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GI Jews - Jewish Americans In World War II

Airs Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 10 p.m. & Sunday, April 15 at 12:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Group around Jewish chaplain's flag, Written on back:

Credit: Courtesy of National Museum of American Jewish Military History

Above: Group around Jewish chaplain's flag, Written on back: "end of war for 104th Inf. 1945."

Features original interviews with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Henry Kissinger, the late Bea Cohen and others

“GI Jews: Jewish Americans In World War II” is a feature-length documentary spotlighting the little-known story of the more than 550,000 Jewish Americans who served their country in all branches of the military during World War II.

Filmmaker Lisa Ades brings the struggles of these brave men and women to life through first-hand experiences that reveal their fight against fascism, as well as their more personal war to liberate loved ones in Europe.

After years of battle, these pioneering servicemen and women emerged transformed: more profoundly American, more deeply Jewish, and determined to continue the fight for equality and tolerance at home.

The film premieres nationwide on Wednesday, April 11 at 10 p.m. on PBS in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 12).

GI Jews - Jewish Americans In World War II: Trailer

"Gi Jews: Jewish Americans In World War II" tells the story of the 550,000 Jewish American men and women who fought in World War II. In their own words, veterans both famous (director Mel Brooks, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger) and unknown share their war experiences: how they fought for their nation and people, struggled with anti-Semitism within their ranks, and emerged transformed.

The film features more than 25 original interviews with veterans who speak candidly about the impact of their wartime experiences:

  • Mel Brooks, who served in the Army
  • Henry Kissinger, a refugee from Nazi Germany who was drafted into the Army
  • Carl Reiner, the son of Jewish immigrants, who traveled throughout the Pacific theater with the Special Services Entertainment Unit
  • The late Bea Cohen, who was a member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in England
  • Max Fuchs, who served in the 1st infantry division and was the cantor at a Jewish service in Aachen, Germany, broadcast by NBC in 1944.

Our Lives Depended on Each Other

"In combat together, our lives depended on each other." Jewish veterans and experts talk about preconceptions about Jews in the World War II era and the prevailing value of character over religion in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“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 Ades.

Carl Reiner Remembers his Sweetheart

Carl Reiner - Sweethearts from Turquoise Films on Vimeo.

Legendary comedian and writer Carl Reiner talks about how he stayed in touch with his wife during World War II in this touching clip from our interview!

In addition to battling the enemy, Jewish Americans fought a second, more private battle against anti-Semitism within the ranks.

They sought to observe their religion far from home while enduring slurs and even violence from their fellow servicemen, and often felt forced to prove their courage and patriotism.

Photo credit: Courtesy of National Museum of American Jewish Military History

Men at Rosh Hashana Eve services, 329th Inf. between Beaugency and Orleans, France. 1944.

Fighting together in the trenches, at sea, in the air and in war offices, American servicemen and women forged deep friendships across religious lines, and learned to set aside their differences for the greater good.

The Jewish GI Service Broadcast Worldwide from Germany

The first German city to fall to American forces was Aachen. There, a service was held by Jewish GIs that was broadcast in Germany and around the world by the National Broadcasting Company. Max Fuchs, an infantryman, volunteered to sing as the cantor, and he recalls his experience that day as they gathered to remember the fallen.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, America’s Jewish community was now the largest in the world, and by the end of World War II, the United States had begun to embrace its Jewish citizens as true Americans.

With their new responsibility as international leaders, many Jews became passionate about postwar culture and politics, fighting for justice and social change.

Fighting for Civil Rights – Sid Shanken

GI JEWS: Fighting for Civil Rights from Turquoise Films on Vimeo.

In this video, GI JEWS interviewee, veteran Sid Shanken talks about why he fought for civil rights in the U.S., and his work, including the Selma march.

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.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Mark S. Zaid

Rabbi Chaplain David Max Eichhorn holding a torah saved in France and performing a Jewish service in the Zeppelin Stadium in Nuremburg, Germany. April, 1945.

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

The film will be available to stream on demand the following day.

The film is also available for purchase on DVD from Shop PBS.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION:

"GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II" is on Facebook, and you can follow @gijewsfilm on Twitter. #GIJewsPBS

CREDITS:

A production of Turquoise Films, Inc. in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. Directed and produced by Lisa Ades, produced by Amanda Bonavita and written by Maia Harris. For WNET, Lesley Norman, executive producer; Ben Phelps, coordinating producer; and Stephen Segaller, executive in charge.

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