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Jewish-American GI's

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by McCabe, Feb 22, 2017.

  1. McCabe

    McCabe Active Member

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    I've poked around this in some earlier posts but I've never directly asked about it. What was the average experience of Jewish-American GI's in Europe during the war? Were they discriminated against? Were they discouraged from filling combat roles, knowing how they'd be treated if captured by the Germans? Or were they thrown into the breach with the gentiles? All that said... I know there are many Stars of David in the various WW2-era American cemeteries, and I'm certain, particularly in '44, Eisenhower and Bradley didn't give a rat's ass who you prayed to, as long as you could hold and fire a rifle.

    Very interested in this perspective, as my grandfather was Jewish... although the war apparently changed a lot of that for him. Like many others, he was not the same man when he returned home from the war.
     
  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Interesting question. I came across this brief summary. It doesn't directly answer your question, but good information, nonetheless.
    During the course of World War II, 550,000 Jewish men and women served in the armed forces of the United States. (Another 1 million Jews served in other Allied forces - 500,000 in the Soviet Army, 100,000 in Polish Military and 30,000 in British Army.)
    Jewish servicemembers accounted for 4.23 percent of all soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces.
    About 60 percent of all Jewish physicians in the United States under 45 years of age served in the military.
    22 Jews attained senior rank in the armed forces - 18 generals, 6 major generals, 12 brigadier generals,1 vice admiral, 2 rear admirals and 1 commodore.
    The total number of Jewish war casualties was 38,338 - 11,000 were killed, 7,000 of which occured in combat.
    Approximately 26,000 Jewish men and women in uniform received citations for valor and merit. The number of awards totaled 49,315, including 66 Distinguished Service Crosses, 28 Navy Crosses, 41 Distinguished Service Medals, 244 Legions of Merit, 1,434 Silver Stars, 2,047 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 191 Soldier's Medals, 28 Navy and Marine Corps Medals, 4,641 Bronze Star Medals, 13,212 Air Medals and 14,550 Purple Hearts.
    3 Jewish soldiers were awarded the military's highest distinction, the Congressional Medals of Honor - Ben Salomon, Isadore S. Jachman, and Raymond Zussman
    President Franklin D. Roosevelt praised the fighting abilities and service of Jewish men and women. General Douglas MacArthur in one of his speeches said, “I am proud to join in saluting the memory of fallen American heroes of Jewish faith.” At the 50th National Memorial Service conducted by the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, General A. A. Vandergrift, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, said, “Americans of Jewish faith in the Marine Corps have served with distinction throughout the prosecution of this war. During the past year, many Jewish fighting men in our armed forces have given their lives in the cause of freedom. With profound sympathy and respect, I join you in paying homage to them at this memorial service.”
    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/statistics-on-jewish-american-soldiers-in-world-war-ii
     
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  3. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Member

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    From a British perspective one of our members on ww2talk.com has his history in blogs, would suggest, if you want, have a trawl through any and all the links. I have read several of them, they are interesting and sometimes 'black' after all it was a war

    https://www.blogger.com/profile/18128947129038825503

    TD
     
  4. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    In several anecdotes, American Jewish GIs were offered or advised to use a "P" (Protestant) on their dog tags instead of the "H" for Hebrew. They nearly always refused, which is a special kind of courage.

    My absolute favorite personal account of a WWII battle is "Fire MIssion!: The Seige at Mortain," by Robert Weiss. He was the artillery observer trapped (surrounded) on a hill at Mortain by the 2nd Waffen SS. He was Jewish and just planned to keep killing Germans until they killed him. He just figured there was no surrender for him, both because of his faith and the hell he had rained on the German forces from his lofty perch above the battle.
     
  5. McCabe

    McCabe Active Member

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    Gents-- thanks to all for the information, very helpful.

    I still have my grandfather's dogtags and, indeed, he has the "H" for Hebrew.
     
  6. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    I used to work with a surgeon who was a doctor at a battalion aid station. He was in NA, Italy, and southern France, until he was wounded. We talked about being a Jewish and what would happen if he was captured. He said it was a concern, but not something he dwelt upon. He also said there was the occasional anti-semite but by and large there were few problems experienced by him.
     
  7. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member

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    Many rears ago I read an article, section of a book , I forget, that the Germany Army maintained a POW camp for Jewish prisoners that was separate from the general POW population. Anyone ever heard of it or is my memory faulty. I do not recall the specifics of the treatment of the prisoners . I will see if I can find it again. I too found it poignant when visiting American militaries cemeteries in the ETC to see rows of crosses joined by an occasional Start of David. It the cemetery is on rolling land the pattern becomes geometrically different then they are more apparent. It always moves me to see so many graves of so many young men regardless of religion.

    I highly recommend reading every word Ron Goldstein has written here, WW2.Talk , and in other placed link to these two forums. I guess we all have heroes, Ron is mine.

    Gaines
     
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  8. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I'll try to catch this.


    Jewish POWs In A Nazi Concentration Camp

    On May 28, PBS will air “Berga: Soldiers of Another War” a documentary that originated with a story in my book, Forgotten Victims: The Abandonment of Americans in Hitler’s Camps,” about a group of American Jewish soldiers who were segregated at a POW camp and transported to a concentration camp that had the highest fatality rate of any camp where Americans were held. The story is shocking because few people know that Americans were in concentration camps, because the U.S. government treated the survivors badly and failed to adequately punish their tormentors, and because the image of those captured is completely different from the heroic portrayal of POWs today.

    In 1945, more than 4,000 American GIs were imprisoned at Stalag IX-B at Bad Orb, approximately 30 miles northwest of Frankfurt-on-Main. One day the commandant had prisoners assembled in a field. All Jews were ordered to take one step forward. Word ran through the ranks not to move. The non-Jews told their Jewish comrades they would stand with them. The commandant said the Jews would have until six the next morning to identify themselves. The prisoners were told, moreover, that any Jews in the barracks after 24 hours would be show, as would anyone trying to hide or protect them.

    American Jewish soldiers had to decide what to do. All had gone into battle with dog tags bearing an “H” for Hebrew. Some had disposed of their IDs when they were captured, others decided to do so after the commandant’s threat. Approximately 130 Jews ultimately came forward. They were segregated and placed in a special barracks. Some 50 noncommissioned officers from the group were taken out of the camp, along with the non-Jewish NCOs.

    The Germans had a quota of 350 for a special detail. All the remaining Jews were taken, along with prisoners considered troublemakers, those they thought were Jewish and others chosen at random. This group left Bad Orb on February 8. They were placed in trains under conditions similar to those faced by European Jews deported to concentration camps. Five days later, the POWs arrived in Berga, a quaint German town of 7,000 people on the Elster River, whose concentration and labor camps appear on few World War II maps.

    Conditions in Stalag IX-B were the worst of any POW camp, but they were recalled fondly by the Americans transferred to Berga, who discovered the main purpose for their imprisonment was to serve as slave laborers. Each day, the men trudged approximately two miles through the snow to a mountainside in which 17 mine shafts were dug 100 feet apart. There, under the direction of brutal civilian overseers, the Americans were required to help the Nazis build an underground armament factory.

    The men worked in shafts as deep as 150 feet that were so dusty it was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of you. The Germans would blast the slate loose with dynamite and then, before the dust settled, the prisoners would go down to break up the rock so that it could be shoveled into mining cars.

    The men did what they could to sustain each other. “You kept each other warm at night by huddling together," said Daniel Steckler. “We maintained each other's welfare by sharing body heat, by sharing the paper-thin blankets that were given to us, by sharing the soup, by sharing the bread, by sharing everything.”

    “Surviving was all you thought about,” Winfield Rosenberg agreed. “You were so worn down you didn't even think of all the death that was around you.” He said his faith sustained him. “I knew I'd go to heaven if I died, because I was already in hell.”

    On April 4, 1945, the commandant received an order to evacuate Berga. This was but the end of a chapter of the Americans’ ordeal. The human skeletons who had survived found no cause to rejoice in this flight from hell. They were leaving friends behind and returning to the unknown.

    Fewer than 300 men survived the 50 days they had spent in Berga. Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, before the survivors were liberated, at least 36 more GIs died on a march to avoid the approaching Allied armies. The fatality rate in Berga, including the march, was the highest of any camp where American POWs were held—nearly 20 percent—and the 70-73 men who were killed represented approximately six percent of all Americans who perished as POWs during World War II.

    This was not the only case where American Jewish soldiers were segregated or otherwise mistreated, but it was the most dramatic. The U.S. Government never publicly acknowledged they were mistreated. In fact, one survivor was told he should go to a psychiatrist. Officials at the VA told him he had made up the whole story.

    Two of the Nazis responsible for the murder and mistreatment of American soldiers were tried. They were found guilty and sentenced to hang, despite the fact that none of the survivors testified at the trial (to this day, many ex-POWs don’t know a trial was conducted). Later, the case was reviewed and the verdicts upheld. Nevertheless, five years after being tried, the Chief of the War Crimes Branch unilaterally decided the evidence was insufficient to sustain the charges and commuted the sentences to time served — about six years.
    http://www.mitchellbard.com/articles/pows.html
     
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  9. McCabe

    McCabe Active Member

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    Lou! That was an amazing account, thanks so much for providing that. I'm even more interested in the topic now. Somehow I'm not surprised our government failed those POWs, but I really had never heard of this story. I'm shocked and even angry about it. It occurs to me that it's quite easy for us, here in 2017, to fall into the trap of looking at the war with a rose-colored jingoistic feel-good (sanitized?) perspective... and we often forget, intentionally or not, we did bad things to good people. Even our own people.

    Is there any indication of *why* the U.S. government never properly acknowledged the experiences of these particular POWs?

    Thanks again to all who have chimed in.
     
  10. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member

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  11. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member

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    Slightly off topic but of interest to this topic, I think. I subscribe a blog , the Accidental Talmudist and ran across an article about Nancy Wake, an Australian, born in New Zealand, spy in France during the war. fascinating woman and her actions were beyond brave and fierce, lead to the demise of many Nazis. (Accidental Talmudist.com)
    @accidentaltalmudist

    Her biography is out on Kindle and book form......Nancy Wake Biography Revised Edition [Book], written by Peter Fitzsimons, sorry about the huge type !

    Gaines

    As much as $24 book form, $2 Kindle.
     

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