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American Jewish Committee - Office of Jewish War Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-9

Scope and Content Note

Box 1 contains mainly inter-office correspondence of the AJC concerning the project. Box 22 contains three typewritten manuscripts, bound together, and dated 15 June 1921. The other 20 boxes contain questionnaires. Boxes 2-17 contain the responses of Jews; Boxes 18-21, of non-Jews.

There were two versions of the questionnaires: two and four pages in length. The longer one was typically sent to officers and those thought to have been wounded or to the next-of-kin of those killed in service. The two-page form was send to non-commissioned servicemen.

Some four page questionnaires were printed with a heading: "Commissioner Officer," "Casualties," or "Citations"; some of the short form were printed with a city name, e.g. "Cleveland," but this is not always the case for either form.

In spite of the difference in length, both questionnaires asked for the same information: name and address, parents' place of birth, education, pre-military career, details of service—how entered, where served, promotions and awards—and the names and addresses of Jews whom the respondent knew in service so that they might be contacted.

The questionnaires accompanied a cover letter, which explained the data collection mission of the OJWR and asked that the form be completed and returned. A postscript in the letter was addressed to non-Jews asking them to return the form indicating if they were not Jewish, so that OJWR's records could be corrected and follow up inquiry prevented. Boxes 18 through 21 contained the replies of non-Jews.

Both the cover letter and the questionnaire itself asked that copies of official documents such as citations or casualty records be provided whenever possible and also solicited contemporaneous material documenting the service experience, like letters, photos, diaries, and news clippings. Some furnished this material and it is included with the questionnaire in the file. Attached to some questionnaires are letters, some of which are written on letterhead stationery.

The names of Casualties came from War Department records; other names came from a variety of sources explained in the historical note, or as a referral from another questionnaire. In late 1919, based upon surname, the OJWR sent a questionnaire to every serving staff officer that it felt might be Jewish.

Among the notables completing questionnaires are Herbert H. Lehman, future New York State governor and senator; the brothers Joel E. and Arthur B. Spingarn, co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Jacob Rader Marcus, future historian of American Judaism; two members of long established Jewish families, Dr. Myer Solis-Cohen of Philadelphia, and Samuel W. Augenstein, of Washington, D.C.; and Rabbi Elkan Voorsanger, chief Jewish chaplain in World War I, and later an officer of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

A sample of a cover letter, a 2-page, and a 4-page questionnaire are included in the paper finding aid.

Dates

  • undated, 1918-1921, 1962

Language of Materials

The collection is in English and Spanish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Historical Note

The United States Congress declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917. At the 11th Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on 11 November 1917, the first held after the declaration of war, members discussed "The matter of collecting complete and accurate statistics of Jews in the military and naval service of the United States..." and resolved that "...the Bureau of Statistics be directed to make every effort to secure data of this character."

The longstanding concern of Jewish leadership to document and publicize the patriotic contribution of Jews in military service to the United States had resulted in several studies of Jewish participation in past wars: The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen (Simon Wolf,1895), covering the American Revolution through the Civil War; "Preliminary List of Jews Serving in the Spanish American War", (American Jewish Year Book, 5661 (1900-1901); "Jews in the United States Army and Navy", (American Jewish Year Book, 5677 [1916-1917]).

The AJC's project was intended to document Jewish participation in the U.S. armed forces contemporaneously with American participation in World War I.

At the 12th Annual Meeting, 10 November 1918, the Executive Committee of the AJC reported that, during its meeting on 9 December 1917, it had directed the AJC's Bureau of Statistics to undertake the task of data collection. The Committee authorized the Bureau of Statistics to open an office in Washington, D.C. to gather information directly from federal records, and appointed Julian Leavitt as its director. With the war underway, government offices had little time to spare and the Bureau's Washington office closed in June, 1918, unable to gain access to military service records. Since military records did not contain religious affilation, the Washington liaison had been undertaken only to gather service details; in order to identify Jews serving in the military, the Bureau turned to Jewish organizations for assistance. The Executive Committee's report mentioned rabbis, national Jewish organizations, and the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB), founded in 1917 to provide for the social and religious welfare of Jews serving in American armed force, as particularly helpful in supplying names of Jewish servicemen.

The 12th Annual Report of the AJC, issued in 1919 for the year 1918, contains the First Report of the Office of Jewish War Records. The AJC also issued the reports separately as a pamphlet, The War Record of American Jews, First Report of the Office of War Records, January 1, 1919.

The First Report documented the creation of 100,000 records of individuals identified as Jews and estimated that a total of 150,000 to 200,000 Jews had served in the American armed forces. The report emphasized that the percentage of Jews serving in the military exceeded their percentage of the U.S. population, especially in the combat arms. Leavitt concluded that "The Jews of America have contributed their full quota to the winning of the war, and a generous margin beyond their quota; that they have enlisted cheerfully, fought gallantly and died bravely for the United States."

The 13th Annual Report of the AJC contained the Second Report of the OJWR, October 19, 1919, less than a month before the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1919. The number of records of individuals collected had increased to 175,000, of which 150,000 were unduplicated. Quoting from the report: "... The present figures tend to strongly confirm the estimate...that the Jews of America have probably contributed, numerically, from thirty-three to fifty per cent more than their quota."

The Second Report estimated that if funds were available to complete the full project, the results of which when published, it would comprise three volumes of text and analysis and 12-15 volumes of individual war records. Data collection for the full report was to include community surveys, systematic collection of the war records of civilians who had served in war-related activities, and verification of service data by access to military records.

The names and service data of individual Jewish servicemen were obtained from various sources: the JWB; national Jewish organizations; local congregations; fraternal organizations; labor unions; Zionist organizations; newspaper reports; information solicited from servicemen, their families and relatives; and War Department and Draft Board lists.

In addition to the collection of basic service data on Jews in the military from these sources, the OJWR sent out 16,000 detailed questionnaires to Jews whom it believed had served as Commissioned Officers, and to servicemen, both Officer and the Ranks, or their next of kin, whom it believed had been wounded or killed, and/or were cited for honors. As of the Second Report, 5000 replies had been received.

The 14th Annual Report of the AJC contained the Third Report of the OJWR, dated 14 November 1920. The Third Report was brief, anticipating the publication of a Fourth and final report, "now in preparation."

The Third Report increased the total number of Jews who had served from 200,000 to 225,000. The Report also confirmed a 4 per cent Jewish participation in military service in comparison to the 3 per cent Jewish population of the U.S., and a volunteer rate of 20 per cent, "...unexcelled, as far as known, by any other element of the American population." The OJWR estimated that approximately 2,800 Jews had died in service.

No further report was ever made. The OJWR closed on 31 July 1921. Leavitt had remained director throughout its existence.

Extent

11 Linear Feet (22 manuscript boxes, 1 oversized OS2 folder)

Abstract

This collection consists of the American Jewish Committee's project to document Jewish participation in the United States Armed Forces during World War I. The bulk of the material consists of questionnaires the AJC sent to servicemen to determine Jewish identity, which contain information on personal identification and details of military service. Responses to the questionnaire come from both Jews and non-Jews. In addition, the collection contains office papers concerning the project and a ledger of manuscripts documenting the distribution of records collected by the Office of Jewish War Records, as well as lists Jews who died or were given military honors.

Arrangement

The boxes of questionnaires are arranged alphabetically: within city, for non-officers; within service, for officers; casualties are separated from non-causalities for both categories. Boxes 2-17 (excluding Box 5) contain the responses of Jews; Boxes 18-21, of non-Jews.

Collection is organized into four series:
  1. Series I: Office Correspondence and Reports
  2. Series II: Questionnaires: Jews
  3. Series III: Questionnaires: Non-Jews
  4. Series IV: Questionnaires: Jews and Non-Jews, Non-Tabulated Data
  5. Series V: World War I Record of American Jews: Statistics and List of Names

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Custodial History

In the 14th Annual Report of the AJC issued in 1921, the Executive Committee stated that plans had been adopted for concluding the work of the OJWR by 1 February 1921 after which a comprehensive report would be issued. The data collected by the OJWR would be "confided to the custody of the American Jewish Historical Commission."

In the 15th Annual Report, the AJC Executive Committee reported that the OJWR had closed on 31 July 1921. Having consulted a statistician whose opinion was that further efforts to collect and process data would not bring results commensurate with the cost, the Executive Committee and the JWB agreed to discontinue the efforts of the OJWR. The Executive Committee further reported that a complete report based upon the data already collected was to be prepared by Leavitt. Also it reported that arrangements would be made to store the records so that, "They will be easily accessible whenever it is found useful to consult them ...." No mention of a storage site, the AJHS, or any custodian was made. No subsequent annual report mentioned the OJWR or its data.

On 19 October 1921 Harry Schneiderman, Assistant Secretary of the AJC, wrote to Dr. Cyrus Adler - at that time, Chairman of both the JWB and of the Executive Committee of the AJC, and President of the AJHS - asking him to decide the ownership of the records collected by the OJWR and consequently which organization would pay for storing and providing access to the records. The letter informed Adler that the AJC was in the process of "storing the records ... in the vault of the Montefiore Home..." Both Schneiderman and his counterpart at the JWB disclaimed ownership.

A 1950 entry in the accession register of the AJHS records the donation of the questionnaires by the AJC "per Morris Fine," assistant editor and then editor from the early 1940s through to the late 1960s of the American Jewish Year Book, which was published by the AJC. In March 2000, he stated he could not recall the donation nor remember anything about the questionnaires.

The questionnaires have remained in the AJHS archives since their transfer in 1950.

Acquisition

The Society acquired the records by gift from the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

References

  1. The American Jewish Committee Eleventh Annual Report. New York: 1918, 32.
  2. Leavitt, Julian, "The Collection of Jewish War Statistics," The American Jewish Year Book 5679, September 7, 1918 to September 24, 1919. Edited by Samson D. Oppenheim. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1918, 103.
  3. The American Jewish Committee Twelfth Annual Report. New York: 1919, 14-15, 79.
  4. The War Report of American Jews: The First Report of the Office of War Records, American Jewish Committee, January 1, 1919
  5. The American Jewish Committee Thirteenth Report. New York: 1920, 49, 51, 53-57, 73-74.
  6. The American Jewish Committee Fourteenth Annual Report. New York: 1921, 56.
  7. The JWB "had provided most of the funds." In fact, the JWB had contributed $100,000 to the expenses of the OJWR through 1 September 1920. The Jewish Welfare Board, Final Report of War Emergency Activities. New York: 1920, 35, 85.
  8. The American Jewish Committee Fifteenth Annual Report. New York: 1922, 35-36.
  9. Copy of a letter from Schneiderman to Dr. Alder in the AJC file at the AJHS. Original at AJC.
  10. AJHS accession register. A copy of the 1950 page from the accession register is in the AJC file.
  11. A letter from David Solomon to Fine March 1, 2000 is in the AJC file. Fine has written his reply on the letter; also written on the letter is a memo from Solomon recording his telephone conversation with Fine on March 19.
Title
Guide to the Records of the American Jewish Committee - Office of Jewish War Records, undated, 1918-1921, 1962 I-9
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by David Solomon
Date
© November 2001.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from AJC-OJWR02.xml

Revision Statements

  • Oct. 22, 2002.: New stylesheet AJHSsaxon_ead07.xsl.
  • April 2005.: Converted to EAD 2002. Revised as AJC-OJWR02.xml by Tanya Elder. Removed deprecated elements and attributes, updated repository codes, added language codes, changed doctype declaration, removed boilerplate entities, etc.
  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.
  • 20130809: Added link to database
  • May, December 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States