The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), a program of the American Folklife Center, commemorates Jewish American Heritage Month with a special series of 10 first-hand stories of Jewish Veterans of World War II. The web presentation is available at www.jewishheritage.gov/
“We’re encouraging Americans to take a fresh look at history as we approach Memorial Day by viewing narratives from World War II that they’ve never seen or heard before," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “What better way to honor those who preserved our freedom than to learn about their experiences?”
Fighting Nazi Germany took on special significance for one group of U.S. servicemen in the European Theater. Even those Jewish soldiers and sailors who were serving elsewhere in World War II understood that defeating the Axis would be a defeat for blind hatred of any ethnic group or nationality. The Veterans History Project offers the wartime stories of 10 men who served in World War II with that great sense of urgency.
Milton Stern enlisted in the Army Air Force in October 1941, six weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fresh out of high school in Rochester, N.Y., he was working in a defense-related job that might have exempted him from service, but he was determined to serve in uniform. By March 1944, he was flying as a navigator in a B-17 in bombing missions over Germany. The enemy shot down his plan over Holland, and after 10 months of being sheltered by Dutch partisans, he was captured and sent to POW camp. Being captured relatively late in the war had its advantages: Stern’s identity as a Jew was known to his captors, but they were too distracted by the advancing Allied forces to transfer him to a death camp. He kept a secret diary, which detailed his dwindling rations, as well as wish lists. By May 1, 1945, the German guards had fled the camp, and the prisoners’ Russian liberators had arrived.
John Horn’s experience in World War II was less dangerous, but in his job as an intelligence officer stationed in Berlin during the Occupation, he had a chance to find out what happened to some of his family members who had not been able to get out of Germany. In October 1945, Horn wrote a moving and eloquent letter home, in which he detailed the fates of several of those family members. He describes how a female relative was arrested in 1943 for having two sets of identification papers, and soon thereafter the Gestapo sent “a shipment” to Auschwitz. “That shipment,” Horn wrote to his loved ones, “contained a part of me, and you.”
Also included in this group of veterans is Tracy Sugarman, a Naval officer who captured his experiences in England and on the beaches at Normandy in vivid paintings and lovingly composed letters he mailed home to his wife.
The Veterans History Project is always seeking volunteers to record the first-hand recollections of war veterans for its growing archive. Those interested can download a VHP Field Kit from the Veterans History Project Web site at www.loc.gov/vets/
, request a kit via email at [email protected]
or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848.