Modern Jewish History - Maurice Harris

The World War.

In July, 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated by a Servian. Relations between those two nations had long been strained. Austria, one of the great powers, sent a threatening ultimatum to Servia, including certain drastic demands. Because Servia did not unconditionally accept them all, though she subscribed to most of the terms, Austria immediately declared war against her.

There were many complications involved in this declaration of war that affected most of the European nations and perforce drew them into it. The consensus of opinion was that Germany rather utilized the occasion as an opportunity for a war for territorial expansion, for which, with her wonderfully equipped military organization, she was splendidly prepared. She certainly waived aside proposals for an amicable understanding made by some of the other Powers. Germany at once espoused the cause of Austria and later persuaded Turkey and Bulgaria to follow her. Russia, on the other hand, immediately supported Servia and was followed by France. When Germany, in violation of an earlier compact, invaded Belgium to reach France more easily, England entered the war on the Servian side and was later joined by Italy. Japan and Portugal. This group of nations came to be known as the Allies or Entente, while the Austrian group were known as the Teutonic or Central Powers.

The war was waged with a savagery and a colossal destruction of life and property such as has never been witnessed in the experience of mankind. Xew devices of destruction were called into requisition, unknown in previous conflicts, the most abortive of these being poison gas. Unarmed towns were bombed from the air by aeroplanes and merchant ships were sunk at sea by submarines. Mighty fleets engaged in battle on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Advancing armies carried devastation over Belgium and Northern France, over Russia and Poland, in Europe: and, throughout Armenia in Asia. The war reached the German colonies in China, the English and French colonies in Africa, and later came to include the Holy Land.

The United States long remained neutral. But her own freedom of action becoming involved, and feeling further that the liberties of small nations were in jeopardy, she entered the war in 1917 on the side of the Allies, to defeat the German powers.

Jewish Participance.

The Jews of all lands enrolled in the ranks of their respective fatherlands, emulating their fellow countrymen in deeds of patriotic fervor and heroic sacrifice. The participating countries utilized existing philanthropic organizations for promoting the religious and social welfare as well as fostering the morale of the soldiers in the training camps and on fields of battle. An association of this character formed bv the American Jews was known as the Jewish Welfare Board for Soldiers and Sailors. It pressed into service every Jewish community throughout the land, and collected vast sums to further the comfort of the brethren in the ranks. It trained men and women and sent them to the camps here and abroad to minister to the needs of the army. Colonel Harry Cutler was its president until his death. Special prayer books and abridged Bibles were prepared for the men in the camps and at the front.

It would be impossible to give in detail the record of Jewish soldiers who won distinction in the war. The reader is referred to articles on that subject for which reference is given in the notes at the end of this chapter. In the French estimate it is said that some 22,000 coreligionists lost their lives. The English casualties are estimated at 8,675; 1,105 received decorations and honors, and five were given the Victoria Cross. The gifted Jewish poetess, Alice Lucas, voiced these lines:

'For the Jew has heart and hand, our Mother England,

And they both are thine today —

Thine for life and thine for death — yea, thine forever!

Wilt thou take them as we give them, freely, gladly?

England, say!'

Some 200,000 to 225,000 Jews were in the American service, meaning four to five per cent of the United States forces. Jews exceeded their quota by at least one-third of America's four million men. There were nearly 40,000 Jewish volunteers; nearly 800 citations for valor by the United States and her Allies; of the 78) ?> who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, three were Jews. 130 Jews received the Distinguished Service Order; two won the French Medaille Militaire; 174 received the Croix de Guerre.

There were nearly 10,000 Jewish commissioned officers in the several branches of the service. There were 15,000 to 18,000 Jewish casualties, of whom 3,500 made the "supreme sacrifice."

The article in the American Jewish Year Book, to which reference is made in the notes, cites thrilling instances of daring. We can here report but two: the first, that of Sergeant Sidney G. Gomperts, who, "when his line was held up by machine guns, left his platoon and started with two soldiers through a heavy barrage. His companions killed, he continued in the face of direct fire, jumped into the machine gun nest, silenced the gun and captured nine of the crew."

Another, William Sawelson, hearing a wounded man calling for water, left his own shelter, crawled through machine gun fire to give the man water from his own canteen. He returned to his own shell hole to obtain additional water, when he was killed.

So far, we have no complete statement of the Jewish participance in the armies of the Teutonic powers. Information, however, has reached us that about 100,000 (16 per cent) German Jews participated in the war for the Fatherland. Of these, 80 per cent were in active service at the front. 12,000 were killed, 35,000 decorated, and 3,000 became officers.

Jewish Suffering in the War.

The bulk of the Jews residing in Eastern Europe in Russia and Austrian Poland were among the greatest sufferers. Their homes were repeatedly devastated by the advance and retreat of armies in the ebb and flow of battle. To the hostilities of the enemy in each case was added the old animosity against the Jew. Military slander further augmented their sufferings. Millions became destitute, thousands perished from privation and exposure and also by wanton massacre.

The munificence of their brethren in England and other lands did much to mitigate the suffering. Jewish relief committees were organized on a vast scale all over the world. Doctors and nurses were sent abroad together with food, medicines and clothing. Through these humane agencies, thousands of lives have been saved. Never in the chronicles of Jewry have such enormous sums been voluntarily contributed for philanthropy. American Jewry raised over fifty million dollars. They established centers for their distribution, sending men and women of training and experience so that money and gifts contributed could be dispensed in the best way. About forty such centers in three different continents were established for the distribution of these funds.

This relief had to be continued long after the war for the suffering outlasted the conflict that caused it. In addition to immediate succor and relief, the work of reconstruction and reclamation had to be undertaken to reestablish the communities and place the ruined people on their feet so that they might begin the struggle of life once more. Nor did the animosities die down with the declaration of the Armistice in 1918 or with the signing of the Treaties of Peace in 1919. Civil war broke out in Russia after the overthrow of the monarchy and between Russia and Poland after the latter had been made an independent nation.

The provisional Government that overthrew the Russian autocracy in 1917 was in turn overthrown by a radical group, which imposed on the land a Communistic Government involving a common ownership of all property. The party that seized the reins of power was known as the Bolsheviki. It intimidated its opponents by terrorism. Although but few Jews were among its promoters, all Jews were charged as its founders. Armies of reactionary leaders who tried to restore the Imperial Government were led by Petlura, Denikin, Balakhovich and Kolchak. They directed their savage attack against the Jews of the Ukraine, i.e., Southern Russia, where the bulk of our brethren resided, on the theory that they were the instigators of the Soviet Government. This was but an evasion and an excuse for robbing the Jewish population, and to gratify the glut for destruction, of an inhuman soldiery. Some 150,000 were killed; about the same number died of their wounds and of epidemics, and about a million more were plundered. We go back to all the tragedies of the Dark Age and fail to find so cold-blooded and colossal a massacre.

The attempt to make the Jew the scapegoat for the war and its miseries, and for some of its later tragic consequences was part of a new burst of antagonism against Israel that broke out in many places all over the world. Anti-Semitism was revived in Germany and Austria and in the hitherto tolerant Hungary, and it raged with a virulence more bitter than ever before. Poland marked its independence by immediately reviving the boycott and varied forms of persecution against the Jew. New slanders were now directed against long suffering Israel. Forgeries were deliberately fabricated, charging them with a secret conspiracy to dominate the world. All past revolutions were laid at their door. As already pointed out, this monstrous calumny started in Russia and by the name of the "Jewish Peril" swept through Europe and reached the United States.

The New Map of Europe and Asia.

The War's outcome has largely changed the geography of the Old World. To give in detail all the territorial changes and new boundaries defined in the treaties of peace would go beyond the province of this volume. It is important, however, that the general boundaries should be known. Broadly speaking, they are as follows:

  • Germany returns Alsace and Lorraine to France from which it had been taken in the war of 1870; Schleswig is restored to Denmark. The African and Chinese colonies 'are surrendered and Prussian Poland relinquished,
  • Austria was the land most completely dismembered, for it was largely made up of separate principalities, inhabited by distinct races. The new Austria is little more than the capital of Vienna, and its immediate surroundings, a territory about as large as the State of Maine. Hungary now becomes a separate country. Galicia is given up to the new Poland.
  • A new land has been formed called Czechoslovakia, which consists of Bohemia, Moravia and parts of Silesia and Hungary, Another new country created by the Treaty of Peace is called Jugo-Slavia. It includes the former kingdoms of Servia and Montenegro, together with parts of seven of the old Austrian provinces, and with a bit of Bulgaria. It lies, for the most part, on the Eastern border of the Adriatic Sea.
  • Roumania now includes Transylvania and Bukowina, taken from Austria-Hungary, and Bessarabia, from Russia.
  • Italy obtains the Trentino from Austria and some adjacent lands.
  • Russia loses Finland. Lithuania, Latvia and Esthonia. All of these become separate independent countries.
  • Poland, in the 18th century (see page 61) was partitioned between Austria, Prussia and Russia. These severed parts are all now brought together again as a new country, and form an independent Polish nation.
  • Greece acquires Thrace and some islands.
  • Turkey was largely shorn of its European area in the Balkan War of 1912 and 1913. It has still further shrunken by the peace terms of the World War. Little is left of European Turkey and much placed under special administration.
  • In Asiatic Turkey. Mesopotamia becomes an Arabian kingdom. Armenia is independent. Syria is placed under a French mandate and Palestine under an English.
  • Furthermore Danzig is a free and international city. Fiume is an independent state.

All of these political and geographical changes tremendously affect the status of the Jew. For example, the Jews in the territory transferred to Greece, may not receive as tolerant a treatment as had been granted them in Turkey from which it had been taken. The enlarged Roumania now includes in its inhabitants a number of our brethren that had lived under Russian rule. There is little choice between these two governments in their attitude of ill-will toward Israel. But although Roumania, since 1878 has evaded granting citizenship to its Jewish subjects, the latest news tells of rather a change of heart and gives hope for more tolerable conditions.

Our brethren in Lithuania are well satisfied with the kindly treatment under its new government. But we are most concerned with their status in the new Poland, for that is an area very densely populated by Jews. Those in Prussian Poland (Posen) and in Austrian Poland (Galicia) were more tolerantly treated than those in Russian Poland that represented the bulk. Now the new Polish nation that includes them all has begun its independent regime with an attitude deliberately hostile to the Jews. So grave were the complaints of persecution, that Mr. Lucien Wolf headed a commission sent out from England to investigate. The result of protests from many countries as consequence of the findings of this commission, has at last induced the Polish government to make life more tolerable for the Jews in its midst. It is now just beginning to realize that the active cooperation of this intelligent people would be of great value in its State councils.


But the most remarkable change for Israel is in Palestine. Just as soon as the English army under the leadership of General Allenby invaded this section of Turkish territory at the end of 1917. Great Britain issued an important state document through its minister of Foreign Affairs, Arthur Balfour. This pronouncement then declared that Great Britain looked with favor upon Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people, provided always that the rights of other peoples there resident would not be invaded and that the sacred places of all religions there located would be reverently safeguarded.

It might be well at this juncture to review briefly the history of Palestine from the time when Israel first entered it as settlers. It was here that they developed as a unique nation. It was here that under the guidance of those spiritual geniuses, the prophets, they developed that exalted religion that later parented other great Faiths of the world.

When David in 1048 B.C. took Jerusalem from the Jebusites it became the capital — the national center. When Solomon built the Temple there, it became a religious center. Isaiah called it the Holy City. That title it has never since lost. Judah was overthrown by Babylon, 600 B.C., its Temple destroyed and its people transported. But after a brief exile of half a century they were invited to return to their ancestral home and rebuild their Temple, and continued to live successively under Persian and under Greek rule, though granted local autonomy. When the Greco-Syrians attempted to interfere with their religious freedom, they threw off the yoke under leadership of the Maccabees, and in the year 142 B.C., they re-established Judean independence; this continued for 79 years. In this period, the rabbi gradually superseded the priest and the Law the Altar.

Then, all-absorbing Rome stepped in and made Judea one of its tributaries. When their rule became intolerable the Jew made a daring attempt to free their beloved land from foreign rule.

But Rome was the world. The attempt therefore was foolhardy but it was magnificent! Defeated in the year 70 A.D., and their Temple burned, this indomitable people resorted to the fortunes of war once more in the year 132. Here again they met defeat and the dispersion of the Jews through the world began.

The Jewish Faith taught in the Academies of the dispersion kept Israel a unit, and the hope of national restoration became a doctrine of the Synagogue. Prayers for the rebuilding of Zion saturated the Prayer Book. Two great religions built on its Scriptures and inspired by its prophets, rose to power — Christianity in the West, Mohammedanism in the East. Since the saviour of Christendom lived and died in Judea, and the prophet of Islam is said to have passed some time there, Palestine became a Holy Land for Christian and Mohammedan as well as for the Jew, and bitter wars, known as the Crusades were fought between these two creeds to win possession of its holy places.

Although Jewish scholarship and the Jewish center of gravity moved steadily from the Orient to the Occident, and the Academies of Spain succeeded those of Babylonia, yet they turned to Jerusalem in prayer and they looked toward it as an ideal. Jehuda Halevy made it the theme of his poems and he, like the philosopher Nachmanides, and many faithful sons of Israel since, attained their pious aim to end their days on the sacred soil.

In the meantime, the Crusade wars that began in 1099 continued on and off for some centuries with varied fortunes, though the Jews were often the victims. Jerusalem was under Christian rule from 1099 to 1187. Then, under the great Saladin, it became a Moslem city and with but the break of one year (1243) it has remained in Moslem hands almost to the present time. In 1517 Palestine was occupied by Ottoman Turks, a different race, but of the same Moslem creed. They held it for 400 years right down to 1917.

A few Jews have always lingered in this land of their fathers. We find Jewish weavers and dyers there in the Middle Ages. But settlers were few under the Turkish rule for this slothful government let it fall into neglect. Thus industries were discouraged and the soil of the land that once flowed with milk and honey, became arid and barren. As late as the year 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended the English throne, there were but 3,000 of our co-religionists in the Holy City. Since then they have filtered in slowly, but it was a poor colony supported by the bounty of their brethren abroad (The Chalukah). Some orange groves and vineyards were established through the generosity of Baron Edmund de Rothschild. Russian persecution brought an increase of numbers after 1881. In the year 1897 a railway was built from Jerusalem to Jaffa.

Then the Zionist movement was launched and a vigorous colonization set in. The cry was henceforth — Jerusalem, not a place for the old to die, but for the young to live; not charity, but self-support, their goal! The numbers of settlers rose rapidly from 30,000 in 1903 to 50,000 in 1910. Throughout Palestine, before the war, there were 86,000 Jews. Schools and hospitals were opened, crafts cultivated, plantations extended and new methods of agriculture introduced. The planting of the eucalyptus tree changed a marshy into a healthy soil. Then came the World War that destroyed much of these early beginnings and made inroads in the ranks of its settlers. Finally, on that historic date, December 10th, 1917, under the leadership of General Allenby, the Allied army entered Jerusalem and the Holy Land passed from Turkish hands.

When the British host, aided by the way, by the local Jewish battalions, finally made its triumphant entry into Jerusalem the following year, the promise to Israel was repeated. The activity of the Zionists in seeking the Holy Land as a legally assured home, largely influenced the British government in this humane decision. It took the earliest opportunity to fulfill its promise by appointing Sir Herbert Samuel as the High Commissioner of Palestine. Verily, history was repeating itself. It recalls the generous offer of king Cyrus of Persia when Palestine was included in its conquests, to exiled Israel, to settle once more in their old fatherland, and the appointment of Nehemiah as Governor. That was about 500 B.C.

Another precedent for this action of the British Empire is found later on when Judea was a Roman Province and the Emperor Claudius appointed the Jew Agrippa as king.

Many of our brethren are turning to the beloved home of their fathers. Stalwart young men and women called Chalutzim (pioneers) are leading the way and unflinchingly facing the hardships involved in preparing for settlement a land made arid by three centuries of Turkish neglect. Some of the Palestinian Arabs, who far outnumber the Jews, secretly encouraged by enemies of Israel, are expressing alarm at their arrival. Clashes have here and there occurred. But they have naught to fear and much to hope from the advent of enterprising Jewish settlers, who are going to make the country more valuable for them and more desirable as a permanent home.

Many American Jews are aiding the reclamation of Palestine by organizing companies for the financing of new industries. A Zionist fund for the same purpose is known as the Keren Hayesod. A Jewish university at Jerusalem is being planned, a technical school at Haifa, and an enlarged harbor at Jaffa. Furthermore, the railroad lines are being extended and an engineering project planned of creating water-power to install electricity by damming the waters of the Jordan.

Finally a provisional Constitution has been drawn up in London for Palestine, by the English Government. Its chief features are:—

The appointment of a High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief upon whom will be conferred the necessary powers for execution of normal duties associated with such office, and for giving effect to the provisions of the Mandate accepted by Great Britain, at the request of the principal Allied Powers, for the general administration of the country, and the establishment of. a National Home for the Jewish people. He will also have authority to divide the country into districts for the convenience of administration, supervise the rights with regard to public lands, mines and minerals. Subject to the direction of the Secretary of State, the High Commissioner may appoint such public officers as he deems needful. For his assistance there will also be an Executive Council. There will be further constituted a Legislative Council, to establish ordinances, maintain peace, order and good government.

No ordinance shall be passed which shall restrict complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship, save insofar as is required for the maintenance of public order and morals, or which shall tend to discriminate in any way between the inhabitants of Palestine on the ground of race, religion or language. The Legislative Council will consist of twenty-five members, some elected and others nominated. One of the nominated members shall be a Moslem, one a Christian, and one a Jew.

The Judiciary will consist of Magistrates' Courts, District Courts, Courts of Criminal Assize, Land Courts, a Supreme Court acting as Court of Appeals, and a Tribal Court. Furthermore, a Moslem Religious Court, a Jewish Religious Court, and a Christian Religious Court, with exclusive jurisdiction in matters relating to these respective creeds.

All ordinances shall be published in English, Arabic and Hebrew. The three languages may be used in debates and discussions in the Legislative Council.

The Rights of Minorities.

The change of national boundaries — the new States called into being by the terms of peace, has made necessary for the safeguarding of the rights of individuals suddenly brought under new political regime, special regulations with regard to the rights of minorities. These have been expressly formulated in separate articles or treaties made with each separate state. The treaties were all signed in the year 1919. The earliest in June at Versailles. It may be interesting to record that among the thirty-three signatories are some of our coreligionists; "Mr. Edward S. Montagu, one of the representatives of England; Mr. L. L. Klotz, representing France. The American statesmen who placed their signatures to these famous documents were President Woodrow Wilson, Robert Lansing, Henry White, E. M. House and Tasker H. Bliss.

These proceedings safeguarding the rights of minorities are of vital concern to the Jew. We will therefore specify those articles from the treaties that most affect them. Turn first to the treaty with Poland:

"Poland undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Poland without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion.

"All inhabitants of Poland shall be entitled to the free exercise, whether public or private, of any creed, religion or belief, whose practices are not inconsistent with public order or public morals.

"Differences of religion, creed or confession shall not prejudice any Polish national in matters relating r.o the enjoyment of civil or political rights, as for instance admission to public employment, function and honors, or the exercise of professions and industries.

"No restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Polish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, in religion, in the press or in publications of any kind, or at public meetings.

"Notwithstanding any establishment by the Polish government of an official language, adequate facilities shall be given to Polish nationals of non-Polish speech for the use of their language, either orally or in writing, before the courts.

"Polish nationals who belong to racial, religious or linguistic minorities shall enjoy the same treatment and security in law and in fact as the other Polish nationals. In particular they shall have an equal right to establish, manage and control at their own expense charitable, religious, and social institutions, schools and other educational establishments, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their religion freely therein.

"In towns and districts where there is a considerable proportion of Polish nationals, belonging to racial, religious or linguistic minorities, these minorites shall be assured an equitable share in the enjoyment and application of the sums which may be provided out of public funds under the State, municipal or other budget, for educational, religious or charitable purposes.

"Jews shall not be compelled to perform any act which constitutes a violation of their Sabbath, nor shall they be placed under any disability by reason of their refusal to attend courts of law or to perform any legal business on their Sabbath. This provision, however, shall not exempt Jews from such obligations as shall be imposed upon all other Polish citizens for the necessary purposes of military service, national defence or the preservation of public order."

The terms are similar and worded in almost identical language in the treaties with Austria, Jugo-Slavia, Czecho-Slovakia, Bulgaria, Roumania and Turkey. We further read in these documents that each country agreed "that the stipulations in the foregoing Articles so far as they affect persons belonging to racial, religious or linguistic minorities, constitute obligations of international concern and shall be placed under the guarantee of the League of Nations. They shall not be modified without the assent of a majority of the Council of the League of Nations. The Allied and Associated Powers represented on the Council severally agree not to withhold their assent from any modification in these Articles which is in due form assented to by a majority of the Council of the League of Nations."

This League of Nations, to which reference is here made, was part of the Treaty of Peace. Its ultimate purpose is by gradual disarmament to abolish war and encourage a union of all peoples; its further aims are the promotion of international commerce, for the improvement of laboring classes, for the stamping out of contagious, disease and for the prevention of certain crimes imperilling the lives and welfare of women and children. Some forty odd nations are included in the League, but the United States has not yet entered.

In spite of the terrible tragedies caused by the war, sad effect of which will continue through this present generation, — the war may result in salutary consequences some of which we are beginning to discern. Such are the disappearance of despotic monarchies and their replacement by more liberal forms of government; fuller rights of subject peoples; removal of abuses from oppressed peoples; the spread of democratic equality; the furtherance of emancipation of woman, particularly in the Orient; the more equable distribution of the products of the earth, and the larger participance of the workman in the fruit of his toil; less conventionality and more sincerity in morals; more simplicity in religious institutions and wider tolerance for any honest attitude of mind.

We are witnessing the emergence of new social standards of life. We are witnessing history in the making.

All of these issues slowly unfolding, will profoundly affect the Jew. In this series of manuals, we have seen the significant part he has played in the world's affairs from remote antiquity to the present day. His work is not yet over, nor his mission completely fulfilled. Israel still lives, a beneficent potency in the world, and he has. yet an important contribution to make in furthering the aims of liberty, righteousness and peace, and bringing to realization his spiritual ideals, cherished by his prophets in a far off day.


The Jewish Record in the World War:—Vol. 21 — American Jewish Year Book. Participance of the Jews of France — page 31. The Story of British Jewry in the War — page 98. Jewish Battalions and the Palestinian Campaignpage 120. American Jews in the World War — page 141.

The Peace Conference and the Rights of Minorities:—Vol. 22, American Jewish Year Book.

Jewish War Records compiled by Julian Leavitt for the American Jewish Committee.

The Jews Contribution to Civilization, by Joseph Jacobs— A. J. P. S.

Theme for Discussion:—Did Judaism and Christianity do their share in seeking to prevent the World War?