Infantry Against Tanks: A German Jewish Soldier at Cambrai, November, 1917

Stories and depictions of World War One combat, composed both during and after the “Great War”, are abundantly available in print and on the web. 

A fascinating source of such accounts – but even moreso a source particularly; poignantly ironic – is the newspaper Der Schild, which was published by the association of German-Jewish war veterans, the “Reichsbundes Jüdischer Frontsoldaten”, from January of 1922 through late 1938, the latter date paralleling the disbandment of the RjF.  Der Schild is available as 35mm microfilm at the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library, and in digital format through Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.  

The screen-shot below shows the Goethe University’s catalog entry for Der Schild, which allows for immediate and direct access of the library’s holdings of the newspaper.  All years of the publication, with the exception of 1924, are available; all as PDFs. 

Of equal (greater?!) importance, accessing digital holdings is as simple as it is intuitive (and easy, too!)  In effect and intent, this is a very well designed website!  This is shown through this screen-shot, presenting holdings of Der Schild for 1933. 

The total digitized holdings of Der Schild in the Goethe University’s collection comprise approximately 530 issues.  “Gaps” do exist, with 1922 comprising only four issues (9, 10, 13, and 14) and 1923 comprising three issues (14, 15, and 17).  However, holdings for all years commencing with 1925 are – I believe – complete, through the final issue (number 44, published November 4, 1938).

Not unexpectedly, Der Schild’s content shed’s fascinating and retrospectively haunting light on Jewish life in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s; on Jewish genealogy; on the military service of German Jews (not only in the First World War but the Franco-Prussian War as well), often focusing on Jewish religious services at “the Front”, rather than “combat”, per se (see the issue of April 3, 1936, with its cover article “Pesach vor Verdun”); on occasion about Jewish military service in the Allied nations during “The Great War”(1); on Jewish history, literature, and religion; on Jewish life and Jewish news outside of Germany.

There is much to be explored.

While reviewing Der Schild at the New York Public Library, I discovered a front-page article – published less than a year before the newspaper’s final issue – which was particularly striking both in its content and prominence:  An account of an infantry battle against British tanks, at Cambrai, France, in November of 1917.  Certainly Der Schild carried innumerable articles – lengthy and brief – about the military service of German Jews, but these items were not always so boldly displayed as one might assume.  The prominence of this article prompted curiosity and in turn, an attempt at translation.  Which, is presented below.

Unlike the letter of Martin Feist, Carl Anker’s article neither carries nor imparts any deep spiritual insights or moral messages. 

It is simply an utterly direct story about a battle now almost a century gone by.

Erinnerungen an die
Tankschlacht bei Cambrai

Memories of the
Tank Battle at Cambrai

Der Schild
December 10, 1937

Unser Kam. Carl Anker, Hamburg, überlässt uns freundlicherweise seine interessanten Erinnerungen aus der grossen Durchbruchs-Schlacht bei Cambrai 1917 nach seinen Kriegstagebuch-Aufzeichnungen.

Our comrade, Carl Anker, of Hamburg, kindly leaves his interesting memoirs from the great breakthrough battle at Cambrai in 1917 according to the notes in his war diary.

In der Nacht vom 16 zum 17 November kamen wir, die 8. Komp. I.R. 84, von Noyelles nach vorne auf Wache.  Ich hatte einen Unteroffizier-Posten, also mit 6 Mann eine Wache für mich.  Um 8 Uhr abends kamen wir an, um 1 Uhr zog ich mit meinen 6 Mann nach __rne in die Feldwache.  Drei Löcher, jedes für 2 Mann, in Abständen von ca. 30-40 Schritt, nahmen uns auf.  Ich, als Wachthabender, hatte beständig von Loch zu Loch zu patrouillieren; dieses Vergnügen dauerte bis früh um 7 ½ Uhr.  Dann wurde es so hell, dass man von hinten Uebersicht über das gesamte Gelände hatte, und wir zogen uns auf ein anderes grösseres Loch, das “Gruppennest” ca. 20 Schritte weiter hinten zurück und blieben dort von früh um 7 ½ bis abends 6 Uhr: – dann wurde es wieder so dunkel, dass die Posten besetzt werden mussten.  Vom Greppennest wurde durch einen Mann Posten gestanden; von hier aus ging auch ein Verbindungsgraben nach hinten, – ca. 600 m zur Feldwache -, wo ein tiefer Unterstand mit dem Wachthabenden und der Ablösung lag.  Von abends 6 Uhr lagen wir wieder vorne auf Posten,

In the night of the 16th to 17th of November we arrived, the 8th Company, 84th Infantry Regiment, forward on guard from Noyelles.  I had a non-commissioned officer’s station, with 6 men on guard duty for me.  We arrived at eight o’clock in the evening; at 1 o’clock I went with my 6 men to the field guard.  Three holes, each for two men, in intervals of about 30-40 paces, were taken by us.  I, [keeping watch], had to patrol constantly from hole to hole; this pleasure lasted until early in the morning at 7:30 hours.  Then it was so bright, that we had an overview of the whole terrain from behind, and we moved to another larger hole, the “group nest” about 20 paces farther back, and stayed there from early morning at 7: 30 to 6 o’clock in the evening: – then it was again so dark again, that the posts had to be occupied.  A man stood post by the group nest; from here a connecting trench also went to the rear – about 600 meters to the field guard -, where there was a deep dugout with the guard and the detachment.  From the evening at 6 o’clock we were again located at the post,

ca. 49 Schritte vom englischen Graben entfernt.

about 49 steps from the English trench.

Nach Einsetzen der Dunkelheit erhielten wir Verpflegung.  Um 1 Uhr Nachts kam unsere Ablösung von der Feldwache, nachdem wir also 24 Stunden vorne gewesen.

After darkness we received food.  At 1 o’clock in the evening, our detachment came from the field guard, after we had been at the front for 24 hours.

Zwei mal 7 Stunden hintereinander auf Posten, ohne Bewegung, lautlos, in denkbar nächster Nähe des Gegners, am Tage ein Lager auf hartem Brett, in freier Luft, nur ein Stück Wellblech gegen Regen über dem Körper!  Nicht rauchen, tagsüber der Qualm, nachts der Feuerschein!

Two times seven hours in a row, without a movement, silently, in the immediate vicinity of the enemy, in the day camping on a hard plank, in the open air, only a piece of corrugated iron over the body against the rain!  Do not smoke, smoke during the day, the fire at night!

In der nacht vom 17. zum 18. wurde ich also abgelöst, kam kurz nach 1 Uhr in der Feldwache an und konnte bis früh um 6 Uhr schlafen.  Da wurde alles alarmiert.  Eine Gewaltspatrouille kam zur Durchführung.  Lt. Hegermann, Lt. Störzel, am Tage vorher befordert, und noch einige andere Offiziere leiteten die Sache.  Artillerie, Minen- und Granatwerfer riegelten das betreffende englische Grabenstück ab, die Patrouille drang vor, sprengte den Draht und brachte einen Vizefeldwebel und 6 Mann als Gefangene zurück.  Wir selbst verloren Lt. Störzel als Toten und mehrere Verwundete.  Der Gegner erwiderte unser Feuer sehr lebhaft, und auf einmal kam von vorne der Befehl: “Verstärkung nach vorne, der Feind macht einen Gegenangriff.”  Ich musste mit meinen 6 Mann vor, stürmte los, traf aber unterwegs schon die zurückkehrende Patrouille mit den Gefangenen – die Verstärkung sei nicht mehr nötig.  Also wieder zurück.  Hpt. Soltau verhörte die Gefangenen, die bald nach hinten abgeschoben wurden, und nach einer weiteren Stunde Alarmbereitschaft hatten wir den Tag über wieder Ruhe.

In the night of the 17th to the 18th, I was relieved, came to the field guard shortly after one o’clock, and could sleep until early at 6 o’clock.  Everything was alerted.  A violent patrol came to pass.  Lt. Hegermann, Lt. Störzel, who had been summoned the day before, and still a few other officers lead the affair.  Artillery, mines, and mortars cordoned off the English trench, the patrol pushed forward, pulled the wire, and returned with a non-commissioned-officer and six men as prisoners.  We ourselves lost Lt. Störzel (2) as dead and several wounded.  The enemy repulsed our fire very vigorously, and suddenly the command came from the front: “Reinforcements forward, the enemy is making a counter-attack.”  I had to go forward with my 6 men, storm, but on the way I met the returning patrol with the prisoners – the reinforcement was no longer necessary.  So back again.  Soltau interrogated the prisoners, who were soon shuffled off to the rear, and after a further hour on high alert, we had the rest of the day.

In der Nacht vom 18. zum 19. November musste ich um 1 Uhr nach vorne zur Ablösung.  Die Nacht war ruhig, es fiel fast kein Schuss.  Am 19. früh 9 Uhr, während wir im Gruppennest standen, bemerkte ich 2 Engländer an ihrem Drahtverhau.  Am hellen Tage gingen sie aufrecht herum – für uns unfassbar.  Ich beobachtete sie eine Zeitlang und vertrieb sie dann durch ein paar Schüsse.

In the night from the 18th to the 19th of November, I had to move forward at 1 am.  The night was quiet, there were almost no shots.  On the morning of the 19th, at nine o’clock, while we were standing at the group nest, I noticed two Englishmen at their wire entanglement.  In the bright of the day they walked upright – for us incomprehensible.  I watched them for a time, and then drove a few shots through them.

Mittags um 12 Ich war unruhig geworden, verliess mich nicht auf meinen Posten, sondern passte selbst auf und sah wieder 5 Mann am Draht herumlaufen.  Ob sie die von unserer Patrouille gesprengte Lücke besichtigen oder ausbessern wollten oder was sonst, ich wusste es nicht.  Ich alarmierte meine Leute, und wir gaben eine ruhig gezielte Salve ab, worauf sie verschwanden.  Ich meldete den Vorfall sofort nach hinten.

At 12 o’clock I was restless, did not leave my post, but took care of myself and saw another five men running around the wire.  Whether they wanted to see or repair the gap exploded by our patrol, or what else, I did not know.  I alerted my people, and we gave a quiet salvo, whereupon they disappeared.  I immediately reported back the incident.

Um 6 Uhr abends am 19. zogen wir wieder auf Posten.  Bald kam der Feldwachhabende, Vizef. Sörensen und meldete mir, hinten sei alles

At 6 o’clock in the evening on the 19th, we moved back to the post.  Soon came the field guard on duty, Senior NCO Sörensen (3), and told me, that everything behind was

in allerhöchster Alarmbereitschaft.

in very high alertness.

Beobachtungen und die Aussagen der Gefangenen liessen vermuten, dass für den kommenden Morgen ein grosser Angriff bevorstände.  Die Gräben seien voll, alle Reserven seien herangezogen, auch alle höheren Stäbe etc. seien weit nach vorne geschoben.  Dabei gab er mir gleich Instruktion, bei einem Infanterie-Angriff unbedingt zu halten, bei Artillerie-Feuer mich langsam zurückzuziehen.  Na, dachte ich, denn man los!  Aber die Nacht auf den 20. verlief wieder absolut ruhig.  Um 1 Uhr wurde ich abgelöst und fand die Feldwache dicht an dicht besetzt.  Hptm. Christiansen, der unsere Kompagnie übernehmen sollte, Lt. Simon und viele Leute hatten jeden Winkel dicht besetzt.  So gut es ging, hockte ich mich mit meinen Leuten irgwendo hin zum Schlafen.

Observations and the statements of the prisoners suggested that a major attack would take place on the coming morning.  The trenches were full, all the reserves were drawn up, and all the higher staff, etc., were pushed far forward.  At the same time, he gave me the instruction, to hold on to an infantry attack, to retire slowly with artillery fire.  Well, I thought, because you go!  But the night on the 20th proceeded perfectly quiet again.  At 1 o’clock I was relieved and found the field guard closely packed.  Captain Christiansen, who was to take over our company, Lt. Simon, and many people had crowded [into] each corner.  As best I could, I crouched with my people to sleep.

Am 20. früh 6 Uhr alles raus, gefechtsbereit, Handgranaten, Munition, etc. …

On the morning of the 20th at 6 o’clock everything went out, ready at hand, hand grenades, ammunition, etc. …

Ich arbeitete Schützenstände aus, damit für den Fall eines Angriffs jeder Mann Licht- und Schussfeld habe.  Es blieb alles ruhig.  Um 7 Uhr hiess es, die Alarmbereitschaft sei zu Ende, die Leute könnon zur Ruhe gehen.  Ich sprach mit Vizef. Sörensen, na, nun sei es hell, und es sei nichts mehr zu befürchten, es sei wieder mal blinder Alarm gewesen.  Da, mitten im Satze – das werde ich wohl nie vergessen – wie ein einziger dauernder riesiger Blitzschlag in allernächster Nähe ein schlagartiger Angriff riesiger Artilleriemassen.  Alle Schüsse sausten über uns hinweg, gingen in unsere vorderste Linie und weiter nach hinten zu unseren Reserven und zur Artillerie.  Ich sah nach hinten.  Es war, als sei Weltuntergang, ein furchtbares Krachen und Sausen; der ganze Horizont war, trotzdem es schon hell war, blutig rot von den platzenden Granaten, berstenden Schrapnells.  Im Nu wurde durch diesen schlagartigen Angriff hinten alles zusammengeschossen, – es feuerte eine Unzahl Geschütze gleichzeitig und so andauernd, wie ich nie vorher gehört.  “Aha,” sagt Sörensen, “das ist die Vergeltung.”  “Nein,” sage ich, “das ist viel mehr, das ist der Angriff!”

I worked at gunnery stations, so that in the event of an attack every man had light and a shooting area.  Everything remained quiet.  At 7 o’clock it was said that the alert was over; the people could go to rest. I spoke with Senior NCO Sörensen, well, now it was bright, and there was nothing to fear, it was once again a blind alarm.  There, in the middle of the sentence – I shall never forget – like a single giant lightning bolt in the immediate vicinity, a sudden strike of giant artillery.  All the shots rushed over us, went into our front-most line, and farther back to our reserves and artillery.  I looked back.  It was as if there was an end of the world, a terrible crash and a whirl; the whole horizon was still bright, blood-red from the exploding shells, bursting shrapnel.  In an instant, this sudden attack brought everything back to the ground, firing an immense number of guns at the same time, as I never heard before.  “Ah,” said Sörensen, “that is the retribution.”  “No,” I say, “that is much more, that’s the attack!”

Unsere Leute waren von selbst alle heraus und auf ihren Ständen.  Das riesige, nicht zu überbietende Trommelfeuer hielt an; aber auf uns, die wir so weit vorne lagen, fiel nicht ein Schuss.  Plötzlich liefen von vorn auf uns Leute zu.  Unsere M.G.’s setzten mit rasender Schnelligkeit ein.  “Halt, halt!”, brüllte ich, “das sind ja unsere!”  Unsere Wachtposten von vorne kamen an, Sörensen stoppte unser M.G.-Feuer und die Leute kamen richtig zu uns in den Graben.

Our people were by themselves all out and on their [firing] stands.  The huge barrage [drum-fire], which was not to be surpassed, continued; but not a shot fell on us, who were so far ahead.  Suddenly people came running towards us.  Our machine guns set in with rapid speed.  “Stop, stop!” I yelled, “these are ours!”  Our guard posts came from the front, Sörensen stopped our machine gun fire and the people came to us right into the trench.

Wir standen und warteten.  Nichts als das andauernde ungeheure, fürchterliche Bombardement nach hinten.  Ich bereitete mich auf mein Ende vor; denn dass nach dieser kolossalen Vorbereitung ein gewaltiger Stoss erfolgen würde, war mir gewiss.  Die 3 Jahre Krieg zogen blitzschnell in Gedanken vorbei, – na, und dann stand ich da: schussbereit, totbereit.  Alles war ruhige.  Entschlossenheit, kalte Vernunft, zielbewusste Energie.

We stood and waited.  Nothing but the protracted, tremendous, terrible bombardment to the rear.  I prepared myself for my end; because after this colossal preparation, a tremendous blow would take place, I was certain.  The three years of war passed quickly, and then I stood there, ready to shoot, ready to kill.  Everything was quiet.  Determination, cold reason, purposeful energy.

Das Feuer liess nicht nach, es lag dauernd in unerhörter Stärke hinter uns.  Der Engländer musste hunderte Geschütze aufgefahren haben, die ohne Pause das entsetzlichste Trommerlfeuer unterhielten.

The fire did not stop; it was always behind us, in unheard of strength.  The Englishman had had to take hundreds of guns, which kept the most terrible barrage fire [drum fire] without pause.

Da tauchte vor uns aus Nebel und Rauch etwas Dunkles auf.

Then darkness, fog and smoke appeared in front of us.

Ich sah etwas Grosses Schwarzes.  “Das ist ein Tank” sagt Sörensen so ruhig wie nur was.  Wahrhaftig, jetzt erkenne ich es auch.  Langsam aber sicher schiebt sich das Ungeheuer feuernd und krachend auf uns zu, entsetzlich wie ein unabwendbares Verhängnis.  Unempfindlich gegen Kugeln und Handgranaten, ist es nur durch Artillerie-Volltreffer zu vernichten.  Es kommt näher, vielleicht 50 Schritt noch!  Ueber uns, ganz, ganz niedrig, kreisen die Flieger und bestreichen uns mit M.G.  Hilfe von hinten ist ausgeschlossen -: durch solch ein Sperr- und Vernichtungsfeuer kommt kein Hund lebendig!

I saw something large and black.  “This is a tank,” says Sörensen as quiet as that.  Now I also truly recognize it.  Slowly but surely, the monster is firing and crashing toward us, terrible as an inevitable doom.  Immune to bullets and hand grenades, it is only to be destroyed by artillery hits.  It comes closer, maybe no more than 50 paces!  Above us, all, very low, airplanes circle and spread machine gun fire.  Help from behind is impossible -: by such a block and destructive fire no dog comes [out] alive!

Da, jetzt endlich ist es Zeit!  In dichten Massen schreiten aufrecht hinter dem Tank, der sie völlig schützt, die Engländer.  Aber der geht an uns vorbei, mehr nach links, er geht geradezu seitlich an uns vorbei, so dass wir die Massen dahinter flankierend fassen können.  Natürlich, der Tank geht parallel mit unserem Graben direkt auf unsere Hauptstellung zu.

There, now finally it’s time!  In dense masses, the British are standing upright behind the tank, which protects them completely.  But it goes past us, more to the left; it goes to the side of us, so that the masses behind it can be flanked.  Of course, the tank goes directly to our main position parallel to our trench.

Nun, wir schossen, so lange wir Munition hatten.  Bald war der Tank links an uns voruber, die englische Infanterie also vor uns.  Gruppenweise kamen sie auf uns zu.  Ich nahm mir einen ihrer Führer, der sie mit der Hand auf uns zu dirigierte, aufs Korn.  Hinter uns lag noch immer das furchtbare Artilleriefeuer, von dem wir glücklicherweise garnichts abbekamen; rechts zog sich der Graben nach unserem Gruppennest.  Langsam rückten wir alle in dieser Richtung vor, immer im Graben entlang und feuernd.  Neben mir schrien Verwundete auf.  Wir bekamen jetzt starkes Infanteriefeuer.  Ich liege auf dem Grabenrand, ziele und schiesse dauernd; da fällt neben mir Sörensen herab; Schuss in die Schädeldecke.  Kein Ton, kein Laut.  Er wird blau im Gesicht, das Haar raucht vom warmen Blut.  Nun denke ich, einer nach dem anderen, heraus kommt hier keiner.

Well, we shot as long as we had ammunition.  Soon the tank was on our left; the English infantry before us.  They came to use in groups.  I took [killed] one of their leaders, who directed them to us with his hand.  Behind us still lay the terrific artillery-fire, which we were fortunate not to mention; to the right, the trench moved to our group nest.  Slowly we all advanced in this direction, always along the trench and firing.  Beside me, the wounded cried.  We are now given strong infantry fire.  I am lying on the edge of the ditch, aiming and shooting; Sörensen falls next to me; shot in the cranium. No sound, no sound.  He becomes blue in the face; the hair fumes of the warm blood.  Now I think, one by one, no one comes out here.

Bald hatten wir

Soon we had

keine Munition mehr.

no more ammunition.

Vor uns links bewegte sich der Tank vorwärts und ihm nach die Massen des Gegners; hinten lag dauernd das unheimliche Trommelfeuer, vor uns kam der Gegner in Gruppen heran.  Wir zogen uns nach rechts, also nach vorne zu, weiter.  So kamen wir bis fast ans Gruppennest.  Auch hier bereits alles voll vom Gegner.  Unsere Munition war ja verschossen.  Da, ein Ruck – und ein leichter Schmerz an der rechten Schulter…

In front of us, on the left, the tank moved forward, and after him the masses of the enemy; in the rear was the eerie barrage [drum] fire, before us the enemy came in groups.  We moved to the right, so forward.  So we came almost to the group nest.  Here too, everything is full of the enemy.  Our ammunition was gone.  There, a jerk – and a slight pain on the right shoulder …

In unserem Löchern sassen Gruppen des Gegners, die uns mit der Pistole in der Hand den Weg in ihren Graben wiesen…

There were groups of our opponents in our holes, who pointed at us with their pistols in their hands…

*

Ein anderer Kamerad, Dr. Caspary, Stettin, hat die Tankschlacht bei Cambrai beim Inf. Regt. 50 mitgemacht (S. Regt. Gesch. S. 280).  Er geriet mit seinen Leuten in die Gewalt der Engländer und wurde in einem der bekannten “Nester” gefangen gehalten, die eine Spezialität der Engländer waren.  Kam. Dr. Casparys Plan, mit den Seinen weider Verbindung aufzunehmen, gelang – wie er selbst berichtet – vornehmlich durch die Kaltblütigkeit eines seiner Krankenträger.  Zwar war die Situation mehr als schwierig, allein um so schöner der Erfolg, als er ausser der Befreiung noch die Gefangennahme von 3 englischen Offizieren, 46 Mann und 2 Maschinen-Gewehren einbrachte.

Another comrade, Dr. Caspary, Stettin, participated in the tank battles at Cambrai at the 50th Infantry Regiment.  He fell into the hands of the British with his men, and was imprisoned in one of the well-known “nests”, which were a specialty of the English.  Comrade Dr. Caspary’s plan to connect with his two partners was, as he himself reports, chiefly due to the cold-bloodedness of one of his patients.  The situation was more than difficult, but it was all the more successful when, besides the deliverance, he brought in as prisoners three English officers, 46 men, and two machine guns.

______________________________

I’ve been unable to find any record “Carl Anker” – or even an approximation of his name – in Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims Names.  This would suggest, though not definitively confirm, that he was able to escape Nazi Germany and perhaps German-Occupied Europe, “in time”.  To where, and when, is unknown.   

What happened to him after 1937? 

Notes

(1) See the issue of June 24, 1938, which includes coverage of the Evian Conference (as did three issues in July), and – on the first page – an illustrated article about the commemoration of a memorial to French Jewish soldiers fallen at the Battle or Verdun. 

(2) “Lt. Storzel” was probably Leutnant Georg Storzel, who is listed as having been killed on November 18, 1917.  He is buried at Kriegsgräberstätte in Neuville-St.Vaast (France), Block 1 Grab 516.

(3) “Sorensen” was probably Offiziersstellvertreter Friedrich Sørensen.  He was born in Haderslav, Denmark, on October 25, 1889.

These men were identified from reference works (listed below) available at denstorekrig1914-1918

The three images of displayed above are scans of photocopies made at the Dorot Jewish Division of the NYPL, Photoshop-“ed” for clarity.  Ironically, the quality of these images – derived from a physical media: paper, from a plain ‘ole microfilm photocopier – is better than that of the PDF available via the Goethe University’s Website.  Notably, the article is appropriately headed with a sketch of a British Mark I tank  (drawn by “Adam Zeichnung” and…simply and aptly labeled as “Englisher Tank ’17”) advancing over the lip of a trench.

Some other German Jewish military casualties on March 20, 1917 include…

– .ת. נ. צ. ב. ה

Hagedorn, Josef, Soldat, Garde-Schutz Bataillon 2
Born in Padberg 6/28/97 / Resided in Giershagen
Casualty Message (Verlustmeldung) 820
Die Jüdischen Gefallenen des Deutschen Heeres, Deutschen Marine und der Deutschen Schutztruppen 1914-1918 – Ein Gedenkbuch – page 314

Rosenthal, Isak, Soldat, Garde Regiment 11, Bataillon 3, Kompagnie 9
Born in Beuthen (O.S.) 1/7/88 / Resided in Bitschin / Gleiwitz
Casualty Message (Verlustmeldung) 814
Die Jüdischen Gefallenen des Deutschen Heeres, Deutschen Marine und der Deutschen Schutztruppen 1914-1918 – Ein Gedenkbuch – page 169

Simmenauer (first name unknown), Soldat, Garde Regiment 11, Bataillon 3, Kompagnie 9
Born in Breslau 8/4/95 / Resided in Halle / S.
Casualty Message (Verlustmeldung) 814
Die Jüdischen Gefallenen des Deutschen Heeres, Deutschen Marine und der Deutschen Schutztruppen 1914-1918 – Ein Gedenkbuch – page 182

Westheimer, Heinrich, Soldat (Landsturmrekrut), Reserve Infanterie Regiment 263, Bataillon 3, Kompagnie 10
Born in Grosseicholzheim 2/19/81 / Resided in Grosseicholzheim
Kriegsgräberstätte in Neuville-St.Vaast (Frankreich), Block 9, Grab 315
Casualty Message (Verlustmeldung) 851
Die Jüdischen Gefallenen des Deutschen Heeres, Deutschen Marine und der Deutschen Schutztruppen 1914-1918 – Ein Gedenkbuch – page 230

References

Books

Banks, Arthur, A Military Atlas of the First World War, Leo Cooper (Pen & Sword Books), Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, 2001.

Chamberlain, Peter, and Ellis, Chris, Pictorial History of Tanks of the World 1915-1945, Galahad, Books, Harrisburg, Pa., 1972.

Die Jüdischen Gefallenen Des Deutschen Heeres, Deutschen Marine Und Der Deutschen Schutztruppen 1914-1918 – Ein Gedenkbuch, Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten, Forward by Dr. Leo Löwenstein, Berlin, Germany, 1932

Erindringsboger tyske regimenter Udgivet under medvirken af Rigsarkivet – Infanterie-haefte 11 – Infanterie-Regiment von Manstein (Schleswigsches) Nr. 84, Oldenburg i.O/Berlin, 1922 / Dansk udgave: Jørgen Flinthom – 2016 (“Memorial Books of German Regiments, Published under the auspices of the National Archives – Infantry – Record Book 11 – Manstein 84th Infantry Regiment“) (denstorekrig1914-1918.dk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/IR-84-kampkalender-udvidet.pdf) (at Den Store Krig 1914-1918)

Geschichte des Infanterie-Regiments von Manstein (Schleswigsches) Nr. 84, 1914-1918, in Einzeldarstellungen von Frontkämpfern, Band III – herausgegben von Hülsemann, Oberstleutnant a.D., im felde Hauptmann und Komp.-Chef. 6./84 und Fuhrer des II. Bataillons / Revideret udgave: Jørgen Flinthom – 2011 (“History of the Manstein 84th Infantry Regiment, 1914-1918, Volume 3“) (at Den Store Krig 1914-1918)

Geschichte des Infanterie-Regiments von Manstein (Schleswigsches) Nr. 84, 1914-1918, in Einzeldarstellungen von Frontkämpfern, Band IV – herausgegben von Hülsemann, Oberstleutnant a.D., im felde Hauptmann und Komp.-Chef. 6./84 und Fuhrer des II. Bataillons / Revideret udgave: Jørgen Flinthom – 2011 (“History of the Manstein 84th Infantry Regiment, 1914-1918, Volume 4“) (at den Store Krig 1914-1918)

Sønderyjske Soldatengrave 1914-1918 – Sorteret efter efternavn (“Soldiers’ Graves 1914-1918 – Sorted by Surname“) (at Den Store Krig 1914-1918)

Web

Bund jüdischer Soldaten (Home Page)

Bund jüdischer Soldaten (YouTube Channel)

Den Store Krig 1914-1918 (“Danes in the German Army – 1914-1918”)

Der Schild (digital version) (at Goethe University Frankfurt website)

German War Graves (at Volksbund.de)

Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (at Wikipedia)

Vaterländischer Bund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (Patriotic Union of Jewish Front-Line Soldiers”) 

Yav Vashem – Central Database of Shoah Victim’s Names (at Yad Vashem)

Three Soldiers – Three Brothers? – Fallen for France: Hermann, Jules, and Max Boers

The sources of historical and genealogical information about twentieth century military servicemen – official documents; private correspondence; photographs; news items; ephemera, and more – are vast.  And even among the historical records of any particular nation, one finds tremendous variation – over time, in different theatres of military operations; among and between different branches of the armed forces – in the way that information is recorded, categorized, and (hopefully!) preserved.       

Regardless of the era or conflict; regardless of the country in question; such military archival information can reveal patterns, relationships, and interactions encompassing both military service and civilian life.  The fragments of history can coalesce; suggesting; revealing; unfolding a larger, often unexpected story. 

As, seems to be the case presented below…

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In an effort to identify Jewish military casualties in the French armed forces during the First Wodl War, I’ve relied upon two books – Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française (1914-1918) and, Le Livre d’or du Judaïsme Algérien (1914-1918) as the primary, central (and perhaps exclusive?) published works listing names of fallen French Jewish soldiers. 

Specific bibliographic information about these works is given below:

1) Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française (1914-1918) (Israelites [Jews] in the French Army), Angers, 1921 – Avant-Propos de la Deuxième Épreuve [Forward to the Second Edition], Albert Manuel, Paris, Juillet, 1921 – (Réédité par le Cercle de Généalogie juive [Reissued by the Circle for Jewish Genealogy], Paris, 2000)

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2) Le Livre d’or du Judaïsme Algérien (1914-1918) (The Gold Book of Algerian Jewry (1914-1918), 1919 – Pubication du Comiée Algérien d’Études Sociales 1er fascicule septembre 1919 ((Réédité par le Cercle de Généalogie juive [Reissued by the Circle for Jewish Genealogy], Paris, 2000) – Avec la collaboration de Georges Teboul et de Jean-Pierre Bernard.

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Then, it was a process of on-line searching: The French Government’s SGA (Secrétariat Général pour l’Administration “General Secretariat for Administration”) databases covering World War One deaths and military casualties were thoroughly searched to identify and download records for the names listed in these two books.  The specific databases used in this endeavor have been “Died for France in the First World War” (for “PARTIE À REMPLIR PAR LE CORPS (‘PART TO BE COMPLETED BY THE CORPS’)” forms), “War Graves”, and to a much lesser extent, “Military Aviation Personnel.” 

Links for the three databases are given below:  

Morts pour la France de la Première Guerre mondiale (“Died for France in the First World War”)

Sépultures de Guerre (“War Graves”)

Personnels de l’aéronautique militaire (“Military Aviation Personnnel”)

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Though the above books have been absolutely essential in this endeavor, like other historical reference works (particularly those published very shortly after a historical event) they do manifest a variety of not unexpected problems. 

These include the absence of names, the presentation of information about the same person under multiple name variants, names for which other information is in error or fragmentary, and finally, names for which no equivalent (even a rough phonetic equivalent) can be identified at any of the SGA databases. 

The image below – a example of the notes I made in my copy of Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française (1914-1918) while researching the Morts pour la France de la Première Guerre mondiale database – shows the challenges involved.  The circled dots indicate names definitively identified using the Morts pour la France de la Première Guerre mondiale database.  Left-pointing arrows indicate names for which no record could be found.  (Well, the last time I searched…)  Finally, names connected by arrows indicate variants of the same name.  For example, “Mimoun Borianiche” and “Mimoun Bouaniche” are one and the same soldier.

This isn’t meant to detract from the efforts of the creators of these compilations.  Given the challenges they likely faced – incorrect, missing, or fragmentary original records, the simple unavailability of records, and, efforts constrained by limited staff, time, and other resources – they generated laudabl, historically invaluable, and above all necessary works.

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The records – the “hits” – generated by the SGA website comprise low-resolution (96 dpi) scans (from microfilm?) of “PARTIE À REMPLIR PAR LE CORPS (‘PART TO BE COMPLETED BY THE CORPS’)” forms.  The information fields on these forms comprise a soldier’s surname, given (first) and middle names, military grade, military unit, matriculation number in class, number, date and place of recruitment, date of death, place of death, cause of death, date of birth, and place of birth (Department in France, or name of another country.)

A very helpful discussion about the forms, by Thierry Sabot (with various talk-backs – one as recently as June of 2017) can be found at the History-Genealogy Magazine website.)

On arriving at page 18 of Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française, I noted something intriguing; curious, and above all – portentously sad:  Four soldiers with the surname “Boers”, three of whom were born in Amsterdam during a three-year time frame.  The page is shown below:

The three from Amsterdam men were Hermann Boers, Jules Boers, and Max Boers.  (The fourth “Boers” was Michel, from Paris.)

Upon reviewing their PARTIE À REMPLIR PAR LE CORPS forms for the three men, a relationship suggested itself. 

1) Their matriculation numbers are immediately sequential: 26749 for Jules, 26750 for Max, and 26751 for Herman. 

2) All served in the 2ème Régiment de Marche du 1er Régiment Etranger. 

3) Jules and Max were killed on the same day, and at the same place: May 9, 1915, at Neuville-Saint-Vaast.  Both were missing (“disparu”), and will probably always be missing. 

Hermann was killed on September 28, 1915, at Souain, and was known to have been killed by the enemy (“Tué a l’ennemi”). 

4) Max, born on March 10, 1885, was the oldest.  Hermann was born thirteen months later, on June 11, 1886.  Jules, the youngest, was born eleven months after Hermann, on July 13, 1887.

All of which leads to a question:  Were they brothers?

I do not know. 

Unfortunately, PARTIE À REMPLIR PAR LE CORPS forms neither list the names of a serviceman’s next of kin, nor give his residential address.  Such information would be the key that answer the question.  But, the signs seem to point in that direction.

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One hundred and two years – over a century – have transpired since their deaths.  “Our” world is not the same as theirs – how could it be? – but I would like to think that one thing has remained unchanged in human nature: The need to remember. 

At least – in the world of 2017 – I hope so.

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Specific information about the men, and images of their PARTIE À REMPLIR PAR LE CORPS forms, is presented below.

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– .ת. נ. צ. ב. ה

Jules

Boers, Jules, Soldat de 2ème classe, Légion étrangère, 2ème Régiment de Marche du 1er Régiment Etranger
No. 26749 au Corps E.V. 1914
Matricule S.M. 3245 au Recrutement Seine Central
Born July 13, 1887, Amsterdam, Hollande
Missing [Disparu]
May 9, 1915; Pas-de-Calais, Neuville-Saint-Vaast
Not listed in Sépultures de guerre database

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Max

Boers, Max, Soldat de 2ème classe, Légion étrangère, 2ème Régiment de Marche du 1er Régiment Etranger
No. 26750 au Corps E.V. 191_
Matricule S.M. 2709 au Recrutement Seine B.C.
Born March 10, 1885, Amsterdam, Hollande
Missing [Disparu]
May 9, 1915; Pas-de-Calais, Neuville-Saint-Vaast
Not listed in Sépultures de guerre database

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Hermann

Boers, Hermann, Soldat de 2ème classe, Légion étrangère, 2ème Régiment de Marche du 1er Régiment Etranger
No. 26751 au Corps Cl. 1919
Matricule: 3530 au Recrutement Lyon Central
Born June 11, 1886, Amsterdam, Hollande
Killed by the enemy [Tué a l’ennemi]
September 28, 1915; Marne, Souain
Not listed in Sépultures de guerre database

 

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in The Jewish Chronicle – “Osnas the Hero” – A Battle Pictured

Previous posts presented two articles from The Jewish Chronicle of 1914 (“Osnas the Hero“, from September 11, and “War and The New Year”, from September 25) mentioning the award of the Cross of Saint George to a soldier surnamed “Osnas”, who was identified as a medical student from Vilna. 

According to “Osnas the Hero”, Osnas had been, “…invalided and is in hospital suffering from severe wounds received in saving the colours of his regiment in the last extremity during the terrible fighting in East Prussia.  His commander telegraphed a special request to the doctors to ‘do everything that was possible to save the life of Osnas, the hero.’”

Well…  Who, actually, was “Osnas”? 

His identity – thus far, at least based on extensive web searches – remains an enigma.  His given name – “Leo” – has been found at only source (This Day…In Jewish History) under the entry, “1914:  During World War I, “on the Eastern Front, the first award of the Cross of St George, the equivalent of the Victoria Cross in Britain,” went to Leo Osnas, a Jewish soldier, “for exceptional bravery on the field of battle.” 

Unfortunately, no bibliographic reference is associated with this item.

Other references repeat, with elaboration and variation, Osnas’ story as presented in the two articles from the Chronicle.
    
For example, the 1916 book The People Who Run – Being The Tragedy of the Refugees in Russia, by Violetta Thurstan, in a chapter devoted to the suffering and experiences Jewish refugees in Eastern Europe during the First World War, states, “Very sad cases of distress come before the Jewish Committee from time to time.  There was a family in Kazan, living in one little room, who had been extremely wealthy and had lost everything they had.  They had been living in Poland and had been ordered by the military authorities to quit the town at once as the Germans were rapidly advancing.  They managed to lay their hands on three thousand roubles, and as they possessed two large barges, they decided to sail down the river to Kiev, bringing as much furniture with them as the barges would carry.  But a Jewish festival was due just then, and they foolishly decided to wait till it was over.  The Russian military authorities, finding they had not started when they were told to, got hold of the idea that they had German sympathies and were waiting till the German troops entered the town to give them information.  Their barges and money were confiscated and they were turned penniless out of the town, and are now living in miserable poverty in Kazan.  But in spite of unfortunate incidents like this, which must occur during any war, a new respect between the Russians and the Jews is steadily growing, and it is hoped that the old prejudices will disappear.  The heroic action of one young Jewish medical student at the front has done a very great deal to raise the status of Jews throughout the whole of Russia.  In the middle of a fierce battle near Goldap [a town in northeastern Poland, located on the Goldapa River], the Russian standard-bearer was bayoneted by a German soldier and the flag captured.  Young Osnas, a Jewish medical student from Vilna, seeing his chance, sprang forward, killed the German soldier and seized the flag, though he was entirely surrounded for a few moments by the enemy striving to recapture it once more.  Osnas, although severely wounded, managed to hold it until reinforcements came up.   For the heroic courage he showed the Emperor himself decorated him with the St. George’s Cross, the highest reward for courage a Russian soldier can obtain.  May it be a happy omen for the future.

Marr Murray’s The Russian Advance (1914), in a chapter covering fighting in East Prussia, presents Osnas’ story in this manner, “It was during this period of the engagement that one of the most significant events – so far as Russia is concerned – of the whole war occurred.  A Russian battalion was in the midst of a veritable inferno.  The Germans were determined to hold an important position at all costs.  The Russians were equally determined to capture it.  On both sides the carnage had been terrible.  At last, with a desperate rush, the Russians succeeded in getting to grips with the Germans.  Indescribable hand-to-hand fighting ensued.  In the midst of the melee a German bayoneted the Russian Standard-bearer and seized the flag.  Emboldened by this emblem of victory the Germans renewed their efforts and dashed to the assistance of their comrade.  But before they could reach him a young Russian had sprung forward, killed him and recaptured the flag.  With a howl of disappointment the Germans attacked him.  For a moment he seemed to be doomed.  Germans, were all round him struggling for the possession of the flag.  Then there came a deep-throated roar, a sudden rush, and the Germans were hurled back.  The Russians had captured the position and saved their flag.

The youth who had held it against such odds was afterwards discovered severely wounded.  He proved to be a young Jewish medical student from Vilna, named Osnas.  He was at once hailed on all sides as a hero, and on being invalided back to Petrograd the Commander himself gave orders that every care was to be taken to save the life of “Osnas the hero.”  Subsequently he received the military cross of St. George, the Russian V.C., from the hands of the Tzar himself.

The significance of the incident does not lie in the bravery of Osnas, but in the fact that he was a Jew.  His action, which has made him a popular hero throughout the Russian Empire, has done more to improve the position of the Jews than any event in the whole course of their history in Russia.  It has made the nation realise that a Jew can be a worthy son of Russia.”

The story – to a brief albeit similar effect – appeared in the Reform Advocate of September 12, 1914:

London, England, Sept. 4 – A Petrograd (St. Petersburg) dispatch to the Central News says that a Jewish medical student of Vilna, named Osnas, received the military cross of Saint George for saving the colors of his regiment in the last extremity during the terrible fighting in East Prussia.

Osnas was badly wounded and his commander telegraphed the doctors to do everything possible to save the life of “Osnas the Hero”.

The report of Osnas’ bravery was not limited to the Jewish Press.  For example, The Los Angeles Herald of September 22, 1914, carried the following item:

Jew Decorated for Saving Colors of Russian Regiment – LONDON, Sept. 22 – A Petrograd dispatch to the Central News says a Jewish medical student of Vilna, named Osnas, received the military cross of Saint George for saving the colors of his regiment in the last extremity during the terrible fighting in East Prussia.

Osnas was badly wounded and his commander telegraphed the doctors to do everything possible to save the life of “Osnas the Hero”.

In contemporary times, Sir Martin Gilbert presented this account about Osnas in his book The First World War:

The hopes of minorities could be raised in unusual ways.  On the Eastern Front the first award of the Cross of St George, the equivalent of the Victoria Cross in Britain, awarded by the Tsar for exceptional bravery on the field of battle, went to a Jewish soldier, Leo Osnas.  According to a British newspaper, the Yorkshire Herald, by his bravery in action Osnas ‘has won freedom for the Jews in Russia; he has gained for his race the right to become officers in the Russian army and navy, hitherto denied them, and he has so delighted the Russian government that it has since proclaimed that henceforth Jews in the Empire shall enjoy the full rights of citizenship.’  Commented the newspaper: ‘Surely no man’s winning of the “V.C.” ever resulted in such magnificent results for a subject people as this!’  In fact, the Jews of Russia did not receive full citizenship during the war; nor did they escape repeated violent attacks on them by Russian townsmen and villagers looking for scapegoats for Russia’s military setbacks.

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Perhaps more information about Osnas will can eventually be found, but for now, his life and story  – both pre-war and post-war – remain a mystery.

This is ironic, because one image of Osnas does exist.  It shows him as he appeared, or, as he is imagined to have appeared. 

The image is in the form of a painting created by British cartoonist Alfred Pearse (1855-1933), which was reproduced as a picture postcard published by War Photogravure Publications of London.  The painting depicts Osnas wounded, in the midst of battle – an embodiment of courage, determination, and fury – retrieving the Russian flag from German troops.  He is situated in the center of the image, while enemy soldiers surround him, and cavalry, obscured by clouds of dust, observe the scene from behind.

The painting appeared in The Jewish Chronicle’s sister publication, The Jewish World, in late 1914 or early 1915.

Well, it’s an interesting image. (Historically.)

It’s a compelling image.  (Doubtlessly.) 

And, it’s an especially dramatic image.  (Admittedly.) 

But, pondering that no actual photographic portrait of Osnas appeared in the press or – as yet – seems to exist, a question arises:  Is this Osnas as he actually appeared, or Osnas as Pearse imagined him?

Regardless, what became of Osnas after 1914?

References

Gilbert, Martin, The First World War: A Complete History, Rosetta Books, New York, N.Y., 2014

Reform Advocate, September 12, 1914

The Los Angeles Herald, September 22, 1914, “Jew Decorated for Saving Colors of Russian Regiment”

This Day…In Jewish History, at http://jewish1191.rssing.com/chan-15120684/all_p17.html

Cross of Saint George, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross_of_St._George

Jewish Militaria Catalog Part I (Fishburn Books), at http://www.fishburnbooks.com/catalogs/JewishMilitaryPart1_1.pdf

Alfred Pearse (biography), at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Pearse

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

“The Jewish Volunteer Katz” was not the only Russian Jewish soldier mentioned in the September 11 issue of the Chronicle.  Within the same issue, the following article mentioned a soldier surnamed “Osnas”, from Vilna, who received the Military Cross of Saint George.

For most reports in the Chronicle about Jews serving in the Russian armed forces during the First World War, little information would be (or, more likely could be) presented, beyond the soldier’s surname and the military award he received.  This item is an exception, listing the soldier’s – Osnas’ – profession and city of residence.

As for the opening sentence: “The war will change many things in Russia,…” who – at the end of 1914 – could possibly have imagined what the next four years, let alone the subsequent seventy-two, would entail? 

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“OSNAS, THE HERO.”
RUSSIAN JEW SAVED THE COLOURS

The Jewish Chronicle
September 11, 1914

The war will change many things in Russia, and the changes will probably include improvements in the position of the Jews, whose bravery and exploits at the front are attracting attention.  A Jewish medical student from Vilna, named Osnas, has just received the Military Cross of St. George.  He has been invalided and is in hospital suffering from severe wounds received in saving the colours of his regiment in the last extremity during the terrible fighting in East Prussia.  His commander telegraphed a special request to the doctors to “do everything that was possible to save the life of Osnas, the hero.” – Central News, Petrograd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

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

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

Biographical Profile for Sol Wise, at FindAGrave.com

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

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

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

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

He is and remains an enigma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, Jacob Abramowitz’s story follows below.  

As to its veracity, I have no idea. 

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

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

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

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

– Michael G. Moskow

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My Experience as a Jewish Cossack

 The Jewish Exponent

May 26, 1922

By Jacob A. Abramowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight in The Great War: Lieutenant Sol Wise, Aerial Observer, Armée de l’air – I: A Letter Home

The age of powered human flight commenced on December 17, 1903, with Orville Wright’s flight of the Wright Flyer I at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

Nearly eleven years would transpire between that date and the beginning of First World War, during which time aviation – and particularly aviators – acquired a mystique akin to that accorded to astronauts half a century later. 

On one level, this was a reflection of the scientific and technological advances inherent to and resulting from manned flight, which would only accelerate in future decades.  (And, are still doing so.)  On another level, the advent of human flight represented – even as it generated – a change in the nature and perspective of mans’ “place” in the world, in terms of speed of travel, speed of communication, speed of thought, and as a whole, speed of action.

Unsurprisingly, a fascination with aviation was reflected in the popular press, in terms of news coverage accorded to the experiences and exploits of aviators, particularly military aviators. 

An example of this follows:  A 1918 article from The American Israelite, presenting a fascinating letter by Lieutenant Sol Wise, who served as an aerial observer / gunner in two-seat Breguet bombers with the Armée de l’air – the aerial arm of the French armed forces.

Portrait of Sol Wise in The American Israelite

The publication of Sol’s letter in The American Israelite (founded in 1854, and very much thriving today) would not have been altogether unexpected, as the paper’s founder was his great uncle (!) Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. 

Sol’s well-written letter gives insight into the experiences of a WW I military aviator in terms of combat flying and of equal note, the accommodations and living conditions associated with combat flyers in World War One.

Fortunately, through the sentence, “My esquadrille insignia is a white swan.  We are presented with a pin to wear after a certain number of trips over the lines,”  Sol has enabled us to identify the military unit to which he was assigned: “Escadrille (Squadron) Br 111”. 

An extraordinarily comprehensive and detailed website on French World War One Aviation created by Denis Albin (Les Escadrilles francaises de la Grande Guerre) features a page devoted to Br 111, which shows examples of the Escadrille’s white swan insignia, images of the aforementioned “pin”, information about the men assigned to Br 111, and, many photographs of its aircraft.

Insignia of Br 111 (art by Denis Albin)

In terms of Sol’s combat experiences, the article mentions that he shot down a German pursuit plane on August 14, 1918.  However, Frank Bailey and Christopher Cony’s The French Air Service War Chronology reveals that this does not seem to have been so.  No “Lieutenant Wise” (or any phonetic equivalent!) is listed as having shot down a German aircraft on that date.

But…

The list of BR 111’s aerial victories at Denis Albin’s website reveals that a “Lieutenant Oise”, flying as an observer / gunner for pilot Lieutenant Théodore Loustallot, claimed a German aircraft on September 2, 1918.  This is identical with information in Bailey and Cony’s book, which records their shooting down a German “scout” plane over “Basileux”, at 1500 hours.  Could “Lieutenant Oise” in reality be “Lieutenant [Sol] Wise”?

Lieutenant Loustallot’s identity was verified at the French Ministry of Defence’s Mémoire des hommes website (which provides digitized documents covering French military casualties, and French military personnel, from military conflicts of the twentieth century).  His full name is revealed as Théodore Daniel Loustallot.  From Bordeaux, he was born on April 26, 1894, where prior to the war he was a student.  As indicated on the document below, he was assigned to Br 111 on January 13, 1918.  

Sol revealed very little about the type of aircraft with which his squadron was equipped, other than the brief statement, “I have a fast plane or ship.”

The type of plane?  The French Breguet 14, a very successful two-seat bomber and reconnaissance plane, of which approximately 5,500 were constructed.  The image below, by Patrice Gaubert, shows a Breguet 14 bearing Br 111’s white swan insignia.

Sol would have occupied the aircraft’s back seat, which was equipped with two 7.7mm Lewis Guns.  An excellent image of this crew position is shown below, in a photograph (Image Q 69230) from the Imperial War Museum.

THE FRENCH AIR FORCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 69230) The twin machine-guns mounted on the rear cockpit of a French Breguet 14 A.2 biplane at the Villeneuve aerodrome, 16 December 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205358272

In the context of military aviation in WW I, the names of many other Jewish aviators (American, Australian, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, German, and Italian) can be mentioned.  I will save those for future posts. 

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INTERESTING LETTER FROM AVIATOR
Cincinnati Flyer Brings Down Enemy Airplane

American Israelite
September 19, 1918

Lieutenant Sol Wise of the United States Aviation Corps, the writer of the appended letter, is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Sig Wise (of the Cincinnati firm of Meyer, Wise and Kaichen).  The young officer – he is just twenty-six years of age – enlisted a soon as the United States entered the war.  After due training he was sent abroad last November and after further training was put on detached service with a French esquadrille on July 13.

The letter, which is a very interesting one, reads as follows:

The Western Front, France
July 20, 1918

My Dear Parents: – I suppose you have received the letter I wrote a few days ago saying I am now flying on the front.  I am a full fledged aviator now as I took my first trip over the lines yesterday afternoon and as one of the other observers was sick, I went in his place.  I had been expecting to go across soon, but not as soon as I did, as our ship wasn’t ready.  Of course, it’s a great strain going over the lines the first time, but I was glad I was not told the night before.  The greatest nervousness is felt at the time of departure when all the machines are lined up on the field in long rows just before starting.  We had to wait around a long time as the orders were changed several times in a short while.

You see during this attack the lines are changed constantly and sometimes great gains are made so that it would be dangerous to bomb a certain town which might have been taken by the French, as you will see the French have made great gains north of Chateau Thierry.  I got all my flying clothes out to go up to 5,000 meters, then I had to change to go up to 3,000, as there is a great difference in temperature and it is very necessary to dress properly, especially the hands, face and feet, as the trip lasts over two hours in the air.  There are a few American teams in my esquadrille and the remainder are French.  They always hold an assembly on the fields just before starting to correct our maps and point out our objective.

Well the signal for the start was given and I hopped into the observer’s seat, my guns in good condition and a load of bombs on our lower wings, all set for the Huns.  It was very hot and I was perspiring when we left the ground.  It was a wonderful sight to see a large number of planes all taking off across the field at once in separate groups, all bent for Germany.  We left the ground at 6:15 p.m. and went right up to 3,200 meters, 10,000 feet, in formation.  I felt great after the first half hour in the air.  I had so much to do looking on the maps and watching for enemy planes that I wasn’t thinking of anything else.  As we flew along I saw Rheims burning in the distance and fires here and there.  As we neared the lines I saw some sausage balloons several thousand feet below and over our head our big three-plane fighting planes.  The aviator gets a real view of the whole front from both sides.  I saw the trenches far below just before we turned to cross the lines.  The ground was literally pitted with shell holes from artillery.  We crossed over into Germany amid the clouds which were pierced by the sun’s rays here and there very black and dusty looking.  I found out afterwards that these were so-called clouds of battle from the day’s gun fire.  I was very careful to look for Boche planes which I knew were in the vicinity as I noticed we were being trailed by a strange group of planes far to the rear.  Just after I released my bombs I saw the other planes do the same.  I heard several nasty bangs and rings of black smoke hung in the air.  This was the barrage put up by the anti-air craft.  They are called Archies.  The bombs dropped from the surrounding planes like so many loads of coal being dumped over.  I kept one hand on the guns and just after we turned I saw seven Boche planes well to the rear getting ready to attack.  They dove down on our formation and I fired.  Every plane in the group was shooting but the Huns did not stay around long; their closest distance was 500 yards.  I could see where my shots went by the tracers.  The Boche won’t dive right through a formation as a rule, but wait on the edges for some poor fellow’s motor to go wrong.  The guns worked beautifully.  Our bombs took good effect as you will see in the French air report of July 19th.  The Boche planes, which were those new Fokker triplanes, did not stay around long and after a half hour’s good driving

I saw familiar objects again.  My pilot let me drive the rest of the way home.  I was mighty glad to get a chance to sit down as the observer has to stand up and constantly look around the country; compare the land with the map and look for enemy plans as well as note things of importance in the enemy territory.

It was a great and glorious feeling when our own air dome [sic] loomed up and we landed safely.  Had supper about 9:30 and waited around for the Boche to come over and drop us a few presents at night.  It was a beautiful moonlight night and we heard him coming about 11:30 p.m.  Searchlights were flashing around the sky and shrapnel was bursting all over but we could not see the Hun – nevertheless he dropped a few eggs.  I had just got into bed when the orderly came around with his little red note book showing my order for the alert at 4 a.m. – great stuff.  I felt fine, but could not sleep – excitement was too intense.  I began to realize that there is a war and a real one at that.  Have been on the alert all day, which means that you should be ready to go up at a minute’s notice, but the weather was bad today, and it’s called off and I am now on repose.  During the attack you have to be ready to go at any time, depending when the call comes in from the line.  There is always some news coming over the wires.  The French officers are very cordial and great sports.  We have our own bar and the food is excellent.  The plates on the table are painted in with the esquadrille number and insignia.  My esquadrille insignia is a white swan.  We are presented with a pin to wear after a certain number of trips over the lines.  My orderly takes care of my clothes, shines my shoes, makes the bed and does my errands.  I pay him 20 francs a month with tobacco.  It’s a great life.  We have our own car, a Cadillac 8, for about seven American officers.  We are not directly at the front, but can hear the big guns booming all day and night.  I have gotten quite used to them.

We came in so late last night that we could not set them up but my pilot and I were going to buy champagne (for the first time over) tonight.  It’s the custom.  This is the greatest branch of service.  It can’t be beat, and now that I have been over the lines and know what it is like, I want to go often – the more the merrier.  Guess I will get some mail from you in a few days; it is delayed somewhere.  Hope you are all well and write often.

First Lieutenant W.M. Ellis in my esquadrille left last night for American to take up instructions.

SOL

Since writing the above Lieut. Wise has been across the lines numerous times.  He has taken part in several combats and on August 14th succeeded in sending down a Boche flyer, after an exciting fight, for which he was decorated, receiving the Croix-de-guerre, the French War Cross.

In another letter he writes: “The life in camp is great.  The meals are splendid.  We always have wine and last night there were two kinds of wine and champagne.  I am living in a tent with a wooden floor and everything is fixed for the greatest comfort.

“I have a fast plane or ship, as the boys call them, and a good pilot.  We always cross the lines in groups or formation for safety, as the Boche won’t attack a formation unless he has three to one in his favor as a rule.  The Allies have the supremacy of the air at present and will continue to improve their effectiveness in the air as time goes on.  I am perfectly satisfied with the life at the front here and I hope I stay with the French until the war ends.  Like everything else, you get used to going over the lines, as it’s all in a day’s work and after you get thoroughly used to it and know the ins and outs of the war game in the air, you think it’s the greatest sport in the world.  I haven’t received your letters for several weeks but suppose they will turn up somewhere.  Write often as mail is scarce.

SOL

Lieutenant Wise is a grand nephew of the late Rabbi Isaac M. Wise.

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References

Bailey, Frank W., and Cony, Christopher, The French Air Service War Chronology 1914-1918, Grub Street, London, England, 2001

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

The American Israelite (Wikipedia), at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_American_Israelite

Breguet 14 (Wikipedia), at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breguet_14

Breguet 14 Observer’s Position (Photograph), at http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205358272

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

Military Aircraft Personnel (Database of Navigators and Ground Personnel of the [French] Air Force During the Great War), at http://www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr/en/article.php?larub=81

 

Soldiers of The Great War: Jewish Military Service in WW I, as Reported in l’Univers Israélite (The Jewish World) – Sur la mort d’un héros (On the Death of a Hero – Sous-Lieutenant André Fraenckel), April 16, 1915

A week after l’Univers Israélite – in its issue of April 9, 1915 – presented a moving account of a Pesach Seder held among Sephardic soldiers, the periodical published an account covering the military career, death, and family background of a fallen officer: Sous-Lieutenant André Fraenckel.

Born in Elbeuf in June of 1893, Andre was the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Fraenckel, his father having been President of the Chamber of Commerce of Elbeuf, and, vice president of the religious association of Elbeuf. 

The article presents an account of his nonchalant attitude after having been wounded in January, and, an extract from a letter Andre wrote to either his parents, or, the editor of l’Univers.  The article continues with a transcript of a letter written to Andre’s parents by a Captain Vital (first name not given), Company Commander of a Battalion of Chasseurs, which details about Andre’s death, and, information about Andre’s family.

As with prior – and hopefully future – blog posts concerning Jewish World War One Casualties in the French army, I have included “Partie À Remplir Par Le Corps” cards from the Morts pour la France de la Première Guerre mondiale (Died for France in the First World War) database.

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Andre was not the only French Jewish soldier to lose his life on March 4, 1915.  The others included:

Sous-Lieutenant Leon Eugene Bauer; 41ème Bataillon de Chasseurs a Pied
At La Chapelotte, in Cher
Born at Le Havre, on June 19, 1893
Mentioned in l’Univers Israélite on September 10, 1915
(Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française, page 8)

Sergent Major Armand Levy; 170ème Regiment d’Infanterie (?)
At Hurlus, in Marne
(Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française, page 53)
(“Partie À Remplir Par Le Corps” card could not be found or identified at the Morts pour la France de la Première Guerre mondiale (Died for France in the First World War) database, at Mémoire des Hommes (Memories of the Men) website.)

Soldier (Soldat) Max Levy; 149ème Regiment d’Infanterie
Died of wounds at a Temporary Hospital, at Hay-les-Mines, in Pas-de-Calais
Born at Alsace-Lorraine, on August 10, 1876
(Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française, p. 56)

Sous-Lieutenant Henri Leon Rothschild; 370ème Regiment d’Infanterie
At Neuville-Saint-Vaast, in Pas-de-Calais; Disappeared
Born at 9ème Arrondissement of Paris, on September 15, 1887
(Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française, p. 72)

Sergent Robert See; 313ème Regiment d’Infanterie
At Vauquois, in Meuse
Born at Colmar, in Alsace-Lorraine, on January 19, 1878
(Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française, p. 77)

Lieutenant André Wahl; 18ème Bataillon de Chasseurs (André’s Battalion)
Died of wounds, at Fortin de Mesnil les Hurlus, in Marne
Born at Doaui, in Nord, on February 23, 1884
Mentioned in l’Univers Israélite on March 17, 1916
(Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française, p. 85)

– .ת. נ. צ. ב. ה –

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Sur la mort d’un héros

On the Death of a Hero

l’Univers Israélite
April 16, 1915

The Jewish World
April 16, 1915

A la mémoire du sous-lieutenant André Fraenckel
tombé en Champagne, le 4 Mars 1915

In memory of Second Lieutenant Andre Fraenckel

fallen in Champagne, March 4, 1915

Il nous était revenu an début de janvier, la téte emmaillottée de linges blancs, blessé pour la deuxième fois.  “Ce n’est rien, disait-il, une balle morte”. Une citation à l’ordre de l’armée disait ce qu’il passait sous silence: là blessure reçue en organisant, debout sous le feu, un saillant enlevé par ses chasseurs. 

He had returned year early at the beginning of January, head swathed in white cloths, wounded for the second time.  “It is nothing, he said, a dead ball.”  A quote from an order of the Army and he was silent: The wound was received by organizing, a defensive position under fire; a salient removed by his chasseurs.

Il décrivait la vie là-bas, dans une forêt de l’Argonne: au flanc d’un ravin, la tranchée; sur le versant opposé, la tranchée allemande; entre les deux une vallée fauchée par les balles. Il parlait avec enthousiasme de ses chefs et de ses homes; ces belles amitiés d’officiers en campagne, auxquelles la présence de la mort et l’éloignement de tous les intérêts du monde imposent tant de confiance et de profondeur, devaient plaire à cette âme loyale et absolue.

He described life there, in a forest of the Argonne: the side of a ravine, the trench; on the opposite slope, the German trench; a valley between the two swathed by bullets.  He spoke with enthusiasm of his leaders and their homes; these beautiful friendships of officers on campaign, which the presence of death and the removal of all worldly interests require so much confidence and depth, should please this loyal and absolute soul.

Il avait presque la nostalgie du front, tant les préoccupations de ceux qui ne se battaient pas lui paraissaient mesquines. 

He was almost nostalgic at the front, so that the concerns of those who did not fight to him seemed petty.

“Il ne faut pas croire, disait-il, que notre vie soit triste ou effrayante. Je me rappelle un soir où l’on nous a prévenus que nous aurions à attaquer le lendemain matin. C’etait la pente du ràvin a descendre, en tête de nos hommes, sous le feu des mitrailleuses allemandes. Nous avons passé la nuit à fumer des cigarettes. L’air était très calme, le ciel tout plein d’étoiles. Nous n’avions aucune tristesse, aucune arrière-pensée. Nous savions que nous allions mourir de la plus belle des morts, et la certitude de mourir est un sentiment très doux qùi ne laisse de place pour aucune crainte. Avant le matin, l’attaque fut décommandée: nous l’avons tous regrette.

“Do not believe,” he said, “that our life is sad or frightening.  I remember one evening when we were warned that we would have to attack the next morning.  It was the slope of the lower ravine, our forward men, under the fire of German machine guns.  We spent the night smoking cigarettes.  The air was calm, the whole sky full of stars.  We had no sadness, no ulterior motive.  We knew we were going to die the most beautiful of deaths, and the certainty of death is a very sweet feeling that leaves no room for fear.  Before the morning, the attack was called off: we all regretted.”

Il devait retrouver, hélas! l’occasion attendue de ce sacrifice.  Quelques semaines après son départ ses lettres cessèrent d’arriver. Un jour son capitaine écrivit qu’il était blessé, puis grièvement blessé, et le lendemain vint celle belle lettre d’un admirable chef:

He should find, alas, the expected time of this sacrifice.  A few weeks after leaving his letters stopped coming.  One day his captain wrote that he was hurt, and hurt badly, and next came the beautiful letter of an admirable leader:

Le 19 mars 1915.
On March 19, 1915.

Monsieur,
Sir,


Je ne veux laisser à aucun autre la douloureuse mission de vous révéler la triste vérité. La peine que j’ai éprouvée moi-méme m’a fait différer de vous écrire, pensant bien que l’absence de lettres quotidiennes vous préparerait un peu a l’idée d’un malheur.  Vous excuse-rez aussi les mensonges de mes dernières lettres destinées uniquement à amortir le choc un peu brutal de la cruelle vérité.  Voire fils Andre est tombé en héros, à la tête de sa troupe, le 4 mars dernier, frappé d’une balle au cœur, sans une plainte, sans avoir souffert aussi, comme le témoignait le calme de ses traits. C’est la belle mort du soldat qui l’a fauché dans un élan superbe, dont une citation à l’ordre de l’armée consacrera le souvenir.


I will leave no other painful passion to reveal the sad truth.  The trouble I have proven my same made me defer to write to you, thinking that the absence of daily letters to you prepares little to you the idea of a misfortune.  You also excuse the lies of my last letters, intended only to soften the somewhat brutal shock of the cruel truth.  Your son Andre became a hero at the head of his troops, last March 4, struck by a bullet in the heart, without a complaint, without suffering too, as evidenced by the calm of his features.  This is the beautiful death of the soldier who broke into a superb momentum, including a citation in army dispatches consecrating his memory.


Permetez-moi, Monsieur, de m’associer à votre douleur paternelle, en tant que chef et en tant qu’ami. La vie de campagne créé des liens indissolubles, et je m’étais très sincèrement attaché a ce jeune homme si vivant et si vibrant qu’était votre enfant. L’ardeur qu’il mettait en tout, il l’a manifestée dans cette attaque de tranchée pour la prise de laquelle il a donné sa vie. Avec vous je pleure la nature généreuse et la belle âme d’officier qui en était en lui.


Allow me, Sir, to associate myself with your father’s pain, as leader and as a friend.  Country living created indissoluble bonds, and I was sincerely attached to this young man, so alive and vibrant was your child.  The passion he put into everything he manifested in this trench attack the decision for which he gave his life.  With you I cry generously for the beautiful soul of the officer that was within him.


Que la beauté de cette mort soit pour vous une atténuation à votre peine. C’est du sang jeune, abondamment répandu, que sortira notre régénération. J’aurais voulu pouvoir donner le mien pour épargner sa vie: la balle est folle et ne choisit pas.


May the beauty of this death be for you an attenuation to your sentence.  It is the young blood, fully given, that will release our regeneration.  I wish I could give mine to save his life: the bullet is crazy and does not choose.


Je me hâte de répondre à une question que je devine.” Le corps de votre fils, mis en bière, repose dans le petit cimetière de….., côte à côte avec ceux de ses compagnons d’armes. Lorsque le bataillon a défilé devant lui, pour la dernière fois, beaucoup ont fait serment de le venger.


I hasten to answer a question I guess.  “The body of your son, placed in a coffin, is buried in the small cemetery of …, side by side with those of his fellow soldiers.  When the battalion parades before him, for the last time, many have sworn to avenge him.


Pardonnez-moi encore, Monsieur, de vous porter un coup si cruel. J’ai préféré vous annoncer moi-même la pénible nouvelle, sans recourir à la voie administrative. Je m’incline respectueusement devant votre douleur paternelle et je vous prie d’accepter l’expression de mes plus sincères et mes plus profondes condoléances.


Forgive me again, sir, for dealing you a blow so cruel.  I preferred to tell you the painful news myself, without resort to administrative means.  I respectfully bow to your father’s pain and I beg you to accept the expression of my profound and deepest condolences.

Signé:
Capitaine Vital,
commandant la… compagnie du… bataillon
de chasseurs à pied

Signed:
Captain Vital,
Commandant of the … Company of the … battalion
of
chasseurs à pied

On a su depuis, par une lettre d’un de ses camarades, que tout, autre que lui eût pu être sauvé. Dès le début de l’attaque, il avait été blessé à la tête par un éclat d’obus. Il aurait dû aller se faire panser. Mais c’était une conscience qui ne marchandait pas avec elle-même. En toute chose il ne comprenait que le don total de soi. Souvent, silencieux, il nous écoutait discuter autour de lui; puis brusquement, de sa voix jeune et un peu bourrue, il donnait son avis : c’était ton-jours le plus généreux. Pour tôus ceux qu’il aimait, pour toutes les causes qui lui paraissaient justes, etait toujours prêt à s’offrir tout entier.

We have since learned, by a letter from one of his comrades, of everything else that could have been done to save him.  From the beginning of the attack, he had been wounded in the head by shrapnel.  He should have gotten [the wound] dressed.  But he had a consciousness that had not bargained with itself.  In everything, he did not understand the total gift of self.   Often silent, he listened to us talk about him; then suddenly, in his little young and gruff voice, he gave his opinion: it was the most in the most generous tone.  For all those he loved, for all cases which he considered fair, was always ready to offer a whole.

C’est un privilège de ceux qui meurent à vingt ans d’avoir conservé jusqu’au bout cette belle foi joyeuse dans la vie : c’est un de leurs privilèges aussi de demeurer éternellement jeunes dans la mémoire de ceux qui les ont aimés.  Ce beau jeune home, ardent et vibrant, bien pris dans son uniforme bleu foncé, restera, pour tous ceux qui l’ont connu, un souvenir lumineux et sans tache, et, à la tristesse de l’avoir perdu se mêlera toujours pour les siens la douceur de conserver de lui une image si fraîche et si pure.

It is a privilege of those who die at twenty to have been preserved through this beautiful joyful faith in life: it’s one of their privileges as to remain young forever in the memory of those who loved them.  This beautiful young man, ardent and vibrant, well caught in his dark blue uniform, will remain, for all those who knew him, a bright and spotless memory, and the sadness of losing him will always mingle with his gentleness to keep him pictured so fresh and pure.

Pour moi, je le verrai toujours vivant et fort, courant à la tête de ses chasseurs, dans un élan superbe, sur ce coin de la terre de Champagne pour lequel il a donné son sang, avec sur le visage l’expression que donnent une volonté héroique et cette certitude de mourir que ne laisse de place pour aucune crainte.

For me, I see him still alive and strong, running at the head of his fighters with a superb momentum, on this corner of the land of Champagne for which he gave his blood, with his face in an expression that gives heroic determination in the certainty of death that leaves no room for fear.

E.H.
(La Dépéche de Rouen)

E.H.
(The Disptach from Rouen)

André Fraenckel était le fils unique de M. Paul Fraenckel, président de la Chambre de Commerce d’Elbeuf et vice-président de l’Association cultuelle d’Elbeuf, et de Mme Paul Fraenckel.  Il avait fait sa premierè année de service à Rouen au 74e d’infanterie.  Il achevait la seconde année comme élève officier dans un bataillon de chasseurs à pied lorsque la guerre éclata.

André Fraenckel was the only son of Paul Fraenckel and Mrs. Paul Fraenckel, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Elbeuf and vice president of the religious association of Elbeuf.  He had his first year of service at Rouen in the 74th Infantry.  He finished the second year as a student officer in a battalion of Chasseurs when war broke out. 

Il ne tarda pas à se distinguer par sa conduite au feu, qui lui valut une citation à l’ordre du jour de l’armée; il revint deux fois blessé.  Il était parti il y a quelques semaines pour reprendre son poste sur un point du front où la lutte était particulièrement active.

He will soon be distinguished by his conduct against fire, which earned him a citation in the orders of the army.  He returned twice wounded.  He had been there a few weeks to resume his position on the point of the front where the fight was particularly active.

Toute la ville d’Elbeuf, où le jeune André Fraenckel comptait autant de sympathies que parmi ses camarades de bataillon, s’est associée à la douleur d’une famille justement considérée et qui, venue d’Alsace après 1870, paie de la vie d’un fils unique la reprise du pays natal toujours regretté.

The whole town of Elbeuf, where the young André Fraenckel had many sympathies among his battalion comrades, is associated with the pain of a family and it is rightly considered that, from Alsace after 1870, it is regretted that the homeland is always paid with the life of a son.

M. Marc Bernheim, président de l’Association cultuelle du canton d’Elbeuf nous a écrit pour nous dire, en son nom et au nom de tous ses coreligionnaires d’Elbeuf et de la région, la part sincère qu’ils prennent au cruel deuil qui vient de frapper la famille Fraenckel.  Nous nous associons de tout coeur à ces condoléances. 

Mr. Marc Bernheim, president of the religious association of the canton of Elbeuf wrote to us saying, in his name and on behalf of all his coreligionists of Elbeuf and the region, they take cruel mourning that has struck the family Fraenckel with a sincere hand.  We join wholeheartedly in these condolences.

Reference

Les Israelites dans l’Armée Française (Israelites [Jews] in the French Army), Angers, 1921 – Avant-Propos de la Deuxième Épreuve [Forward to the Second Edition], Albert Manuel, Paris, Juillet, 1921 – (Réédité par le Cercle de Généalogie juive [Reissued by the Circle for Jewish Genealogy], Paris, 2000)

– Transcribed and Translated by Michael G. Moskow – 2016

 

 

 

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.

____________________

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