Combining serious reflection with humorous memories, four Jewish men who fought in American wars observed Veterans Day at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.
They gathered on Nov. 11 under the auspices of the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest.
Leading off the panel discussion was former JHS president Bob Max. The Summit resident was captured by Nazi soldiers in 1944, beaten savagely, and force-marched through the winter to a forced labor camp, “where you work or you die.”
Although he lost 45 pounds during 90 days in captivity, Max and two army buddies summoned the strength to escape their Nazi captors.
Max said that the Allied troops who defeated the Nazis in World War II deserve to be called “the greatest generation.”
“What I learned among many other lessons is we can be a great people,” said Max. “I would like to think we can be that again. Recognizing what we are as a people, as a nation, and as a world now, could we ever rise to that again? I must be honest and say, ‘I have some doubts.’”
He added that his World War II experiences “changed my life forever.”
“How do I follow that?” asked Myron Katz of Springfield as he began the story of his service in the Korean conflict. After graduating from Newark’s Weequahic High School in 1952, Katz enlisted in the army and served in a mortar company in North Korea.
At the war’s end, “you know what we did? We cried. We saluted the flag. We hugged each other,” he said.
Upon returning safely, Katz said, he was determined to remain active in veterans’ affairs, and became a commander of the Jewish War Veterans post in his hometown.
He is committed to battling “layers of anti-Semitism” that have prevented or delayed Jewish war heroes from being recognized for their wartime achievements and bravery.
Arthur Weintraub of Springfield served in the army’s Special Forces in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1967.
“There is a difference between the soldiers who participated in World War II and the era I was in back in the ’60s,” he said. The Vietnam conflict, he said, “wasn’t a very popular war.”
Years afterward, Weintraub said, “I met some of the guys who never recovered. No arms, no legs, no sight. Not their fault. But a lot of it had to do with the treatment they received when they returned to their hometowns. A lot of it had to with all the antiwar demonstrations that existed. These individuals had no choice, yet they were scorned.”
His training involved parachuting into swamps. “We had to survive on all kinds of lizardy-type things. It wasn’t even kosher. We are better known by other soldiers as ‘snake-eaters,’” he said.
Weintraub spoke of being “the only one with ‘horns’ in my unit. I was Jewish, and I think I was the only Jew in the army.”
Marc Krauss, a major who served in Iraq in 2005, was a member of both the Army and the Air Force.
Like Weintraub and Katz, he lives in Springfield and is a member of Jewish War Veterans Post 273.
He joined the Air Force in 1984 and discovered “there was a perk to being Jewish at Lackland Air Force Base” in Texas.
“On Sundays, when they scheduled God in, we didn’t get to go to churches like the other airmen,” he said. “We got to go to the JCC in San Antonio, and I saw two words I never thought I’d see together — ‘Shalom, y’all.’ There are Jews in Texas.”
Katz spent 10 years in the Air Force, then entered the University of Nebraska and signed up for Army ROTC, where he was “the oldest cadet in the battalion.”
After being commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was sent to Korea, then Germany.
With two other Jewish officers, “we did our Jewish thing,” going to Prague for Yom Kippur services, to Dachau to tour the concentration camp site. Then, in January 2003, he was deployed to Kuwait at the start of the Iraq invasion.
One night, in a tent after hearing an explosion, he hollered “mask” at his troops, fearing a chemical or biological weapons attack from Saddam Hussein’s forces. Instead it turned out to be a French missile “that went awry.”
“You live under this constant fear of the unknown,” he said.
Later, as his troops marched toward Baghdad, “we never saw the enemy. We never fired our missiles,” he said. “But we were there.”
The panel was moderated by JHS executive director Linda Forgosh.