The Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen & Women
It was a glorious, sunny autumn day for the AJEX Annual Remembrance Ceremony and Parade at the Cenotaph in London yesterday
The skies were deep blue, and the air was cold and crisp: it couldn’t have been a better setting or a more beautiful day
Since writing about it the other week, I have heard from a number of our descendants who have been very involved with AJEX parades in the past, but I hadn’t ever been to one myself. It was incredibly moving – and perhaps especially so in the context of all this work going on for the Kitchener camp project
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis presided over prayers, including the beautiful Psalm 23, a prayer for the safety of the Armed Forces, and a memorial prayer. Those attending were asked to remember the fallen in war, and those killed in the Holocaust
As the sound of Kaddish arose around us, I couldn’t think of a public ceremony that has been more moving, or more heartfelt
The wreaths were laid as people were enjoined to remember those who served their country and gave their lives for us all
For many descendants reading this page today, this was a ceremony that honoured the war service of our fathers and grandfathers, fighting against the Nationalist Socialists, at a time when others in our families were being slaughtered
We will remember them
Later, as I looked through the memorial book of service, my eye was drawn to a particular piece of text, shown below
I like to think that I have a reasonable level of knowledge about this subject area, but I had no idea that one and a half million Jews fought for the Allied Forces in World War Two. I had never really given any thought to numbers in this context, but that seems huge, given the overall Jewish population at the time, and given that many lived in places where fighting wasn’t an option. It seemed extraordinary
On further reflection today, what seems perhaps more extraordinary is the fact that I didn’t know that number. Did you?
And if I’ve never heard that figure – when I have worked on and off in this area all my life – what are the chances that Joe Public hasn’t a clue that this is a significant part of our history during the war?
Perhaps, like Kitchener, it is time that more on this subject is known – and discussed – and honoured
I have been trying to find out a bit more about these figures. Yad Vashem has something here, for example: http://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/combat-resistance/jewish-soldiers
There is also an article by Tamar Ketko, ‘Not victims: The image of Jews in World War Two’, published by Taylor & Francis. I can’t access it, because it’s behind a rather expensive pay wall, but for anyone who can, the abstract suggests it addresses precisely this issue of perceptions versus reality.
A nice write-up about the AJEX parade in Jewish News on 20th November 2017: http://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/hundreds-of-jewish-ex-servicemen-pay-respects-to-the-fallen-at-ajex-parade/