By Larry Jasper

On February 6, Murray Zolkower turned 100-years-old. Two months ahead of the celebration, his daughter Francine decided to see if she could get people to send 100 birthday cards to him as a surprise. Between the efforts of National and the Department of Florida, as well as many Department and Post members, Zolkower received more than 500 cards. He also got letters from former President George W. Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, and two former U.S. Surgeons General.

At Mission BBQ in Tampa, Murray Zolkower shows off the Centenarian Certificate from the JWV presented by the Department of Florida Commander Larry Jasper along with Jim Marenus and Jack Rudowsky of Post 373 in Tampa, FL

Mission BBQ, Zolkower’s favorite restaurant, hosted a surprise lunch for their special customer, as well as his children, friends, and three members of JWV. Two active-duty Army recruiters also made a surprise appearance along with a bag of goodies. During lunch, Department of Florida Commander Larry Jasper, assisted by Post 373 members Jack Rudowsky and Jim Marenus presented him with a JWV Centenarian Certificate.

On his actual birthday, February 6, Suncoast Region Veterans Village USA organized a parade in front of his home in Dunedin, Florida. The parade included restored military vehicles, a vehicle from Mission Barbecue, and other cars and trucks displaying congratulatory signs and American flags. The Dunedin Fire Department, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Honor Flight of West Central Florida, and a retired Air Force Colonel who serves as an aide to Congressman Bilirakis also participated in the parade.

Zolkower joined JWV in 1946 when he returned home from World War II and is still co-commander of Post 409. He is one of the longest serving volunteers at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Zolkower was surprised so many people came out and sent things to him for his birthday. He said it was the “greatest moment of my life.”

While attending Columbia College of Pharmacy in New York in 1938, a recruiter for the New York National Guard came on campus. He promised $15 a month for anyone who signed up and attended twice a month. That was a lot of money at the time, so Zolkower signed up. One year later, he was surprised when he had to report for active duty and disrupt his studies for one year. He spent that year at Camp Dix (now Fort Dix) in New Jersey. After being released he returned to Columbia only to have his studies again disrupted in 1943 when the Army called him back to active duty.

The Army had no need for a pharmacist, so they sent him to Colorado to train as a dental tech. Later the military sent him to Texas to train as a medic.

Zolkower found himself on Omaha Beach six weeks after D-Day. He said the beach was all cleaned up and very busy with supplies and personnel coming in. He was sent to an area near St. Lo, France, assigned to the 7th Convalescent Hospital, where they used large tents to treat troops who could return to duty.

In August 1944 he was in Paris assigned to a clearing company of the 45th Division as a Dental Tech, where he was evaluating soldiers with facial injuries.

Zolkower then moved to Etampes, France, where the Division set up in a captured German Hospital. The Army decided they did not need a Dental Tech there, so he became a medic assigned to the 92nd Mechanized Cavalry, 14th Division, sent to look for trouble close to the front.

Zolkower then got assigned to the 120th Medical Battalion in the 45th Infantry Division.

His unit fought their way through Nuremburg and Munich where they were billeted in a former SS barrack.

Col. Gerry Custin, aide to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Murray Zolkower, Francine Wolf, and two friends.

On April 29, 1945, his unit was ordered to liberate Dachau. Zolkower said he didn’t want to go with the unit and see his fellow Jews dead or dying but was not given a choice. Zolkower said, “it was the worst thing I ever saw in my life.” He added that nice homes, like those in suburban Long Island, were lining the street leading to the front gate of the camp. He felt there was no way those living in those homes did not know the horrors taking place in the camp.

The war ended nine days later, but Zolkower could not return home right away. He remained with the military in Gars, Germany, where he helped set up a clinic to treat farmers who had sustained injuries. After two months, he returned to the United States.

Zolkower’s girlfriend, Lillian, wrote him every other day during his deployment. They were married in 1946 until her death in 2014. Zolkower returned to school and became a pharmacist in 1948. He still works as a pharmacist part-time.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Chris Skidmore, PhD
Associate Director, Veterans Health Administration Military Sexual Trauma Support

Every April, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amplifies its year-round outreach during Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a special campaign to show its support for a particular population of veterans: survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).

The VA uses the term MST to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during military service. MST can occur at any time or place, whether on or off duty or on or off base. The perpetrator(s) may or may not be someone known to the survivor and may be a fellow service member or a civilian. Veterans of all service eras, branches, backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and physical sizes have experienced MST.

For MST survivors, just learning that someone believes they were traumatized and understands the many different ways MST can affect survivors can be tremendously healing. That’s why this year, VA’s message for Sexual Assault Awareness Month focuses on supporting MST survivors and demonstrates VA’s confidence in their strength and resilience: “We believe you — and we believe in you.”

The VA also wants to make sure that all veterans who experienced MST understand that healing is possible., MST is never their fault, they are not alone, and VA is ready to help. The VA is reaching out to survivors and their families, friends, and supporters for help in spreading the word. Everyone has a role in letting veterans know that VA offers free services for mental and physical health difficulties related to MST. You can help by sharing information about MST with veterans and veteran supporters.

Show your support by telling MST survivors about what’s available at VA.

Some veterans recover from MST without significant long-term difficulties, but many others are fighting quiet battles all around us as they cope with MST’s lingering effects on their mental and physical health, work, relationships, or everyday life — even many years after the experience.

Veterans’ reactions vary based on age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, life experiences, and other background factors. Symptoms also vary, and they may include experiencing strong emotions, sleep disturbances, relationship and trust issues, unsafe coping behaviors, and physical health effects.

Many MST survivors do not want to tell others about their experiences. Some stay silent because they worry about being judged or not being believed, while others can’t imagine how treatment could truly help them heal. As a result, many survivors can find it hard to access care even when they need it.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, VA redoubles its efforts to raise awareness about VA’s free services to support survivors’ healing and recovery. Eligibility for VA’s MST-related care is expansive. No documentation of the MST experience is required. Veterans do not need to have reported the MST experience at the time, to have sought care within a certain time frame, or to have applied for service connection for an MST-related condition to get care.
To learn more, veterans may contact a local VA medical center and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator, a professional at every VA health care facility who specializes in connecting survivors with the MST-related care and services that are right for them. Veterans can also speak with a VA health care provider.

Find more resources and materials about Sexual Assault Awareness Month at

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Eric Spinner

Fifty-one years after being killed in action in Vietnam, members of JWV’s Nassau-Suffolk District found the neglected headstone of Steven Gershnow at New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York. They found the headstone on June 11, 2018, but it took until September 17, 2020 to complete the restoration.

Like so many others in his generation, Gershnow enlisted in the United States Army and went to Vietnam. Just three weeks after his deployment in June of 1968, he died after coming under attack in Bin Duong Province. The Woodmere, New York native served with 1st Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, D Company. Gershnow was just 23 years old.

Our JWV team, consisting of Department of New York Commander Jack Holzman and Ensign Lawrence D. Solowey Post 652 Commander Gary Glick contacted the cemetery’s groundskeeper Thomas Whelan after finding the neglected gravestone. It turns out that getting a gravestone restored is not such a simple procedure, and it took 27 months to get through all the red tape.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz

Like many Jews, Passover is my favorite holiday. The Seder is a fun family night filled with great food and lively conversation. Preparations for Passover force me to do a good spring cleaning. Though I dislike the process, I love the result. The weeklong celebration, bookended with holy days, gives me time to reflect on the meaning of Passover and the values embedded within it.

Our Celebration of Spring, one of the alternate names of Passover, is aligned with the seasons of the year. The connection between Passover and springtime is further reinforced with this blessing that can first be recited during the month of Nisan, the month in which Passover falls, upon seeing fruit trees blossom. “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, who has made nothing lacking in this world, and created in it goodly creatures and goodly trees for humans to enjoy.”

Also, through the exodus from Egypt, the Passover story, the Israelites become reborn as a free people.
I find the connection between Passover and rebirth inspiring. It encourages me to look around and identify other places where this rejuvenation is taking place. Luckily, in my position as Director of Operations at JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, I don’t have to look far to find Jewish life in the military constantly in a state of renewal and rededication. I will share just a few examples of the new buds of Jewish life popping up around the globe at military installations.

• Every Jewish community knows that educating the next generation through Hebrew schools is a must. Yet service member families expect that dedication to country comes at the cost of Jewish education for their children. JWB is at the forefront of changing this reality. This year, we piloted five Hebrew school classrooms, with a hybrid of in-person and remote learning. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and an expansion to more installations is planned for this fall. Soon, every Jewish child growing up in an active-duty military family will have access to their Jewish history, culture, and values.

• Military Jewish lay leaders take on the responsibility of leading the Jewish community in the absence of a local Jewish chaplain. While there are more than 60 lay leaders serving around the globe, the recruitment of lay leaders has been sporadic. This spring, two JWB Chaplain candidates, Ensigns Stefanie Gedan and Alex Hamilton, are facilitating a Lay Leadership Training Course. Over 20 new lay leaders are participating. This is the largest influx of JWB lay leaders at one time, since World War II.

• JWB chaplains remain the number one facilitators of meaningful Jewish life throughout the military. As we enter our second year of a COVID Passover, JWB chaplains are reaching out and creating spiritual Passover celebrations for more Jewish service members and their families than in-person gatherings could ever reach. Through video conferencing and recorded Seders, no Jewish military family will miss out on Passover this year.

At each Passover Seder table we place a filled cup for Elijah, in the hope that the prophet will visit our homes, heralding the coming of a brighter tomorrow. At JWB, while we too anticipate Elijah’s visit, we know that JWB chaplains and lay leaders, along with our Hebrew School teachers, are bringing forth the blossoms of Jewish life today.

Rabbi Tracy J. Kaplowitz, Ph.D., is the director of operations of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council®, a signature program of JCC Association of North America. Rabbi Kaplowitz served nine years as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. She was attached to Dover AFB, DE, where she supported the Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs in caring for our country’s fallen heroes during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Kaplowitz was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and holds a doctorate in sociology of education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Sheldon Goldberg, PhD

Between 1914 and 1918, 100,000 German Jews wore the field grey uniform of the Kaiser’s army to fight for Germany. Eighty-thousand served in combat and 12,000 died during the war. They served as enlisted men and officers and many of them were highly decorated. Three aviators were “Aces” and one, Wilhelm Frankl, received the Pour-le-mérite (Blue Max), which is the equivalent to our Medal of Honor. Many others received the Iron Cross 1st or 2nd class and the Wound Badge. The bonds created in the trenches between them and their Gentile comrades lasted for many years after the war.

Michael Geheran, Deputy Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the U.S. Military Academy has written more than simply another history book about the Holocaust. Using diaries and letters of Jewish World War I Frontkämpfer, those who served in the front lines, and some who survived the Holocaust, he has constructed a social and psychological study of those veterans and how they lived, thought, and survived until virtually all of them were consumed in the Final Solution.

What Geheran underscores is that despite having lost the war, the Jewish veterans did not return disillusioned by the loss and embittered by the anti-Semitism some found, as is conventionally believed. Many returned with their heads held high, believing what they had done in service to the Fatherland would prove their patriotism and see them fully accepted into German society. They were accepted as full members of many of veterans’ organizations formed after the war. Many of them fought with these organizations, such as the right-wing Stahlhelm, against the communists and other revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Jewish veterans, especially those with combat decorations, were held in high esteem.

As the Nazi hold on Germany increased after 1933 and racial laws were implemented, the respect Jewish veterans earned became a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gave them certain privileges not afforded to Jews who had not served. Ordinary Germans would intervene and chastise German police and even the SS for harassing or arresting veterans, especially those who were wounded. They took no stand when it came to actions taken against the other Jews, especially after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in November 1938. On the other hand, resistance and interference from ordinary Germans and, ironically, support for Jewish veterans from highly placed officers in the new German army and government forced the Nazi hierarchy to make compromises that delayed full implementation of the Final Solution. For example, orders were given that exempted decorated and wounded veterans from being transported to the east and death in the concentration camps. This allowed those privileged veterans to maintain their belief that what was happening in Germany would all go away.

However, one by one laws were passed that slowly stripped the veterans of their privileges and reduced them to the level of the other Jews. Then came the establishment of Theresienstadt in 1942 as the destination for decorated and wounded Jewish veterans. Billed as a model ghetto for the privileged veterans, it was a ruse, but one that assured German citizens that the veterans would be in good hands. But it also removed them from society, thus allowing the Final Solution to proceed.

Professor Geheran has written an extremely readable and well-researched book. It makes you proud to read about how these Jewish veterans maintained their sense of honor and military values which allowed them to defy the Nazis in the face of the discriminatory action taken against them. But it’s also sad that so many of those veterans failed to see until it was too late, that under the Nazis, and despite the sacrifices they had made for the Fatherland, they would never be accepted.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. is calling on the town of Monument, Colorado to remove a memorial placed in its cemetery as part of an Eagle Scout project.  The memorial stone honoring military members references Jesus Christ, which should not be placed on city-owned property.

About Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America
Founded in 1896, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America is the oldest active veterans’ organization in America. JWV is dedicated to upholding America’s democratic traditions and fighting bigotry, prejudice, injustice, and discrimination of all kinds. As a national organization, JWV represents the voice of America’s Jewish veterans on issues related to veterans’ benefits, foreign policy, and national security. JWV also commits itself to the assistance of oppressed Jews worldwide.

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