Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jewish War Memorials

In honor of Memorial Day in the United States, Sam Gruber has posted pictures on his blog of war memorials to Jewish soldiers who fell while fighting for their (varied) countries in Europe....

Like Sam, I, too, have long been intrigued by these memorials and the stories that they tell -- at least the stories that they hint at. When you see a memorial in a Jewish cemetery in Germany, honoring Jewish soldiers who died fighting for Germany in World War I, a conflict that ended just 20 years before Kristallnacht and the start of the Holocaust, it does make you think.

Last week, in Bielsko-Biala, Poland, I photographed the World War I memorial in the town's Jewish cemetery.

Bielsko-Biala, 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Israeli political scientist Sholmo Avinieri, who was born in Bielsko-Biala and who has restored the tombs of his grandparents in the cemetery, told me that the list of names included those of three Muslims -- two Bosniak Austrian soldiers (Dedo Karahodic and Bego Turonowicz), and one Muslim Russian prisoner of war (Chabibulin Chatybarachman) who died in an adjacent POW camp. "Who would bury them if not the Jews?" Shlomo commented.

One of the most poignant such War Memorials is in the wonderful, and historic, Jewish cemetery in Mikulov, Czech Republic -- it was founded in the 15th century and has about 4,000 tombstones. The oldest legible dates from 1605.

The World War I memorial honors 25 Jewish soldiers. "Oh, how the heroes have been cut down!" it reads, in German. The names of the dead include Moriz Jung, Max Fedsberger, Heinrich Deutsch, Hans Kohn, Emil Spitzer...

Mikulov. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Mikulov. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

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