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.


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


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.  


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


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?


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

Number 213 Squadron RAF

At Wikipedia

At History of War, at

Number 213 Squadron Association, at

Number 213 Squadron Association – The Hornet’s Sting (From FlyPast magazine No. 175, 1995), at

Hawker Hurricane IIC in No. 213 Squadron Service, at

The National Archives (Kew), Royal Air Force Operations Records Books 1939-1945, at





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. 


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. 


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.



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.



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.


– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow, 2010


Jewish Brigade, at

Palestine Regiment, at




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.


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



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


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

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
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
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.”)
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
Tel el Kebir War Memorial Cemetery – 1,B,10
Gelber II – 331; WWRT I – NL; WWRT II – NL

Krausz, Bertha                                                Pvt.                       W/88628
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
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
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
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
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 (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

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

Auxiliary Territorial Service (Wikipedia), at

ATS and WAAF in World War Two (Jewish Women’s Archive), at

A.T.S. Remembered (ATS Remembered), at

A.T.S. Hat Badge (Historama Online History Shop), at,-british-army-1941-45-detail.html

Dodge D15 GS Truck (Canada at War), at

Canadian Military Pattern Trucks, at

Ford F8 and Ford F60 Trucks, at

“Jewish Parachutists Join British Forces; Jewish Artillery Unit Formed in Palestine”, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 26, 1942, at

“Parade – Middle-East Weekly” (Westleton Chapel Books), at

“The Face Behind the Poster [Leah Seidmann] (World Zionist Organization – Central Zionist Archives)”, at!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 – “The Chief Rabbi of France and The Troops at The Front”, October 2, 1914

Throughout the war, both The Jewish Chronicle and l’Univers Israélite, carried articles about religious services conducted by and held for Jewish soldiers, often describing such services in great detail, and in a larger sense, presenting many essays and thought pieces – from highly varied viewpoints, let alone a diversity of writers – about religion in the context of war. 

l’Univers Israélite, in particular, published several lengthy, detailed, and moving items about Jewish religious services – held in or near front-line positions – within 1915.  (I hope to post those items in the future…)

The item below covers a request presented to M. Alfred Levy, Chief Rabbi of France, to arrange religious services for British Jewish soldiers, with and among French Jewish troops.

Rabbi Levy’s reply states, “We have had the misfortune to lose one of them, the Chief Rabbi of Lyons, who fell on the field of battle, shot by an enemy’s bullet.”  Rabbi Levy is almost certainly referring to Aumonier Militaire Abraham Bloch, born in Paris in 1859, who was killed while serving with the “14eme Section d’Infirmieres Militaires; Groupe de Brancardiers Divisionnaire” on August 29, 1914, at Anozel, in the Vosges area. 

Rabbi Bloch posthumously received the Medaille militaire.  The story of his death (as opposed to how he actually died) – as reported and portrayed by the press – had great symbolic impact, and would be covered in l’Univers Israélite on November 27, 1914, and May 21, 1915

Information is readily available concerning Rabbi Bloch.  I particularly refer readers to the book Les Juifs de France et la Grande Guerre, by Philippe-E. Landau (CNRS Editions, Paris, 1999), which devotes a full chapter to this story. 



The Jewish Chronicle
October 2, 1914

The Chaplain recently wrote to the Chief Rabbi of France, M. Alfred Levy, asking him to endeavour to arrange for the English Jewish soldiers to join the French troops at any religious services during the campaign.  He has now received the following reply –

M. Place St. Georges, Paris
18th September, 1914.

DEAR COLLEAGUE – In reply to your letter, I beg to inform you that nearly all the members of the French Rabbinate are serving their country, either as chaplains, or as soldiers.  We have had the misfortune to lose one of them, the Chief Rabbi of Lyons, who fell on the field of battle, shot by an enemy’s bullet.

I gave instructions to all to hold divine service in the field if they can collect a [minyan].  I am unable to see the Minister of War at present, as he is absent from Paris, but I am sure that our chaplains will know how to fulfill their duty, and that the generals to whom they apply will grant the necessary permission, so far as the exigencies of the military service will permit.

With best wishes for _____

Yours very sincerely,

Rev. Michael Adler, B.A., London                                     A. LEVY, Chief Rabbi

– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – “Proud of Being a Soldier” [Schoenthal Brothers], October 2, 1914

“You always said it was honourable, and it is at such a time at this that everyone respects a soldier or sailor.”

This article from The Jewish Chronicle presenting excerpts from the brothers Schoenthal to their parents, reveals their anticipation and optimism about military service.

Happily, the absence of their names from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database indicates that both survived the war.

Given the text of Cosman’s letter, it seems evident that his parents shared their son’s letter with the Chronicle.



The Jewish Chronicle
October 2, 1914

Corporal H. Schoenthal, of the 1st Essex Regiment, writing from Vacoas, Mauritius, on August 6th, states that it was only on the preceding day that the Regiment knew that England was very near to war with Germany: “and about half-an-hour ago,” the letter proceeds, “it came through to us officially.  You cannot picture the excitement we are going through.  Our Regiment is in Port Louis Fort, but we have no idea whether we stay here or go to another country.”

“Be of good cheer, the same as I am.”  – In a postscript the Corporal writes that he is looking forward to another medal.

A brother of the Corporal – Private Cosman Schoenthal – writing from camp on August 30th, states that he is under orders to move, but he neither knows where or when he is to go.

“I expect,” he goes on, “to be made either a lance-corporal, or full corporal, as soon as the list arrives from England.  Of course, you must still address me as Private until you hear definitely.”

“Anyhow, our Sergt.-Major told me that in all intents and purposes I am a corporal now, as, when I am made, it will be dated back.  So, with a little luck, I will beat Harry’s rank soon, and he the proud possessor of a medal, too.  A spirit of enthusiasm prevails everywhere, and I am proud to say now that I am a soldier.  You always said it was honourable, and it is at such a time at this that everyone respects a soldier or sailor.  Anyhow, the honour will rebound on to your shoulders for having two sons, who are both proud to be in the Army.”

In a postscript, the writer, says ironically, “It’s a rotten Navy that we have, isn’t it?  A little bit too good for the one that was made in Germany, though – (I hope this will pass the Censor.)”

(Photographs of the brothers will appear in the next Wednesday’s issue of the Jewish World.)

– Transcribed by Michael G. Moskow

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. 



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.



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.