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August 1, 2014: The Centennial of World War One

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By October 11, 1916, as the war was taking a significant toll upon Germany, manifestations of anti-Semitism were apparent as the German War Department which called for a ‘Jewish census’ after claiming to receive numerous complaints that Jews shirked military service, despite the considerable losses suffered by Jews on the battlefields. By October 1917, the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith newspaper ominously noted, “We Jews are in for a war after the war.”

After the war, plaques to German Jews who fell on battlefields marked synagogues of each town. Memorial services were held annually by Jewish organizations. Even after the Nazi rise to power in January 1933, there were still attempts to hold memorials. Most of the memorial plaques were destroyed on Crystal Night, November 9-10 1938.

Across the English Channel, the London Jewish Chronicle displayed a banner outside its offices,which represented the view of British Jewry at large, stating,   “ENGLAND HAS BEEN ALL SHE COULD BE TO THE JEWS, JEWS WILL BE ALL THEY CAN BE TO ENGLAND” A letter published by a soldier in the London Jewish Chronicle on June 4, 1915 expressed the views of so many fellow countrymen, “We must remember that in no part of the world is a Jew treated so freely as in England, and it is up to us to do our precious duty to our gracious King and country.”

While the issuing of the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, by the British government, granting Jewish statehood in the Land of Israel, seemed to show some measure of appreciation for the loyalty of British Jewry, (along with the belief by British leaders that this was the proper course of action), it soon became apparent during the days of the British military administration in Palestine immediately following the war, that fulfillment of those British commitments were in serious doubt.

This does not mean that support for the war was unanimous. There were German Jewish intellectuals in opposition such as the physicist Albert Einstein. In Great Britain, many recent Jewish immigrants were reluctant to join the fight as an ally of Russia: they very empire whose anti-Semitic policies they had escaped.

Among the massive community of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in New York City and other US metropolitan centers, initially, there was support for the German cause until the United States officially entered the war in April 1917. Then, American Jewry was well represented on the battlefields of France. By 1924, the doors of America were virtually shut to Eastern European Jewry due to congressional acts imposing immigration restrictions.

In Paris, over two thousand Jews took part in a patriotic demonstration. The crowd consisted mostly of Jewish immigrants who carried French, English, Russian, and Belgian flags, as well as banner with French and Yiddish inscriptions appealing to the Jews to come to the assistance of France. The demonstrators marched through the streets singing the French National Anthem and shouting “A Berlin.” (to Berlin) Christians everywhere greeted the Jewish procession with great enthusiasm.

Naturally, behind the public expressions of support there was doubt and concern over the war’s outcome and how it would impact the lives of the young recruits.

When the war broke out, the Russian Czar Nicholas II, allegedly appealed for support from the Jewish community, entitled, “My dear Jews” which offered long awaited promises of equality. The Jews responded enthusiastically. Jewish communities sent funds to the war effort, and established hospitals. Jews in Russia enlisted in large numbers before drafts were enacted, and participated in patriotic rallies throughout the empire. One such event occurred in the city of Tiflis (Kavkas), after morning services, where Jews marched in a body to the governor- general’s palace and indulged in a patriotic demonstration.

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