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September 22, 1995 - Image 57

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-09-22

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For A

Jewish war
vets recall
High Holidays
in the war zone.


am's Horn

hey were gentile farm
boys from Haystack,
U.S.A. Jack Schwartz,
then in his early 20s, was a
city-bred Jew from Brook-
lyn. It was 1942. Wartime.
Mr. Schwartz found him-
self in Buffalo, N.Y., at the
Curtis-Wright Air Force
Base. He and his newfound
buddies were assigned to
top-secret mechanical work
on bombers.
"They were all gung-ho
for the airplane industry," Mr.
Schwartz, now of Farmington Hills,
Rosh Hashanah wasn't exactly
highlighted on U.S. military calen-
dars, and in 1942 the Jewish holy
day happened to coincide with a
mission that would take the Buf-
falo boys on a fateful trip across the
Atlantic Ocean to England.
However, a flu-bug Mr. Schwartz
had been fighting developed into
pneumonia, holding him back. He

Top: Jack Schwartz, past state commander
of the Jewish War Veterans, never missed a
Rosh Hashanah in wartime.

Above: Jack Schwartz in his
U.S. Air Force uniform.

spent a recuperative Rosh
Hashanah attending services con-
ducted by Jewish residents living
nearby. Townspeople brought food
and wine for Jewish military per-
sonnel restricted to base.
Shortly after the new year began,
bad news struck. The plane that had
departed earlier in the day was shot
down as it approached the shores of
Dover. Everyone died.
Tragedies of war didn't wipe out
Mr. Schwartz's faith in God. Raised
in an Orthodox home, he continued
to abide by tradition, even in the
least likely of circumstances.
"We observed as much as we
could," says Mr. Schwartz, 77.
"There was always one of us who
would lead the service.
"I davened every day. Do you
know how hard that is? Laying tefill-
in while living on an air force base?"
he says. "When the sergeant came
around in the morning and had us
count down, my bunk mate — this
young fellow from Kentucky who
never knew a Jew in his life —
would belt: 'Pvt. Schwartz is pray-
ing. Sir!' And the sergeant would
keep walking by.
"On the High Holidays, we had
no shofar, so one of the guys used an
old, beat-up trumpet, the one they
used to blow into the loudspeaker
to wake up the camp."
Other Jewish war veterans in
metro Detroit tell stories of fighting
several battles at the same time: for
their country, for their spirit and for
their lives.
They say the U.S. military went
out of its way to accommodate their
religious needs. Chaplains received
miniature Siddurim. High-ranking
officials permitted Jews time to cel-
ebrate, however modestly — even
on open battlefields.
Before Tom Tannis went over-
seas, he completed basic training in
Dallas, where local Jews, steeped in
Southern hospitality, invited the
boys to synagogue and into their
homes for Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Later, Mr. Tannis served in Ger-
many and was captured by the
Nazis. If ever a situation called for
an identity crisis, this was it. Mr.
Tannis threw away his dog tag and
told the soldiers he was Polish.
"That saved my life," he says.
Ely Katz, 78, lives in Southfield.
During the war he was stationed for
a time on Add II, an island near
Alaska. There was little he could do
to observe Rosh Hashanah during
his years in the service, but he tried.
In particular, he recalls a Japanese
air attack, and the snow. And the
cold. And the fact that, during High
Holidays, he missed home.

"Had I been back in Detroit," Mr.
Katz says, "I would have gone with
my mother to the synagogue on
Woodrow Wilson and Taylor. While
I was in the service, it was pretty
rough. To be very honest, I haven't
given it much thought during the
50 years that I've been home."
War is hell, the vets says. The
adage hasn't hardened into a cliche.
For many of them, the horror was
lessened by religious observance.
"It was very simple," Mr.
Schwartz recalls. "We felt we had a
need to observe. We never knew
where we would be going next. I had
to believe in something.
`The ones sent into combat would
say the Sh'ma, even if they didn't
know what it meant. They would
say it anyway. They were talking to
Iry Marshall of Farmington Hills
was stationed outside of Tokyo when
World War II ended Aug. 14, 1945.
Troops reorganized and deactivat-
ed. Mr. Marshall was switched to a
different part of the first calvary di-
"As a result, I did not write my
mother for a few weeks," he says.
Back in Detroit, his worried
mother ran into the wife of Congre-
gation Shaarey Zedek Rabbi Mor-
ris Adler. Mrs. Marshall expressed
her concern to the rebbetzin, and
Mrs. Adler promised to send a let-
ter of inquiry to the rabbi who also
was stationed in Japan. .
It was the eve of Rosh Hashanah,
a Friday night. Young Mr. Marshall
received orders to immediately re-
port in class-A uniform to the head-
quarters of Gen. Douglas
"When you're asked to appear at
headquarters, you'd better be there,"
he says.
An officer met him at the door and
directed him upstairs, then down
a long hall. Mr. Marshall still
didn't know why he was summoned.
He knocked on the door of Room
"Come in," answered a gruff voice.
Mr. Marshall opened the door.
"There was an officer standing
there, but his back was turned to
me," he recalls. "Then the rabbi
turned around and said, 'You
couldn't write your mother?"
Mr. Marshall and Rabbi Adler
celebrated their first post-war Rosh
Hashanah together that night.
Many of the men in the chapel —
directly across the street from the
Emperor's Palace —were overcome
with emotion and cried.
"It was peace," Mr. Marshall says.
"I had a chance of going home. I
didn't figure I was going to make it
through themar." ❑







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