- 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.”
Sources: Bureau of War Records cited in AJHS Newsletter (Fall/Winter 2003); Yad Vashem; Associated Press (May 5, 2013); Jewish Recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor
Britain’s Jews stand proud, ready to serve Queen and Country
Jewish servicemen have fought for Britain with pride, the idea that they’d run away is simply risible
This Friday’s visit by the Queen to Bergen-Belsen is not merely historic – it is an event with global reverberations. Some 50,000 people were murdered there by the Nazis before British troops liberated the camp 70 years ago.
That it was British troops who discovered the evil being perpetrated on German soil and the splendid help that the Royal Medical Corps gave in the months following, trying to save as many lives as possible, working when the camp was rife with typhus, gives Bergen-Belsen a unique place in the annals of our nation’s history – and of Britain’s Jewish community.
Indeed for Jews across the world, to see the Queen herself in a concentration camp is a reminder of what the debt we owe to the Allied forces who defeated Third Reich. But for British Jews it will be an even more poignant moment.
Among the troops who arrived in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 was Norman Turgel, a young sergeant in the 53 Field Security section of British Intelligence. Turgel was himself Jewish – and in a remarkable love story, met his wife, Gena, among the prisoners.
As a Jewish soldier in the British armed forces, Turgel was part of a long line who have given service to their country. Which is one reason why the idea that has taken hold in some quarters – after some of the anti-Semitic murders this year in Paris and Copenhagen and the more general rise in anti-Semitic incidents here in Britain – that British Jews are about to up sticks and leave, is so ridiculous.
It is true that, seventy years after Bergen-Belsen was liberated, the recent murders mean that another generation of Jews are now experiencing the fear that they, too, will be killed for their religion.
But fear is not the same as flight.
A shoddy internet questionnaire published after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris reported that nearly half of all British Jews had thought of leaving.
But that figure was pure nonsense. A proper poll published at the same time found that less than 11 per cent had given it even a moment’s thought.
Not that anyone should be surprised. Why would we run away? Jews have fought and laid down their lives for Britain. As our proud and honourable history of military service shows, we are British, with all that means.
Over the past three hundred years, out of a Jewish population that has never exceeded 400,000, more than 100,000 have served in the armed forces – and nearly 6000 have died in battle. Over 3000 have also been given commendations for their bravery.
In addition, of course, many more have been wounded. In other words, British Jews have been disproportionately willing to stand and fight for Britain – and to lay down their lives for our nation.
Until the late nineteenth century, Jews could not be commissioned officers in the armed forces unless they converted, so we do not have a full picture of the exact numbers who served; many did not reveal their faith.
But the first notable serviceman who we do know was Jewish was Sir Alexander Schomberg, who served in the Royal Navy between 1747 and 1789 and was captain of the frigate Diana, famously part of General Wolfe’s campaign against the French in Canada. His son was Sir Alexander Wilmot Schomberg, an Admiral.
Jews were on Nelson’s Victory in the Battle of Trafalgar and we know there were Jewish officers who fought at Waterloo.
During the Boer War from 1898-1902, 3000 Jews served in the British army; 150 died in battle.
When war was declared on 4th August 1914, the Jewish Chronicle front page headline proclaimed: “England has been all she could be to Jews; Jews will be all they can be to England”. Within a year 10,000 had signed up, including Lieutenant Frank De Pass, who was to become the first Jewish soldier awarded the Victoria Cross – and the very first soldier in the Indian Army to be awarded a VC.
By the end of the First World War many of those Jews who had fled the pogroms in Russia and those serving from across the British Empire had helped swell the number who had served in the armed forces to somewhere around 50,000. Five were awarded the Victoria Cross.
These tens of thousands included the members of the Zion Mule Corps in Egypt, made up of 700 Jews whose job was to move supplies to British troops, usually in the face of heavy Turkish machine gun fire. The corps was disbanded after being decimated at Gallipoli.
Then in 1917, 38th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers became the first Jewish battalion, whose members were recruited from London’s East End – and included two future leaders of Israel, David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, as well as the sculptor Jacob Epstein.
Along with the 39th battalion recruited in the US and the 40th from Palestine, the 5000 Jewish soldiers were known as “The Judeans”.
The 38th were pivotal to the defeat of the Turks in the Jordan Valley that led to the final defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The memorial to the Royal Fusiliers in Holborn has a plaque paying tribute to the Jewish battalions.
General Sir John Monash – commander of the Australian Corps, the largest corps on the Western Front – is credited with devising that battle plans that ended World War One.
As for the Second World War – by VE Day in 1945 around 60,000 Jews had served in campaigns across the globe, and that does not include those from the Dominions or those who enlisted in the British Forces in Palestine, where 30,000 Jews volunteered.
Some were members of the Special Operations Executive, parachuting behind enemy lines.
About 10,000 of the Jewish refugees from Hitler enlisted in Alien Pioneer companies, and the 5000-strong Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, commanded by Brigadier E E Benjamin fought in Italy, gaining 4 MCs, 7 MMs, 2 OBEs, 4 MBEs and 68 Mentions in Desptaches.
Overall, 3024 British Jews and 694 Palestinian Jews – a total of 3718 – died in battle during the war, and 1500 were awarded medals, with three being given the Victoria Cross and three the George Cross.
Jews have continued to serve this country with pride – most recently in the Falklands, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
The idea that we would, as British citizens who have fought and died for our country, run away when faced with the latest threat, is simply risible. We stand firm, like our ancestors, as proud British citizens always ready to serve both Queen and Country.
Lord Sterling is president of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) – The Telegraph