Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Wartime Experience


Posted By Ann Rabinowitz


Eli Blankenfeld, Latvian Army, 1943
(drawn from life by colleague)


In a prior piece on the Blog which was entitled “There Were Actually Jewish Soldiers in the Russian Empire,” I discussed Jewish military participation during the period prior to World War II. Now, I am moving forward to the period of World War II and after.


The following topics will focus on new resources for family military research.

“ROAD TO VICTORY, JEWISH SOLDIERS OF THE 16TH LITHUANIAN DIVISION, 1942-1945”

There are many stories of wartime experiences by those who joined or were inducted into the armies of the Allies during World War II. In this regard, Dorothy Leiver’s recently published a book, “Road to Victory, Jewish Soldiers of the 16th Lithuanian Division, 1942-1945”, which is a compilation of testimonies given by the soldiers themselves.


Originally, the contents of the book were published in Yiddish then Hebrew. The new English edition is a valuable contribution to researchers on this subject and other genealogical-related topics as it reaches a wider audience. The book is a remarkable resource for those researching their Lithuanian families and those who participated in the War as 2,500 individuals are mentioned in the book along with approximately 1,215 soldiers who died and are memorialized.


In fact, there are many things one can learn from the book’s data. I had been doing research on the records of the medical personnel from the Bikur Cholim Hospital in Kaunas, Lithuania, and Dorothy Leivers had pointed out that a number of the staff, whose names I had, were in her listings of those who had joined the Army. I did further research on this and found that some had survived their service and some had not. Many had performed bravely under fire and were outstanding members of their units and had won many military medals



Dr. Chackelis Kibarskis


The photograph above is of Dr. Chackelis Kibarskis, born in 1903, who is found in the book. He was an outstanding doctor at the Bikur Cholim hospital in Kaunas, Lithuania, as well as a remarkable soldier-doctor during the war. Later, he became a leading cardiologist and gave the first electrocardiograph tests in Lithuania.

“JEWS-OFFICERS IN THE POLISH ARMED FORCES 1939-1945”

Another military-related book which identifies 4,879 Polish-Jewish officers who fought against the Nazis was published by Benjamin Meirtchak under the title “Jews-Officers in the Polish Armed Forces 1939-1945”. Over 200,000 Polish Jews fought against Nazi Germany both in Poland and in exile. This book discusses these individuals who heretofore were not previously documented in English.




Benjamin Meirtchak
Tel Aviv, 1999


The author, born in 1917, was the son of Moshe and Rachel Meirtchak of Wloclawek, Poland, and held the office of Chairman of the Association of Jewish War Veterans of Polish Armies in Israel as well as the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Association of Disable Veterans of the Fight against Nazism in Israel and General Secretary of the Association of Polish Jews in Israel. He certainly knew what he was researching and later writing about.

MEMORIAL DATABASE OF JEWISH SOLDIERS, PARTISANS AND WORKERS KILLED IN ACTION DURING NAZISM: A SEARCHABLE DATABASE OF JEWS IN THE RUSSIAN ARMY KILLED AND MISSING IN ACTION DURING THE WAR (1941 - 1945).

A further military resource I found was the Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc.(NY)'s site which contained a database entitled: "Memorial Database of Jewish Soldiers, Partisans and Workers Killed in Action During Nazism: A Searchable Database of Jews in the Russian Army Killed and Missing in Action during the war (1941 - 1945)."

The database is a compilation from a number of various sources by Alexander Zaslavsky and is available in English on the site. It will eventually have over 100,000 names, although there are approximately 205,000 names which have to be translated into English. Zaslavsky’s own site which is in Russian can be found here.

Some examples of what one can find in Zaslavsky’s database on the JGS(NY) site are the following military deaths:


  • BLANKENFELD, Mikhail, Source kplat, Birth/Death 1918-1941.
  • BLANKFELD, Isaj Fedorovich, Source: tsamo, on 818883s, d.1142,1.1180, Birth/Death 1919-1942
FAMILY STORIES – ELI BLANKENFELD

In addition to the above resources, there are the personal stories which were handed down by the surviving participants to their families. As one can see, there were two individuals in the above Memorial Database who were soldiers with a similar family name and its variant who were killed in battle. However, there was a participant with this name who not only served in the military, but survived to tell the tale.

The survivor was Eli Blankenfeld who later became Blankfeld when he moved to Sao Paolo, Brazil, after the War. According to his family, Eli Blankenfeld, was a soldier in the Latvian Division of the Russian Army. More than 1,000 Jews were to be found in the 201st (43rd Guard) and 304th and they served honorably and well.



Eli Blankenfeld After World War II in Riga, Latvia


An outstanding and brave solider, Eli Blankenfeld can be seen in this picture with one of the three medals he earned in the Russian Army. He was the recipient of the Red Star, the Victory Over the Nazi Regime medal and the Medal For Courage. A book about Eli’s exploits will be forthcoming next year which will be published by his son Max.


After the war, Eli was released from active duty and became Secretary of the Department of Prisoners of War in Riga. In this position, he was allowed to grant "mobility permits", and he clandestinely used them as a member of the Bricha, to smuggle Jews out of the Soviet Union to freedom in the West. He was an active participant in the Betar movement whose 1948 Paris Conference he attended.

See more on the Bricha on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum site. Another resource which discusses the role Betar played in the Bricha is to be found in the book: “Escape through Austria: Jewish refugees and the Austrian route to Palestine”, by Thomas Albrich, Ronald W. Zweig

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

An additional resource is for those Germans of Jewish descent who were called Mishlinge, or half-Jews, and who fought with the German military machine during World War II. These soldiers were thought to be as many as 150,000 in number and many reached high rank in the German war machine. The following book gives a revealing panorama of their participation in the war: “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military” by Bryan Mark Rigg.


Side and front photographs of "half-Jew" Anton Mayer, similar to those that often accompanied a Mischling's application for exemption.


The book is based on four hundred interviews with soldiers and their families in addition to substantial archival research. It is a fascinating look at the Jewish participation in the other side of the war.

As an aside, there is also a site devoted to the German Jews who fell in the prior World War I which has a searchable database. It is called “Die Judischen Gefallenen” and is located here. It is particularly of interest to those whose families were in areas held by Germany, but which were nonetheless actually previously or later either Lithuanian or Polish, etc. An example is the soldier Walter Heymann, born May 19, 1882, in Koenigsberg, killed January 8/9, 1915.

CONCLUSION

The topic of military participation by Jews is a large and ever-expanding one as new information is published. The above resources are only the tip of what is available and cover only a few areas which may exist. Genealogists should search the Internet for further resources which may be found under military topics and/or veterans groups.

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