Jewish Soldiers in Service of their Country

    April 2008 Passover Edition            
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Jewish Soldiers in Service of their Country


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Jews Fighting For Their Country

By Gerard Meister

Anti-Semitism takes many forms. For the past two millennia the scroll of history documents the virulence of that bigotry from the Crusades to the Pogroms to the Holocaust. It is all there in plain, bloody sight. Yet a subtler, but no less evil canard about (supposed) Jewish characteristics is that Jews in the Diaspora are shirkers when it comes time to serve in the armed forces of their adopted country. And nothing is farther from the truth! Every single civilized nation on the face of the earth that kept ethnic demographic records on wartime service proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jews always did more than their share.

Checking the military record of the United States, the country with the largest number of Jews in the Diaspora we find that during World War II, some 550,000 Jews from all walks of life served in the armed forces. In fact, although Jews represented only 3.33% of the citizenry and Jewish men in particular no more than 1.6% of that number, the makeup of the military was 4.23% Jewish. With eight thousand killed in action and more than 61,000 Jewish American servicemen decorated for valor. Shirkers indeed! (The service of women at that point in time was negligible)

In the Great War (World War I) there was a greater disparity of Jews in the American armed forces, 5.73% as opposed their percentage of the general population of 3.27% (half of whom were women). But the numbers in Germany during the Great War are even more startling: Jews comprised a little over one percent of the total German population of 65 million plus, yet served at the incredible rate of close to 20% of their 550,000 plus population. So with over 100,000 in the German armed forces, and over12, 000 Jews killed in action (80% of the Jews, according to an official Wermacht census were on the frontlines!), more Jews fought and died for their country than any other ethnic group in the Fatherland. In point of fact, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg the German Imperial chancellor from 1909 to 1917 was of Jewish descent.

History will also note that when Adolph Hitler, was awarded his Iron Cross, first class, for his service in the German Army during World War I, the medal was pinned to his chest by Lt. Hugo Gutmann, a German Jew (who fled to America when Hitler took power in 1933).

However, to paint a full picture of the pervasive anti-Semitism Jews faced while serving their country we must also examine the disgraceful certainty of the “Gentleman’s Agreement” as it existed when it came time to bestowing a Jewish soldier his country’s highest honor. To do so, we cannot even extrapolate German figures because the Nazis expunged Jewish records of World War I service, but when it comes to the United States, we have a full plate of statistics:

For both WW I and WW II, the United States issued a grand total of six Medals of Honor to Jewish heroes. This despite over 800,000 Jews serving in those wars and nearly 12,000 killed in action. And to the point of Jews doing more than their share, in the “Great War,” Jews suffered 3500 front line fatalities, which extrapolates to 5% of the total American fatalities against a total Jewish male population of 1.6%!

Although it took over half-a-century the good people of the United States finally woke up and for the new millennium Congress passed the Leonard Kravitz War Veteran’s Act of 2001. The Bill (H.R. 606) sponsored by Robert Wexler, D-Fla., directs that “the Secretaries of the military departments conduct a review of military service records to determine whether certain Jewish American war veterans including those previously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, or Air Force Cross, should be awarded the Medal of Honor.” (A similar bill passed in 1996 on behalf of Asian Americans and yielded 21 Medals of Honor!)

So justice is finally on the way for men like Leonard Kravitz and Barney Ross (yes, that Barney Ross, the boxing champion) and the scores of other unsung Jewish heroes who served in W.W. II and Korea and Vietnam. Representative Wexler’s office is keeping tabs on the progress the Pentagon is making on about 600 (Jewish) Distinguished Service Cross winners, some of whom should have been awarded the (Congressional) Medal of Honor and some day, no doubt, will.

In a follow up column I am going to describe the exploits of First Sergeant Samuel Dreben. Dreben, a Russian Jewish immigrant to our shores in1998, enlisted in the army in 1899 and during three tours of duty fought in more wars than any other American soldier. Upon Dreben’s death in 1925, General Pershing, commander of over a million American fighting men in the Great War, wrote the citizen/soldier’s widow: “Your husband was the finest soldier and one of the bravest men I ever met.” Yet, in a stroke of bias without parallel, Sergeant Dreben, an observant, Orthodox Jew, was skipped over for a Medal of Honor. I will present chapter and verse on that injustice and what we can do about it in a subsequent article.


from the April 2008 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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