There’s hardly a better way to commemorate Yom Ha’Shoah than to contemplate the sacrifice of more than half a million American Jewish men and women who enlisted to fight Hitler, often facing significant prejudice from their brothers and sisters in arms. That’s the subject of GI Jews, a documentary airing tonight on PBS.
At the core of Lisa Ades’s engaging documentary are interviews with Jewish veterans. Some, like Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks and Henry Kissinger, are well-known, but many others are not, and, being unaccustomed to appearing on camera, deliver emotional and deeply moving monologues as they recall the events that shaped their lives. To many, the war’s most harrowing challenge wasn’t subduing the Nazi enemy but overcoming the anti-Semitism of their fellow American troops. One former soldier, for example, recalls a strong friendship with a bunkmate, cut short when he revealed his faith. And Reiner, in a funny bit still tinged with bitterness, tells a story of a fellow G.I. from Louisiana who had a hard time believing Reiner didn’t know a certain Goldfarb from Shreveport, sure that all Jews everywhere knew each other well.
Back home after the war, the documentary reminds us, these brave men and women continued the fight, combatting bigotry in all its forms and helping shape the face of modern America. Below is a snippet from the documentary, that very much deserves to be watched in full:
GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II airs tonight at 10 p.m. Check local listings.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.