Tag Archives: WWI

Private David Ben-Gurion, Volunteer in the Jewish Legion, 1918.

1918 Private Ben-Gurion Jewish Legion

Click to view full-size image. (Credit: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

A young Private David Ben-Gurion, volunteer in the Jewish Legion, 1918. Ben-Gurion would go on the become Israel’s first Prime Minister.



A Jewish Refuge in… Peru?

“Einstein is, you know, not a Zionist,” Kurt Blumenfeld wrote to Chaim Weizmann…

In 1919, just after the end of the war, anti-Semitism in Germany was worsening, the necessity of a Jewish homeland was becoming terrifyingly clear, and Prof. Albert Einstein was becoming world famous. What better time for the German Zionist Federation to approach Einstein for his support?

The group’s secretary, Kurt Blumenfeld, tailored his description of Zionist projects to fit Einstein’s interests—as did Chaim Weizmann, himself an accomplished scientist and the future first president of Israel. When Einstein joined Weizmann on a major fundraising trip to the U.S. in 1921, he said little about his own views to American audiences, instead urging them to follow Weizmann. As described in Ze’ev Rosenkranz’s fascinating book Einstein Before Israel (Princeton University Press), Einstein’s relationship with the Zionist movement, and with Jewry in general, was complex.

Yet there is ample evidence that Einstein was quite concerned with the fate of Jews in danger; here we can see first-hand evidence of his efforts to help relocate some 20,000 Eastern European Jews – Jews who had fled to Berlin during the First World War, and who were now stranded there. What nation would give them refuge? The gates to Palestine were tragically closed…

It seemed like a good idea (he wrote) – a Jewish refuge in… Peru. And he added, somewhat cheekily, “My name has certain advertising powers when it comes to Jews.”


Memorial Day

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, was established as a day of remembrance – to give honor to the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The President of the United States traditionally visits Arlington National Cemetery, and participates in a symbolic wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The precise origins of Memorial Day are in dispute; it is generally agreed that the day originated in a day of mourning following the Civil War, when an unprecedented number of soldiers were killed in battle. It is hard to fathom the scale of loss during the Civil War – over 600,000 dead, when the nations’ population was 30 million – 2% of the population killed in battle…

From the Revolutionary War to today, 1.3 million American soldiers have died while serving their nation. It is safe to assume that just as many Americans today oppose their nation’s international policies, so too at all times. But our nation’s freedoms have been hard-earned, and all who enjoy them – all over the world – owe a deep debt to those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

On August 18, 1918, just a month after his youngest son was killed at the front, President Theodore Roosevelt proudly mentions that his other two sons have been wounded – and that “there has been nothing finer in our history than the way our young men have eagerly and gladly gone to France to fight for a high ideal.”

Their light shines ever bright – a beacon of democracy and freedom.


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“Second Passover Sedar Dinner” Jewish men in the A.E.F. singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Paris, France. April 1919.

Army Passover Seder in Paris, France, 1919.

*Click to view full image 

The “Second Passover Sedar Dinner” given by Jewish Welfare Board, to the men of Jewish Faith in the A.E.F. Shows them singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Paris, France. April 1919. Pvt. L. Cohen. (Army)

Hugo: Discovering Georges Méliès

I can remember distinctly when I became enamored with turn-of-the-century art work and special effects. The truth is, what I was looking at was not from that period at all – it was a music video from the 1990’s: The Smashing Pumpkin’s Tonight, Tonight. It was 1996, I was in middle school, and I wanted to “see more things like that.” Of course, at the time, I had no idea what I was looking at: essentially a tribute to Georges Méliès, replete with copies of his famous rockets, moon, stage sets, and an ocean-liner emblazoned with his name.

Imagine my enthusiasm when 15 years later, Hugo hit the theaters. This family friendly movie is based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick’s. The film follows the story of Hugo, an orphan who lives in secret in Montparnasse Railway Station in Paris. The intertwined paths of Hugo and “Papa Georges,” who works at the station as a poor toy tinker, lead to the discovery of long hidden secrets from Papa Georges’ past and ultimately redemption for them both.

For those who have seen this film, you may be left wondering how much of it is fiction and how much is fact. Much of the back-story of Papa Georges (Spoiler Alert) – Georges Méliès – is true. 

Méliès displayed an artistic inclination from the time he was a school boy, building marionettes and drawing, and once his schooling was completed, he desired to study painting. His father did not support this, and instead Méliès took a job supervising machinery. Interested in stage magic, he took magic lessons, and after the family business was sold, Méliès purchased a theater. An innovative magician, Méliès performed for nine years, creating numerous new tricks and illusions. He also wrote, directed, produced, and designed many theater productions. These early experiences prepared him to become the great pioneer of film that we know him as today.

While it is true that Méliès’ jump into moving film was precipitated by viewing the Lumière brothers’ first film, his fall into poverty was not singularly caused by the advent of WWI, as explained in Hugo, but his decline started earlier, in 1907, as new formulas, business practices, and trends in the film industry progressed. By 1913, Méliès was broke, and in 1917, the French army indeed confiscated over 400 of his company’s original film prints, melting them down to make heels for shoes. When his film company was finally taken over in 1923, he burned his sets, costumes, and film negatives that were stored at his studio. Though many of his films are lost to us, 200 (out of 531) of them survive to this day.

As seen in Hugo, the broken down Méliès did become a toy tinkerer at Montparnasse Station. In the late 1920s, journalistic research into Méliès created a renewed interest in his work, and after a large store of his films was uncovered in 1929, a gala event was held in honor of his work at the Salle Pleyel.

With a phenomenal cast, Hugo is an original, sometimes dark, fantastical, and refreshing family movie: a perfect tribute to one of the fathers of film.