Skip to main content

National Jewish Welfare Board Bureau of War Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-52

Scope and Content Note

The National Jewish Welfare Board - Bureau of War Records consists of 272 legal-sized document boxes, 320 index card boxes, one medium oversized document box, and one MAP folder.

The document boxes contain approximately 85,000 individual service record files for Jewish soldiers and sailors who served in World War II, as well as administrative records, correspondence, and subject files. The individual service record files (Series II) contain information about Jewish soldiers and sailors who served during World War II; the information may include the soldier's name, address, age, civilian occupation, next of kin, military service branch, serial number, rank, theater of operation, awards and casualties. These files contain supporting documentation culled from newspapers, telephone conversations, interviews, and correspondence exchanged among BWR staff and volunteers, service personnel and their family, and representatives of the United States Armed Forces. The files are a rich resource for genealogists seeking information about relatives who won awards, were wounded, taken prisoner, or died during the war.

The subject files (Series III) provide other avenues for genealogists and social science researchers to access records for individuals or groups who fall into such occupational categories as medical practitioners or farm workers.

The BWR maintained correspondence files for many permanent staff, as well as members of the advisory board and the technical committee on statistics. The Bureau also preserved correspondence with representatives of local records committees, religious and community service organizations, publishers, alumni associations, and government agencies. It retained copies of published and printed materials including reports, studies, lists, guides, forms, and holiday greeting cards. Among the vital records contained in Series I and III are charts depicting the BWR administrative hierarchy; personnel and staff records; lists of volunteers and field representatives employed throughout the United States; minutes of meetings; annual, quarterly, and special reports; budget materials; and policies and procedures implemented during the war records program.

Some of the topics addressed in the subject files include public relations and censorship, grave registration, multiple sons who died during the war, cooperation with the IBM corporation, and the rationales for collecting records for Jewish soldiers and sailors.

The index card boxes contained approximately 320,000 cards indexing service record files that were collected by the BWR, and the Greater New York War Records Committee. The largest portion of the index cards, the master card index (Series VI), includes cards which identify individual service records for Jewish service personnel who won awards or suffered casualties (Series IV).

The Index cards in Series VII and VIII do not necessarily point to individual service records contained in this collection. These non-surrogate cards do provide some vital information about Jewish and non-Jewish service personnel. However, this information may not have been authenticated by the BWR.

Dates

  • undated, 1940-1969
  • Majority of material found within 1943 - 1946

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is predominantly in English, with some French, German, and Hebrew.

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 National Jewish Welfare Board and its affiliated member organizations established the Bureau of War Records for the purpose of collecting and compiling information about Jewish Americans who served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II. The origins of the Bureau of War Records can be traced back to the experience of the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) in providing religious and social services to American Jewish soldiers and sailors during and after World War I (see Records of the National Jewish Welfare Board, I-337), and to the American Jewish Committee, whose Office of War Records documented the contributions of Jewish servicemen to the United States military during World War I (see American Jewish Committee, Office of War Records, I-9). During the interwar years, the JWB - Army-Navy Division worked with federated Jewish philanthropic and cultural centers to deliver services to Jewish soldiers located at military bases throughout the United States and abroad.

As the United States mobilized for defensive military actions in the 1939-1941 period, the JWB created new bureaus and committees to deal with aspects of social services effecting American Jewish servicemen and women. One such service involved the collection, authentication, and distribution of unofficial military service records for the Jewish soldiers and sailors then being drafted into the United States Armed Forces.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Edward Israel, the JWB's Committee on Statistics convened several conferences with its national affiliates to consider the problem of collecting data on Jewish military service. On October 9, 1941, 21 national organizations affiliated with the National Jewish Welfare Board (NJWB) met and resolved that the Army and Navy Service Division of the NJWB would assume responsibility for overseeing a Bureau of War Records (BWR).

Representatives of the NJWB and its affiliates constituted an Advisory Committee of the BWR. By the end of the war, the number of affiliates would total 38. During the same meeting, a Technical Committee on War Records was added to advise the BWR staff on the use of statistical methods for compiling and analyzing Jewish war records. Among those who served on the Technical Committee were Chairman and Vice-President of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Louis I. Dublin, Elisha M. Friedman, Dr. Maurice B. Hexter, Daniel Katz, Samuel Leff, Harry L. Lurie, Herbert Marks, Joshua Marcus, Dr. Maurice Taylor, and Dr. Joseph Zubin.

The principal duties of the national office of the BWR were to assist local Jewish communities in establishing war records committees; to authenticate all war records submitted to the NJWB on behalf of Jewish servicemen and women; to calculate the proportion and number of Jews in the armed forces; to publish information of use to families of Jewish service personnel, the NJWB and its affiliated members; and to publicize stories of Jewish soldiers' contributions to the war effort. The initial budget for the BWR was $14,800, which covered the cost of hiring a director, two stenographers, and two file clerks.

In the summer of 1942, Samuel C. Kohs, a noted sociologist and professor, was hired by the JWB to conduct a sample population survey of a large city containing a significant proportion of Jewish residents, and to test the results of statistical evidence, procedures, and techniques for documenting the approximate number and percentage of Jews living in the United States.

Kohs selected Trenton, NJ for his sample population due to its proximity to New York City, and the large number of Jews living in the Metropolitan Trenton area. Kohs' experience during the Trenton study was formative in the planning of other local population studies, the setting up of local war record committees, and the organization of statewide war records collection programs. As the last national census of Jewish Americans was conducted in the mid-1930s, Kohs' work served as a vital starting point for a comprehensive statistical analysis of the proportion of Jews who served in the United States armed forces during World War II.

On January 1, 1943, the Advisory Committee appointed Samuel Kohs director of the BWR. Kohs managed the central office of the BWR and acted as liaison to the Department of Public Information and other departments of the NJWB. Under Kohs, the BWR established several subdivisions. Arthur Weyne headed Authentications, while David Turtletaub and Edward Burnstein served as liaisons to local war committees and state historical societies. Jerome Seidman and Harry Dobkin led the Community Studies subdivision; Joshua Marcus oversaw all special studies; and Selma Schnaper managed the Clerical subdivision. By 1944, the Bureau employed some twenty non-professional staff members across thee units: secretarial, clerical, and inquiry.

At the outset, the BWR collected information about Jewish service personnel onsite at military bases by means of registration cards enclosed in bibles and prayer books distributed by the JWB; through furlough papers submitted during the High Holidays; and from service records secured from the Adjunct General's office in Washington, D.C.

Staff members working at the national office of the BWR authenticated all Jewish casualties and awards after consulting government publications, local press releases, and publications of organizations with significant Jewish membership. However, as the scale of the United States military commitment to Europe and Asia increased dramatically between 1941 and 1945, and as Jewish service personnel mobilized for war on many fronts, it became necessary for the BWR to further decentralize and standardize the process of collecting and authenticating data.

To encourage community participation in the task of war record collection, the BWR sent representatives to every city with a Jewish population over 2,500. Bureau staff corresponded with representatives of local Army-Navy committees, Jewish welfare and community councils, leaders of Jewish community centers, and leaders of synagogues serving Jewish communities smaller than 1,000 people.

Between 1943 and 1946 the number of local war record committees in the United States increased from approximately 400 to 1,200.

To stimulate the collection of data on Jewish service personnel, the BWR printed various standardized forms which it distributed to representatives serving on war records committees, or to individuals active in affiliated member organizations. Information collected on printed forms included a soldier's name, address, age, civilian occupation, next of kin, military rank, service branch, promotions, medals, awards, and casualty status.

On January 1, 1944, the BWR implemented a system of correspondence with local war records committees, in which the BWR supplied standard monthly report forms that were filled out and submitted to the national office by local representatives. These forms provided space for reporting the names of service personnel and the number of men and women from a community serving in the armed forces, as well as the number of casualties, awards, and commissioned officers. By September 1944, local war records committees assumed responsibility for authenticating information about Jewish service personnel whose names were submitted to them by the national office of the BWR.

From the beginning of the war records project, the BWR central office collected and organized information submitted by local war records committees regarding awards and casualties. BWR staff created individual files for soldiers, and for sailors of likely Jewish descent. The soldiers' files contained printed forms, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and photographs which provided information used to authenticate Jewish ancestry. The Authentications Division of the BWR verified information about all known Jewish service personnel who suffered casualties or received awards for distinguished service during the war. By July 1946, the BWR had received nearly 150,000 items related to military service. From among these records, the BWR staff authenticated cases for over 10,000 deaths, 20,000 wounded, 3,000 missing, 4,000 prisoners, and nearly 50,000 distinguished service awards garnered by approximately 26,000 Jewish soldiers and sailors.

Collating records of Jewish servicemen and women across several different categories proved to be a difficult task. The BWR accepted aid from IBM, which developed a punch card system that Bureau staff members used to input standardized data for such information as military rank, service branch, and awards.

Based on queries submitted by the BWR, IBM regularly compiled data from punch cards into printed reports. Information from the IBM reports underpins much of the statistical analysis featured in BWR printed materials and publications.

The BWR also initiated studies of Jewish Americans, compiling lists of Jewish nurses, dentists, refugees, commissioned officers, and families with three or more members who died in uniform. BWR staff, local war records committees, and affiliated members conducted statewide surveys of Jewish medical practitioners enlisted in the armed forces. The Bureau also gathered unofficial census information about Jews in the United States using house-by-house canvasses and statistical sampling techniques.

The BWR published books to aid local communities in their population studies. These included: Self-Survey Manual: Procedures to be Followed in Your Own Community to Determine the Ration of Jews in the Armed Forces, and the Handbook of Instructions for Survey Consultants.

Working with thousands of volunteers, BWR staff conducted Jewish population surveys in 25 cities, while simultaneously conducting statistical sample surveys in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago. The BWR estimated the Jewish population of the United States, and updated official census figures compiled in 1936. Based on these population figures, the Bureau was able to calculate the total number of Jewish Americans eligible for selective service, and the number of Jews active in the armed forces. They then compared the percentage of active Jewish servicemen and women as a ratio of the whole Jewish population to that of the United States population as a whole.

In addition to the hundreds of pamphlets, forms, guides, and lists the BWR printed for use by local war records committees, the Bureau published several reports and studies about its work.

In October 1943, Louis Dublin published "Keeping the Record of Jewish War Service" in the Contemporary Jewish Record. That same month, the BWR distributed the first issue of its newsletter, "Compiling the Record." Bureau staff members wrote "Featured Releases" about honored or notable soldiers and sailors, and the BWR distributed it through the JWB Department of Public Information.

The BWR periodically published its statistical analyses in the pamphlet "These Are the Facts." The Public Information Department, which included representatives from the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Jewish War Veterans also regularly distributed an "Honor Roll" pamphlet listing brief descriptions of Jewish servicemen and women. An honor roll was also printed regularly in the American Jewish Yearbook published by the Jewish Publication Society of America.

The BWR sought other means of publicizing Jewish contributions to the United States war effort. In May 1945, the Bureau prepared an exhibit showcasing the BWR program, and highlighting various statistics compiled during the war. The exhibit was displayed in Washington, D.C. at the NJWB's 29th annual meeting. It was hoped that the exhibit would stimulate interest in a permanent museum devoted to Jewish American war service to be housed in building owned by the NJWB. While the museum did not take root in Washington, the BWR exhibit was displayed that same summer at the Jewish Conference of Social Work in Atlantic City.

With the German surrender on May 7-8, 1945, the BWR began planning for its eventual dissolution. Bureau staff recognized that the number of war casualties and awards would decrease significantly after May, as would the contributions of American volunteer. The BWR thus accelerated its war records collection program with the announcement of War Records Month to be held in January 1946. At the same time, the Bureau devoted considerable attention to the problem of grave registration. The NJWB and the BWR worked with the Quartermaster General's Office in Washington, D.C. to establish a list of all Jewish personnel buried overseas. The list served as a guide to help verify the type of burial services provided to Jewish servicemen and women and to facilitate the repatriation of soldiers' remains interred overseas.

By July 1946, the BWR had ceased processing new cases in favor of focusing on pending files. The Bureau expected to compile final tallies of awards and casualties, as well as useful statistical information from the special studies. The honor roll and special studies completed up to July 1946 were published the following year in a comprehensive two-volume survey entitled American Jews in World War II: the Story of 550,000 Fighters for Freedom.

In 1947, the BWR scaled back its staff to a handful of employees; he remaining personnel oversaw the transfer of Bureau records to the central files of the NJWB. The NJWB briefly revived the Bureau during the Korean War, though no comprehensive plan was established for collecting and preserving the records of Jews who served in this conflict.

Extent

225.4 Linear Feet (272 legal-sized manuscript boxes, 293 index card boxes, one medium oversize manuscript box (18 x 14), one oversize MAP folder (42 x 24))

225.4 Linear Feet (272 legal-sized manuscript boxes, 293 index card boxes, one medium oversize manuscript box (18 x 14), one oversize MAP folder (42 x 24))

Abstract

Collection includes approximately 85,000 individual service files and 320,000 surrogate index cards collected by the BWR and the Greater New York War Records Committee on behalf of Jewish soldiers and sailors who served in World War II. The BWR also conducted surveys of Jewish doctors, dentists, farmers and refugees who served in the United States Armed Forces and compiled population studies for cities containing Jewish populations greater than 25,000, among them Trenton, N.J. and New York City. The individual service files typically provide a soldier's name, age, rank, serial number, service branch, home address, civilian occupation, next of kin, awards and casualties. These files contain supporting documentation culled from newspapers, telephone conversations, and correspondence exchanged among BWR staff and volunteers, service personnel and their families, and representatives of the United States Armed Forces.

The alphabetical master cards series serves as an abbreviated, annotated index for the more substantial individual service files of Jewish service personnel who won awards or suffered casualties during the war. The Bureau maintained correspondence files for permanent staff members including Salo Baron, Edward Burnstein, Louis Dublin, Elisha Friedman, Dr. Maurice Hexter, Rabbi Edward Israel, Samuel Kohs, Louis Kraft, Samuel Leff, Harry Lurie, Herbert Marks, Benjamin Rabinowitz, Philip Schiff, Selma Schnaper, Jerome Seidman, David Turtletaub, Frank Weil, Milton Weill, Arthur Weyne, and Joseph Zubin.

The Bureau also preserved correspondence with representatives of local war records committees, religious, and community service organizations including the United Service Organization, Jewish Community Centers, Hebrew Associations, and the National Refugee Service, as well as publishers, alumni associations, and military personnel from the offices of United States Army, Navy, and Quartermaster General's office.

It retained copies of published and printed materials including studies, lists, guides, forms, and cards. Among the vital records are charts depicting the BWR administrative hierarchy; personnel and staff records; lists of volunteers and field representatives employed throughout the United States; minutes of meetings; annual, quarterly, and special reports; budget materials; and policies and procedures implemented during the war records program.

Arrangement

The collection is divided into eight series, as described below:
  1. Series I: Administrative history - Bureau of War Records correspondence, reports, minutes of meetings, published materials, 1941-1947
  2. Series II: Correspondence and other writings, 1942-1947
  3. Subseries A: Official correspondence, 1942-1947
  4. Subseries B: Geographical Correspondence, 1942
  5. Subseries C: Geographical Correspondence, 1943-1947
  6. Series III: Subject files, 1941-1947
  7. Series IV: Individuals - Service records for casualties and awards, 1942-1947
  8. Subseries A: Individuals - Record series I (A-Z), 1942-1947
  9. Subseries B: Individuals - Record series II (A-Z), 1943-1947
  10. Subseries C: Individuals - Unprocessed records, 1943-1947
  11. Subseries D: Individuals - Unauthenticated records, 1943-1947
  12. Subseries E: Individuals - Questionnaires of non-Jews, 1943-1947
  13. Series V: Special studies, 1943-1946
  14. Subseries A: Multiple sons in the service, 1943-1946
  15. Subseries B: Commissioned officers and refugees serving in the armed forces, 1943-1946
  16. Subseries C: Jewish population sample survey of Cleveland, Ohio, 1944-1945
  17. Series VI: Card files - Bureau of War Records, master index cards, 1943-1947
  18. Subseries A: Alphabetical master cards, 1943-1947
  19. Subseries B: Geographical master cards, 1943-1947
  20. Series VII: Card files - Greater New York City War Records Committee, undated, 1942-1946
  21. Subseries A: Bronx, New York - Ordinary servicemen, 1944-1947
  22. Subseries B: Bronx, New York - Casualties and awards, 1944-1947
  23. Subseries C: Brooklyn, New York - Ordinary servicemen, complete file, undated, 1942-1946
  24. Subseries D: Brooklyn, New York - Ordinary servicemen, incomplete file, undated, 1942-1946
  25. Subseries E: Brooklyn, New York - Casualties and awards, undated, 1943-1946
  26. Subseries F: Brooklyn, New York - Miscellaneous file, undated, 1943-1946
  27. Subseries G: Manhattan, New York - Ordinary servicemen, undated, 1944-1946
  28. Subseries H: Manhattan - Casualties and awards, undated, 1944-1946
  29. Subseries I: Queens, New York - Ordinary servicemen, 1944-1946
  30. Subseries J: Long Island (Queens, New York) and Long Beach, New York - Ordinary servicemen, 1945-1946
  31. Subseries K: Long Island - Ordinary servicemen, 1945-1946
  32. Subseries L: Greater New York - casualties and awards, A-Z, 1944-1947
  33. Subseries M: Casualties and awards, pending cases, religion undetermined, 1944-1947
  34. Subseries N: Pending death cases - unauthenticated, 1944-1947
  35. Subseries O: Ordinary servicemen not counted, 1943-1946
  36. Series VIII: Card files - Grave registration, special studies, and reply cards, 1941-1946
  37. Subseries A: Graves registration cards, 1941-1946
  38. Subseries B: Foreign award recipients, undated
  39. Subseries C: Physicians survey, undated, 1943-1944
  40. Subseries D: Jewish public health officers, 1946
  41. Subseries E: Joint study of refugees, 1943-1944
  42. Subseries F: No address, 1946
  43. Subseries G: Non-Jews, undated
  44. Subseries H: No-publicity, undated
  45. Subseries I: Informant reply cards, 1942

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

In 1969, the NJWB donated the Bureau’s records to the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). AJHS Assistant Librarian, Robert Goldman, began cataloging the collection that same year. Concurrently, the AJHS commissioned Fred Sherrow of the Bureau for Applied Social Research to study possible research questions that could be answered using the Bureau of War Records collection and the American Jewish Committee, Office of War Records from World War I. The AJHS preserved Sherrow’s “Report on the Disposition of Studies of American Jewish Servicemen in World Wars I and II,” but no records exist in this Bureau of War Records collection to confirm whether the AJHS attempted to implement Sherrow’s recommendations for further research.
Title
Guide to the Records of the National Jewish Welfare Board - Bureau of War, undated, 1940-1969   I-52
Status
Completed
Author
Reprocessed by Mark Sgambettera
Date
© 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Processing for this collection has been made possible through a generous grant from the Tawani Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • January 2021: 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