WWII Jewish Bible
U.S. Army Jewish Bible inscribed by the only Jewish Chaplain at the Anzio beachhead during The Battle of Anzio Beach Italy, 1944.
During WWII, roughly 500,000 American Jewish Men and Women served in the armed forces of the United States, which totaled 4.23 percent of all service members in the U.S. armed forces. Amazingly, this was higher than the Jewish percentage of the total U.S. population at that time, which was 3.3 percent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt praised the fighting abilities and service of Jewish men and women. General Douglas MacArthur in one of his speeches said, “I am proud to join in saluting the memory of fallen American heroes of Jewish faith.”
The United States Government published together with the Jewish Welfare Board several small pocket sized volumes specifically for the Jewish Soldiers. Some of their publications included an abridged Jewish Bible, an abridged Siddur and a book of Jewish Thoughts. The small format was intended to allow the young soldiers to carry these volumes with them to the battlefield, and serve as moral support and help uplift the soldiers during the heat of battle.
This copy of the Jewish Bible published for the soldiers had an inscription on the free-end from a Jewish chaplain to a soldier during a crucial battle against the Germans in 1944. The volume was inscribed by the Chaplain Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer (the only Jewish Chaplain at the Anzio beachhead). The inscription is dated May 1944, Anzio beach head Italy.
The Battle of Anzio took place from 22 January – 5 June 1944 (136 days), when this book was inscribed, during which the Allies were finally able to break through the German opposition and take control of Rome, and eventually all of Italy. The 1944 Battle of Anzio stemmed from the Allied attempt to draw German troops off the Gustav Line during Operation Shingle. An expeditionary force commanded by U.S. Major General John P. Lucas secured a beachhead near Anzio and Nettuno on Italy’s west coast, but his divisions were quickly contained by German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring. A succession of attacks resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, though no budge in the stalemate for four months. The Allies finally broke out of the beachhead in late May, facilitating the advance that led to the eventual capture of Rome.
Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer Bio:
Rabbi Kertzer was born in Ontario and received degrees from the Universities of Toronto and Illinois. After studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, he was ordained in 1934.
Rabbi Kertzer left his Rabbinic post to join the army to serve as a Jewish Chaplain in World War II. During World War II Rabbi Kertzer was the only Jewish Chaplain at the Anzio beachhead, earning a bronze star for his services there. He entered Rome shortly after the liberation and spoke at the liberation ceremonies. He also served in Africa as well as Southern and Central France before returning home in 1945.
After the war, he was president of the National Association of Jewish Chaplains of the Armed Forces and chairman of the social action commission of the Synagogue Council of America in the 50’s. From 1949 to 1960, the rabbi was national director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. In the late 50’s, he was awarded the Pro Deo Gold Medal from the International University in Rome for his work in promoting Catholic-Jewish understanding. Rabbi Kertzer was spiritual leader of the Riverdale Temple in the Bronx and the Larchmont (N.Y.) Temple in the 1960’s and 70’s.
His books included ”What Is a Jew?” one of the most widely used volumes in classes for those who wish to convert to Judaism. The book, published in 1953, has had more than 30 printings. Among his other works were ”Tell Me, Rabbi” (1976), ”Today’s American Jew” (1967), ”The Art of Being a Jew” (1962) and ”With an H on My Dogtag” (1947), an account of his service as a chaplain in World War II.
In 1956, Rabbi Kertzer was among a delegation of rabbis who visited the Soviet Union to check on the status of Jews. Upon their return, the group reported, ”What we have seen and heard leads us to the melancholy conclusion that Judaism in Russia is seriously threatened with extinction.’’
He died of a heart ailment in December of 1983 at his retirement home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 73 years old.