In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, PBS will air on Wednesday the eye-opening documentary “GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II.” It’s the amazing story of Jewish men and women who went to war to fight the horrors of Hitler and the Nazis while also having to contend with anti-Semitism among their fellow servicemen and women.
More than a half million Jewish men and 10,000 Jewish women joined the armed forces during World War II. To them it was a “war of obligation.” They needed to fight against the Nazi regime and the hate that was spreading over the world.
The film has over 25 interviews with veterans and historians who describe their experiences. These include several celebrities like Mel Brooks, Henry Kissinger and Carl Reiner.
“While Jewish Americans’ relationship to the Holocaust has been covered extensively, the extraordinary experiences of these servicemen and women bring the well-known saga of World War II to life in a new way and with a uniquely Jewish perspective,” said Lisa Ades.
Viewers will be heartbroken to hear the stories of American soldiers who were shunned by their fellow soldiers just because they were Jewish. But to the Jewish men serving, they considered themselves Americans first, then soldiers, then Jews. They were fighting for their country just like the Catholic and the Protestant soldiers. They also were fighting to free their fellow Jews from Hitler’s death camps. Their stories are inspiring, courageous and honorable. They felt they needed to prove not only their bravery to themselves, but also to the others on the battlefield.
Once the death camps were liberated, the scenes of those still hanging onto life as well as the millions of dead bodies were heart wrenching not only for the Jews but also for the gentiles. General Dwight Eisenhower wanted all the soldiers in the areas to witness the atrocities for themselves to show them what they were fighting against.
“We’re honored to bring these incredible tales of bravery and perseverance to a national audience as part of WNET’s longstanding commitment to spotlighting veterans’ stories of service,” said Lesley Norman, WNET executive producer.
May marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. This film is a stark reminder of why Israel needed to be born. Not only were Jewish citizens of Europe slaughtered, but the Germans also murdered American Jewish POWs. Six million Jewish lives perished under the Nazi regime.
This documentary looks at how the war affected those involved in the tragic events. The horrors of the war surfaced in the works of American authors who were WWII veterans, like Herman Wouk, J.D. Salinger and Leon Uris, among others.
Yes, there are scenes of horror, but that is what war is -- horror. That said, this is a film that should be seen by the entire family. It is an important lesson for every generation. It is not only a lesson of war, but also a lesson of hate and prejudice.
“GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II” premieres Wednesday on PBS.