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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – “A Soldier’s Thoughts of Passover”, May 7, 1915

The festival of Pesach, commencing this year on the evening of April 10th (the 14th of Nisan, 5777), is the inspiration for the following post: A remarkable account, from The Jewish Chronicle, of a makeshift, “one-man Seder” held by a British Jewish soldier in the trenches of Flanders, on the evening of March 29, 1915 (the 14th of Nisan, 5675).

Published amidst a variety of war news items – lists of casualties, and, military awards – the anonymous author of this piece composed it in the form of a letter which was sent to a Jewish Chronicle correspondent, who in turn sent that document (perhaps a transcript of it?) to the Chronicle, which published it on May 7, 1915. 

Particularly noticeable is author’s sensitivity, and the clarity and descriptiveness of his writing.  He sets forth thoughts of home against the reality of life in the front lines; the awareness of his solitary and improvised Seder amidst genuine comradeship with his fellow soldiers; and quite remarkably, an openly expressed and idealistic sense of at least some form of Jewish solidarity, even at war. 

Frustratingly; tantalizingly, it has been – and probably will forever be – impossible to identify the author of this letter.  The man’s name and military unit are neither listed nor hinted upon.  He is entirely anonymous.  But, in that anonymity there is the ironic possibility that the account could have been written by most any of the Jewish soldiers serving in the British front lines in 1915. 

Whoever he was, one would hope; it would be nice to think, that he survived the war.

And if he did not, at least we have his words and thoughts. 

A PDF version of the letter is available here.

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A SOLDIER’S THOUGHTS OF PASSOVER
The Jewish Chronicle
May 7, 1915

A correspondent sends us a letter he received from the Front from a Jewish soldier, in the course of which he writes: –

So to-day is “Erev Pesach”.  Somehow to me it seems impossible as I am here on an empty ammunition box, the boys all around me busy in preparation for our journey back to the trenches to-night….  Way back in old England I can just picture many another scene of preparation.  Strange, indeed, for just as the folks at home will be leaving for school and the celebration of Passover’s first two days, I shall be leaving for the trenches also for two days.  Now I am waiting for the mail expected this afternoon, for it should contain my Passover parcel, and somehow I must manage some sort of celebration.  Last mail brought me the first Jewish Chronicle I’ve seen since we landed, and very welcome it was.  Specially interesting is the account of the Rev. Michael Adler’s tour in France, but he has not been anywhere in our neighbourhood.  I’m taking it up to the trenches, not having had time to read it through.  Midnight, Monday.  No mail arrived, more to my disappointment.  Now I shall get no mail until Thursday morning.  At 5:30 p.m. we left our quarters for the trenches, a few miles away, and trudged along the scarred roads, with a glorious full moon and starlit sky overhead.  Our thoughts were far away from Flanders.  I could clearly see the smartly dressed crowd making for school, the lights and chanting of the service seemed quite close, and then – boom!  As a big gun spoke, the star shells shoot up and the rattle of rifle fire grows clearer as we get nearer the firing line, so I came back to earth again.  Never until to-night have I felt really homesick, but then as I thought of the scene at home, the lights and the musical clink of glasses and tableware, then I felt as though I would do anything to be sitting in the seat that I know will be left for me, and to drive away the sorrow of the dear folks that I know my absence will cause them.  But that ‘fit of the blues’ must be shaken off.  About 10 o’clock we reached our destination, fortunately without a single casualty, though we had been under fire part of the way up, and my platoon has been in the dug-outs as reserve to the firing line, and about 100 yards to the rear of it.  This pleased me greatly; it seems more fitting on the night of nights to be here at rest than to be up there firing perhaps at someone who is thinking much as I am – who knows?  As soon as we got settled in this dug-out I managed to get a fire going, and made some cocoa, this, with a biscuit, making my “Seder Night,” and I said the Blessing for Wine over it, and drank a toast to those at home in response to the toast they will certainly drink to me to-night.  So I finished my little Seder and then read some of the Psalms from my soldier’s prayer-book.  We are eleven in this dug-out, and afterwards I talked to the boys of the Passover, seeing in it all wonders I’ve never seen before, and the deeper significance of it came home to me.  They are fine boys, these, gentlemen all, who would share their last crumb with me if I wanted it, and they just sat in silence listening carefully to all I said, and when I had finished dear old Dick said: “It’s alright old man, we understand.”  Just that and no more.  Now they are all asleep, and I write this by candle light to the accompaniment of the “crack, crack” as the bullets hit the bank overhead…  Good night and good Yomtov all, my dear ones, my thoughts are with you all.

– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow

References

http://www.chabad.org/calendar/

http://www.hebcal.com/

http://www.themeter.net/pasqua_e.htm

 

Women at War: Driving Through the Desert – Women of the A.T.S. (Auxiliary Territorial Service) – As Depicted in Parade – Middle East Weekly

An essential aspect of all military endeavors is the provision of the material and logistical support – transportation; supply; repair; maintenance; communications; medical services, and more – that can enable a force of combat arms (land, sea, or air; singly, or more often in combination) to conduct offensive or defensive military activity.  The centrality of this aspect of military operations has been manifest in practically every conflict of the twentieth century (and certainly far earlier), by the armed forces of practically every nation engaged in military conflict.

A related aspect of this facet of military service has been – especially during period of mass conscription – the mobilization and conscription of citizens who would not typically not be subject to military service, “freeing up” other citizens to directly serve in combat positions.

A noteworthy example of this was Britain’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, or “A.T.S.”, which, established in September of 1938, was the women’s branch of the British Army during World War Two.  A.T.S. members served as cooks, clerks, storekeepers, drivers, postal workers, and ammunition inspectors.  Though A.T.S. members were prevented from serving in battle, some members of the Service eventually did serve in such tasks as radar operators, anti-aircraft gun crews, and members of the military police.  The nature of such assignments was not without risk, as – according to the Wikipedia entry on the A.T.S. – the A.T.S. incurred 717 deaths during the war out of a total mobilized force of over 190,000 women.

During World War Two, some 30,000 men from the Yishuv served in the British armed forces, at the behest of the Jewish Agency.  Eventually, this recruitment effort extended to women, due to an agreement between British authorities and the Council of Women’s Organizations.  Eventually, some 4,350 women from the Yishuv would serve in the A.T.S. and W.A.A.F. (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). 

A group of A.T.S. drivers from the Yishuv became the subject of a photo essay which appeared in the British military newspaper Parade – Middle-East Weekly, on February 12, 1944, under the title “Convoy Girls of the A.T.S.”

First published in mid-August of 1940, Parade – edited by A.W. Parsons and Captain D.H. Flockhart – was published by the “Inter-Service Publications Directorate for the Joint Publications Board”.  The publication was printed in Cairo by Al Hilal, which was – according to the masthead – the “Sole Distributor for Egypt, Sudan, Syria, “Palestine” and Cyprus”.  As indicated by its title, Parade’s news coverage focused upon – but was certainly not limited to – British military activity in North Africa, the Middle East, and Mediterranean, in time expanding in scope to encompass news from other theaters of war, and the armed forces of other Allied nations, such as United States, Soviet Union, and other European countries.  The magazine frequently presented photographic essays about national, ethnic, and religious groups throughout the Middle East, as well as military, cultural, and social news from the British Isles.  Likewise, the back page of many issues featured a full-page-size pin-up of a prominent (or not so prominent?!) actress. 

In its day, Parade provided news for Commonwealth military personnel.  In our day, it offers a fascinating, retrospective view of the British military, as well as an “image” (quite literally, considering the abundance of illustrations in each issue!) of the early 1940s, as seen through and portrayed by British military and political leadership during that decade.

The images from “Convoy Girls of the A.T.S.” appear below. 

I hope to bring you further posts based upon images and articles in Parade, in the future.

– Michael G. Moskow

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Brief and to the point, the following is the entirety of the text that accompanies the photos:

A Corporal poses beside her truck.

Parade - 1944 02 12 - Convoy Girls of the ATS 4A BWA group of drivers receives a briefing.

Parade - 1944 02 12 - Convoy Girls of the ATS 1A BWThe following image, showing a line-up of Dodge D15 GS trucks, is notable in two respects.

1) A British “roundel” – intended to provide rapid air-to-ground recognition to forestall “friendly-fire” by Allied aviators – is visible on the upturned hood of the middle truck.

2) Note that the face of the driver kneeling in front of her truck (the woman wearing heavy gloves) has been obscured, unlike her comrades.  This leads to conjecture…  Did she request anonymity to protect any family who still might be living in German-occupied Europe?

Parade - 1944 02 12 - Convoy Girls of the ATS 2A BWA Dodge is driven to an assembly point.

Parade - 1944 02 12 - Convoy Girls of the ATS 3A BWA group of drivers receive rations at a rest point.

Parade - 1944 02 12 - Convoy Girls of the ATS 5A BWThe same group as above.

Parade - 1944 02 12 - Convoy Girls of the ATS 6A BWWhether posed or genuine, this photo gives an indication of accommodations (or, lack thereof!) to be found in the desert!

Parade - 1944 02 12 - Convoy Girls of the ATS 7A BW____________________

The American Hebrew of January 19, 1945, in an article covering military service of volunteers from the Yishuv in the Allied armed forces, featured a photo (certainly posed) of a Yishuv A.T.S. driver in Italy.  Her cap badge is quite obvious. 

Here’s a much (!) better view of an A.T.S. cap badge, displayed at the website of the Historama Online History Shop:

____________________

Curiously, in place of its typical weekly back-page pin-ups of actresses, during 1943, three issues of Parade featured pin-ups promoting enlistment in the A.T.S.  These pin-ups are shown below.

Two of the pin-ups – by the Austrian artist A. Sevek – are idealized portraits of A.T.S. servicewomen, both wearing service caps bearing the organization’s badge.  Given the differences in the women’s facial features, Sevek’s drawings very likely depicted actual A.T.S. personnel.  Unfortunately (and quite understandably), Parade did not reveal their names.

The third A.T.S. pin-up isn’t – really! – a pin-up at all.  It’s actually a full-page photo (probably posed) of an A.T.S. servicewoman working on the engine of a Ford truck, intriguingly nicknamed “Partisan”.  The ad presents a more realistic – hence less idealized – depiction of an A.T.S. servicewoman in the Yishuv, or, Egyptian desert.  An unspoken message of the ad would seem to be, “Are you ready for the challenge?”

A notable aspect of the ad are the four “blurbs” promoting enlistment in the A.T.S., which answer the lead statement, “She has released a man…”  These are:

  • No – he wasn’t trapped under the bonnet.  He was doing a job, but could have been more usefully employed elsewhere.
  • By joining the A.T.S. this girl has enabled him to be released for more important duties with fighting troops in forward zone.
  • Girls are needed for the A.T.S. in the M.E. as drivers, clerks, storewomen, hospital orderlies, draughtswomen and ‘phone operators.
  • If you join the A.T.S. you will be helping soldiers with their jobs.  You will find the training interesting and conditions good.

The pin-up also includes the locations of A.T.S. recruiting offices.  These were located at:

In Egypt:

114, Rue Fouad, Alexandria
Kasr el Nil Barracks, Cairo
Sarafand

In the Yishuv:

Allenby Street, Tel-Aviv
Princess Mary Avenue, Jerusalem
Kingsway, Haifa

In closing… 

…a restored Ford F60L truck (1941 vintage), from the Wheels and Tracks website.  Just to give you an idea…!

____________________

As a part of this research, I’ve attempted to identify the Jewish servicewomen – from the Yishuv and elsewhere – who died while serving in the A.T.S. Their names are listed below.

A list of abbreviations follows each record, representing the following sources of information:

Gelber II – Jewish Palestinian Volunteering in the British Army During the Second World War – Volume II – The Struggle for A Jewish Army, by Dr. Yoav Gelber, Yav Izhak Ben-Zvi Publications, Jerusalem, Israel, 1981

TJC – The Jewish Chronicle

“WWRT I” and “WWRT II” – Volumes I and II of We Will Remember Them – A Record of the Jews Who Died in the Armed Forces of the Crown 1939-1945

____________________

Jewish Casualties in the Auxiliary Territorial Service
  In the Second World War

– .ת.נ.צ.ב.ה. –

Bat Shalom, Sara                                           Pvt.                       W/PAL/195678
5/29/42 (“Died in Egypt as the result of an accident.”)
Tel-el-Kebir War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt – 3,C,8
Gelber II – 318; TJC 8/13/43; WWRT I – 060, 238; WWRT I as “Bat-Shalom, Sara”; CWGC as “Ben Shalom, Sara”

Ben Baruch, Rachela                                     Pvt.
Israel, Rishon-le-Zion; 1925
Died on Active Service (Illness)
TJC 11/23/45 (Cannot identify in CWGC database)

Berger, Cornelia                                             Pvt.                       W/PAL/203704
9/3/44 (“Died in Egypt as the result of an accident.”)
Tel-el-Kebir War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt – 5,J,6
Gelber II – 318; WWRT I – 239

Best, Ruth                                                        Pvt.                       W/PAL/195938
4/29/43
Ramleh 1939-45 Memorial, Ramleh, Israel            
Gelber II – 318; WWRT I – NL; WWRT II – NL

Blank, Sara Rachela Shoshana                    Sgt.                       W/PAL/203880
12/20/44 (“Died in Israel as the result of an accident.”)
Ramleh War Cemetery, Ramleh, Israel – W,32
TJC 1/12/45; Gelber II – 318; WWRT I – 064, 239; WWRT I as “Blank, Shoshanah”

Butovitzky Stein, Chava                               Pvt.                       W/PAL/221031
3/24/43 (“Died in Egypt as the result of an accident.”)
Tel-el-Kebir War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt – 4,N,5
WWRT I – 240; WWRT I as “Butovitzky-Stein, Chava”; CWGC as “Stein Butovecky, Haya”

Courtman, Stefahia                                       Pvt.                       W/PAL/203386
10/4/45
Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial – Panel 23, Column 1
Gelber II – 330; WWRT I – NL; WWRT II – NL

Epstein, Milada                                               Pvt.                       W/PAL/195790
6/14/43 (“Died in Egypt from Illness.”)
1906
Mr. Emil Epstein (husband), Northampton, England
Mr. and Mrs. Tomas Chytil and Frantiska Chytilova (parents)
Suez War Memorial Cemetery, Suez City, Egypt – 3,A,14
Gelber II – 317; WWRT I – 242 (WWRT I as “Epstein, Milda”; CWGC as “Epsteinova, Milada”)

Ettlinger, Dora Leslie                                     Pvt.                       W/PAL/245610
10/14/45 (“Died in Egypt.”)
Heliopolis War Cemetery, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt – 4,F,22
Gelber II – 316; WWRT I – 242

Kantorowicz, Chana                                      Pvt.                       W/PAL/245725
1/23/44 (“Died in Israel from illness.”)
Ramoth Hashovim Cemetery, Israel
Gelber II – 331; WWRT I – 247 (WWRT I as “Kantorowicz, Chana”; CWGC as “Kantorowitz, Hanna”)

Katz, Rosel                                                       Pvt.                       W/PAL/245671
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, 2nd Base Workshop
7/15/43 (“Died in Egypt from Illness.”)
Tel-el-Kebir War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt – 4,K,4
Gelber II – 325; WWRT I – 248 (WWRT I as “Katz, Rozelle”; CWGC as “Katz, Rosel”)

Kelman, Lola                                                   Cpl.                       W/PAL/195297
12/24/42
Tel el Kebir War Memorial Cemetery – 1,B,10
Gelber II – 331; WWRT I – NL; WWRT II – NL

Krausz, Bertha                                                Pvt.                       W/88628
1904
5/13/42
Birmingham (Witton) Jewish Cemetery, Warwickshire, England – Section C, Row, 1, Grave 316
WWRT II – 17     

Krotovetsky, Chaia Stein
Tel-Aviv, Israel
TJC 4/16/43 (Cannot identify in CWGC database)

Levavi, Uhma                                                  Pvt.                       W/PAL/245414
1923
11/25/44            
Mr. and Mrs. Meir and Sonia Levavi (parents), Kibbutz Merhavia, Israel
Heliopolis War Cemetery, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt – 6,L,11
Gelber II – 325; TJC 12/22/44; WWRT I – NL; WWRT II – NL (TJC gives name as “Ochama Levavi“)

Loewenthal, Anna                                          Pvt.                       W/57556
1921
8/19/43              
Mr. and Mrs. Paul and Selma (Shoenfeld) Loewenthal (parents)
Miss K. Loewenthal (sister), c/o Mrs. Eber, 18 Hamilton Ave., Leeds, 7, England
Bristol Jewish Cemetery, Gloucestershire, England
TJC 9/3/43; WWRT I – 124

Mark, Tamar                                                   Pvt.                       W/PAL/220958
3/25/43 (“Died in Egypt as the result of an accident.”)
Kvutzat Avukah, Israel
Tel-el-Kebir War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt – 4,N,3
TJC 4/16/43; Gelber II – 326; WWRT I – 251

Neuberg, Miriam                                            Pvt.                       W/PAL/195720                 504th Company
6/22/42 (“Died in Egypt as the result of an accident.”)
Tel-el-Kebir War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt – 3,B,11
TJC 8/13/43; Gelber II – 327; WWRT I – 136, 253

Ostrogursky, Ilse                                            Pvt.                       W/PAL/245813
7/3/44 (“Died in Egypt [Alexandria] as the result of an accident.”)
Germany, Leschnitzer; 1915
Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery, Alexandria, Egypt – 6,E,14
Aufbau 12/8/44; WWRT I – 254 (WWRT I as “Ostrogursky, Ilse”; CWGC and Aufbau as “Ostrogorski, Anneliese”)

Vilenchook, Pnina                                          Pvt.                       W/PAL/245229
9/17/43
Tel Aviv (Nahlat Yitzhak) Cemetery, Tel Aviv, Israel – Plot 15, Row 9, Grave 5
Gelber II – 322; WWRT I – NL; WWRT II – NL

Weiss Politzer, Shoshana                              Pvt.                       W/PAL/203932
8/19/45 (“Died in Egypt as the result of an accident.”)
Heliopolis War Cemetery, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt – 4,G,20
Gelber II – 322; WWRT I – 261 (WWRT I as “Weiss-Politzer, Shoshana”; CWGC as “Weiss Politzer, Berse”)

Wirth, Bracha                                                  Pvt.                       W/PAL/221085
5/28/45 (“Died in Israel as the result of an accident.”)
Ramleh 1939-45 Memorial, Ramleh, Israel
Gelber II – 322; WWRT I – 262 (WWRT I as “Wirt, Bracha”)

Yahaloumy Chizik, Bat-Ami                         Pvt.                       W/PAL/203376
3/24/43
Metulah, Israel
Tel-el-Kebir War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt – 4,N,4
TJC 4/16/43 (TJC lists name as “Yahalomi, Batami”); Gelber II – 324; WWRT I – NL; WWRT II – NL

____________________

References – Author Listed

Gelber, Yoav, Jewish Palestinian Volunteering in the British Army During the Second World War – Volume II – The Struggle for A Jewish Army, Yav Izhak Ben-Zvi Publications, Jerusalem, Israel, 1981

Kessler, Oren, “In Israel and Palestinian Territories, British Still Tend Memory of 16,000 War Dead”, Tablet, November 11, 2013, at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/151916/british-war-graves-in-israel (Accompanying photograph shows matzeva of Sara Rachela Shoshana Blank, at Ramle War Cemetery)

Medoff, Rafael, “Lag B’Omer 1942, ‘Jewish Amazons,’ And The Pyramids”, The Jewish Press, May 15, 2014, at http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/lag-bomer-1942-jewish-amazons-and-the-pyramids/2014/05/15/

Morris, Henry, Edited by Gerald Smith, We Will Remember Them – A Record of the Jews Who Died in the Armed Forces of the Crown 1939 – 1945, 1989, Brassey’s, United Kingdom, London (See “The Palestinian Jewish Volunteers”, pp. 235 – 263)

Morris, Henry, Edited by Hilary Halter, We Will Remember Them – A Record of the Jews Who Died in the Armed Forces of the Crown 1939 – 1945 – An Addendum, 1994, AJEX, United Kingdom, London

References – No Author

A. Sevek (website of Dr. Bex Lewis), at http://drbexl.co.uk/2010/03/01/a-sevek/

Auxiliary Territorial Service (Wikipedia), at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auxiliary_Territorial_Service

ATS and WAAF in World War Two (Jewish Women’s Archive), at https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/ats-and-waaf-in-world-war-ii

A.T.S. Remembered (ATS Remembered), at http://www.atsremembered.org.uk/

A.T.S. Hat Badge (Historama Online History Shop), at http://www.historama.com/history-shop/israeli-jewish-militaria/hat-badge-of-auxiliary-territorial-service-ats-,-british-army-1941-45-detail.html

Dodge D15 GS Truck (Canada at War), at http://www.canadaatwar.ca/forums/showthread.php?t=3863

Canadian Military Pattern Trucks, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Military_Pattern_truck

Ford F8 and Ford F60 Trucks, at http://wheelsandtracks.blogspot.com/2012_02_01_archive.html

“Jewish Parachutists Join British Forces; Jewish Artillery Unit Formed in Palestine”, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 26, 1942, at http://www.jta.org/1942/02/26/archive/jewish-parachutists-join-british-forces-jewish-artillery-unit-formed-in-palestine

“Parade – Middle-East Weekly” (Westleton Chapel Books), at https://www.chapelbooks.com/shop/chapel/19415100.html

“The Face Behind the Poster [Leah Seidmann] (World Zionist Organization – Central Zionist Archives)”, at http://www.zionistarchives.org.il/en/AttheCZA/Pages/ATS.aspx#!prettyPhoto (Website also presents ATS recruiting posters, and, images of ATS personnel)

Convoy Girls of the ATS, Parade, February 12, 1944

 

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – “An American Souvenir Hunter”, September 25, 1914

The following article from The Jewish Chronicle is of a different sort: An very brief account about conditions in Belgium, by a Private Cohen – first name not given – of the Royal Army Medical Corps.  The incidental allusion to “an American” is notable. 

____________________

AN AMERICAN SOUVENIR HUNTER

The Jewish Chronicle

September 25, 1914

Another soldier in the R.A.M.C. – also named Cohen – who has been captured and has escaped, writing from Shorncliffe Military Hospital, says, “I am footsore with walking in a pair of boots three sizes too big for me but I am in great hopes of going to the front again shortly.  I was in two battles, and the bullets were all round us, as we have been in the firing-line all the time.  I have buried a lot of Englishmen and one German.  Enclosed please find two German souvenirs I took off a dead German’s cap.  I was offered (pound) 1 for them by an American.”

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – “Story of an escape”, September 25, 1914 (Private Victor Cohen)

Here is another article about a “Private Cohen” of the Royal Army Medical Corps that also appeared in the 25 September 1914 issue of the Chronicle.  This time, however, said Private Cohen has a first name:  Victor.

It would seem likely that “this” Private Cohen is the very same soldier referred to in the prior article, given that the individual in this account is also reported to have escaped from German captivity.  More than a mere coincidence in reporting, I would suggest.

A review of records in the database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission fortunately yields no entries for this man, so presumably, he survived the war.

____________________

STORY OF AN ESCAPE

The Jewish Chronicle

September 25, 1914

Private Victor Cohen, of the R.A.M.C., who had been taken prisoner by the Germans and escaped, has written to his parents an account of his experiences.  It was during the retreat from a small village named Augre that Private Cohen was captured.  “I must say,” writes Private Cohen, who is now at Aldershot, “the Germans did not ill-treat us, but gave us food and wine for our wounded.”  He goes on to say, however, that, “they took everything of any value from the villages and that wounded brought in from a house three miles away were found to be without clothes.  They said the Germans had taken all their clothes away and left them out on the field.”  “Six of us,” Private Cohen continues, “meant to escape, and we made up our mind to go separately.  I had made all my plans, but they fell through when I found that the only bridge left up, and which I had to cross, was guarded by Germans.  I then made up my mind to hide in a wood till the Germans retreated, but by the greatest of luck I heard of a Belgian soldier who had escaped from Maubeuge, and was trying to get to Ghent.  When he heard of me, he at once got me a civilian suit, etc., and the two of us started from Douai at night.  We walked from eight o’clock on Monday night till eight the next morning, and passed through the Herman patrols without anybody seeing us.  We arrived in Ghent on Tuesday night, and the English Consul gave me a passport.  …  I interviewed the Consul at Ostend and arrived in England on Wednesday.”  The writer adds that he hopes to leave again shortly.

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – “Jews in the Black Watch”, September 11, 1914

A commentary and a question, in the form of a very brief article:

“What were they doing?”

____________________

Jews in The Black Watch
“BONNIER LADS AND BRAVER I DON’T WISH TO SEE”

The Jewish Chronicle
September 11, 1914

Somebody asked a question about the Jews – what were they doing?  A Highlander broke in sharply, “Doing?  Well, their duty.  We had three with us, and bonnier lads and braver I don’t wish to see.  They fought just splendid!”

There was a private of the Berkshire Regiment with the Highlanders, and he also had a good word to say of the Jews at the Front.  “We had ten in our company,” he remarked, “all good fighters, and six won’t be seen again.  So don’t say a word against the Jews!”

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – “A Jewish Soldier at Mons”, and, “Jewish Wounded in London Hospital”, September 11, 1914 (Gunner Victor Freedman, Private Isaac Levy, and Alfred Springer)

The Chronicle not uncommonly published full letters, or extracts of letters, from servicemen, describing their observations and experiences.  Here is a letter from a Jewish soldier – Private Levy, from Leeds – describing his actions during the retreat of the British Army from Mons.

____________________

A Jewish Soldier at Mons
GALLANTRY IN THE FIELD

The Jewish Chronicle
September 11, 1914

     A letter has been received from Private Levy, of Leeds, who has been serving as a private in the Royal Munster Fusiliers, and who has been invalided from the front.

“I have been sent home from the front very poorly,” he says.  “The fighting was all round Mons.  We were sent up to the firing line to try and save a battery.  When we got there we found that they were nearly all killed or wounded.  Our Irish lads opened fire on the dirty Germans, and you should have seen them fall.  It was like a game of skittles.  But as soon as you knocked them down up came another thousand or so.  We could not make out where they came from.  So all of a sudden our officer gave us the order to charge.  We fixed bayonets and went like fire through them.  You should have seen them run.  We had two companies of ours there against about 3,000 of theirs, and I tell you it was warm.  I was not sorry when night time came, but that was not all.  You see we had no horses to get those guns away, and our chaps would not leave them.  We dragged them ourselves to a place of safety.  As the firing line was  at full swing we had with us an officer of the Hussars.  I think he was next to me, and he had his hand nearly blown off by one of the German shells.  So I and two more fellows picked him up and took him to a place of safety, where he got his wound cared for.  I heard afterwards that he had been sent home, poor fellow.”

____________________

But, this is not the end of the story of Private Levy’s story.

Within the same issue of the Chronicle, an account of his experiences appears with additional detail, described in the context of a visit by the Chief Rabbi, and Reverend S. Levy, to wounded Jewish soldiers at the London Hospital. 

Other Jewish soldiers are mentioned in the article.  They are:

Gunner Victor Freedman, from Edinburgh, of the 52nd Battery, Royal Field Artillery

Private Levy himself – first name revealed as Isaac – who is reported as having been from Rounday Road, in Leeds.

Alfred Springer, Motor Transport, Army Service Corps.

There are no records for these three men in the database of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and they are not mentioned as fatalities in the British Jewry Book of Honour, so it appears that fortunately, they survived the war.

In its discussion of Jews serving in the military, the article alludes to the fact that Private Levy was, “…not the only Jew in the “Munsters”.  The Irish lads have two other Hebrew comrades, who bear, however, the unlikely names of Sergeant Jacks and Private Gallagher.  Strange, but true.”  This topic – the enlistment of some Jewish soldiers under ostensibly non-stereotypically “Jewish-sounding”-names – would be addressed by both The Jewish Chronicle and the American Jewish Exponent, and other Jewish newspapers and periodicals, in editorials, commentaries, and articles, through the remainder of the War. 

And, after.

____________________

JEWISH WOUNDED IN THE LONDON HOSPITAL
PERSONAL NARRATIVE

The Jewish Chronicle
September 11, 1914

The Chief Rabbi, accompanied by the Rev. S. Levy, the Visiting Minister, paid a visit on Monday to the wounded soldiers in the London Hospital, and talked with several of the men on their experiences at the front.  The Jewish soldiers in particular were very grateful for this mark of attention paid to them.  Two Jewish soldiers in the hospital are: –

Victor Freedman, 32, Albion Road, Edinburgh, Gunner, 52nd Battery, R.F.A.  Bullet wound in right arm; wounded between Cambrai and Le Cateau; going to convalesce at Lord Lucas, Luton, Bedford.  Anxious to go back to the front after convalescence instead of being kept for home defence.

Isaac Levy, 9, Badminton Street, Roundhay Road, Leeds, Private, Royal Munster Fusiliers.  Invalided, Mons.

The Chief Rabbi paid a further visit to the London Hospital on Tuesday, and together with the Rev. S. Levy conducted an Intercession Service in each of the Hebrew Wards.

A number of Jewish soldiers, writes a representative of the JEWISH CHRONICLE, are known to have been in the London Hospital with the rest of the invalided troops who are being cared for in that wonderful institution.  One of them was Gunner Freedman, of the 52nd Battery, R.F.A., who got a bullet in his arm in the fighting between Cambrai and Le Cateau.  He is now convalescing at Luton, Beds.  Another is Alfred Springer, Motor Transport A.S.C., who was injured whilst engaged in capturing a motor lorry from the enemy at Cambrai.  A third is Isaac Levy, of the Royal Munster Fusiliers.  Levy, too, is recuperating well.  He was taken ill one evening it seems, but continued marching with his regiment – that interminable round of marching, tempered with fighting, which brought the Allies to the environs of Paris, but has now, thank goodness, begun in the opposite direction.  Levy marched about six miles, but his condition grew worse, and he lay down in the road until a hospital wagon picked him up.  It was five and a half hours before this happened.  But that is only a very little incident in an heroic campaign.  The medical description of the illness is “gastritis,” or, as the soldier put it to a JEWISH CHRONICLE representative, “I was nearly poisoned.”

Private Levy, whose progress as an athlete made him one of the favourites of the regiment, is not the only Jew in the “Munsters”.  The Irish lads have two other Hebrew comrades, who bear, however, the unlikely names of Sergeant Jacks and Private Gallagher.  Strange, but true.

Private Levy left them at the front, “hearty and well.”  Indeed, it was Sergt. Jacks, an old chum, who originally put it into Levy’s head to enlist, 10 ½ years ago.  Levy was over in Ireland, and as three years in the Army seemed to him a bit of a holiday and the prospects of seeing foreign lands counted for something, the Jew joined the Irishmen.  He has been to Gibraltar and India, and 6 ½ years ago he returned to civil life and tailoring at Leeds.  Then, as a reservist, he was called back to the colours, was taken by steamer to Havre, and thence to Mons, where he was soon in action.

“It started on the Sunday morning,” he told our representative, “and it lasted on and off till the following Wednesday morning.  Food was rather scares and so was sleep, for we only slept about two hours a night.”

Did you come across any Jewish soldiers in the other British regiments?

“We had not time to see anybody.  It was all fighting and marching.  The marching was tremendous.  We did fifteen miles some days; another day we would do twenty-five.

“I was right up at the firing line; and though I did not get home with the bayonet, I managed to pop off a good many Germans with the rifle.  You could not help it, they came in clusters.

“At one time our regiment was cut off, and Germans came down on us very quickly, but we made a fight of it.  A battery of artillery was surrounded by the enemy.  The horses were killed and the men all accounted for, barring about three or four.  Our boys wanted to take the guns with us and would not leave them at the mercy of the Germans.  So we dragged them ourselves to a place of safety.  It took several hours.  It was a drag, about ten miles, I should think.

“At one time an officer of Hussars joined us in the firing line.  He was next to me.  He had his arm shattered by a German shell, so I and two others picked him up, put him on a stray horse, and took him to a hospital wagon.  We afterwards heard that he had been sent home.”

Private Levy did not witness any atrocities, but he says that he was told of them by the women and children in every town he came to.  The German infantry he dismisses contemptuously as “absolutely tommy-rot – no good at all.”  But the artillery he describes as good, adding, after a moment, “well, there’s so many of them.”  As for the German cavalry, they are “not up to striking pitch – not so clever as ours.”

Like every other man back from the Front, Private Levy is confident that the German troops object very strongly to cold steel.  When they see it, they “rush about the field like wild maniacs, and hold up their hands.”

The Munsters seem to have suffered extremely severely, according to Private Levy’s account.  The roll-call, he says, showed that out of 1,116 men, only 240 were left; while of 33 officers 19 were wounded and missing – all in 4 days fighting.

However, the spirit of the British troops are as buoyant as ever.

“I dare say we’ll have to go back and fight,” said Private Levy.  “We’ll have another go before it is over.  But,” he added, folding his arms, and with a look of absolute certainty on his face, “they can’t stand long.  We have started driving them back.  One big fight and we’ll finish it.  Well, it might go on till Christmas – but that’s the longest.  Everybody thinks so, officers and all.  The Germans are a body of tired and hungry men, and only too pleased to get captured” – with which cheery assurance our representative took farewell of the soldier.

 

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – The First Report: “A Cyclist Soldier’s Heroism”, September 11, 1914 (Cyclist Maurice Davis)

The following news item marks the first of many accounts carried by The Jewish Chronicle covering the participation and experiences of individual soldiers, over the course of the First World War.

The accompanying photograph was published in The Jewish World on September 16, 1914, and is one of several hundred such images – of highly varying size and quality – that appeared in that publication during the course of the conflict, the publication of such portraits in the World generally coinciding with their appearance in the Chronicle.  The very few photographs that appeared in the Chronicle during this era were typically of scholars, academics, majority military figures, or statesmen, and accompanied biographical sketches, or, in-depth interviews.  Photographs in the World had a much more “common” touch, showing servicemen of all ranks, and, all branches of the military. 

Based on a review of the British Jewry Book of Honour, issues of The Jewish Chronicle published between 1914 and 1919, and, the CWGC database, it seems that Cyclist Davis did, fortunately, survive the war. 

However, there is a possibility that he was wounded after the incident reported below. 

In Casualty Lists published in the Chronicle on July 2, October 15, and November 26 of 1915, notices were carried respectively about a “Private Morris”, “Rifleman M.”, and “Private M.” – Harris – in each case of the 17th, London Regiment – having been wounded in action.  Perhaps one or more of these three persons was actually Cyclist Davis?  In any event, typical of “wounded in action” announcements for The First World War – unlike those published in the Chronicle during World War Two – the soldier’s next-of-kin and place of residence are not listed, so ambiguity remains.   

The transcribed article follows…

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A Cyclist Soldier’s Heroism
The Jewish Chronicle
September 11, 1914

     Cyclist Maurice Davis, 17th Company of London, G. Company, has been commended for the heroism he displayed at a serious conflagration that broke out the other day in St. Albans, where he was stationed with his regiment.  Obeying the order to save the petrol from the fire, Cyclist Davis entered and left the burning building on several occasions, and eventually was rendered unconscious, having sustained severe burns.  He is now receiving treatment at the King’s College Hospital and is making progress.

Soldiers of the Erinpura – VI: The Fallen – Merchant Navy and Indian Merchant Navy Sailors

The Erinpura’s Crew

Commanded by Captain R.V. Cotter, sixty members of the Erinpura’s crew were lost in the sinking:  Fifty-five members of the Indian Merchant Navy, and, five members of the Merchant Navy.

The fifty-five Indian Merchant Navy personnel comprised such ratings as Baker, Boy, Butler, Cook, Donkeyman (an engine room rating who attended to the Donkey boiler), Fireman, General Servant, Oiler, Pantryman, Scullion (lowest job level in Merchant Navy), Seaman, Serang (skipper of a small boat), Topass (sanitary hygeine), and Trimmer (stoker).

Genealogical information is present for twenty-one of the fifty-five men, while ages are given for fifty-four.

Of the twenty-one, sixteen were married, all residing in Goa, a state along the southwestern coast of India.  Ten of the twenty-one were from South Goa, one of the two districts of Goa, the other being (as shown in the map below) North Goa.

Southern India

goa-india-regionalGoa

goa-indiaThe Districts of Goa

administrative_map_of_goaThe twenty-one are listed as having been from:

Agramoda (Agarwada?), Goa (North Goa) – 1 man

Assolna, Goa // Assolna / Assoulua, South Goa – 3 men

Baga, South Goa – 1 man

Carosetta / Carsetty, South Goa – 2 men

Cavelsin (Cavelossim?), Carmone, Goa (South Goa) – 1 man

Chinchin, South Goa – 1 man

Dharmpur, South Goa – 1 man

Jeewado, South Goa – 1 man

Karsetti, South Goa – 1 man

Kolsewada (Kolsewadi?), Goa – 1 man

Mapuca, Goa (North Goa) – 1 man

Navelim, South Goa – 1 man

Nobai, Saipe (Saipem?), Goa (North Goa) – 1 man

Quepen, Laldamwadi, Goa / Quepen, Servia, Goa (Quepem, South Goa) – 2 men

Sukalda, South Goa – 1 man

Wado, South Goa – 1 man

At age sixty-three, the oldest crewman of the fifty-five was Francis F. D’Souza (General Servant), while the youngest was Main Mazhar (Boy), who was nineteen.  The average age of the twenty-one was thirty-nine, probably reflective of career service in the Indian Merchant Navy.

All these men are commemorated at the Bombay / Chittagong 1939-1945 War Memorial.  The Bombay 1939-1945 Memorial Roll of Honour is, “held at the Indian Sailor’s Home, Bombay,” and lists the names of 6,467 WW II casualties.  This total comprises, “over 400 sailors of the former Indian Navy and over 6,000 sailors of the former Indian Merchant Navy who were lost at sea during the war years.”

The Merchant Navy casualties comprised the ship’s First and Third Radio Officers (Ernest W. Erbach – age forty-nine, and Brian Rostron Marsden – age twenty-one), two Junior Engineering Officers (Charles McGill and Ernest Richard Smith), and Carpenter Tham Yout.  These five men are commemorated at the Tower Hill Memorial (Panel 48) in London.  Akin to the members of the Indian Merchant Navy, genealogical information is almost completely absent for them.  However, the father of First Radio Officer Ernest William Erbach is listed as Philip Cort.

Ten Other Casualties – Circumstances Unknown

Searching the CWGC database for deaths on May 1, 1943, in the Mediterranean and European Theaters yields records for nine other men.  Two were Pioneer Corps soldiers from Swaziland, and eight were members of the British Army.  Though it is unknown if there were passengers on the Erinpura or British Trust, or lost in some other circumstance, I have appended their names to the list of Erinpura crew casualties.

The Swaziland soldiers were Privates Shamile Lulane and Msomane Tabede, both of whom are memorialized at the Swaziland 1938-1945 War Memorial, in Bethany, Swaziland.

The British soldiers, all of whose names are commemorated at the Brookwood Memorial in Surrey, England, are:

Pioneer Corps

Warrant Officer 2nd Class Albert E. Clayton, from Shropshire

Serjeant William Nicol

Lieutenant Percey G. Tredwell, from Hampshire

Serjeant Colin Wilde, from Jersey (Channel Islands)

Royal Army Medical Corps

Private Alfred E. Perrett, from Lymington, Hampshire

Corps of Military Police

Corporal William R. Gillett, from Buckinghamshire

Serjeant John Mills, from Liverpool

Indian Merchant Navy, and Merchant Navy, Casualties on the Erinpura

– Michael G. Moskow

Soldiers of the Erinpura – V: The Fallen – Basotho Soldiers

The majority of troops aboard the Erinpura were members of the Basotho people, an ethnic group of the Bantu people who primarily live in South Africa, and to a lesser extent in the countries of Lesotho and Botswana, and, the South African state of Swaziland. 

The men were members of the African Pioneer Corps H.C.T. (High Commission Territories) and were assigned to the 1919th and 1927th Basuto Companies.  One soldier (Private Malefetsane Manuel Mohale, AS/6946) – going by his CWGC record – was a member of the 1924th Basuto Company.

botswana-lesotho-swaziland_edited-1Lesotho

lesothoBotswana

botswanaSwaziland

swazilandThe CWGC database shows casualty records for 303 members of the 1919th Company, and, 320 members of the 1927th Company.

While genealogical information exists for forty per-cent of the Jewish casualties and one-third of the Erinpura’s crewmen (see below), such information is present for only a sole individual among the Basotho casualties:  Private T. Japheta, AS/9273, born in 1901.  He is buried at the Benghazi War Cemetery, in Benghazi.  The CWGC database lists his father as Bupoe Machaba, but no other information is given in terms of his age or the location of his home.

In terms of military service, the overwhelming number of Basotho soldiers were Privates and Corporals.  The remainder comprised twenty-one sergeants and one warrant-officer.  One man – Jan Poulo (AS/12128) of the 1919th, listed in the CWGC database as a Captain, which information may be incorrect.

With the exception of Private Japheta, all the Basotho soldiers are commemorated at the Lesotho Memorial, which is located in Makoayane Square, in the center of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho.

Soldiers of the 1919th Basuto Company

A Soldier of the 1924th Basuto Company

Soldiers of the 1927th Basuto Company

– Michael G. Moskow