Wars play out on both the epic and the personal stage and leave behind both large and small stories. The four new collections from the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) that recently went live on Ancestry.com include two sets of war records: WWI Serviceman Questionnaires, Jews and Non-Jews, 1918–1921, and Undated, and WWII Jewish Serviceman Cards, 1942–1947. We also added Jews in Colonial America, Brazil, and Surinam (Oppenheim Collection), 1650–1850, and we’ve indexed the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum Records, 1860–1934, to make them more accessible. I’ve spent a few hours in all four collections, and each is full of interesting facts and folks, but the stories of two soldiers in particular caught my attention.
The first was Daniel Stern. To document the service of Jewish soldiers during World War I, the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Jewish War Records sent out 16,000 questionnaires soliciting information on soldiers they believed to be Jewish. Daniel Stern sent his back.
Daniel was working as a salesman when he was drafted and entered the service in February 1918.
May saw him promoted to bugler and landing in Bordeaux.
In September, though, the war turned ugly for Daniel, who wrote: Gassed in the Argonne, Sept 2, 1918. Totally blinded for six weeks—lost speech for same length of time.
What I liked best about Daniel’s story was the ending. He spent six months in the hospital recovering and was discharged from the army a short time later. But he didn’t go straight home. The bugler stayed in France, employed by the American Red Cross as the leader of a jazz band.
Rabbi Alexander Goode’s story takes a different turn.
During WWII, the Bureau of War Records (BWR) of the National Jewish Welfare Board compiled service files on about 85,000 of the 550,000 Jewish-American service personnel. They extracted an annotated index to the files onto index cards.
The files include 3 cards for Lt. Alexander Goode, each with a different notation in the upper-right corner: “Missing” then “Death i.a.” and finally “D.S.C.” and “P.H.” for Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.
On 3 February 1943, Goode was one of 900 men aboard the troop ship USAT Dorchester when it was torpedoed. As chaos broke outn, Goode was one of four chaplains who moved about the deck, praying with the wounded, calming the fearful, and handing out life jackets from the ship’s lockers. When those ran out, each of the chaplains gave his life jacket to another man. They were last seen praying together with arms linked on the deck of the Dorchester as it went down.
And those are only two of the stories—big and small—you’ll find among the new records from the AJHS.
(WWI Serviceman Questionnaires, Jews and Non-Jews, 1918–1921, and Undated; WWII Jewish Serviceman Cards, 1942–1947; Jews in Colonial America, Brazil, and Surinam (Oppenheim Collection), 1650–1850; New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum Records, 1860–1934)