Operation uniforms!

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Prior to the museum’s move to the Jewish Museum later this year, we have been busy cataloguing, sorting and repacking the entire collection. Our main focus at the moment is to repack our uniforms.

The Museum has over 40 full uniforms and many additional uniform accessories including hats, ties and belts. They all need new hangers and conservation-standard bags, as at the moment the metal/wooden hangers could be damaging them and the fabric covers are not ideal for storage.

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Existing uniform storage

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Existing uniform storage

The way the uniforms are packed and stored at the moment means the rails are over-packed and heavy and it makes it difficult to identify the uniforms inside the covers.

First of all our marvellous volunteers Sophie, Susan and Lynn made padded hangers using wadding and calico fabric.

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Volunteer Sophie making padded hangers

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New padded coat hangers

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New padded trouser hangers

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Next each part of the uniform is removed from the old covers and laid out for a condition report. We check that they have been catalogued and a label has been sewn into them.

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Trousers with their photograph

Using a conservation report we check each part of the uniform for any damage and record details of this and its overall condition. This enables us to highlight any piece of uniform that may need conservation, repair or special treatment. Photographs are taken of the overall uniform and any problem areas.

The old hangers are replaced with our new padded ones and the uniform repacked into a white Tyvek cover; a photograph and label are then added to the front.

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uniform bags are labelled

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photograph attached

Any hats, belts and other uniform accessories are packed into boxes with acid-free tissue paper.

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uniform accessories repacked

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Uniform accessory box in store

The uniforms now have more space on the rail, are easier to identify and look fantastic!

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Repacked uniforms

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Repacked uniforms

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Aluminium and toothbrush handles…

Last week the Museum acquired a fantastic and rather intriguing object from Moss Kimmelman when he visited us with Brighton and Hove AJEX branch.

At first glance this cigarette case appears to be just a beautiful object, but the story behind it makes it far more fascinating.

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In 1944, aged 17 in Moss Kimmelman signed up to the RAF volunteer reserve. He was called up in the spring of 1945 when he turned 18. Although he wanted to fly, the war was nearly over, so he was sent to the Middle East.

Moss tells a story about travelling to Palestine for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to attend a service organised for 40 service personnel of all ranks by the Jewish Chaplain. The drive over the Sinai desert took 16 hours in a broken old bus. They visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and the drive between the two was particularly memorable.  Travelling along hairpin bends, with the back of the bus swinging off the edge at every turn, Moss’ companion kept clinging to his arm and saying, ‘That one will put us in the JC’.

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An American plane flying over Egypt

In 1946 Moss was posted to Egypt at an airfield 30 miles from Cairo. Crates of new US planes, never assembled had been given to the British on a lend-lease basis, meaning now that the war was over any unused aircraft had to be bought or destroyed.

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WW2 American Aircraft

German Prisoners of War were put to work smashing the aircraft up and made trinkets out of the debris to swap for items such as cigarettes.

This cigarette case was just one of several that Moss bought for his father or brother-in-law at the airfield. It is made from aluminium from the aircraft and the coloured inlay is made from melted toothbrush handles!

The front of the case is decorated with a Mosque design.

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The reverse depicts Africa upon sunbeams with the word ‘EGYPT’.

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Inside the case is decorated even more intricately, with a black piece of elastic to secure the cigarettes it would have held.

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The left hand side contains a red insert within a heart to put a photograph of a sweetheart or loved one.

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And the right hand side is engraved with scenes of Egypt including pyramids, palm trees and a boat, with an American airplane such as the one the case is made from flying overhead.

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In 1947 Moss was sent back to a Midlands airfield. After his mother became ill and passed away he applied to the local Christian chaplain for a place to pray morning and evening.  The chaplaincy acquired him a two day leave pass to Woburn House in London, where the senior Jewish chaplain was located. There he met Israel Brodie, (the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth 1948–1965), who was looking for a new aide de camp. Moss got the job and for the next 9 months worked at Woburn house. He helped organise the moral leadership courses and also met hundreds of Jewish service personnel.

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Israel Brodie

It is here that Moss was introduced to a young lady. The first time he met her he knew she’d be the one and they spent every morning and evening together, getting engaged 5 weeks later and spending 64 happy years together.

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At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.

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The British Jewry Book of Honour

To mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War I thought I’d write about the British Jewry Book of Honour. I have mentioned this in some of my previous blog posts but today I want to tell you more about it.

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The British Jewry Book of Honour, or the BJBH,  permanently records and honours the contribution made by the 50,000 Jews who served in the British and colonial forces during World War I. It was compiled and edited by Reverend Michael Adler, senior Chaplain to the British Armed Forces and published in 1922.

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Reverend Michael Adler taking a service during WW1.

Its main aim was to create a permanent written record of the part played by Anglo-Jewry in the Great War, to help counter claims by some that the Jewish community were ‘shirkers’  and did not do their bit in the War.

Jews care for peace and for liberty as much as others; they are not less ready than others to fight, if need be, in their defence. This book furnishes the proof”.  Sir Herbert Samuel

The BJBH was welcomed by many notable figures in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. The Chief Rabbi, The Very Reverend Dr Hertz wrote “I earnestly hope that British Jewry’s Book of Honour will find a place in every Jewish home throughout the Empire”.

Rabbi Hertz

And the Right Hon Winston Churchill – “It is with great pleasure that I accede to your request to contribute a message to the British Jewry Book of Honour…this record is a great one, and British Jews can look back with pride on the honourable part they played in winning the Great War.”

All Chaplains and officiating clergymen working in different parts of the world deposited their official records of serving Jews with Reverend Adler and all information sent to the Jewish Press was carefully noted.  Detailed lists prepared by the Jewish War Services Committee were also utilised for the book.

Front page

Despite these efforts, the BJBH is an incomplete  record of Jews on active service during the war. The names of all the Jews who served can never be accurately known due to the difficulty in finding Jewish soldiers some of whom did not declare their religion when enlisting in the armed forces.

The BJBH records Jewish enlistment, Jewish Units and the work of Jewish hospitals and other Jewish institutions and agencies. It contains a personal account written by Reverend Adler, entitled ‘Experiences of a Chaplain’, which has given us a vital insight into the difficulties faced by Jewish Chaplains during the First World War.

Importantly, it contains alphabetical lists of those killed in action

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Marcus section

If you look closely you can see Marcus Segal’s name listed on the left hand side

those who were awarded military honours,

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and the nominal rolls of all Jews who served, listed by service and by regiment.

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The BJBH is still regularly used and viewed today. Here at the JMM we have numerous copies which our visitors frequently request to see. Visitors who had relatives that served in the war are always keen to look up their names in the book. It is clear to see the immense pride on their faces when they find their family member listed among the thousands of names. It is for this reason that I believe Reverend Adler dedicated himself to compile the BHJBH and it will always be a lasting memorial to all those Jewish servicemen who fought for this country.

About half of the BJBH is given to photographs of Jewish soldiers and regiments as well as pages of memorial plates. Here are a selection of these images.

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Guest Post – Discoveries in Translation

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This week we have a guest post by one of our wonderful volunteers Susan Gordon. Enjoy!

“Could you tell me what’s in these letters that we’ve just accessioned? They’re written in German and we’d like to know more!”

What appeared to be a straightforward request for a spot of translation has turned out to be like putting together a jigsaw, albeit one with many missing pieces.

The letters, some 25 of them, often undated, were all written between 1943 and 1948 and addressed to Irene Glück of Tel Aviv.  Who was she and who were her correspondents – Leo Schönberger, Schmuel Sojcher, and most importantly, Robert Gelles?  Why were they writing to her in German and why were they serving in the British Army?

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Envelope addressed to Irene (Rina) Gluck

Finding out the answers to these questions has been both exciting and infuriating. At times it has called for more skills in deciphering handwriting than in translating German.

Irene, or Rina as she appears to have been called, was living in Tel Aviv, learning Ivrit (modern Hebrew) and working for a doctor. German was obviously still the common language amongst her group of friends who had all arrived in Palestine before the outbreak of war from Central Europe. Many had volunteered for the British Army as locally recruited troops and were serving in the Middle East.

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A page showing notes from Rina’s Hebrew lessons

Her first correspondent, Leo  Schönberger, was a corporal attached to the No4 POW Working Unit MEF (Middle Eastern Front). His letter was written on headed notepaper from the Jewish Soldiers Welfare Committee and refers to many mutual friends : Dezsò Weinberger, Mermelstein and Jonny.

 Rina’s second correspondent was Schmuel Sojcher, a gunner in the 14th Coast Regiment, 179th Battery, Royal Artillery. He had gone out with Rina for a while. From this letter it seems that her feelings had suddenly changed and he felt that he was owed an explanation. 

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Letter to Rina from Samuel Sojcher

Enter Robert Gelles!

Robert’s letters to Rina form the bulk of the collection. Learning to decipher his handwriting has certainly been a challenge. While it is initially easy to read, certain key letters  h , g, r , s ,d  and n  are written differently depending on their position in a word or whether they are capitalised. Inevitably it has been the key word in a sentence or phrase that has been the hardest to read.

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Although Robert was writing in German, he was almost certainly not from Germany.  His vocabulary and usage is typically Austrian and he had obviously been well educated.

 In a letter dated May 1945, he wrote that although he had found his father who  “… had been through a great deal…”, the Germans had deported his mother and sister. His father wanted to travel back home to see what had happened there but could not do so because of Tito.

I wonder if their home was in Southern Carinthia, that part of Austria occupied by Yugoslav forces at that time or maybe in the disputed area around Trieste and Fiume-given to Italy in 1919 although previously part of Austria. Later on, Robert learnt that his mother had died in Auschwitz while his sister had been sent to Buchenwald or Dachau in October 1944 and did not return.

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Envelope containing letter to Irene (Rina) Gluck from Robert Gelles

Robert was serving in the 524 Palestine Field Survey Company, Royal Engineers as a sapper (equivalent to a private soldier). The unit was formed during 1942, with volunteers from Palestine joining regular officers and NCOs from other field survey units. By the time of Robert’s earliest letters in January 1944, it was based in Egypt, at the Middle East Survey HQ in Cairo, preparing maps for the Allied Campaign in Italy. By September 1944, it had been posted to Italy as part of the 15th Army Group Unit.

Researching this background information has helped make sense of Robert’s letters. Obviously, he could not have written directly about what he was doing but it explains his references to working in a studio, developing pictures and even at one point, teaching Italian to fellow servicemen.

“ … it is very hard as they are all English, including the officers and their minds are simply not used to grasping a foreign language …”

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Letter to Rina from Robert Gelles 

His letters show the ups and downs, the misunderstandings and the longings of an intense, long distance relationship largely conducted by letter.

“ …..write to me often so I can feel you are always with me… …your letter was a great disappointment.  I really was awake the whole night .On the other hand, I’m only human and people do make mistakes….. could I have imagined that we would be separated for so many years…. Write to me soon. I am longing for your letter…when I open the lid of my trunk, your pictures are stuck inside….”

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Letter to Rina from Robert Gelles

 Getting to know Robert from these letters has been fascinating. He was obviously interested in art and architecture and his letters from Italy include descriptions of his sightseeing while on leave. He visited Rome where he saw  an exhibition of  paintings by  Raphael and Titian, the Sistine Chapel  and wrote enthusiastically about  Michelangelo’s statue of  Moses, Robert writes    “…we sat in front of it for half an hour … “.

The letters do not say exactly when he was demobbed from the army but it appears that he stayed on in Italy after the war, in Verona, possibly to be near his father whom he was supporting.

In early 1948, Robert’s father received a visitor’s visa for the United States where a brother was living. He wanted to meet Rina before he left,  “…his heart’s wish is to get to know you…”

To travel to Italy, she would need a passport but why then would Robert have asked her to bring with her a copy of her divorce certificate, legalised in English? Did she come and why would she have needed that?   Robert’s last letter to Rina is written from Vienna. He was looking forward to leaving and flying home to Rina, arriving on the 6th April,  “… Could you reserve me a room in a hotel for the 6th April as I don’t want to stay with anyone I know…”

And what happened after that …did they live happily ever after and if so, where?

Robert’s war medals are also in the collection but so too is another piece of the jigsaw, a letter from Jakob Gluck to Rina in Czech.

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A Letter from Jakob Gluck to Rina, written in Czech.

The 200 Czechoslovak Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment East was made up of Czech refugees who had reached the Middle East as well as those who had joined Czechoslovak units in the British and French armies earlier in the war. Although it had been guarding the ports of Haifa and Beirut, it was sent back to the UK in May 1943 to form part of a new Czech Brigade.

Can anyone help us to translate this letter and shed more light on the story of Robert and Rina?

Susan Gordon

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Armed Forces Week at the National Memorial Arboretum

On Wednesday 25th June I travelled up to Staffordshire to attend the AJEX Ceremony and Parade in honour of Armed Forces Day at The National Memorial Arboretum http://www.thenma.org.uk/ .

The National Memorial Arboretum is the UK’s year-round Centre for Remembrance.  It is a beautiful place honouring those who have served, and continue to serve, Britain in many different ways. There are over 50,000 trees planted at the site which covers 150 acres. The trees and over 200 dedicated memorials at the site make the Arboretum “a living tribute that will forever acknowledge the personal sacrifices made by the Armed Forces and civil services of this country.”

The National Memorial Arboretum

The National Memorial Arboretum

The focus of the NMA is not only on military remembrance. There are large areas devoted to the Police, Fire and Rescue and Ambulance services. National charities representing those who have died in particular circumstances, including children, are also to be found in the Arboretum grounds.

The day before Niki and I travelled up to Cannock and stayed at the picturesque Ramada Hotel…

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Room with a view…

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The Stumble Inn…

 In the morning, in partnership with the Holocaust Education Trust, we visited Great Wyrley School. Niki and Ron Shelley (our Museum Chairman) spoke to a school group about Armed Forces Week, the British Jewish contribution to the Armed Forces and what was planned for the day ahead. 

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Niki talking to pupils at Great Wyrley School

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Ron talking to pupils at Great Wyrley School

Arriving at The National Memorial Arboretum, I was amazed by the beauty and tranquillity of the site. Ron Shelley first led the school group to the Shot at Dawn Memorial and The Armed Forces memorial.

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Inside the NMA – The Armed Forces Memorial

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Parachute Regiment Memorial

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49th (West Riding) Division Memorial

The Shot at Dawn Memorial

This memorial commemorates the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot for desertion or cowardice during World War I. Most were sentenced after a short trial at which no real opportunity for defence was allowed. Today it is recognised that many of these men were suffering from shell-shock. 

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Shot At Dawn memorial

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Shot At Dawn Memorial

 

 

 

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Ron talking to pupils at the Shot At Dawn memorial

The Armed Forces Memorial 

This commemorates the men and women of British Armed and Merchant Services who have lost their lives in conflict, as a result of terrorist action or on training exercises since the end of WWII.

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One of the sculptures on the Armed Forces Memorial

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At the Armed Forces Memorial

The AJEX Ceremony and Services

We then made our way to the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) Memorial where AJEX held a parade and service in memory of those who have fallen.

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The AJEX Memorial

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Standard bearers march to the AJEX memorial

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Memorial service

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Memorial service

After the service at the AJEX Memorial the parade moved on to the Normandy Memorial, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

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The D-Day Memorial

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Rabbi Reuben Livingstone the current Jewish Chaplain to the British Armed Forces.

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D-Day Veterans Mervyn Kersh and Leslie Sutton salute during the National Anthem.

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Marcus and Florence go online!

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I’m excited to announce that the Marcus and Florence interactive from our ‘For King and Country?’ exhibition is now online!

Here you can read all of Marcus Segal’s letters and Florence Oppenheimer’s diary with a video and the audio we recorded with Tom Barratt and Kate Lock back in February.

Click here to go to the website.  Enjoy!

http://www.letters.thejmm.org.uk.gridhosted.co.uk/

PPP

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A Collections Review and a WW2 discovery

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Last week Frances Halahan from Halahan Associates visited the museum to review our entire collection.  This is needed to help us plan for the future storage and to ensure that our fantastic collection can be preserved for future generations. It is also an important step in planning of our proposed move to the Jewish Museum.

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Frances spoke to us about the conditions of our collection and answered questions about best storage practice and how to treat specific objects and material.

Frances measured both of our object stores and reviewed the boxes, uniforms and display areas to calculate how much space our collection needs to be stored correctly, allowing for room to grow.

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Whilst looking at the display cases Frances and Roz removed an object that had been intriguing us for a while.  Labelled in the display as water purification tablets, we were concerned by its condition and wanted Frances’ advice.

However, on closer inspection we discovered that this object was not simply water purification tablets, it was some sort of World War II 24 hour ration pack.

On one side it it appears to be a wallet with a tiny compass attached.

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On the reverse we discovered a bar of chocolate, a box of matches and a tube of what we think was condensed milk but has corroded significantly.

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There are lots of cubes of Horlicks tablets  and even some chewing gum pellets on the top right!

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The ration pack contains the water purification tablets as we suspected. There are also some tablets to ‘relieve fatigue’ which may have been Benzedrine or another amphetemine that were issued to soldiers during the Second World War.

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As you can see the collection is in very poor condition, with plastic from the wallet decomposing almost completely. Frances advised us to take it off display and helped us to repack it safely.

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Frances is now writing a report on her findings on our collection and has kindly offered to advise us with the marking and repacking of our collection. We look forward to seeing how we can improve our storage and the condition of our collection, and ensure it is preserved for the future.

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