We Are Coming, Unafraid: The Jewish Legions and the Promised Land in the First World War
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Overview The Nazi Holocaust haunts the modern imagination as one of the most compelling examples of the human capacity for organized atrocity. This authoritative account of Nazi Jewish policy seeks to determine what actually happened between the outbreak of war and the emergence of the Final Solution.
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He concluded with the comparison of the contemporary situation of the Jews in Russia with that of the Jews in Spain under the reign of King Ferdinand II. We […] hope that the time is not distant when we can be citizens of the Russian state with full equality of privileges with the free Russian people.
Before the face of the entire country, before the entire civilized world, I declare that the calumnies against the Jews are the most repulsive lies and chimeras of persons who will have to be responsible for their crimes. The short quotation supplied him with a testimony from somebody who had seen war with his own eyes, somebody who had served at the forward most point.
His letter fulfilled a function similar to the publication of the correspondence of other Jewish soldiers during war time, who were printed in large numbers in the Russian Jewish press. Besides their function, the same main narrative elements are here: The young Jewish soldier, sometimes a volunteer, is ready to sacrifice his life for the fatherland. This patriotic zeal is loaded with a particular Jewish motive. If Jewish bravery could be shown to other soldiers and more important, to a Russian public, this would serve the cause of the emancipation of all Jews in Russia.
When the soldier is aware of the miserable plight of the Jewish refugees from the War zone in the area of Jewish settlement cherta osedlosti 19 , he is shocked and terrified from what he has to witness. Depending on the intention of the author and the tendency of the story, there are two possible outcomes of the story, a positive as well a negative one. The hero is either overcome by his doubts and embraces nihilism which in turn let him risk his life and leeds him into death on the battlefield or he channels the energy of the shock into a renewal of his morale by which he can continue fighting.
One example for the rather dark outcome is the Story of a Jewish Soldier , written and published by Simon Dubnov, one of the outstanding historians of Russian and World Jewry. The story was composed during wartime and Dubnov himself as well as later editors made no secret of the fact that there were several stories of Jewish soldiers who served as biographical role models for this story. The narrative figure of the poor Jewish soldier who by the sight of his own relatives being deported to the interior of Russia or being killed in a war time pogrom, loses his mind and eventually his life, was found in many war novels in Jewish periodicals.
But the principal paradox of Dubnows story lies elsewhere.
The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson, by Denis Brian - The Jewish Eye
He states in the subtitle of his The story of a Jewish soldier that it should be read as a Confession of one of many. At least from the historical distance of one hundred years after the beginning of World War I, the historian has to take caution if he wants to establish some insight into the Jewish war experience. At first, it has to be asked if there were other and contradicting stories of Jewish soldiers as well. Anna in for his service as an army surgeon. Therefore, we have to take a step backwards and look at the general as well as the Jewish war experience.
Communication Error Occurred.
It is hard to find a consensus of what the First World War meant to the European societies which had been affected. This holds the more so for a transnational, ethno-religious group who was as socially diverse and in a culturally complex state of selective integration into European societies of the time. The war and its consequences for sure resulted in a tremendous change of the social and cultural fabric of Europe, including particularly its Jewish populations.
Either parts of these regions became theaters of war itself, or they functioned as economic and strategic hinterland of the belligerent powers. In the perspective of history as well as of memory, the contrast between the active role Jewish soldiers played as combatants and the passive role of the Jewish civil populations who suffered from the war has loomed large almost since the first gunshots were fired in the summer of Already contemporaries saw the war as a time of truth who put the loyalty of the Jewish populations in general and the military value of Jewish men in particular on the test.
Sarah Panter in her study of four different Jewish communities in war times clearly shows that questions of Jewish loyalty gained momentum. Loyalty in war times was a complex matter, which was connected with several layers of identity as ethnic or religious Jew, as man, as citizen and as soldier. One could add the question of congregational solidarity with orthodox, liberal or conservative denominations of Judaism as well as political sympathies with socialism, Zionism or general political movements of the respective countries. It must be underlined that judeophobic as well as Philo-Semitic segments of the different non-Jewish public spheres shared the assumption of the war as a test case for loyalties, even if looking to it from different angles.
Parts of the educated elite in Russia for instance, voiced the idea that even the ancien regime of the tsars had to acknowledge the fighting spirit and the patriotism of its Jewish subjects. As a result, at least in this perspective, the effort of Jewish soldiers then would naturally result in the emancipation of all the Jews of the empire.
On the other hand the common doubts among the highest echelon of the Russian military command concerning the military performance of Jewish soldiers was mirrored in the questioning of the loyalty of the Jewish population living in the regions close to the theater of war. Both insinuations draw a connection between the allegedly insufficient loyalty of the Jewish subjects and the poor war effort of the Russian forces, which after initial fortunes of war had to retreat from Eastern Prussia, Congress Poland, Galicia and greater parts of Lithuania in However if this geographical widening of the perspective is not enough.
My main argument here is, that the biographical narration of the soldier as a young men catches only parts of the picture. Stories of men, who commanded over a considerable experience as active combatants and had at least some knowledge of military operations, obviously could attract more attention. The significant experience of the majority of the Jewish civilian population, which probably had a quite ambivalent position vis-a-vis the various military units who occupied their respective places of settlement, did not found a similar vivid expression in print. This perspective was strengthened by the Nazi-instigated murder of the Jewish population and the annihilation of Jewish culture of Eastern Europe in the Second World War.
In this interpretation, the experiences of World War One, particularly as it was fought in Eastern Europe, where a majority of Jews lived at that time, served as a blue-print for what was yet to come in World War Two. In an ideal-typically manner he mentions the militant Bolshevik, represented by Moisei Izrailevich Gubelman, the practical Zionist, represented by Joseph Vladimirovich [Volfovich] Trumpeldor and the new Humanist, represented by Henryk Goldszmit.
Micah D. Halpern
Nevertheless, their example is very useful to draw attention to the complex social reality of Jewish military service in the ranks of the Tsarist army. Moisei I. He clandestinely organized political resistance against the ancien regime and was convicted for eight years of compulsory labor.
He was a member of the government of the short lived Far East Republic , a kind of a buffer state, which was established between Bolshevik Russia and Japan. Gubelman later became a high official in the Federation of Soviet Trade Unions. Gubelman is an example for the small group of Jewish Bolsheviks, which gained their command of military knowledge already before the First World War.
After return from Japanese captivity, he received four decorations for bravery including the Cross of St. George, which made him one of the most highly decorated Jewish soldiers in Russia at that time. This was one of the three Jewish units of the British army. After his return to Palestine Trumpeldor fell in the defense of Tel Hai, where a monument was erected to honor his achievements. It serves until today to remember the fighting spirit of this Russian Jewish soldier who became an Israeli national hero.