Posted on August 1st, 2014 by Rachel
Here in Baltimore no one has any doubt what war we are commemorating. As summer slips into fall one celebration after another will remind us of the events two hundred years ago that gave us our anthem, our pride and our continued independence. As most of you know, JMM is a part of these festivities, honoring our own favorite Ft. McHenry defender, Mendes Cohen.
However, in much of the world the war being remembered this year is a century later. On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia, the first in a series of domino triggers that will take the world into its first global maelstrom. Within a month of the outbreak, futurist H.G. Wells had already published an article declaring that this would be “The War that Will End War”(it’s ok, we also don’t have time travel yet…or a Martian invasion).
The war would be twice tragic for the Jewish people. First in the loss of life of soldiers drawn to patriotic duty at the early stages of the conflict and second in the inflammation of prejudice as pundits and politicians throughout Europe looked for a scapegoat for their ill-fortune in the fight.
When I was at the Jewish Museum of London this spring, I had a chance to see the exhibit “For King and Country?: The Jewish Experience of the First World War”. As the “?” in the title implies there were a lot of ambiguities in the Jewish response to the conflict. After all, many English Jews of the period were recent refugees of lands controlled by Russia and they did not necessarily favor a victory for the Czar, even if he was allied with Great Britain. Moreover, reflecting the relative size of Jewish populations, more than twice the number of Jews fought for the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) as for the UK and France. In our collection at JMM we have several medals acquired by Jewish soldiers in the service of the German army, carried with them when they were forced to escape on the eve of WWII.
Cross-shaped WWI medal earned by Hugo Bessinger, 2011.4.1
In fact, quickly browsing our collection, it becomes obvious that Baltimore Jews played important roles in the war. Even before the doughboys went to Europe, the British Royal Fusiliers had begun recruiting American volunteers. In particular they sought out Jewish young men who wanted to be sent to the front to face the Ottoman Empire in Palestine.
This cap pin, belonging to Simon Soibel, still bears the initials RF, even though the Royal Fusiliers units, the 39th and 40th battalions, were already referred to as the “Jewish Legion.” 1992.154.057
We have just one WWI uniform in our collection, but it unites two prominent Baltimore families. This coat belonged to Lester Levy, hat maker and civic leader. Levy, who had ambitions to fight in France, had been turned down by the Army for his poor eyesight. Although he eventually got a waiver from the US Attorney General’s office, he was assigned to ordnance and never actually went overseas. And the other prominent Baltimore family? Well, the coat was manufactured by Henry Sonneborn & Co.
The collection also contains quite a few photos from the war effort.
three Red Cross nurses, named Levin, Fuxman and Ribakow, 1990.44.2
As Jennifer Vess wrote in this blog several years ago, the role of women in WWI including not only the nurses but other participants in the combat support effort is particularly well documented in our holdings.
Members of the Jewish Welfare Board in Paris, France; Rose Lutzky, 3rd from right, 1993.173.12
Barbara Tuchman, author of the most famous treatise on WWI, The Guns of August, once wrote “Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”* I would add just one thought to her cogent analysis – “without records and artifacts there are no books.”
*Bulletin of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 34, #2, 1980 (pp. 16-32)
A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.
Posted on June 24th, 2014 by Rachel
The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Jobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or email@example.com.
Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: December 6, 2013
PastPerfect Accession #: 1993.159.117
Status: Unidentified! Do you recognize any of these Jewish Welfare Board members?
Posted on October 11th, 2012 by admin
A blog post by Archivist Jennifer Vess.
As with every conflict in which Americans participated, women played an important role in World War I – at home and abroad. The work of woman during the war has been a particular interest of mine, and I wrote on the subject prior to coming to the JMM. At the time I focused on women who served overseas, and it turns out that one of our manuscript collections at the JMM deals primarily with a Maryland woman, Rose Lutzky Beser, who traveled to France to be with the troops.
Approximately twenty-six thousand American women traveled overseas, either as military employees or employees or volunteers of the various welfare organizations that attached themselves to the army. Most ended up inFrance. These women were almost exclusively white (over 99%), all spoke English, graduated from high school or college, and mostly practiced Christianity. These women as a whole were in marked contrast to the more diverse troops whom they served.
The Jewish Welfare Board, one of only six civilian organizations officially attached to the army, was able to see to the needs of the American Jewish soldiers. Rose worked for the JWB and left behind an extensive collection of photos and archives.
Jewish Welfare Board in Paris. Rose stands third from right. c. 1918. Courtesy of the Beser Family, 1993.173.12
Rose at the window of Rabbi Levy’s home at 38 Rue de Sevigne in Paris where Rose lived 1918-1919. Courtesy of the Beser Family, 1993.173.22. Page from the scrapbook Rose compiled after returning from Paris, 1918-1919. Courtesy of the Beser Family, 1993.173.234.
Bertha Berkowich Levy in her US Navy uniform during World War I. Courtesy of Shirley Shor, 2002.64.1.
Unfortunately we don’t have much information at the JMM about the work of women during World War I, particularly their contributions on the home front. They participated in many of the same activities that we are all familiar with from World War II. From 1917 to 1919 women in the US dealt with rationing, planting vegetable gardens, taking over jobs in factories, volunteering for the Red Cross and other aid organizations, etc. For the most part these activities seem to have gone undocumented.