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 March 21st, 2013 by Jennifer
Sometimes differentiating between a personal collection and institutional records can be a bit tricky. In the case of this collection we have papers collected and compiled by an individual – Eli Frank – but the collection deals exclusively with one organization – the American Jewish Relief Committee. So how did we handle it? In this case it made sense to focus on the institutional nature of the collection, but indicate clearly the person who brought everything together. And if this finding aid peaks your interest in either the person or the institution, we have more materials in our collection related to both.
The Eli Frank Collection of
American Jewish Relief Committee Papers
Jewish Museum of Maryland
ACCESS AND PROVENANCE
The Eli Frank Collection of American Jewish Relief Committee Papers was donated to the Jewish Museum of Maryland in 1983 as accessions 1983.74 by Shane D. Stiller. The collection was processed by Jennifer Vess in February 2013.
Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library’s usual procedures.
Black and white photograph of a group of orphans standing outside a barn, 1914-1919. This photograph was used by the American Jewish Relief Committee to raise funds during World War I. Courtesy of D.C. Liberles. 1980.29.5
The American Jewish Relief Committee was organized on October 25, 1914 in order to raise funds to help Jews particularly in Russia, Palestine and Eastern Europe who were suffering because of World War I. The leaders of the national organization were mostly of German origin and well-to-do. Only a month later the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was formed to ensure that funds from the American Jewish Relief Committee, the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War, and the People’s Relief Committee to ensure that funds were distributed effectively. Local branches of the American Jewish Relief Committee were formed throughout the United States and Canada including Baltimore. Chairman for the Baltimore Branch included Dr. Harry Friedenwald (1916), Julius Levy (1919) and Eli Frank (1922). Many Baltimoreans took part in the activities of the committee as members of the board or the various subcommittees or as donors. The American Jewish Relief Committee received endorsements from nation political leaders including presidents, local political leaders and local religious leaders both Christian and Jewish.
Eli Frank, Sr. (left) and Eli Frank, Jr. (right). Courtesy of Allina, Marcia Frank & Victoria Frank Albert. 1995.25.16.
The Eli Frank Collection of American Jewish Relief Committee Papers contains newsletters, correspondence, invitations, reports and miscellaneous documents related to both the Baltimore branch and the national organization. The correspondence, from September 1921 through August 1922, makes up the bulk of the collection. The correspondence are organized chronologically and placed at the beginning of the collection.
Posted on December 20th, 2012 by Jennifer
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.
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
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.