The Jewish Legion of World War I

Posted on November 15th, 2012 by

 
Post card of the First Jewish battalion of the Jewish Legion, n.d. Courtesy of Hanan Sibel. 1992.154.1
 

“After 36 hours continuous journey we arrived in this town [Trudo, Nova Scotia,Canada] and I gladly jumped into a bath tub and after that I feel almost like new born and start my diary on the most adventurous event of my life – the campaign in Palestine.” Ferdinand Breth, October 12, 1918, pg. 1. [ MS 53, 2000.50.19]

Herman Carliner, seated in Jewish Legion uniform, Palestine, 1918. Courtesy Rita Miller and Elaine Carliner Millstone. 1996.80.5a

I think that most people’s knowledge of World War I is centered on the battlefields of France or maybe the cold Western Front.  But World War I was fought in other places as well, including Israel, then Palestine.

This is a subject I am just beginning to understand, but what I’ve learned this about the fighting in what was then Palestine: Germany and the Ottoman Empire were allies.  The Ottoman Empire at that time controlled a region that includedPalestine.  Germany and Britain both desired control over the Middle East, and Palestine was a key region for that control.  The British established the Jewish Legion to fight the Ottoman Empire (and the Germans) in Palestine.  The battalions formed by the British consisted of Jews from all over the world – Britain, Palestine, America, Australia, etc.

Legionnaires standing at attention. Courtesy of Paulyne R. Hyman. 1998.35.11

We have very little in the museum related to the Jewish Legion, but we are lucky enough to have a few pictures and the diaries of Ferdinand Breth who joined the Jewish Legion with many others from the US and travelled to Palestine.  The following are pictures of various soldiers in the Jewish Legion and excerpts from Breth’s diaries.  Breth actually reached the Middle East after the armistice went into effect so he and his fellow recruits didn’t see any military action.  But Breth wrote in detail about his comrades (including one Ethiopian Jew), camp life, and the Jewish communities he visited while abroad.

Louis Brandeis and Harry Friedenwald passing between two soldiers. Courtesy of Hanan Sibel. 1992.154.18

 “The most interesting persons of the Boston Bunch were 5 Christian Syrians, who joined the Jewish Legion because they want to free their homeland Palestine from the Turks.”  Pg. 14, October 16, 1918. [MS 53, 2009.50.19]

Jewish Legion soldiers in their daily dress at their camp, n.d. Courtesy of Hanan Sibel. 1992.154.4

 “As leader we now get a recruiting ‘sergeant’ Rodman, who in some nondescript uniform was taken by most of us for real sergeant.  He was a Hebrew teacher inBaltimoreand knew Sonneborn.”  Pg. 15 October 16, 1918 [MS 53, 2009.50.19]

Michael Margolis, Jewish Legion, c. 1918. Courtesy of Aaron and Dorothy Margolis. 1994.193.71ab

“We crossed the Suez Canal on a pontoon bridge and then marched about a mile thru the camp, till we finally came to the tents destined for us….  Next morning we were full of wonder about our new station.  The camp is the biggest we ever saw, as far as the eyes could see the dessert sand is dotted with white tents.  Everywhere we see soldiers of all branches and of all nationalities.  The camp is now used for demobilization and they arrive here by thousands soldiers from Palestine, Mesopotamiaand other places and are sent from here home.  There are here Indian soldiers with big Khaki Turbans, long hair and long beards, Sundanese and other African troops, Australians, Scotch and many other troops.  Also we about hundred Legionnaires, from the 38th Batailon [sic], which saw action in Palestine.  They are mostly Egyptian and Algerian Jews…speaking Arabic and French, but we found also some American Boys among them, which told us the story of Palestine Campaign.”  Pg. 150-151, January 1919 [MS 53, 2009.50.19]

ewish Legionnaires marching along a road lined with people and under suspended American, Israeli, and British flags, n.d. Courtesy of Paulyne R. Hyman. 1998.35.12.3

“At about 3pm we arrived in Rafa, the first station inPalestine.  We were in land of our dreams and many times before I was thinking what a wonderful moment it will be, when our Legion will reach the Palestinian ground.  I expected that our boys will lose their heads in enthusiasm, that we will smile on our knees and kiss the land for which liberation we were willing to sacrifice our lives, but nothing like this happened.  The Russian Jew is not a sentimentalist and the crossing ofPalestineboundary, did not interrupt the quarelling [sic] of our bunch or the poker game of the other.  We even did not sing Hatikwah, and as soon as the train stopped most of us were running to the cantine [sic] to buy cakes or cans of preserved pineapples.” Pg. 159 January 1919 [MS 53, 2009.50.19]

The Palestine Legion, in Haifa on Shabbos, on Shul parade. Man with head down is Colonel Samuels, Simon Sibel's former colonel. Courtesy of Hanan Sibel. 1992.154.2

Soldiers in front of their tents, n.d. Courtesy of Paulyne R. Hyman 1998.35.12.1

 By the summer of 1919 Breth's father was very ill and he asked to leave the service.

“The repatriation papers I wrote about last night, came to-day and I may leave Palestine next week.  It came so suddenly that I hardly can adjust my mind to it.  Leave Palestine and maybe for ever, and still I have accomplished so little.  It appears to me like deserting my post and even when I assure myself that I will come back, it cannot quiet my mind.  I may come back, but so many things may happen.” Pg. 16, August 24, 1919 [MS 53, 2009.50.20]  

Funeral ceremony, n.d. Courtesy of Hanan Sibel. 1992.154.40

Jewish Legion veterans reunion, c. 1950 Identified are Abraham Shapiro, third from left in back row, William Braiterman, fourth from left in back row, and Julius Sussman, third from left in front row. Courtesy of Erich and Thelma Oppenheim. 1994.38.5

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Women in World War I

Posted on October 11th, 2012 by

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.

The different branches of the military also recruited women to take over office jobs in the States so that the soldiers who had filled those posts could be transferred to front (this didn’t always go over so well with the men).  Other women became nurses, serving in hospitals at home and overseas.  The army also created the ‘Hello Girls’ a group of young female telephone operators who managed the communication systems in Europe.  Despite the importance of their work the women in the military were not often recognized for their contributions.  The telephone operators fought for sixty years to be recognized as army veterans.  The military at the time wasn’t even prepared to clothe their new female recruits.  They only had men’s uniforms and women scrounged together outfits that marked them as military, but kept them appropriately attired for the time.
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Bertha Berkowich Levy in her US Navy uniform during World War I. Courtesy of Shirley Shor, 2002.64.1.

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 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.
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