Restoring the Graves of American Jews Who Died Fighting in World War II and Were Buried as Christian

February 17, 2020 | Shashank Bengali
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The U.S. military cemetery in Manila, with 17,058 graves, is the largest burial ground for Americans who lost their lives in World War II. In a ceremony held on February 12, five of the graveyard’s thousands of crosses were replaced with Stars of David, thanks to an effort spearheaded by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, whose father served as a military chaplain during the war. Shashank Bengali describes the project:

Through meticulous genealogical research, Schacter and his colleagues have succeeded in changing the grave markers of eleven Jewish soldiers buried under crosses, and they believe there are hundreds more.

About 550,000 Jewish Americans fought in World War II, making up 3.4 percent of the 16 million Americans who served—roughly equal to the Jewish share of the U.S. population at the time. [But] gravestone errors were common. Middle initials, spellings, even dates of death were sometimes recorded incorrectly by military personnel tasked with gathering the bodies of more than 400,000 dead Americans.

There were added complications for Jewish burials. Some Jews who fought in Europe discarded the dog tags that included their religious affiliation—or scratched out the “H,” code for Hebrew—in case they were captured by Nazis. When a Jewish soldier perished, the Army’s efforts to communicate with relatives, many of them recent immigrants, were sometimes stymied by language barriers.

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