for the victims, there are tears shed by those who do not have their emotions well in hand.  Otherwise – aside from people that have relatives in the affected countries and are thus directly involved – there is no group response of any significant intensity to what is probably the most tragic event in our century.  Individual Jews sigh and have done their duty.  The group as such feels that something should be done but is, perhaps unconsciously, also too detached to have the inner strength and imagination to think of some strong way in which to express its feelings.”

The essay follows…

____________________

What Should We Write?
Present day dilemma of American Jewish writers.

By Shlomo Katz
May, 1940

“If I had ten lives to live, I’d gladly spend one of them as a Jew.”  This unofficial declaration was made to me by a young man who, technically, was far from indifferent to things Jewish.  As a matter of fact, he was, at the time of this declaration, a member in good standing in one of the Zionist groups and regularly paid his dues.  But in private conversation that was not entirely free of youthful bravado and assumed cynicism he came to the above conclusion.

It would be unfair to accuse this particular young man of hypocrisy.  On the contrary, he was probably more honest than many another who would repeat mechanically a pledge of allegiance and participation in the fate of his people, without actually feeling that tragic fate as a part of his inner being.  This young man, born and raised in the United States, was at the age of the great hunger.  He wanted to be a chemist, a globe trotter, a labor leader, a success, a tragic (and slightly melodramatic) failure and a dozen other things at the same time.  He had not yet decided in which direction to turn his energies and was still leading a dream life parallel to the definitely undreamy routine tasks which he was performing daily in a garage for a not very substantial wage.  It was while speculating on these varied careers that he decided that being a Jew full time might also be interesting, but as a choice could wait until a number of other things had been sampled.  For no matter how hard he tried – and although he was proud enough not to deny his Jewishness and generous enough to be willing to help the work in Palestine, relief in Europe and a number of other Jewish causes – he could not see that being a Jew had anything to do with chemistry or any of the other careers which he visualized as the main theme of his life.  He was honest enough to realize that being a Jew introduced a new and different element into his life, but this element occupied a back seat in his waking hours and only remotely affected his subconscious desires and reactions.  Not being cursed with too introspective a nature nor tormented to distraction by “problems,” he therefore did some chronological classifying and listed the life of a Jew as being tenth most satisfying and interesting.

I was reminded of this young man’s arithmetic during a recent conversation that took place between a number of young Jewish writers.  But in this case the arithmetic was reversed and they came to the conclusion that there was no choice in the matter.  Each one had but one life and was impelled to but one career, that of writing, from which he could not possibly escape.  But the one life with which each was endowed was divided into a number of readily recognizable segments – one of which was Jewish.  And there was the rub.  The factor of being a Jew and reacting to Jewish fate created a problem which none of them could escape, nor, under the circumstances, easily solve.

The problem which each one in the group had to contend with resolved itself into a practical one – what should he write about these days?

On the face of it, this question may seem absurd.  Surely no writer worth that name lacks subject matter.  But this is a very superficial view to take, as soon became evident from the conversation.  It was not a question of lack of subject matter as such, but attaining the state of mind and the creative ability to translate the subject matter in artistic literary terms.  Hardly any of the young writers who participated in the discussion had written on Jewish matters for a long time.  They had either been born in the United States or had immigrated into this country at an early age.  Due to childhood memories from abroad, where Jewish life was integrated, or as a result of having been brought up in a compact Jewish environment here, some “felt their Jewishness” more than others.  While still in high school they wrote bright compositions vividly describing memories of a pogrom, of being a refugee, or scenes from Chicago’s West Side.  But as they grew to emotional maturity in the American environment they became sensitive to the landscape about them.  Childhood memories receded even further into the background and lost their intensity only to be supplanted by more immediate and stronger responses.  They then wrote left wing “proletarian” stories, sketches of regional interest and deeply introspective and sensitive poems and prose-poems that dealt with such immediate subjects as the impact of the large industrial city both in its economic as well as psychological phases.  Hemmingway’s “Killers” supplanted the Cossacks in the pogrom story and Wolfe’s and Saroyan’s stories were studied as patterns.

Now this became almost impossible to do any longer.  The difficulty did not arise overnight.  It has grown during the past few years, roughly beginning with the ascent of Hitler.  But as the news of the mounting tragedy in Europe kept piling up during the years it painfully penetrated consciousness and confronted them with a dilemma.  The awareness of their Jewishness transformed the news from Europe into a personal injury and tended to replace other subjects in importance.

“How can I write of loneliness in new York, or poverty, or the despair felt by one of the economic outcasts, after I had just read some particularly gruesome piece of news from Germany or Poland?” declared one of the group.  “True, one does not rule out the other, objectively.  But keenly as I may feel the situation I wish to write about, I cannot help repeating to myself the particular piece of news I read about, and the loneliness of the great city as well as the tragedy of poverty recede in importance; for I visualize the victim in Poland or Germany and I know that he would be happy to exchange positions with the lonely soul, and be thankful for it.  I am then confronted with a new theme which in artistic intensity overshadows the one I originally conceived.  You will admit that the prospect of one so crushed as to be humbly thankful for that against which we protest, and mind you, honestly and sincerely, is certainly a more moving subject.  My first hero who tears his hair in the loneliness of his room while listening to the monotonous ticking of the clock (but after a fair meal) and my heroine who is about to jump off the George Washington Bridge because she cannot practice her art as freely as she would like to while she remains on a W.P.A. project, become shadowy in outline.  Again, I repeat, these subjects are still powerful and justify treatment, but I lose my approach; I fall out of the mood and can no longer do these subjects that justice which I feel is their due.”

This feeling of loss of contact with immediate subjects because of the emotional impact of the news from Europe was shared by the others present.  Judging from the various reports as well as intuitive conclusions it seems to be quite characteristic of the mood of a great many of the younger Jewish writers of today.

This mood of depression is quite natural to any person who is sensitive to events about him and, in itself, would not be of great importance.  Under normal circumstances it should not present the writer with any particular problem.  On the contrary, such a mood, being the result of a deeply felt experience, might serve to boost the creative efforts of the writer.  Ordinarily the writer would seek release of the accumulated psychic tension by giving vent to it in the form of story, poetry or drama.  But herein lies the difficulty of the young American Jewish writer.  He lives in two different milieus neither of which is strong enough to cancel the other completely.

If any writer feels as described above, one might ask, why doesn’t he choose Jewish themes for his work, in addition to the others that had been haunting him?  This, precisely, is his dilemma.  He frequently cannot.  Born or raised in this country, the process of cultural assimilation has progressed quite a distance.  The ties that bind the young Jewish writer to Jews are almost certainly entirely those with the immediate Jewish community with which he comes in contact, whose peculiarities he not only knows but also shares.  The concept of the Jewish people throughout the world as a unit may not be strange to him ideologically; he may even argue in favor of such a concept where political theories are concerned.  But personally he has already lost the feeling of unity with the larger whole to a great extent.  Only the slimmest cultural and psychic ties bind him to Jews of Poland, Palestine, Germany or Russia.  That is why he cannot feel about the tragic fate of the European Jews in the same distant and detached terms as he feels about the fate of the Chinese people, for example.  But at the same time he is too far removed from them to be able to identify himself with Polish or German Jews in a personal manner.  The immensity of the tragedy appalls him; he feels directly concerned, but not sufficiently to make him a living part of the drama.  Between him and the European scene there lie years, years that count in building up one’s personality, of life in America.  These years, with all the cultural baggage that was accumulated in them, he does not share with Europe’s Jews; and they stand between him and them.

I am not speaking of the type of writing which is done more or less to order, to conform to a deadline.  This can be done fairly easily, as it is always easier to carry out an assignment, with which one agrees, than to establish a natural relationship between oneself and a given situation.  The dilemma described confronts the young Jewish writer not when he is supposed to give his views on the Jewish situation, but when he communes with his typewriter to write what he most wishes to write.  It is then that the weight of Polish and German Jewish tragedy prevents him from giving himself completely to his immediate subjects, because of its staggering immensity, and it is then that he also feels incapable or writing honestly and without editorial affectation about this all-Jewish subject.

It is true that a writer is not the only one to suffer from this dualism.  The Jewish community as such is also subject to the same malady.  Anyone who has given even cursory attention to organized – or for that matter unorganized – Jewish reaction to events in Europe cannot but help notice this manifestation.  On the one hand there are editorials full of sorrow, indignation and protest.  Occasionally there is a protest meeting here and there.  If the meeting is well prepared and there is an imposing array of cantors to intone the deeply moving chant for the victims, there are tears shed by those who do not have their emotions well in hand.  Otherwise – aside from people that have relatives in the affected countries and are thus directly involved – there is no group response of any significant intensity to what is probably the most tragic event in our century.  Individual Jews sigh and have done their duty.  The group as such feels that something should be done but is, perhaps unconsciously, also too detached to have the inner strength and imagination to think of some strong way in which to express its feelings.  Hence the far from adequate results of the boycott against Nazi-German goods, which could only be successful as a mass movement in which every individual feels directly connected.  Hence also the fact that the Jewish community in America did not succeed in working out successfully, some fitting symbolic act through which each could express his feelings.

I venture a guess that the Nuremberg laws, which branded Jews under German rule as racially inferior and hence defiling, had far greater repercussion in the minds of American Jews than all the other Nazi legislation and persecutions.  Where the “race” was concerned, American Jews felt directly attacked.  They began to have misgivings about their own status and relationships with non-Jewish neighbors.  It was a slight to Jewish self-respect and, as Jews, they felt affected and more than one suddenly began to doubt and to develop morbid suspicions that he was being looked down upon.  But all the other anti-Jewish legislation – confiscation, executions, exile – these one could only sympathize with from a distance; they could not be felt as personal hurts.

This curse of dualism, of belonging to two cultural organisms, affects both the writer as well as “the man of the people”.  But in the case of the former the dualism is keenly felt on many occasions whereas the latter stumbles along almost unaware until some historic event – which may not occur for a long time – jolts him out of his complacence.

The dilemma of the young Jewish writer is still further complicated today by the current confusion and loss of values which many had cherished.  In former years (or should we say months?) many had sought salve for their split personalities in the left wing movement.  The revolution would solve the Jewish question, they said, or left unsaid.  The communist party is fighting fascism more actively than any other group.  One could thus calm his inner hurt as a Jew by helping this party, even through writing “proletarian” or “popular front” stories and poems.  One killed two birds with one stone – he wrote of the subjects that were nearest his heart – American subjects – and also assuaged his desire to fight the monstrous movement which singled him out as a Jew.  Many a Jewish volunteer of the International Brigade that fought for loyalist Spain was just as strongly moved by the desire to “fight Hitlerism” as by the desire to fight for democracy.

But even now this last escape of some young Jewish writers is pretty badly washed up.  Russia and the communist party have lost their absolving power even for the majority of those who clung to them to the last minute.  Other groups are mere little sects at this time and give no consolation to the heavy-laden.  The news from Europe piles up like a mountain of darkness and demands some compensating action.  And the writer can neither ignore it nor completely merge with it and give it expression.

This does not mean that writing has ceased.  It still continues and will continue under all circumstances.  Writers would not be the people they are if they could easily stop covering paper with words and, likely as not, being sure that they are doing something great and indispensable.  But many a young Jewish writer will get up from his typewriter these days without having turned out a line, unable for the moment to continue working on the subject that he started because his mind is staggered by the Jewish tragedy of today without his being able at the same time to identify himself with it and to give voice to it. 

– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow, 2010

Thoughts From The Frontier: The Jewish Frontier, 1933-2005

Located in the New York Public Library’s Steven A. Schwarzman Building, the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library comprises – as very aptly described on the website of the New York Public Library – “…one of the world’s great collections of Hebraica and Judaica.”  The geographic, linguistic, ideological, and temporal breadth of the Dorot Division’s holdings allows researchers – whether professional, amateur, or anywhere-in-between – the opportunity to conduct research into most any aspect of the history of the Jewish people, with special emphasis upon the following areas:

Jews in the United States (particularly New York in the age of immigration)
Yiddish Theater
Jews in Israel, through 1948
Jews in early modern Europe, especially Jewish-Gentile relations
Christian Hebraism
antisemitism
…and…
World Jewish newspapers and periodicals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

Importantly, are assisted by a highly knowledgeable, accommodating, and congenial staff, in – but of course! – a physical setting and geographic locale of singular historical, cultural, and social significance. 

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The image below, from Jerome Ryan’s Travel Photos, shows the reading room of the Dorot Jewish Division.

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The Dorot Divison’s collection of Jewish newspapers and periodicals is an unparalleled resource for researching Jewish history in the dual contexts of Jewish military service, and, genealogy.  Researchers are provided with requested items in either original; physical – textual – format, or more often microfilm, the latter especially for periodicals and monographs where the original item is too rare or delicate for manual use.  For example, all prior (and hopefully future!) posts on this blog covering items in The Jewish Chronicle and l’Univers Israélite (“The Jewish World”) were based on copies made from 35mm microfilm.  In terms of copying, there’s sufficient external and internal illumination in the Dorot Division’s research room for digital photography, while the Milstein Microform Reading Room – in Room 119; quite literally “across the hall” from the Dorot Division in Room 111 – has numerous microfilm viewing / reading machines, which allow the creation of digital copies, with a few some temperamental “older” machines providing conventional photocopies. 

One of the periodicals I’ve investigated at the Dorot Jewish Division has been the Jewish Frontier, the monthly magazine of the Labor Zionist Movement, which was published from 1934 through 2005.  According to the Dorot Division’s catalog record, the Frontier was published by the Labor League for Palestine from 1933 through April of 1938, and commencing in May of 1938 by the Jewish Frontier Association.  The Frontier was founded by Hayim Greenberg (also its first editor), Marie Syrkin, and Dr. Haim Fineman, the latter of Temple University in Philadelphia.  Eventually, Marie Syrkin succeeded Hayim Greenberg as editor.  As stated at the website of Ameinu (the successor organization to the Labor Zionist Alliance), the Jewish Frontier’s, “mission was to explore, advance, and, where appropriate, reshape the humanistic ideas and progressive values that underlie modern Labor Zionist thought and belief.” 

My discovery of the Jewish Frontier was fortuitous.  I first learned “about” the publication in the book in Gulie Ne’eman Arad’s America, Its Jews, and the Rise of Nazism (Indiana University Press, 2000).  The book reviews the response of American Jewry – particularly that of its leadership – to the persecution of Jews within and by Nazi Germany, prior to America’s actual entry into the Second World War.  This is framed in the lengthier context of the historical experience of the Jews in the United States, commencing from the mid-nineteenth century, and shows a community (if that word can be used) – particularly its leaders – trapped between competing desires for acceptance by the larger society on the one hand, and, community solidarity on the other.  The book sheds invaluable, illuminating, realistic (and perhaps disillusioning…) light on this period of American Jewish history.   

Dr. Arad’s book concludes with an excerpt from an essay by Shlomo Katz from the May, 1940 issue of the Jewish Frontier.  Entitled “What Shall We Write?”.  Katz’s essay discusses the geographic, social and cultural, and ultimately psychological and cognitive “distance” between the Jews of America – particularly among intellectuals and writers – and those of Europe, prevailing among American Jewry shortly before the start of the Second World War. 

The excerpt from Katz’s essay, as presented in Dr. Arad’s book, appears below:

The concept of the Jewish people throughout the world as a unit may not be strange to him ideologically; he may even argue in favor of such a concept where political theories are concerned.  But personally he has already lost the feeling of unity with the larger whole to a great extent.  Only the slimmest cultural and psychic ties bind him to Jews of Poland, Palestine, Germany or Russia.  That is why he cannot feel about the tragic fate of the European Jews in the same distant and detached terms as he feels about the fate of the Chinese people, for example.  But at the same time he is too far removed from them to be able to identify himself with Polish or German Jews in a personal manner.  The immensity of the tragedy appalls him; he feels directly concerned, but not sufficiently to make him a living part of the drama.  Between him and the European scene there lie years, years that count in building up one’s personality, of life in America.  These years, with all the cultural baggage that was accumulated in them, he does not share with Europe’s Jews; and they stand between him and them.

This was interesting.  This meant something.  (This means something, still.)  This prompted me to look further.

I reviewed issues of the Jewish Frontier published from 1933 through the early 1950s.  What I found was, on a consistent basis, superb, compelling writing.  A sense of realism: Authors who confronted and described situations as they were.  A tempered, moral urgency.  A sense of pride.  A sense of the need for action. 

I do not know what prompted Greenberg, Syrkin, and Fineman to decide upon the title of “Jewish Frontier” for their periodical, but in retrospect, it was very apropos. 

Perhaps it was their perception understanding that pre-1948 Yishuv was – in senses physical, spiritual, and psychological – very much a world of the frontier; on the frontier.  Perhaps it was to connote that when Avraham Aveinu left Ur and crossed the Euphrates River en route to (then) Canaan, he had crossed over not only a physical boundary, but accepted borders and assumptions of thought and action, to stand alone in his belief in one God.  He was alone and undaunted in his faith, on a “frontier” that was not solely physical. 

Perhaps it was both. 

Presently, none of the content of The Jewish Frontier appears to ever have been digitized.  Worthy of being read and pondered even today, in 2017, I hope to present a few essays and articles in future blog posts

For the moment, an appropriate start is the presentation of the full text of Shlomo Katz’s essay of May, 1940.

References

Ameinu, at
http://www.ameinu.net/

Labor Zionist Alliance, at
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/labor-zionist-alliance

New York Public Library, at
https://www.nypl.org/

New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish Division, at
https://www.nypl.org/locations/divisions/jewish-division

New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish Division, Jewish Frontier Catalog Record, at
Jewish Frontier Catalog Record

New York Public Library – Milstein Division of U.S., Local History and Genealogy, at
https://www.nypl.org/about/divisions/milstein

Jerome Ryan’s Mountains of Travel Photos, at
http://mountainsoftravelphotos.com/index.html

Abraham the Hebrew, at Ohr Hadash, at
http://thetrugmans.com/673/abraham-the-hebrew/

A Jew Among the Cossacks: An Account from The Jewish Exponent (Philadelphia) in 1922 – II – The Original Article

Earlier this year, I presented a transcript of a story that was published in The Jewish Exponent (of Philadelphia) in 1922, by Jacob B. Abramowitz, entitled “My Experience as a Jewish Cossack“.  This intriguing tale presents Abramowitz’s (unintentional, involuntary, dramatic, and eventually memorable) service – as a known and identified Jew – in the Cossack forces of General Grigoriy Mikhaylovich Semenov (Григорий Михайлович Семёнов) during the Russian Civil War

In the commentary that accompanied Abramowitz’s story, I mentioned that I have been unable to find anything, whatsoever, about him. 

He is and remains an enigma.

What is not an enigma is the original story, which, copied from a microfilm master of The Jewish Exponent, is shown below. 

It adds nothing new, really, but it does show you the original item, and gives an indication of how articles were presented in the Exponent nearly a century ago.

A Jew Among the Cossacks: An Account from The Jewish Exponent (Philadelphia) in 1922 – I

In the same way that The Jewish Chronicle (London) accorded great attention to Jewish military service during World War One – naturally focusing on Jewish soldiers of the Commonwealth countries – so did The Jewish Exponent (of Philadelphia) report on Jews in the American military during that time.*  However, given that America’s military effort in “The Great War” substantively commenced in 1917, the number of such news items in The Exponent is far fewer – and far less systematically presented – than such items in the Chronicle.

Given the scope, nature, and effects of World War One, with the major military campaigns in the “East” transpiring across the geographic and demographic “center” of European Jewry (Poland and the Ukraine) the Exponent and especially the Chronicle presented detailed and lengthy articles about the activities, experiences, and travails of – and appalling suffering endured by – Jewish civilians living in those regions.  This coverage would continue well into the early 1920s.

The following article is one such item, and a very unusual one, at that:  An account by Jacob Abramowitz, Russian Jewish art student, concerning his military service in a company of Siberian Cossacks, which appeared in the Exponent in 1922.

A web search for information about the author yields a solitary entry: In Volume 19, Issue 1, of the U.S. Government Printing Office Publication of January 1, 1923, of “Catalogue of Copyright Entries: Pamphlets, leaflets, contributions to newspapers or periodicals, etc.; lectures, sermons, addresses for oral delivery; dramatic compositions, maps; motion pictures,” under page 665 – “Books”, appears the listing: “Abramowitz (Jacob B.) My Experiences as a Jewish Cossack, by Jacob B. Abramowitz, tr. by Maximilian Hurwitz. (In Jewish Tribune)”.  Otherwise, he remains an enigma.

The “General Grigory Semyonov” referred to in the story is – according to Wikipedia – Grigoriy Mikhaylovich Semenov (Григорий Михайлович Семёнов).  Born in 1890 in the Transbaikal region of Eastern Siberia, he served as a Cossack Ensign in WW I, where he earned the George Cross in battle against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. After the Russian Revolution, he fled to Harbin, China.  He left Russian territory by 1921, eventually living in Nagasaki, and then the United States.  He subsequently returned to China, where he was captured by Soviet Military forces in 1945.  Charged with counter-revolutionary activities, he was executed in 1946.  (The information in this Wikipedia entry is derived from the 2009 book White Terror: Cossack Warlords of the Trans-Siberian, by Jamie Bisher.)

According to a biographical note in a short story penned for the February, 1920, issue of The American Hebrew, Maximilian Hurwitz was, “Born in Shati, Russia, in 1887; came to American in 1904, and was educated in the schools of Pittsburgh, Pa.  (University of Pittsburgh, A.B., 1915.)”  He served on the staff of The Jewish News

With very great irony, Hurwitz’s story, “Eili, Eili, Lomo Asavtoni?” (“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”) – from which I extracted the above biographical data – was itself written to commemorate, “the Jewish martyrs who fell in the recent massacres in Poland and the Ukraine”…

And so, Jacob Abramowitz’s story follows below.  

As to its veracity, I have no idea. 

But, it is an interesting read, with a mild air of Isaac Babel to it…

* This applies even moreso to coverage of Jewish military service in WW II.  More about that – much (much) more, I hope – in the future.

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(Following the format of my prior posts concerning articles from The Jewish Chronicle of 1914, the story can be accessed in PDF format, here.) 

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For more about this period of history, I strongly suggest The Slaughter of the Jews In the Ukraine in 1919, by Elias Heifetz, published in 1921, and, David Vital’s magisterial 1999 book, A People Apart – A Political History of the Jews in Europe, 1789-1939.  More recently, this tragic period of Jewish history – seemingly superseded in Jewish collective memory by geographic and psychological distance, and especially the magnitude of the Shoah only two decades later – was the subject of a Discussion at YIVO – “A Forgotten Genocide: The Pogroms in Ukraine, 1918-1919, and their Impact on Memory and Politics” – on May 16, 2016, with videos of the four presentations available here.

– Michael G. Moskow

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My Experience as a Jewish Cossack

 The Jewish Exponent

May 26, 1922

By Jacob A. Abramowitz

(Copyright 1922 by the Jewish Writer’s Guild – All Rights Reserved)

This is a thrilling yet true story of the adventures of a Russian Jewish art student who, shortly before the Russian Revolution, was called to the colors and assigned to a Siberian Cossack regiment, was captured by General Gregory Semenoff and condemned to die, and was saved only through the intercession of a Cossack officer, his former commander and friend.  Mr. Abramowitz, the author and hero of this story, which was translated from the author’s manuscript by Maximilian Hurwitz, derives additional interest from the presence in this country of General Semenoff. – Editor’s Note.

The call to colors, which reached me during the last days of the Czarist rule, found me a student at the Odessa Art School.  I had to leave school and report to the local commandant.  Owing to poor eyesight I was sent to an army hospital for observation.  There I was found fit for military service and sent back to the commandant to be assigned to some unit.

Meanwhile the revolution broke out.  The Provisional Government offered amnesty to all deserters who would report for duty within a given time; if, however, captured after that time, they were to be severely punished.  As everybody then believed the war was over, many gave themselves up, and the commandant was kept busy by the deserters.  Accordingly I was temporarily assigned for clerical work in his office.

Then the rush of deserters came to an end, the commandant informed me that he intended to assign me as a clerk to a company of Siberian Cossacks, then stationed in Odessa.  Their clerk had taken sick and gone home, so the company commander had applied to the commandant for a clerk, and the latter thought of appointing me.  I was terrified when I heard of it, and begged him not to send me, a Jew, to the Cossacks, who would be sure to persecute me.  He, however, persuaded me to go there, pointing out that I ought not to be afraid, as the revolution had made all men equal, and there was no longer any difference between Jew and Gentile.  Nevertheless he agreed that if after a week’s trial I found it impossible to remain I was to report back to him and he would assign me to some other unit.

With a heavy heart I reported the next day to the commander of the company, Yesouf Lavrov.  Contrary to my expectations, he received me in a very friendly manner.  He looked over my papers and asked me where I had studied, and was delighted when I told him it was an art school.  He told me that at one time he, too, had dreamt of becoming an artist.  We then had a long conversation about art and literature, so that I quite forgot I was talking to a Cossack officer and my prospective commander.  I had entertained a different notion about a Cossack.  I had expected to meet an ignorant, savage, blood-thirsty brute and here was a cultured gentleman talking about literature and art.

When we were about to part, he expressed his satisfaction that it was I and not some one else that had been sent to him, as the old clerk was a very ignorant man and the commander felt lonesome having no one to talk to.  I replied that I should be glad to serve under him, but feared that the Cossacks might treat me roughly because of my race.  Lavrov burst out laughing and told me to leave it all to him, and ordered me to report early the next day.

When I arrived at the appointed time, Lavrov was already waiting for me.  He greeted me very warmly, and then ordered the company to fall in line in the courtyard.  When we stepped out into the courtyard, the Cossacks were already mounted and lined up in a semi-circle.  He then presented me to his command, as follors:

“This is our new clerk.  He is a Jew.  This is the first time in the history of our Siberian Cossacks troops that a Jew joined our ranks.  Till now, we regarded the Jews as the enemies of our country, but the revolution has opened our eyes and we know now who the real enemy was.  It was the Czar, who incited us against one another.  Do you know that we are generally considered wild beasts?  And really we have sinned against all and particularly against the Jews.  But let us show in our behavior toward our new comrade that we have become enlightened men.  Our new comrade is afraid to join our ranks, believing that you have not changed.  But perhaps he is right and I am mistaken about you.  Maybe there are those among you who still cling to their old ideas.  If so, it would be better off for him not to enter our ranks at all.  Decide for yourselves whether you want to take him into our family or not.  Talk this matter over and let us know your decision.”

We went back to the office.  Less than fifteen minutes later the sergeant came in and announced that the company had unanimously voted to take me in and to protect me against insult by Cossacks from other companies.

We again stepped out into the courtyard.  The commander delivered a short speech, thanking the Cossacks for their decision.  Then he gave orders that a horse be selected for me and that the flag be brought out.  Thereupon I was sworn in by Levrov, who embraced me.  A horse was then brought up and the Cossacks helped me mount it, giving three cheers.  And so I became a Cossack.

My duties were quite simple and easy.  I was taught riding part of the day, although I never learned to ride like a real Cossack, for Cossacks grow up and spend most of their lives on horseback.  The rest of the day I spent in drawing up reports.  I had lots of leisure and spent a good deal of time in the company of the commander, who became my chum.  The Cossacks were very friendly to me, and I endeared myself to them by writing letters for them to their folks at home and reading the letters they received.  The called me “Sonny” because I was the youngest and shortest among them.

Thus we spent the whole summer.  Suddenly an order came for us to report to the front and to join a Cossack regiment.  We arrived at the front.  The Cossacks of the other companies looked askance at me, but the Cossacks of my company argued with them and convinced them that I was as good as they, if not better.  Little by little they got used to me and they would boast to Cossacks of other regiments that “we are the only Cossacks who have a Jew among us.”

Meanwhile the old clerk of the company got well and reported back for duty.  I was then transferred to regimental headquarters, where I was also employed as a clerk.  Here the work was easier yet.  I was asked whether I would like to be sent to an officers training school in Odessa, but I preferred to remain a private in the ranks, in order not to part with my regiment.

When the Bolsheviki came into power and all our soldiers began to leave the front, our division decided that there was nothing left for us to do there.  Besides, news had come from home that Chinese bandits were raiding and plundering the Cossack villages, and the soldiers wanted to return home as soon as possible.  The officers, on the other hand, were against returning home.  They wanted the division to join the forces of General Kornikoff and General Kaledin and fight against the Bolsheviki.  We, however, decided to remain neutral and began our homeward journey across the Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government tried to force us to join Korailoff and hindered us at every step.  The government wanted to break up and scatter the division, because united the division was a power to be reckoned with, especially since it had its own artillery.  In their efforts to detain us the Ukrainian authorities advised us to proceed on horseback up to a certain point, where trains would be put at our disposal to take us home.

The journey was a very trying one.  We spent whole days on horseback, in winter weather that was particularly severe that year.  The peasants would sometimes be hospitable and sometimes hostile.  Sometimes we would stay several days in a village and then suddenly be ordered to go back to another village.  The moved us about like pawns on a chessboard.  The Cossacks became ever more impatient and hostile toward the officers, although their attitude toward me remained unchanged.  I foresaw that trouble was coming and I spoke about it to the head of the regimental staff with whom I became quite intimate and who would listen to my advice.

I urged him to issue strict orders to the Cossacks of our regiment to act right toward the inhabitants, not to plunder or steal, but to pay for everything; otherwise, I warned him, we would die of starvation.  I pointed out to that we could not rely on the Ukrainian Government; the only ones that might help us were the inhabitants and so we must not arouse any hostility on their part.

He followed my advice.  And so, while other regiments often had trouble getting provisions, we were everywhere received well by the inhabitants, who soon found out that we were behaving properly.

We often had to pass through Jewish cities and towns.  Everywhere the Cossacks told the Jewish inhabitants that there was among them a Jewish Cossack.  The Jews would not believe it until I convinced them.

On a certain Friday we arrived in a town near Kiev.  The regimental office was installed in the house of a prominent Jew, who was president of a synagogue.  As soon as we were established in our new quarters, the Cossacks who stayed there with me told the master of the house that I was a Jew.  He would not believe them.  When they pointed me out to him and I confirmed it, he still refused to believe it, thinking that I was a renegade and wanted to play a trick on him.  When I had finally convinced him that I was really a Jew who, moreover, was even versed in the Talmud, he simply did not know what to do with me.  He invited me for dinner, but I excused myself, saying that if I alone were invited it might arouse the envy of my fellow Cossacks.  Thereupon he invited all of us for the Sabbath eve meal, and we accepted.

He then went out and told everyone in town that one of the Cossacks stationed in his home was a Jew.  Soon a crowd began to gather in front of the house.  They tried to guess which one was the Jewish Cossack.  Meanwhile our hostess was busy running to the neighbors borrowing eatables for her Cossack guests.  The neighbors gladly shared their provisions with her, and brought the food in personally so as to get a glimpse of me.

Toward evening our host came to me and urged me to come along with him to the synagogue.  I was too busy to grant his request, but promised to do so on the morrow.

In the evening the table was set for us.  The Cossacks were pleased because they were put at the same table with the host, and they enjoyed very much the Jewish dishes.  They were so delighted that the following day they chopped wood for the hostess, cleared away the deep pile of snow in front of the house, and did other chores.

Early in the morning of that day I went to the synagogue in company with our host’s boy, and arrived there while the weekly Portion of the Law was being read.  The moment I entered a tumult arose.  “Here’s the Jewish Cossack!” and they began to crowd around me.  Women bent over the women’s galley in order to get a better view of me.  As for going on with the reading of the law that was out of the question.  I was so closely surrounded that I could not move.  People looked at me as if I had descended from Mars.  I began to feel rather uncomfortable, but at this point my host came to my rescue, thrusting the crowd aside and making a way for me.  I was led up to the East Wall and given a seat next to the Rabbi.  When the services were somehow finished, the Rabbi shook hands with me, and inquired as to how the Cossacks were treating me.  I told him, and he entreated me to try to keep the Cossacks from committing any excesses against the Jews.

When we left the synagogue, a large crowd followed us up in the house.  In the evening, many came, bringing me all kinds of gifts – soap, linen, sugar, tobacco, paper, food and whatnot.  I begged them to take the gifts back, but they refused, so I distributed the presents among the Cossacks, telling the latter that the Jews gave these things to them in appreciation of their good conduct, and that if they continued to behave, they would everywhere be welcomed.  And as a matter of fact, the Cossacks behaved well, and few complaints were heard against them; and when we were leaving the town, the Jews regretted the departure of the “nice, quiet” Cossacks.

I succeeded in averting a pogrom in another town.  The Jews there, having heard that Cossacks were coming, had closed the stores and concealed everything.  The Cossacks arrived, and being unable to purchase anything, they became enraged and wanted to loot the town.  I urged the regimental commander to try to calm the Cossacks, while I would endeavor to come to an understanding with the Jewish inhabitants.  I went to the house of the rabbi, told him who I was, and asked him to summon a meeting of the townspeople.  At the meeting, which took place that evening in the synagogue, I pleaded with the storekeepers to open their shops, assuring them that the Cossacks would pay for everything, and that that was the only way to ward off a pogrom.  The storekeepers followed my advice.  I then went to the regimental commander and told him that it was not from fear of the Cossacks that the Jews had kept their stores closed, but because they had been celebrating an important holiday.  My ruse proved successful, and the Cossacks harbored no grudge against the Jews.

Finally we managed to get trains to take us home.  As we left the Ukraine, the Cossacks began to get even with their officers, depriving them of their rank and special privileges.  When we arrived in a town near Chita, the Cossacks of our regiment arrested the old officers, elected new ones and placed the old ones on trial.  But they were all acquitted, following which they deserted and joined General Semenoff, who had just begun to organize his bands.  The regiment I was serving in joined the Bolsheviki and released any one who desired to return to civilian life.  I availed myself of the opportunity and asked for my discharge.  They wanted to keep me and the new commander offered me a high post if I would remain, but I refused, saying that I wanted to go to my folks in America.  They finally gave me my discharge papers and I left for Vladivostok.

While on the way I was detained by one of General Semenoff’s bands.  The only charge against me was that I was a Jew and had served in a regiment that had revolted.  I and many others were placed under arrest.  They took away all our belongings and flogged us mercilessly, not sparing even the women.  About forty persons, myself among them, were held as Bolsheviki.  As they were marching us off to jail, they ordered us to halt, took six of our comrades and shot them on the spot, forcing us to dig graves, and bury the victims.  They also made us trample upon the graves, so as to make them level with the ground, so that no one would ever know where they were located.

They would have shot me, too, had not their leader told them that Semenoff might want to question me regarding the occurrences in my regiment, and that I would be executed anyhow.

At the hearing I assured Semenoff that I was not a Bolsheviki.  Luckily he was in a good humour then, and he asked me to prove by a witness that I was not a Bolsheviki, and added that I might summon as witness any of the old officers of my regiment.  I inquired if among these officers there was one Yesouf Lavrov.  Fortunately that proved to be the case.  My old commanding officer and friend was summoned, and he spoke highly of me; accordingly I was released.

I managed somehow to reach Vladivostok, where I remained for nearly a year.  From there I went to Japan, where I spent eleven months, and then proceeded to South America, whence I finally got to the United States and rejoined my family.