National Jewish Welfare Board. Bureau of War Records

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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 Guide to the 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 during the emergency period of 1939-1941, the JWB created new bureaus and committees to deal with particular aspects of social services for American Jewish servicemen and women. One such service involved the collection, authentication, and distribution of unofficial military service records for 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, twenty-one 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 thirty-eight. During the same meeting, a Technical Committee on War Records was added to advise the BWR staff about 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, New Jersey 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. 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 holy seasons; 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 during the years 1941-1945, 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 containing a Jewish population greater than 2,500. Bureau staff corresponded with representatives of local Army-Navy committees, Jewish welfare and community councils, as well as leaders of community centers and 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.

In order to stimulate the collection of data about Jewish service personnel, the BWR printed various standardized forms which it distributed from its central offices in New York City 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. The 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 sailors who were 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 was a difficult task. In this task the BWR was aided by the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). IBM employees worked with BWR staff to develop 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 underpinned much of the statistical analysis featured in BWR printed materials and publications.

The BWR also initiated numerous enumerative studies of Jewish Americans. The BWR compiled lists of Jewish nurses, dentists, refugees, commissioned officers, and families having three or more members who died in uniform. BWR staff, local war records committees, and affiliated members conducted statewide surveys of the number of Jewish medical practitioners who 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 conducting population studies such as the 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 also 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 printed by the BWR 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 (see Box 3, folder 2 ). That same month, the BWR distributed the first issue of its newsletter entitled "Compiling the Record." Bureau staff members wrote "Featured Releases" about honored or notable soldiers and sailors which the BWR distributed through the JWB Department of Public Information. The BWR periodically published its statistical analyses in a pamphlet entitled "These Are the Facts." The Public Information Department, which included representatives from the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 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. during the 29 th annual meeting of the NJWB. 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, but at the same time, the contributions of volunteer workers throughout the United States would also likely decline. 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 ceased processing new cases in order to concentrate on completing all 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 .

The BWR scaled back its staff to a handful of employees in 1947; the 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.

From the guide to the National Jewish Welfare Board, Bureau of War Records, 1940-1969, undated, 1940-1969 (bulk 1943-1946), (American Jewish Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Kohs, S. C. (Samuel Calmin), 1890-1984. Samuel Kohs papers, 1916-1982. Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, Rabbi Morris Goldstein Library
creatorOf National Jewish Welfare Board, Bureau of War Records, 1940-1969, undated, 1940-1969 (bulk 1943-1946) American Jewish Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Baron, Salo Wittmayer, 1895-1989 person
associatedWith Dublin, Louis Israel, 1882-1969 person
associatedWith Friedman, Elisha M. person
associatedWith Hexter, Dr. Maurice Beck, 1891- person
associatedWith International Business Machines Corporation corporateBody
associatedWith Israel, Edward L., 1896-1941 person
associatedWith JCC Association corporateBody
associatedWith Kohs, S. C. (Samuel Calmin), 1890-1984. person
associatedWith Kraft, Louis person
associatedWith Leff, Samuel person
associatedWith Lurie, Harry L. (Harry Lawrence), 1892-1973 person
associatedWith Marcus, Joshua person
associatedWith Marks, Herbert person
associatedWith National Jewish Welfare Board corporateBody
associatedWith National Refugee Service (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Rabinowitz, Benjamin, 1895-1948. person
associatedWith Schiff, Philip, 1901- person
associatedWith Schnaper, Selma person
associatedWith Seidman, Jerome person
associatedWith Turtletaub, David person
associatedWith United Service Organizations (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of the Quartermaster General corporateBody
associatedWith Weil, Frank L. (Frank Leopold), 1894-1957 person
associatedWith Weill, Milton, 1891- person
associatedWith Weyne, Arthur person
associatedWith Zubin, Joseph, 1900-1990 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Soldiers, Jews
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945

Corporate Body



Ark ID: w6p92d4n

SNAC ID: 71556952