By Sheldon Goldberg

On the edge of the Gettysburg Battlefield was a former camp known as CCC Gettysburg 2. Initially housing an all-black Civilian Conservation Corps unit, the camp was abandoned in1942 but converted to a small Army sub-camp of Camp Ritchie in 1943. Its purpose was somewhat given away by its name – Camp George H. Sharpe – named after General George G. Meade’s intelligence officer during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The initial cadre of about 60 men were those who had completed intelligence training at Camp Ritchie but were now receiving commando/ranger training before being deployed behind enemy lines in Europe. Following this group were approximately 800 soldiers, described as not being in the best physical shape, differing in age, and from a multitude of civilian occupations and professions. Many, but not all, were Jewish. Some were native-born Americans, others were immigrants and refugees from Europe who had managed to escape the Nazis. Some had received training at Camp Ritchie, many not. That said, several common threads bound them together: their language skills, their knowledge of Europe, and their desire to defeat the Axis.

At Camp Sharpe they would be divided into four Mobile Radio Broadcasting (MRB) companies and taught skills needed to interrogate prisoners and civilians, make radio broadcasts, loudspeaker appeals, leaflet and newspaper production, and operate both in front of and behind enemy lines. Trained in psychological warfare, these secret units would become known as “The Psycho Boys.”

The book itself, an updated and somewhat revised version of the author’s 2015 book, The Camp Sharpe Psycho Boys, is the result of a number of interviews with living members of these MRBs and in-depth research by the author. It tells us the previously unknown story of their participation in the war in Europe chronologically from their Camp Sharpe training to D-Day in Normandy to the surrender of Germany and beyond. It concludes in describing, often in the participants own words, the role they played, in and out of uniform, in the democratization of the erstwhile Nazified German population. In doing this, the author introduces us to a number of the Psycho Boys who were at one time academics, diamond cutters, meteorologists, writers, authors, and musicians. One was even a Disney artist while another was a prominent gossip columnist and yet another a Harvard University Literature professor.

All of them became students of Lieutenant Hans Habe, a Hungarian-born newspaperman who fought with the French Foreign Legion, was captured by the Germans and escaped before coming to America. Here, his exploits became a novel that became a Hollywood film. Beyond that, his proven skill at interrogating prisoners of war and writing effective propaganda pamphlets led him to become the trainer for all four MRB companies.

In each of the book’s nine chapters, which follows the progress of the U.S. forces from Normandy to the German homeland, the author provides a narrative, often in the soldiers’ own words of actions taken to conduct their mission which was, armed only with truth, to convince enemy soldiers to surrender, often at the cost of the MRB soldier’s life. These narratives, combined with photos of MRB soldiers, make for an interesting and easy reading experience.

For this reviewer, however, the last three chapters, “Confronting the Camps,” “Going “Home,” and “Working for a Democratic Germany,” are the most interesting. The author makes clear that as horrific as it was to enter the concentration camps without knowing beforehand of their existence, it was worse for the foreign-born MRB men, many of whom had family and friends among the survivors. The descriptions of what the MRB men found in the camp, and of the atrocities that took place, often only hours before the Americans arrived, remain even today difficult to read and comprehend. Several of the German-born MRB men who personally experienced Nazi brutality before escaping Germany, describe tours they gave to German locals who claimed innocence and not knowing despite their proximity to the camps. One MRB soldier said that they seemed “not to have had the slightest qualms about living in the smoke of the Nazi crematoria.”

Again, through the words of the author’s interviewees, we experience what it was like for some of the foreign-born MRB men to return to the cities in which they had lived, e.g., Leipzig, Augsburg, Nuremburg, and Berlin, were but a few. Lastly, she describes how many MRB men remained in Germany after the war to focus their efforts on denazification and re-education. The several different newspapers they produced in the German style became the biggest newspaper concern in the world with a circulation of over 8 million. Similarly, some reactivated radio stations while others culled the professional and cultural arenas, deciding who could continue in their professions and who were banned as a result of the Nazi affiliation.

Toward the end of the book, the author objectively makes clear that the efforts of many of these former MRB men were making to bring democracy to Germany ran counter to U.S. government policy. Initially, criticism of the Soviet Union was not allowed, but with the beginning of the Cold War, this began to change and despite the Nuremburg trials, the de-Nazification programs slowly ended.

The book concludes with brief descriptions of what a number of the MRB men did after leaving the Army or government service. She closes the book by writing “As paragraph troopers, who chose words over rifles or other weapons of choice, the psycho boys had fought to preserve ideals rather than extinguish lives.”

As one who served two tours in Post-war Germany, I saw the fruits of their labors.

Volume 77. Number 4. 2023


By Sheldon Goldberg, PhD

Ten years ago, when I became a Docent and Historian at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, I was honored to follow in the footsteps of those who had come before me. I gathered the materials they used, read the histories written about Jews in the military, and did research on the internet to update them, especially about the Jewish Medal of Honor recipients. I also found the museum’s exhibit books invaluable as I wrote my lectures and prepared scripts to memorize for tour groups. And so it went until the arrival of “Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War: The Union Army” by Adam Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn’s book is the result of ten years of research sponsored by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, using Simon Wolfe’s “The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen,” from 1895, as a starting point.  Wolfe claimed as many as 10,000 Jews served in the Civil War. “Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War” is an attempt to correctly identify every Jew who served in the Union Army, something Wolfe’s error-prone book attempted. While Mendelsohn’s book has been published, it is, in fact, unfinished.  Shapell researchers continue to attempt to identify Jews who fought on both sides, delving into archives across the country, finding personal letters, photographs, memoirs, and of course, official documents, thus adding names on an almost daily basis. That said, it tells a story – one I had been telling, but which now requires some key changes.

“Jewish Soldiers in the Civil War” is presented in six chapters that describe where those identified Jews who served came from, what their occupations were, how and why they enlisted, many, but not all, just for the bonus, and for how long. It is important to note that not every Jew who served was an abolitionist. Many feared that freed slaves would take their jobs.

Mendelsohn writes that the dearth of Jewish compatriots, as opposed to some majority German or Irish regiments, led some to deny their faith, even to other Jews, or to change their names. Among those who served were brave heroes and cowardly deserters, upstanding members of society, and lowly crooks. He also points out that while antisemitism existed, Jewish soldiers often changed their units to avoid the slurs and attempts to proselytize them. That said, the exigencies of combat and the conditions under which all soldiers lived also created friendships between Jews and non-Jews, many of which lasted beyond the end of the war. Mendelsohn also clarifies the roles played by the Board of Delegates of American Israelites in Washington and Rabbi Arnold Fischel, by debunking the existing myth of how three Rabbis came to serve as Jewish Chaplains in the Union Army.

Lastly, although it is not made clear in the book, this project is a work in progress. Based on the research conducted when the book was published, there were only 1,235 Union soldiers positively identified as Jewish out of what is believed to be just over seven thousand. Of those identified are six generals, five of whom were breveted, i.e., temporarily promoted to a rank higher than what they normally held. One appendix shows that of those 1,235, only a few regiments had as many as twenty Jews while most had but one or two. Furthermore, the research has confirmed a fifth Jewish Medal of Honor recipient, Eugene P. Jacobson. That said, this is an outstanding work, easy to read, that sheds a whole new light on the Jewish contribution to the Civil War.

Volume 77. Number 1. 2023

By Sheldon Goldberg, PhD

“In the Lion’s Den” is a day-by-day, autobiography of the author’s five-year tour as Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and his life. Danon, an ardent Zionist and Likud member previously served as a member of the Knesset from the Likud Party, as Minister of Science, Technology and Space, and as Deputy Minister of Defense. In June 2016, Danon was elected as chair of the UN Legal Committee, the first Israeli to ever hold the chairmanship of any UN committee.

This book, Danon’s second, appears to have been motivated by the surprise abstention by the United States in December of 2016 during the vote on UN Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem. It was a vote, unprecedented in the history of US-Israeli relations, and one Danon said he would never forget. As a result, “In the Lion’s Den” is more a primer on what is required of an Israeli Permanent Representative to the unfriendly United Nations in order to be successful.

The above notwithstanding, the first of the nine chapters in this book, entitled “Why a Strong Israel Matters,” is biographical and revolves around Danon’s close relationship with his father and the strengths and traits he drew from him and his other hero, Menachem Begin. In so doing, Danon lays out his vision of Israel and the seven key principles he followed to help Israel achieve its foreign policy goals. The remaining chapters illustrate positions Israel must adhere to, by citing Winston Churchill’s 1941 speech to Harrow School that included the admonition to “…never give up in…nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” In this vein, Danon writes about remaining optimistic in the hostile UN environment and demonstrating to all that what is good for Israel is good for the world.

A good part of the second chapter is devoted to the history of UN Resolution 2334. Danon discusses the speech he prepared for the debate prior to the vote and the several attempts he and Prime Minister Netanyahu made to delay or stop the vote. Never one to mince words, his speech was a rapprochement to the U.S., and Danon relates how he went on to attack the U.S. publicly for its “shameful and cowardly behavior” and the confrontational way Secretary of State Kerry defended the abstention. Less than a year later, when the Trump administration moved its embassy to Jerusalem, Danon describes his close relationship with the new U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

The titles of each of the following chapters are essentially a sign telling the reader where the author is going and how he dealt with the issues he discusses. For example, in chapter three, “Never Hide – Never Apologize,” Danon addresses the need to directly confront critics, especially hypocrites who accuse Israel of excessive use of force when defending itself against terrorist attacks by citing examples of how others, even democratic countries, react to internal upheavals. He described his first speech in the UN, clearly stating that unprovoked attacks against innocent civilians are not part of a “cycle of violence,” but the result of a culture of hate taught to Palestinians by their leaders and in Palestinian youth who are indoctrinated to hate Jews as opposed to learning math and reading. He quoted Nelson Mandela who said “No one is born hating another person…. People must learn to hate.”

Again, in chapter four, “Open Doors – Open Minds,” he stresses the role of diplomacy and the need to make friends so that they will understand one’s concerns and be sympathetic to one’s goals. Sovereignty aside, he reminds us that every nation needs friends and that the true test of friendship comes in times of crisis. In many respects, Danon’s book is a modest praise of his successes, but he does not ignore his failures. Obviously, the vote against the settlements was a major failure, but that most likely was the result of the bad relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. A second failure was his inability to marshal enough UN members to prevent the vote against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That said, there were many successes, including his election as Chairman of the UN Legal Committee, having the cafeteria bring in Kosher food, and making Yom Kippur an official UN holiday.

Another significant success was his initiation of trips to Israel for UN ambassadors, ironically helped by the Palestinian representative’s writing complaint letters to the capitals of those ambassadors who took the trips – letters not appreciated by the ambassadors. The trips did not stop but increased as a result.

Throughout Danon’s narrative, he provides interesting insights to the workings of the UN, the role of UN ambassadors, and the difficulties of working with some countries.

In the last few chapters, Danon sets out the things Israel can offer to the world including agriculture, technology, aviation, pharmaceuticals, etc. His concluding chapter deals with the wave of antisemitism that has swept the world and asks what can be done about it as well as the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement? He closes with his view of the peace process as it relates to the changing dynamics of the region since the 1990s, cautioning that what may have worked then, will not work now.

“In the Lion’s Den” is a well written, readable book. It provides insights on the issues facing Israel in the UN and how Danon faced them and resolved them to the best of his ability, relying on certain principles outlined above and, above all, keeping “Judaism on the front page.”

Volume 76. Number 4. 2022

By Ben Kane, Membership Director
There was something odd happening in the Polish town of Nasielsk on a sunny day in 1938. A man by the name of David Kurtz was visiting, and he brought with him a camera with which he could record film- an expensive, rare piece of equipment in that time and place. It seemed the entire town wanted to gather to view this technological marvel. One of the scenes in the three minutes of film shows a group of worshippers leaving said synagogue. “Three Minutes – A Lengthening” paints a beautiful picture of the vibrant Jewish community in Nasielsk. A Jewish community whole and happy, before it was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis.

When the average person thinks of the Holocaust, they often think of the number six million. Six million Jews whose lives were stolen. But it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around a such a massive calamity. Six million is so large that it becomes just a number. Each victim is, albeit inadvertently, reduced to being simply one of many millions. “Three Minutes: A Lengthening” seeks to humanize the loss, and it succeeds in its goal. Those who were lost had hopes and dreams. They had fears, routines, questions, foods that they loved, and some that they didn’t quite love so much. They were like you and I, human, and very much not a number.

Much of the footage shows the town crowding around the camera, with some observing bemused in the background, and others trying their hardest to make themselves seen. Kids playfully shove other kids away, so the focus is on them. The message of the residents in the film seems to be, “look at us. We exist.” A tragic message, considering that many lost their lives, and then the footage was lost for many years. But now, in a way, those who were lost to death and time exist once again thanks to “Three Minutes – A Lengthening.”

“Three Minutes – A Lengthening” was created by many talented individuals. The film was directed by Bianca Stigter, co-produced by Steve McQueen (the director of “12 Years a Slave”) and narrated predominately by actress Helena Bonham Carter. There are occasional thoughts provided by Glenn Kurtz, the grandson of the filmmaker and the one who rediscovered the footage, as well as by Maurice Chandler. Chandler is one of the few Jewish residents of Nasielsk who survived the Holocaust, and recognized himself as a child upon watching David Kurtz’s film. All three guide the viewer beautifully through the footage that had remained unseen for decades.

Attendees of the 2022 National Convention in Savannah, Georgia were fortunate enough to be able to listen to more of Maurice Chandler’s story from the man himself. He took the time out of his day to join convention attendees over Zoom, and his story left the audience awed by his eloquence and resilience. If you would like to be similarly awed by the story of the town of Nasielsk, “Three Minutes – A Lengthening” is now playing in select theaters across the country.

Volume 76. Number 3. 2022

By Sheldon Goldberg, PhD

“X Troop” is an eye-opening war story about young Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and Hungary who came to England with one desire – to return to the continent to fight and kill Nazis and save their families. “X Troop” is the result of the author Leah Garrett’s extensive research at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Imperial War Museum in London, and the British National Archives in Kew, England. It is also a biography of a small number of X Troop members, personal interviews with those still alive, and a narrative of the author’s own personal insights.

Unlike the Jewish refugees in America’s Ritchie Boys who enlisted or were drafted into the U.S. Army, and who were trained in intelligence, counterintelligence and interrogation methods, the initial group of 87 X Troopers followed a different path. Initially arriving in England on many of the Kindertransports that brought young Jews to England, they lived and worked like everyone else until the war broke out in 1939. Once this occurred, they were considered enemy aliens, arrested, and sent to internment camps in England and the Isle of Man. Others were sent to Canada and 1,450 of them were sent on a traumatic two-month voyage to Australia, stuffed below decks in a filthy hold and treated horribly by the anti-Semitic officer in charge of the internees and the guards he commanded.

In early 1940, some of the internees in England were able to enlist in the Royal Pioneer Corps. In uniform but unarmed, they built bridges, dug trenches, and cleared bomb damage, but longed to be able to fight. The internees were finally released in 1942 after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and those in Australia were offered immediate transport back to England if they joined the Pioneer Corps. That same year, following a suggestion from Lord Mountbatten to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a special unit composed of displaced nationals was created as part of No. 10 (inter-Allied) Commando. Among the separate national units, all of whom would be highly trained, Unit 3, originally called the British troop, would be composed of German-speaking refugees. This unit, Garrett writes, would become “Britain’s secret shock troop in the war against Germany.” Like the Ritchie Boys, they were trained in intelligence, counterintelligence, and interrogation, but unlike them, they also became highly trained commandos, trained to kill or capture Nazis on the battlefield. Because of the dangers these Jewish commandos would face and the missions they would undertake, should they be captured, Churchill named them, saying: “Because they will be unknown warriors…they must be considered an unknown quantity. Since the algebraic symbol for the unknown is X, let us call them X Troops.”

Having provided biographies of a few of the Jewish refugees who became X Troopers, Garrett turns to a brief biography of Brian Hilton-Jones, the Welsh officer who became X Troop’s commander and father figure who won their undying loyalty. She also highlights a key turning point in the lives of the X Troopers when, after being interviewed by Hilton-Jones, each was given five minutes to select an English name that many kept for the remainder of their lives, and a background story. Claus Asher, whose father was murdered in Dachau, became Colin Anson, Peter Arany became Peter Masters, Manfred Gans became Fred Gray, and Hans Ludwig Hajos became Ian Harris, an X Troop sergeant who single handedly convinced the entire German garrison of Osnabrück to surrender.

Using personal interviews and her own in-depth research, Garrett follows the X Troop into the war from a landing on Sword Beach in Normandy through the Netherlands and into Germany as Field Marshall Montgomery led the 21st Army Group into battles across northwest Europe. She follows individuals and small groups of X Troopers into the disaster at Dieppe, the capture of the Pegasus Bridge, the fight for Walcheren Island that opened the Scheldt Estuary allowing the Allies to be resupplied, and short diversions to Sicily and Italy before returning to Germany.

Following the Allied victory in May 1945, some of the X Troop’s mission turned to capturing Nazis and gathering intelligence and documentation that was used at the Nuremburg trials. Among other individual post-war stories, she describes the arduous journey made by Manfred Gans through a devastated Germany to finally find his parents, still alive in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

The book’s 18 very readable chapters closes with Afterword: The Legacy of X Troop, and following some acknowledgements, an appendix that details the principal figures in the book and briefly describes their war service and what they did after the war.

“X Troop” is a must read for anyone interested in World War II history and/or the key roles played by German-speaking Jews who were able to escape Nazi Europe and return to help liberate the continent.

Volume 76. Number 2. 2022

By Rafael Medoff

For those of us old enough to remember the esteem with which American Jews held President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the U.S. effort against Nazi Germany in World War II, this book may change your mind. Similarly, if you or someone close to you lost relatives or friends in the Holocaust, the contents of this book may disgust you. To cite just two quotes in this book, this is what the editors of The New Republic, published following the Bermuda Conference of April 1943, “If the AngloSaxon nations continue on their present course, we shall have connived with Hitler in one of the most terrible episodes of history.” A letter to Under Secretary of State Sumner Wells from the Joint Emergency Committee on European Affairs from June 1, 1943 said, “To relegate the rescue of the Jews of Europe, the only people marked for total extermination, to the day of victory is…virtually to doom them to the fate Hitler has marked out for them.”

This excellently written and researched book deals with the relationship between Rabbi Stephen Wise and his personal relationship with and devotion to President Roosevelt. Wise was a Reform rabbi, outspoken Zionist, founder of the American Jewish Congress (AJC), and one of the most prominent leaders of the American Jewish community at the time. Roosevelt used his relationship with Wise to stifle “potential Jewish criticism of his refugee policy.” The book’s eight chapters begin with the indifference of Roosevelt to the situation in Germany, the isolationist and anti-immigration policy of the Congress, and the failure of the United States government to undertake measures that might have saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis. It also includes a discussion of the issue of bombing the railroads leading to the extermination camps and closes with a discussion of anti-Semitism in the White House. This book makes a valuable contribution which may fundamentally change our understanding.
Throughout the book, Medoff tells us that Wise agonized over the fate of the Jews of Europe, but that his misplaced devotion to the president would not allow him to go against the government’s policies. On the other hand, he discouraged any active efforts by Jewish organizations he did not control to publicly raise the issue of the wholesale murder of Jews in Europe, lest it place the Jews in a position of appearing to fail to support the president in wartime and lead to acts of anti-Semitism at home. The October 1943 march on Washington by 400 rabbis, was anathema to Wise. Marshals for that march were provided by the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. (JWV). At the same time, Wise’s large ego often led to conflict with other Jewish organizations, such as the Bergson Group, and Jewish organizational leaders whom he felt were attempting to usurp his leadership role.

Wise continued to use every opportunity he could to meet with the president, thinking that his access equaled influence, but he was wrong. Yet despite Roosevelt’s failure to do anything, Wise remained a staunch supporter. Wise’s turning point came with the arrival of two telegrams. The first, on August 8, 1942, from AJC’s representative in Switzerland Gerhard Rieger, who reported on German plans to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. This telegram, which the State Department had marked as “unreliable,” also went to the British Foreign Office. Wise only received a copy on August 25.

The second, received in September 1942 came from Racha and Yitzchak Steinbuck, who were AJC orthodox activists. It went to the President of Agudath Israel, who relayed it to President Roosevelt and Rabbi Wise. It reported that the Germans had “bestially” murdered 100,000 Jews. Nonetheless, the U.S. position was nothing could be done to aid the Jews except to swiftly defeat the Nazis. The continued reporting of German atrocities by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, The New York Times, and others, combined with pressure from the British Foreign Office, led the U.S. State Department to publicly acknowledge in December 1942 that hundreds of thousands of Jews had been slaughtered by the Nazis as part of the “Final Solution.”

Medoff also describes the issue of Jews and Palestine and the U.S. failure to oppose its wartime ally, Great Britain, which subverted the Balfour Declaration making Palestine a homeland for the Jews and restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine to a trickle. In the same vein, he discusses the anti-Semitism of Breckenridge Long, Assistant Secretary of State, who rejected more than 190,000 visas for Jews attempting to escape Europe and the anti-immigration Congress which refused to change and even disregarded 1924 immigration quotas limiting immigration of foreigners, especially Jews.

Other actions the U.S. government was asked to take that might have helped are discussed in the book, including the bombing of railroads leading to Auschwitz. In this particular case, the government argued they could not divert airplanes from their mission to destroy German industry despite the fact several targets were within 20 miles of Auschwitz. In fact, both the U.S. and the British diverted aircraft that flew over Auschwitz to aid a losing battle fought by the Polish Home Army. Medoff writes that of 1,200 cannisters of weapons and supplies dropped, less than 300 were retrieved by the Poles. The Germans recovered the rest. The above notwithstanding, the U.S. saw efforts against Auschwitz as a Soviet issue. Medoff indicates this decision was political, made in the shadow of the 1944 election and designed to retain the Polish American vote.

An essay written by Jeffrey Herf concludes there is no real answer to the question of whether the Russians could have slowed the “Final Solution” as the needed research has not been done. More than half of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were already dead by November 1943, most in extermination camps that no longer functioned or were destroyed by the Germans. Auschwitz was the only exception. In addition, while the Soviet Air Force gained air superiority over the Eastern Front except for Poland in mid-1943, and their aircraft had the range and capability, Soviet strategy focused on combined arms operations. Russians fought in World War II to save themselves, not the Jews.

It should be noted however that the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem and others in the U.S. opposed the bombing idea. They thought it will kill Jews and that German propaganda would claim that Americans were also killing Jews.

Medoff covers much more, such as lies and dissembling by the U.S. government to placate Wise and make him believe that things were being done to rescue the Jews when, in fact, nothing was being done. He also discusses the issues surrounding the president’s Executive Order leading up to the creation of the War Refugee Board on January 22, 1944 and the subsequent attack on the Bergson Group that sponsored the Congressional Rescue Resolution, of which Wise disapproved.

The last chapter of the book questions whether Roosevelt was an anti-Semite. Medoff gives no answer but describes the environment that FDR was bought up in, including his parents attitude toward Jews and race in general. Medoff writes of the family’s interest in bloodlines, “at least a dozen lines of Mayflower descent converged in Franklin….” And that “his pride in his family’s racial pedigree melded easily with the common early twentieth century perception in America that the Caucasian, or Aryan, race was locked in an ages-old struggle with inferior races.”

For those students of the Holocaust, of American policy during World War II, and German-Jewish/American-Jewish history in general, “The Jews Should Keep Quiet” describes a little known but important period in American history that needs to be told.

Volume 75. Number 4. 2021

By Sheldon Goldberg, Ph.D.

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis built more than 20,000 transit, slave labor, and extermination camps throughout Germany and conquered territories. Millions of men, women, and children were imprisoned, and many millions died in them in cruel and inhuman ways. As one American Jewish liberator said, they were stripped “of the dignity of death.”

In “The Liberation of the Camps,” Professor Dan Stone presents a well-documented, but often heart-breaking rendering of what he called the “process of liberation” and the aftermath. Stone presents the reader with five chapters, covering the liberation by the Red Army, by the Western Allies, the chaos that followed the initial liberation, life in the Displaced Persons Camps, and the issues faced by primarily Jewish survivors as they sought to transition into a new life.

One question that has been asked by other reviewers is how does one define liberation? Is it a joyous end to some form of incarceration or occupation? A time for flag waving and parades? Or is it, as in the case of many of those liberated from the concentration camps, a moment of shame for having survived while so many others did not; a moment of loneliness because everyone they knew and loved were murdered; or of wondering where they go now that their life and home no longer exists? For many, the only liberation granted in the days and weeks that followed was death. Being free was not the end of the trauma for many.

Stone writes that liberation was a complex process, and the events that followed were “fundamental to the unfolding of the post-war years in Europe, to the geopolitics of the Cold War” as well as the future of the British Empire as it impacted events in Palestine and the Middle East. These events and subsequent Allied policies also drove many survivors to reject Europe as a home, insisting that only Palestine could provide them a future.

The Red Army was the first to liberate ghettos and death camps in Eastern Europe. However, Stone fails to differentiate between labor camps and extermination camps. Several of the camps, Sobibor, Belzec, and Treblinka were demolished by the SS, even though evidence of what had taken place there remained. The Soviets took care of the survivors for a short time, but primarily used them for propaganda purposes. “Jews were mentioned only in passing” Stone writes, as they had no ideological value. The defeat of the Nazis was simply a victory for international working-class anti-fascism. Several Soviet reporters who attempted to write the truth had their works suppressed and/or destroyed.

While liberation was not an allied goal, their discovery was mostly accidental. French troops were the first of the Western Allies to discover a concentration camp – Natzweiler-Stuthof – in Alsace in November of 1944. It had a small gas chamber but appeared to be an aberration. That perception changed when the Americans found Ordruf in April of 1945. The troops found thousands of corpses everywhere. Despite being surrounded by death since Normandy, the Americans were totally unprepared for what they found. General Eisenhower, who visited the camp a week later, implored London and Washington to take the reports coming out of Germany seriously. As Rafael Medoff, author of “The Jews Should Keep Quiet,” and others have written, London and Washington knew as early as 1942 that Jews were being murdered in the camps.
Within days of discovering Ordruf, many more camps in Germany and Austria were liberated by American, British, and Canadian troops. The liberation of those camps was well documented, but this was primarily due to the much larger numbers of survivors freed and those who had arrived at these camps following forced death marches from camps in the east as the Nazis fled the Soviet advances. Stone does not hide the fact that many SS officers and camp guards who were captured in the camps were then killed by American forces who were appalled by what they had found. The sights, sounds, smells, and emotions experienced by the liberating soldiers stayed with them for many years afterward.

Stone goes to lengths to describe the misunderstandings that took place between the various liberating militaries, the rescue/relief agencies that came to help, and the liberated. Additionally, he describes the unpreparedness of some agencies to deal with what confronted them after their arrival, and the bureaucracy they had to deal with given the war was still ongoing. He also describes the lack of understanding among the military authorities who looked upon the Jewish survivors as no different than the other displaced persons they were now responsible for. This led to animosity between the Jewish survivors and the Allies who were now viewed as their jailers. Stone describes the efforts of the Jewish survivors to move forward with their lives and organize themselves. Having nowhere else to go, they created sports clubs, theater clubs, orchestras, newspapers, schools for children, celebrated marriages and births, and developed groups designed to be kibbutzniks.

Stone also introduces the role of the burgeoning Cold War which made anti-Communism a higher priority than the needs of Holocaust survivors and prevented liberated Jewish survivors from immigrating to Palestine in order to keep the British relationships with the Arabs intact. The book does not discuss the failure of the then anti-Semitic U.S. State Department and the anti-immigration Congress to fill unused German and Austrian immigration quotas which would have allowed Jews to enter the U.S. during and after the war, possibly saving thousands of lives. That said, “The Liberation of the Camps” puts a different perspective on the current understanding of liberation, what it meant to those who were liberated, and how they fared afterward. It sheds a sliver of light on a time that still affects those who lived through it and their families.

Volume 75. Number 3. 2021

By Ben Kane

“Final Account” begins with a quote from Holocaust survivor Primo Levi. The quote does an exceptional job of summarizing the message of the film. “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

The movie explores the formative years and then the wartime positions held by those interviewed throughout the movie. Many of them were members of the Waffen SS, the military wing of the SS, an organization consisting of the most ardent Nazi fanatics. According to historical records, the military wing of the SS, unsurprisingly, had vast numbers of perpetrators within their ranks. It would be difficult for any member of the Waffen SS to consider themselves innocent, but that does not stop several interviewees from trying.

As the film unfolds, several former Nazi military personnel explain how they do not consider themselves perpetrators. The individuals claim they were “swept up” in a movement and “forced to obey orders.” They said not doing so would put them at risk. It is important to note that there are virtually no instances of a Nazi servicemember being punished for choosing not to partake in genocidal acts. Take the story of the Polish Reserve Police Battalion 101. The individuals in this group were given the chance to opt out of carrying out an act of genocide. Few refused, but those who did were not punished. One former member of the Waffen SS also corroborated the idea of a slim risk of punishment for those who refused, saying that during his time in the SS, as far as he could tell, “nobody walked away.”

There is certainly truth in their arguments of being swept up in the movement. “Final Account” does an excellent job exploring the myriad of ways citizens were brainwashed to hate. The brainwashing started at a very young age and continued ceaselessly through the years. Interviewees explained how as children, they learned the alphabet with horrific caricatures of Jews drawn beside each letter. Anti-Semitic films were shown at even the most remote villages. Marching songs, flashy outfits and rituals, and summer camps, further solidified the Nazi party as the party to join in the eyes of the impressionable youth. They were taught from birth there were those unworthy of life, and by the time a Nazi youth wielded the power of life and death as a soldier, few hesitated in using force to remove from society those they were taught were poisoning it.

Some interviewees claimed that not only did they not partake in genocidal acts, but they didn’t even know they were going on. Others admitted they did not agree with the murders but would have carried them out if asked. Conveniently, and rather miraculously, very few of the interviewed Waffen SS members seemed to be involved firsthand with any genocidal actions. Some interviewees, mostly those working office jobs or who were young members of the women’s organizations, likely didn’t carry out acts of genocide themselves, but they knew about it, and didn’t hesitate to tell that to the filmmakers.

It would be easy to direct attention to the interviewee who said Hitler was not in the wrong. That he still honors Hitler. He is shown, and it is good that he was. He serves as a warning to the viewer that some of those involved in the Holocaust were, up until their dying day, proud of their role in it. That hatred is still within the hearts of many.

But the time was instead better spent with one particularly regretful member of the Waffen SS. The film shows his conversation with a class of students, held where the Wannsee Conference took place. That 1942 conference officially determined the unfortunate fate of European Jewry. Their faces are blurred, and the comments of one young man in particular are hostile and biting. The student says he was surprised that the former SS member was “ashamed to be standing up for the fatherland” and that he “makes it seem like I should be ashamed to be German.” He also says the man “should be more afraid of some Albanian stabbing you than your fellow Germans.”

Following these remarks and others that downplayed the severity of the Holocaust, the interviewee gets emotional. He condemns the student for not showing his face and says “I belonged to a murderous organization. What else was it? We carried out murder to perfection, planned at a table like this over coffee, we decided how women and children would be killed. We cannot be proud of that… do not let yourself be blinded.”

The room fell silent. Silent just long enough for the viewer to find hope. To find hope that those led astray by even the darkest hatred can someday fight for humanity instead of against it.

Volume 75. Number 2. 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

By Peter Nickitas, JWV National Judge Advocate

“It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country” describes the public service of the first Jewish-American Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Shulkin. Shulkin served as Undersecretary of the VA from 2015 to 2017 and Secretary from 2017 to 2018. Shulkin served as the first chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and CEO of New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center before entering public service.

This book makes outstanding reading, as Secretary Shulkin describes his encounters with entrenched officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in his work to bring more accountability, veteran-focused care, accessible service, and timely appointments. His accomplishments included updating electronic health records (EHR) systems and expanding Agent Orange treatment to Blue Water Navy veterans who served on ships off the shore of Vietnam and suffered diseases induced by the Agent Orange clouds that blew offshore. In his words, he found himself with the choice between continued neglect of veterans based on dwindling scientific evidence as veterans died, or the moral choice, and treat Blue Water Navy veterans. He took the moral choice.

He spent a great deal of energy bringing the 2014 Veteran Access, Choice, and Accountability Act up to date in 2017 and 2018, culminating in the Mission Act. At all times, he fought to ensure quality and coordinate the delegation of some care to private providers without eviscerating the core Veterans Affairs budget for VA medical center care. During his time at Secretary, he even saw patients himself at surprise appointments at VA Medical Centers.

Shulkin says his vision for the future of the VA is “a new model of governance, complete with its own board composed of health care experts, veterans, and business leaders. It should remain a government entity but with a structure that allows it to develop strategies free of political influence…. This new governance structure would mean the end of political appointees. People who serve our veterans should be chosen not on the basis of political ideology or their commitment to a particular elected individual but rather because of relevant experience, competence, and commitment to the mission.”

“It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country” provides an example of a Jewish-American who as the founders of JWV would say, “redeems the good name of the Jew.” Shulkin took the opportunity for service and made the most of it, to show that we Jewish-Americans are capable of fulfilling acts of Torah-Mitzvot and our civic obligations to our nation, our neighbors, and our fellow veterans and servicemembers, with equal fervor and merit.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020