Coming to America
Jewish immigrants came in masses from Eastern Europe from the 1880s to the beginning of WWI. Many came to escape pogroms. Posters like this were designed to appeal to these new Americans. Written in Yiddish, it says: "Food will win the war. You came here seeking freedom, now you must help to preserve it. Wheat is needed for the allies. Waste nothing."
LIFE Photo Collection
With the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II, many American Jews changed their allegiance in the World War. The Russian state was no longer the enemy. American Jews became ready to sign on to fight Germany.
For many immigrants from Russia, escaping the draft had been a primary reason to leave. Conscription terms were long and brutal in Russia. In America, almost all of the required Jewish immigrants registered for the draft. Some sought exemptions, but many actively sought to serve their country in the military. An estimated 20% of the 225,000 Jews in service were volunteers.
Harry Dodek was an immigrant from Berdichev, Ukraine. He was drafted and served in France.
Jewish Welfare Board
Initially called the Jewish Board for Welfare Work, the Jewish Welfare was created to care for the religious needs of approximately 225,00 Jewish American serving in the military. Many Jewish immigrants had come to New York. They were trained across the country with Camp Upton as the largest training center. Many were trained before becoming citizens.
The "Melting Pot" 77th Division was known for its New York immigrants. They selected the Statue of Liberty as the division's emblem. About a quarter of the division was Jewish.
Approximately 225,000 Jewish Americans served in World War I. An estimated one-third of them were foreign born. During the War, Congress passed legislation allowing for the expedited naturalization of foreign-born members of the military.
Each individual immigrant soldier had their own story to tell and their own unique experiences.
Honorable Discharge of Jacob Melnick (1920-03-09)National Museum of American Jewish Military History
Discharge papers include the birthplace of the service member. Melnick was born in Lomza, Poland. He was wounded at Soissons in 1918.
Abraham KrotoshinskyNational Museum of American Jewish Military History
Savior of the Lost Battalion. Co. K, 307th Infantry Regiment
Abraham Krotoshinsky: "I ran away from Russia and came to America to escape military service. I hated Russia... particularly its cruel and inhuman treatment of Jews."
Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to Private Abraham Krotoshinsky for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company K, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division, A.E.F., in Argonne Forest, France, 6 October 1918. Krotoshinsky was on liaison duty with a battalion of the 308th Infantry which was surrounded by the enemy north of the Forest De la Buinonne in the Argonne Forest. After patrols and runners had been repeatedly shot down while attempting to carry back word of the battalion's position and condition, Private Krotoshinsky volunteered for the mission and successfully accomplished it.
Sam Dreben (1918)National Museum of American Jewish Military History
Sam Dreben, known as "The Fighting Jew," came to the U.S. from Russia at age 18. He served in the Philippine–American War, Boxer Rebellion, Mexican Revolution and World War I.
Dreben discovered German troops going to the support of a machine-gun nest near where the French and American lines joined. Dreben, with the aid of about 30 men, rushed the German positions, captured four machine-guns, killed more than 40 of the enemy and returned to our lines without the loss of a single man.
Father Bencin and son Jay served together in Europe in the 101st Infantry of the 26th “Yankee” Division. Bencin was a veteran of the Russian Army. He acted as a Jewish chaplain with AEF forces in Europe.
Harry Dodek had come to the U.S. from Ukraine as a 5-year old in 1897. He was living in Washington, D.C. when drafted.
"Battle of Cognac" Note (1919-04-06)National Museum of American Jewish Military History
Dodek was clearly one of the boys. His fellow enlisted men presented him this humorous citation from "General Henessey" for bravery at the "Battle of Cognac."
Maxwell Andelman Thinking of Parents (1919)National Museum of American Jewish Military History
This superimposed photo shows Russian immigrant Maxwell Andelman and his parents. It also reveals the assimilating effect of service in the American military.
Louis A. Kline was an immigrant from Hungary killed in the war. He's buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. For the many more Jewish American immigrant soldiers who did make it back home, they returned feeling even more American than before. The Americanization process would continue in their civilian lives as they made progress in American society. Though not always a smooth road, the role of American Jews in the Great War played an important part in that progress.
Created by Michael Rugel, National Museum of American Jewish Military History.