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Two notes on Jews on active service

Martin Sugarman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 39, 2004 Two notes on Jews on active service MARTIN SUGARMAN I. The Jewish Labour Corps: a vanished and rediscovered unit of the First World War In the Public Record Office at Kew, London, file WO 329/2359 (a Medal Roll of the First World War), about forty sheets into the un-numbered pages is a list of 189 names of the Jewish Labour Corps who fought in Gallipoli. Typed along the top of the first page is the comment, 'Prepared in accordance with War Office letter NW/2/18747 (A.G.4. Medals), 3rd March 1928' and that the 'individuals are entitled to The British War Medal (Bronze)'. The pages are signed by Lieut H. Wetherall. Unusually, attached to the first page are copies of War Office letters which in summary explain that the unit was formed in Egypt separately from the Zion Mule Corps (ZMC) but may have been misnamed as the second battalion of that Corps, and that the army numbers range from 1 to 320 with gaps. One letter says that the rates of pay were is per day for a labourer, is 6d for a ganger, 2s for a foreman and ?12 10s per month for the superintendant (who was called Bension Ventura). All the men were enlisted between 15 and 22 April 1915 and served only until 22 and 28 May 1915. The entry was not made in the Medal Roll until 14 May 1928 and clearly there had been some appeal from the veterans about receipt of the medal, which had not been forthcoming till then, as is shown by a letter from the War Office in London to the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria and Zion Mule Corps Commission (Veterans) in Alexandria. Comparison with the ZMC Roll in the British Jewry Book of Honour shows that the names are not included among those of the ZMC, so these men were clearly a separate group. None of the names appeared among other Jewish units (the Jewish Royal Fusiliers) or the Labour Corps in the Book of Honour. They all have Oriental names and were clearly locally enlisted Egyptian and Palestinian Jews. Perhaps not surprisingly, these mens' names were therefore mistakenly omitted by Michael Adler from the British Jewry Book of Honour in 1922. This discovery thus adds a further 189 names to the record of Jewish British and Empire personnel in the First World War. 177</page><page sequence="2">Martin Sugarman None of the many standard works on Gallipoli mention this corps,1 unsurprisingly given that the ZMC were also largely ignored until recently in official and unofficial British written histories of the campaign.2 Research at the Public Records Office revealed no mention of the corps in General Routine Orders or Army Orders for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force/Mediterranean/Gallipoli areas, or in the Cabinet Records (CAB) for that time. Furthermore, none of the men have Medal Index Cards or personal Army Records. While there are many, albeit brief, references to the ZMC, there is nothing about the Jewish Labour Corps in any of the many files referring to the establishment of the ZMC and the Jewish Legion (Royal Fusiliers Jewish battalions). Issues of xht Jewish Chronicle for 1915 and 1928 (when the medals were issued) also contained no mention of the JLC. Nor is there any mention in the Army Council Instructions for 1915 or 1928. However, advice from a fellow researcher3 led me to a file on the embarkation of units from Alexandria on HMV Trevillard on 17-19 April 1915 of 148 labourers and two officers (Major S. Hutchins and Lieut F. Hodsell) of the Jewish Labour Corps.4 This indeed was proof of the participation of this group in the tragic and costly Dardanelles Campaign of the First World War. II. Jewish Prisoners of War at Colditz The fairy-tale eleventh-century Colditz Castle, sited on a rocky hilltop overlooking the town of Colditz on the River Mulde between Leipzig and Dresden in the former East Germany, is notorious for its use as a high security Nazi prisoner of war (POW) camp in the Second World War - Oflag IVc. Allied Officers who made repeated attempts to escape from other POW camps were housed there by the Germans in the expectation that they would never find a way out of this imposing fortress. However, as some seventy books and various films have shown, three hundred did escape and several made 'home runs' back to Allied lines. The POW population was typically a shifting one, and of the thousand or so who were there, it is estimated that about forty were Jewish. There were 1 See esp. Brigadier-General Aspinall-Oglander, Military Operations Gallipoli, 2 vols (London 1929). 2 M. Sugarman, 'The Zion Muleteers of Gallipoli', Trans JHSE XXXVI (2001) 113-39; versions of this article also appeared in Military Advisor (USA, Summer 1996), Journal of Military History (Summer 1996), Gallipoli Association Journal (Autumn 1999), AJEX Journal (November 1996), Gunfire Journal 50 (n. d.), Manna Magazine (Autumn 1995). 3 Ivor Lee, Banffshire; with thanks for the contact to Harold Pollins, Oxford. 4 PROWO25/3541. i78</page><page sequence="3">Two notes on Jews on active service about sixty French Jewish political internees as well. Thus, about a hundred Jewish prisoners out of a thousand makes a high percentage compared to numbers in the general population. Of the military prisoners, approxi? mately one third were French, one third Polish or Dutch and one third British or Commonwealth. Only some of the Jewish names are known, especially as many Jewish POWs used pseudonymns and new identities to protect themselves.5 One famous Jewish non-commissioned officer (NCO) was the Cockney Fusilier Solomon Sydney Goldman, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, who was badly treated by the Germans because of his Jewish faith, but was sent to Colditz as an orderly for senior officers. He was remembered for his terrific sense of humour despite the ill-treatment from which British offi? cers tried to protect him, and when he finally became ill he was repatriated to Britain in 1943. He died in 1974 of illness as a result of his experiences in German hands.6 Anthony 'Fish' Karpf was a Polish Jewish officer born in Rzeszow, who was likewise ill-treated and subjected to a mock execution at Colditz. He eventually escaped and came to live in Britain after the war.7 Cross referencing the list of POWs in Colditz in Chancellor's book8 with Benjamin Miertchak's list of Polish Jewish POWs9 revealed the following names. The list is not definitive since many Polish Jewish servicemen hid their true religious origins from both the Poles and the Germans: Second Lieut Franciszek Baumgart; Second-Lieut Mieczyslaw Chmiel (who made two escape attempts but was later murdered at Buchenwald after his escapes of 19 and 20 September 1943); Captain Henryk Fajerman; Lieut JerzyT. Grudzinski (later killed in the Dossei Oflag 'friendly fire' bombing by the RAF in 1943); Captain Mayer F Hauptman; Lieut Bernard P. Jasinski; Second-Lieut Adam Niedenthal (died 27 September 1944); Colonel Poznanski; Second-Lieut Benjamin J. Rubinowicz; Lieut Bernard Stajer/Staier; Second-Lieut Takub/Terzy Stein (Navy);10 Lieut Henryk 5 Michael Booker, Colditz Society, told me that at least two inmates called Smith had adopted this as a pseudonym and were probably Jewish POWs. 6 Jewish Chronicle (hereafter JC) 12 July 1974; also cuttings from the archives of the Colditz Association, with thanks to M. Booker (see n. 5); copies in the AJEX Museum, London, Colditz file. 7 JC obituary in AJEX Museum file (undated) and story related in several published books on Colditz. 8 H. Chancellor, Colditz, the Definitive History (London 2001). 9 B. Miertchak, Jewish Officers and Enlisted Men in the Polish Forces Who Were POWs igjg-4^ (Tel Aviv 2003). 10 In his taped interview at the Imperial War Museum, London, Sound Archives, ref. 16974/3, Stein was asked by the interviewer pointedly about his non-Polish name and he answered that he thought one grandfather was German; he also said he was born in Kostrin on 25 March 1920 and that his father was a businessman in the agricultural wholesale trade, a typical Jewish 179</page><page sequence="4">Martin Sugarman Stiller; Lieut-Colonel Henryk E. Szubert. It also appears that two Polish Jewish civilians were interned at Colditz - Pinkus Kurnedz and Jack Aizenberg.11 When the French Gentile officers tried to ostracize their French Jewish comrades in their barrack, the British officer Airey Neave (a 'home runner' and later a minister in the Thatcher government, until he was killed by an IRA car bomb) and many of his Commonwealth comrades expressed their outrage and solidarity with the Jewish officers. The row died down, although it was much exploited by the Germans in their propaganda. Among the French-Jewish escape attempts were Lieut P. Levy, Colonel P. Francis Didier, Lieut P. Manheimer (the youngest French officer in Colditz) and Lieut C. Clein (two escape attempts). In Chancellor's lists, the following Jewish names appear as POWs at Colditz: O. Bergmann; Captain R. Blum; G. Cahen-Salvador; Captain Dreyfus; A. Hirsch; M. Hirsch; Lieut R. Levy; Lieut A. Levy-Ginsburger or Levit; E. Rosenberg; R. Schaeffer; A. Sternberg; Second-Lieut Klein of the Free French; Corporal N. Blomme of the ist French Parachute Regiment. Another French Colditz POW was Baron Elie de Rothschild. About sixty French political Jewish prisoners were held there also. On a recent visit to the museum at Colditz I photographed displayed portraits of the prisoner Captain Isidore Schrire/Schire, MBE (a Jewish officer in the South African Army Medical Corps, captured at Dunkirk).12 There was also a Palestinian Jewish Royal Engineers officer, Lieut Shimon Ha-Cohen,13 who boasted to the Germans ? to the amusement of the British - that he was not only Jewish and from Palestine but had been born in Russia, so was thrice damned by the Germans. Ha-Cohen had been a sergeant-major in the British army in the First World War.14 Captain Julius Green - a dental officer from Glasgow ? was exceptional in that he worked for Mio (the British Intelligence group assisting POWs to escape by gathering information from 'home runners', Resistance forces and so on) in the prison, sending coded letters to his wife. The information was forwarded by her to British Intelligence. It included material supplied occupation at the time. He interestingly said nothing about the fate of his parents, even though he came to live in Britain in 1945. He is fairly typical of Polish Jews who wished to hide their Jewish identity, and was not an escaper. 11 Ibid, refs 9337/4 and 15536/3 12 A. Wingate, Stalag Doctor (London 1958). 13 On display in the Colditz Museum is a Hebrew-language edition of Pat Reid's bestselling The Colditz Story , published in Tel Aviv in the 1950s. 14 After the war he published in Hebrew and English a delightful collection of drawings of POWs produced while he was in the camp, dedicated to his comrades and his family: S. Ha-Cohen, A Symphony of Captivity (Haifa 1947), revised as A Contrast of Shadows (Haifa 1967). A copy is lorlp-ed in the; ATF.X Museum Archives T.nnHnn i8o</page><page sequence="5">Two notes on Jews on active service to Green by recaptured escapers about local German railway, troop and shipping movements and anything else gleaned while on the 'outside'. He also advised on what materials which might be useful for escape could be smuggled into Colditz via parcels from home, and made recommendations on what officers should carry with them in battle in case they were captured and sent to Colditz - hidden compasses, for example - which would be useful for escapes. He later published a book about his experiences.15 Green's other important act was to expose the English Nazi stooge in the prison, Purdy, who was prosecuted for treason after the War. Rifleman Solomon Dennis Halfin (KRRC - Rangers), or Halpin, arrived in Colditz by accident. The son of Israel and Edith in West Ham, London, born on i January 1918, he was captured in Crete by the Germans on 29 May 1941, but escaped and spent three months in the mountains with the Partisans.16 On the night of an attempted escape by submarine he was recaptured with some other Commonwealth troop evaders, and ended up at Lamsdorf camp in Germany. There he became friends with a French Canadian prisoner, Sergeant Roger Cordeau, a dental technician by trade, who had been captured at Dieppe. Dennis escaped from a working party at Lamsdorf but was again recaptured at the Polish border. About to be sent to another camp, and not wanting to be separated from his friends, he exchanged identities with Cordeau. But his plan backfired when the Germans noticed that he (Halfin as Cordeau) was a dental technician, and he was sent to Colditz to assist with the POW officers' dental care in June 1943. The first man he met on entering the castle was an old friend, 6850731 Rifleman Samuel Cohen or Cowen, of the same Rangers batallion as his own, also at Colditz as a batman to POW officers. By September the Germans, having seen Cohen and Halfin talking, had discovered that he was not really Cordeau and sent him back to Lamsdorf.17 Another British Jewish inmate was Lieut J. M. Barnet, Royal Engineers,18 who was captured in November 1940, arrived in Colditz (see Chancellor's list) on 4 August 1941 and was repatriated to Britain on 6 September 1944 with feigned illness, thus counting as an 'escaper'. Flight-Lieut Josef Bryks of the Czech Squadron, RAF, was another Jewish inmate. A sadder case is that of Commando Rifleman Cyril Henry Abram, captured with six others after a successful raid in Norway (Operation 'Musketoon') in September 1942. They spent two weeks at 15 J. M. Green, From Colditz in Code (London 1989). 16 Telephone interview with S. D. Halfin, North York, Ontario, Canada (May 2003). 17 I am grateful to Dr Andrew Caplan of Royal Holloway College, University of London, for putting me in touch with Halfin. 18 His AJEX card survives among more than 60,000 kept at the AJEX Museum, compiled by Jewish chaplains in the Second World War. i8i</page><page sequence="6">Martin Sugarman Colditz in 1944 and were then taken to Sachsenhausen Death Camp where they were murdered.19 Abram, from Manor Park, was probably Jewish. Among the Dutch escapes was a 'home run' by Commander Francis Steinmetz of the Royal Netherlands Navy, via a manhole, in August 1941 (with a comrade, L. F. Larive). Other Dutch Jewish inmates included Captain A. P. Berlijn, Lieut M. Braun, Lieut L. de Hartog, Captain A. J. A. Pereira, Lieut J. G. Smit and Captain L. T. W. de Vries (Royal Netherlands Army) and Stoker W. de Lange of the Royal Netherlands Navy.20 19 S. Schofield, Operation Musketoon (London 1956). 20 My thanks to Jelka Kroger of the Dutch Jewish Historical Museum for assistance with these names. It should be noted, however, that as with British Jews in the armed forces, Dutch Jewish personnel often attested as Christians to avoid possible ill-treatment by the Nazis if taken pris? oner, so their military records often show these men as non-Jews. Anyone with further informa? tion and names of other Jewish POWs at Colditz should contact the author of this note at AJEX House, East Bank, Stamford Hill, London N16 5RT. 182</page></plain_text>