Jewish soldiers faced many hardships during WWII

Courtney Cook

Thousands of young men rushed to join the armed forces after the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which marked America’s entrance in World War II.

Of the thousands, more than half were Jewish Americans. But unlike most of the soldiers, the Jews had a different motive.

“For Jews, the war was very clearly about Europe,” said Deborah Dash Moore, Jewish history scholar and professor of history at the University of Michigan, who spoke last night in the Student Center.

“The Jews were not thinking about avenging Pearl Harbor like the other American soldiers. They were thinking about Hitler and how to defeat him,” Moore said.

Moore said more than 500,000 Jewish Americans served as soldiers in the U.S. armed forces during World War II.

Jewish-American soldiers faced hardships during the war that ranged from non-kosher breakfasts of ham and eggs, to daily fights about anti-Semitism. Their experiences were much different than those faced by other American soldiers, Moore said.

“The official position of the U.S. military was that Jews are equal and to be treated respectfully as any other soldier,” Moore said.

On one hand, the military preached equality among all members of the military, but on the other hand Jews faced discrimination within their companies.

Moore said the prejudices were not one-sided. Many Jews were prejudiced against Germans and also held stereotypes about southerners.

Moore said once the soldiers traveled overseas to face combat, the prejudices seemed to dissolve.

“The war changed Jews who experienced it,” Moore said. ” They came back more American, but especially more Jewish. It was inside of them no matter where they went.”

Jewish American soldiers who returned from World War II made significant changes in their lives. Moore said they felt much more comfortable around Christians and many Jews also moved out of the urban cities they had been raised in.

“This is significant because now an entire generation of Jews is going to be raised in an entirely different area,” Moore said.

American Jews realized when the war ended that the perception of Jews in Europe was changed forever.

“(Jews) were convinced there was no future for them in Europe, and if there is, then it can only exist with the creation of their own state,” Moore said.

Moore said the stories of Jewish American soldiers who fought in World War II often fall between the cracks of Holocaust horrors and triumphant American war heroes.

Moore told the stories of the soldiers as they were relayed to her through over 400 interviews.

“I was born after the war and all I can say is, I am grateful,” she said.

Contact Religion reporter Courtney Cook at mailto:[email protected].