Monday, 24 February 2014

First World War exhibition at the Jewish Museum London

News of a forthcoming exhibition in London:

For King and Country?
A major exhibition exploring the Jewish experience of the
First World War at the Jewish Museum London
19 March – 10 August 2014

To commemorate the centenary of the First World War, the Jewish Museum London and Jewish Military Museum are delighted to announce For King and Country?, a major new exhibition exploring the Jewish experience of the First World War, opening on19 March 2014.

The exhibition will investigate the war’s impact on the British Jewish community and raise questions around immigration, divided loyalties and integration at that time. With a Jewish population of nearly 300,000 in Great Britain and a total of over 40,000 Jews serving in the Great War, the exhibition will delve into a significant and often overlooked element of the war.

With a selection of objects, many of which have never been displayed in public before, the exhibition will explore the Jewish experience of war through the voices of individuals and give an extraordinary insight into the difficulties and hardships of life on the front-line. On display for the very first time will be the war diary of Florence Oppenheimer, a military nurse who served on a hospital ship in the Mediterranean and in Palestine and later went on to become a best-selling cookery writer under the name Florence Greenberg. The exhibition will also feature hand written notices made by pioneering Jewish Chaplain Reverend Adler, who organised a service for 200 soldiers during the Battle of Loos, enabling soldiers to continue practicing their faith in the difficult conditions of the trenches. Also exhibited will be the correspondence of Marcus Segal, a soldier who wrote over 160 letters to his parents from the front line until his death in 1917. Displayed in an interactive, digital format, Segal’s letters will shed light on daily life in the trenches and in particular how he kept his Jewish faith in the midst of the turmoil and trauma of war.

On display together for the first time together will be the uniform and Victoria Cross belonging to Frank de Pass, the first Jewish soldier to win the highest military decoration. De Pass was awarded the VC posthumously for his extraordinary bravery on the front-line after leading an attack on a German trench and carrying one of his wounded comrades over no-mans-land to safety. He died the next day trying to take the same trench. As a British-born, Jewish career soldier, de Pass was motivated to serve from a sense of loyalty to his country. Conflict grew between ‘old’ families such as that of de Pass and ‘new’ immigrant families who did not share the same loyalties or motivations to serve. The exhibition will explore this internal conflict showing objects such as a Jewish Chronicle newspaper which on the outbreak of war exhorted Jews to fight; and the work of Isaac Rosenberg, who despite being a fierce critic of the war served in France until his death in 1918. Rosenberg’s original draft of his seminal poem ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’, hailed as the greatest poem written about the First World War will be one of the highlights of the exhibition. Visitors will also hear the voices of conscientious objectors and learn the story of a group of Russian Jews who avoided serving by any means possible.

War affected everyone, not just those on the front-line. The exhibition will explore life for Jews on the home front, including the textile boom which took place in the largely Jewish East End of London, where the majority of soldiers’ uniforms were made. Jewish schools and boys clubs, including the Jewish Lads Brigade, played an active role in the war, providing soldiers for battle and recording the achievements and casualties among old boys. An in-depth look at the presiding politics will examine the rise of Zionism, and the debate between leading figures in the Jewish community who believed that Jewish soldiers should be integrated across the armed forces, versus the promotion of military segregation and all-Jewish fighting forces. Rarely seen footage of the Judeans, a Jewish-only fighting force, marching through the East End of London will be on display.

Jews have always had a great sense of unity. This was broken by the First World War as Jews served on both sides. To illustrate this the exhibition will display a pickelhaube, or spiked German helmet, worn by Julius Weinberg in the German army whose son came to Britain on the Kinder transport.

The final section of the exhibition will explore the legacy of the war in the Jewish community. A need for public remembrance and commemoration led to public memorials and ultimately the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) and their Annual Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph. Also on display will be the British Jewry Book of Honour which lists names of Jews who served and was compiled in part to counter the claims of anti-Semites who railed against Jews as ‘shirkers’ who had not played their part in the war.

The First World War was a pivotal time of change for the Jewish community in Britain and indeed throughout Europe and the Middle East as they fought to find their place in society and in the world. By exploring the stories of individuals who served on the battlefields or back in Britain the exhibition will allow the visitor to understand the experience of ordinary Jews in the face of war.

Jewish Museum London, Raymond Burton House, Albert Street, London, NW1 7NB.
Nearest tube: Camden Town. Open Sunday – Wednesday: 10.00 – 17.00,
Thursday: 10.00 – 21.00, Friday: 10.00 – 14.00
General Enquiries: 02073847384

(With thanks to Kate Hassell)


My latest genealogy books are Tracing Your Family History on the Internet (2nd ed), Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records, and Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet. My next Pharos course is Scottish Research Online, which commences Feb 27th 2014, 5 weeks, price £45.99.

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