About the Film

February 15, 2018
Jewish American soldiers in prayer shawls on the European front of World War II.
GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II features the stories of those men and women who served in the U.S. military, fighting a war and anti-Semitism.

GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II premieres nationwide on Wednesday, April 11 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and will be available to stream the following day via and PBS apps.

The feature-length documentary film spotlights the little-known story of the more than 550,000 Jewish Americans who served their country in all branches of the military during World War II.

Filmmaker Lisa Ades (American Experience: Miss America) brings the struggles of these brave men and women to life through first-hand experiences that reveal their fight against fascism, as well as their more personal war to liberate loved ones in Europe. After years of battle, these pioneering servicemen and women emerged transformed: more profoundly American, more deeply Jewish, and determined to continue the fight for equality and tolerance at home.

Who Is in the Film

Carl Reiner with his WWII dog tag
Carl Reiner at the GI JEWS interview in his Los Angeles home, December 2014. He is wearing his army hat and holding up his dog tags, which were marked H for Hebrew. Photo: Turquoise Films. GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II premieres April 11 on PBS. Check local listings.

The film features more than 25 original interviews with veterans who speak candidly about the impact of their wartime experiences:

Mel Brooks, who served in the Army¬†as a combat engineer; Henry Kissinger, a refugee from Nazi Germany who was drafted into the Army; Carl Reiner, the son of Jewish immigrants, who traveled throughout the Pacific theater with the Special Services Entertainment Unit; the late Bea Cohen, who was a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in England; and Max Fuchs, who served in the 1st infantry division and was the cantor at a Jewish service in Aachen, Germany, broadcast by NBC in 1944. See film participants’ World War II era photos.

“While Jewish Americans’ relationship to the Holocaust has been covered extensively, the extraordinary experiences of these servicemen and women bring the well-known saga of World War II to life in a new way and with a uniquely Jewish perspective,” said Lisa Ades.

Fighting Anti-Semitism

Max Fuchs and Rabbi Chaplain Sidney Lefkowitz. He is singing in Aachen, Germany during the first Jewish service to be held on German soil since the rise of Hitler
Max Fuchs (second from left in prayer shawl) stands next to Rabbi Chaplain Sidney Lefkowitz. He is singing in Aachen, Germany during the first Jewish service to be held on German soil since the rise of Hitler, which was broadcast on NBC on Oct. 29, 1944. Photo courtesy Max Fuchs.

In addition to battling the enemy, Jewish Americans fought a second, more private battle against anti-Semitism within the ranks. They sought to observe their religion far from home while enduring slurs and even violence from their fellow servicemen, and often felt forced to prove their courage and patriotism. Fighting together in the trenches, at sea, in the air and in war offices, American servicemen and women forged deep friendships across religious lines, and learned to set aside their differences for the greater good. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, America’s Jewish community was now the largest in the world, and by the end of World War II, the United States had begun to embrace its Jewish citizens as true Americans. With their new responsibility as international leaders, many Jews became passionate about postwar culture and politics, fighting for justice and social change.