Many Jewish World War II Soldiers Had Christian Burials. That’s Changing.
“There was a lot of concern among Jewish soldiers that if they were captured and their dog tag marked them as Jewish they would get different treatment from the Germans especially,” said Ben Brands, a historian at the commission. “A decent number of Jewish soldiers concealed their Judaism not just from the enemy but also by keeping it out of their official records, and the official records are what the army had to go on if they were killed.”
Some soldiers also feared the antisemitism they might face from other American soldiers.
Barbara Belmont, 80, a retired executive in Virginia, was three years old when her father, Albert, was killed in action. His dog tags identified him as a Christian. Mr. Belmont’s brother later told his niece that his brother had wanted “to feel like one of the guys,” she said.
“There was a lot of antisemitism and he didn’t want to be ‘that Jewish soldier’ or whatever,” she said. “He just wanted to be one of the soldiers.”
Ms. Belmont had spent a lifetime trying to learn about her father, a photographer who moved his family from New York to Kansas City shortly before the war. Her mother remarried and rarely spoke about her first husband, owing in part to social norms at the time surrounding grief, Ms. Belmont said.
“In that generation, those who came back from the war, they didn’t talk about it,” she said. “The families that lost soldiers, they didn’t talk about it.”
The therapeutic approach to trauma and loss that is common today did not exist for a widow and her young children in the 1940s. Ms. Belmont did not even meet relatives on her father’s side of the family until the 1990s, when she visited his grave for the first time and saw the cross there.
Ms. Belmont, who also attended a rededication ceremony last month at Lorraine American Cemetery in France, said she felt like she was both meeting her father for the first time and saying goodbye. “I felt like I went to my father’s funeral,” she said. “That was the greatest gift you could have given me.”
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