01 December 2009

Military Jews: 39th Royal Fusileers

My grandfather, Sidney (born Szja) Fink (left) lied about his age and joined the 39th Royal Fusileers, which fought with the British against the Turks in Palestine in 1918.

Steve Lasky of the online Museum of Family History has a link to a great 1919 article from the New York Daily Tribune about the experiences of Reuben Bushmitz, who perhaps knew my grandfather as they served in the same battalion.

Grampa's experiences are displayed at Bet Hagdudim in Avichail, near Netanya, Israel, where there is a museum dedicated to these young men. Some of them did not return to the US after their service, settled in Avichail, and created the museum.

This story about Bushmitz answered many questions I had about Grampa's experiences.

One story Grampa told was that during one battle, a voice called out from across the trenches - from the Turkish side - asking "Szja, is that you? This is your cousin David." I never understood how that was possible. Two Jews from Suchostaw in Galizia (Austro-Hungary at the time), each fighting on opposite sides?

Bushmitz's story explained about Jews impressed by the Turks to fight in their army. So Grampa's cousin, who had obviously arrived much earlier in Palestine, was in the Turkish army and fighting the Brits.

Here's just a bit of the long story:

From the East Side to Jerusalem and Return: Wearers of the "Mogen David" Enlisted in a British Contingent to Fight the Turks

Reuben Bushmitz, of Flat No. 9, 135 Eldridge Street, late private of the 39th Battalion, Royal Fusileers, is going back to cutting knee pants next week. He expects to be a bit rusty at it, because he has been crusading in the Holy Land and against the Turk for considerably more than a year.

Part of the crusading, the last part, wasn’t so interesting, he said. It consisted merely of feeding and exercising a compound full of formerly Terrible Turks who had run themselves ragged for several months up to October, 1918.

More than three hundred crusaders like ex-Private Bushmitz have come back from Turk-taming in the last ten days and will resume knee plants cutting, or delicatessen store keeping, or shipping clerking, just where they left off when some voice which had been silent a couple of thousand years or more called to them to come and free the Holy Land.

The voice was penetrating. It was heard even above the sweatiest of sweatshop machines, and above the assorted whimperings of a dozen children of the noisiest family which ever crowded into three rooms. Young men whose shoulders were on a lateral line with the backs of their heads and whose only exercise had been some footwork on a pants sewing machine, got up, straightened their spines in a tentative style and went out to fight.

The British Canadian Recruiting Mission, then situated at 220 West Forty-second Street, became the objective for these young men who wanted to win back from the infidel the land sacred to Abraham and Isaac and David. ...
Do read the entire story.

Thank you, Steve, for this story which explains so much.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:22 AM

    For those interested in the Jewish Legion I recommend the book "God, Guns and Israel - Britain the Jews and the 1st World War". It has detailed descriptions of the formation of the 38th/39th and 40th Royal Fusileers as well as information no their training and wartime action. My GGF was in the 38th and also lied about his age to get there.