Jews in the German Army in World War I

Posted on December 20th, 2012 by

Our final post in the World War I series is a guest post provided by Jonathan Feng, who has graciously agreed to write a little bit about Jews serving in the Germany army. ?As always we'll add in some images of photographs and objects from the JMM collection.

Group of men in the German army during World War I with Gertrude Strauss (nurse) taken at a hospital in Karlsruhe, Germany. Isidor Maier (donor's father) is in the upper corner of picture. Courtesy of Meta Oppenheimer. 1998.74.1

My name is Jonathan Feng and I have been invited to guest blog by Jewish Museum of Maryland archivist Jennifer Vess about the First World War.? I am an earnest civil servant whose only qualifications to weigh in on this matter is a short stint in a graduate program for public history and an unnatural fascination with spiked helmets and trench warfare.

The First World War (1914-1918) is a period of time which serves as a major demarcation between two eras.? The nineteenth century was clearly over at the end of the First World War and the world was barreling into the twentieth century with a head of full of steam.? Empires which had stood since the end of the medieval period (Russian Empire,Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire) found themselves disintegrated at the end.? The grand nineteenth century empires ofGreat Britain and France were soon to follow in a few decades.

Cross-shaped WWI medal earned by Hugo Bessinger in Germany. Courtesy of Claire Beissinger. 2011.4.1

While the role of the Jewish people is well known in the Second World War and is well documented in mainstream scholarship, their role in the First World War is less known.? John Keegan, the late military historian, only mentioned the Jewish people three times in his work on the First World War (pages 227, 302, and 344 should you care to look in your own personal copy of the book).? Most likely, this is a result of the fact that mainstream scholarship has tended to focus on the major power structures and in the realm of politics and government, the representative Jewish population ranged from minimal to non-existent due to the fact that the Jewish population was, to put it very lightly, not well liked by their non-Jewish neighbors.

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Postcard of German soldiers in World War I, boarding a train, c. 1914-1918. Courtesy of Mrs. Paul Kramer. 1994.72.15

This does not mean that the Jewish people did not make any significant contributions to the First World War. In 1916, due to a long-standing tradition of not being nice to the Jewish people, the German high command decided to do a census (Judenz?hlung or ?Jewish census?) to verify their own pre-established belief that the Jewish people were not being good Germans and supporting the war.? What they found was that the Jewish people were major participants in the conflict, with 10,000 Jewish men volunteering for service and approximately 100,000 Jewish men in total who served in the German military.? The vast majority of them (roughly 78,000 to 80,000) served on the front lines of the First World War and more than 30,000 of them were decorated for their service.? Twelve thousand of those Jewish soldiers lost their lives serving in the First World War. ?Many of those who served did so in the hopes that they would finally earn some respect from their fellow countrymen and prove that they were indeed proud Germans.

Hindenburg Cross, struck to commemorate all German soldiers who served in World War I). Awarded to Kaufmann Sigmund Guthorn. 1984.159.1a

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Such would not be the case, though.? After the onerous terms of the 1918 Treaty of Versailles were delivered and imposed by the Allied Powers, the German people were looking for reasons for their defeat.? The Dolchsto?legende or ?stab-in-the-back myth? developed and categorized the Jewish population of Germany as saboteurs who undermined the German war effort on the home front and ultimately caused the defeat of Germany in the First World War.? This supposed guilt of the Jewish people fueled more anti-Semitic attitudes and would contribute to the rise of Nazism in the interwar period in Germany.

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Spotlight on Collections

Posted on October 25th, 2012 by

For the past year the JMM has been immersed in food thanks to our fabulous exhibition Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity and all of the programing we've held related to it. (There are more food related programs to come so keep an eye out!)? Food is a necessary part of life and it's also a pleasant part of life so it should be?no surprise that a number of items in our collection are related to food and food preparation.? Here are just a few of those items.

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Shochet knife used by Saul Rudney, Courtesy Menachem Rudney. 1998.46.1b.

Whetstone for shochet knives. Courtesy Menachem Rudney. 1998.46.2c

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Plates from a machine used to remove feathers from chickens. The machine is sometimes called a 'chicken flicker.' Courtesy of Joyce Jandorf. 2000.54.1.

Salt and pepper shakers. Courtesy of Gertrude Silverston. 1995.141.3ab

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Checking out New Acquisitions

Posted on July 19th, 2012 by

A blog post by Collections Intern Stephanie Daughtery.

My six weeks at the Jewish Museum of Maryland have taught me a lot about collection management.  Although I have taken classes on registration and object care for my Masters degree, I did not have the opportunity to process collections.  The last institution I worked out was not actively collecting new items, so I had little experience with new acquisitions, donors, and past perfect.  While working as the collections intern, I have had the chance to communicate with donors and receive new objects.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of collection management is processing new donations, which involves assigning accession numbers, creating catalog entries in past perfect, photographing, and finding a home in collection storage.  At the JMM, there is certainly no shortage in donations.  People and organizations in Maryland have tremendous respect for the Jewish Museum of Maryland and continue to entrust the Museum with their ancestor’s belongings, family photographs, ceremonial objects, wedding dresses, and other personal artifacts.  While donations come in all shapes and sizes, one of the largest items I processed was Eddy Kramer’s accordion.  The donor, who is Eddy’s nephew, provided biographical information about the accordion and Eddy Kramer’s life.  This information is valuable for the museum and researchers as it helps contextualize the object’s significance to the community.  Eddy served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and played accordion in the Army Air Force Band.  Additionally, Eddy was picked to be part of a trio that traveled throughout the U.S. to raise money by selling war bonds.  Eddy and his accordion helped raise millions of dollars for the war effort.

Eddy Kramer’s accordion in its original case (2011.86.4a,b)

Another interesting accession was a tea set donated by the Sinai Nurses Alumnae.  These objects were used at Friday afternoon teas hosted by the school of nursing.  According to the donor, the purpose of the tea was “to make ladies out of us.”  The tea set includes two teapots, a sterno, a stand for the sterno, a sugar bowl, and a creamer.  Many of the objects have intricate floral designs and the initials “SN.”  It was fun assigning numbers to each object and its parts, photographing these pieces, and determining the best way to house silver.  My fellow archives and photographs interns were simultaneously going through other materials related to the Sinai School of Nursing.  These other materials helped me learn about the history of the Sinai Nursing School and why this tea set is an important addition to JMM’s collection.

Sinai Nurses teapot with “SN” inscription (2012.40.1)

Floral detail of sterno stand (2012.40.4a)

Creamer (2012.40.2)

These are just two examples of the old, delicate, beautiful, and sometimes strange objects I get to handle each day at my internship.  The collection is really impressive and will continue to grow with generous donations.

 

 

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