Britain’s armed forces minister paid tribute to the contribution of Jewish military personnel during the Second World War as he attended the UK launch for a museum in Israel highlighting their role in the victory.
The Museum of the Jewish Soldier in WWII, due to open in the Ayalon Valley in time for the 70th anniversary of the end of the War next May, will highlight the efforts of some of the 1.5m soldiers from 20 countries who fought in the allied armies, ghettos and underground groups, including at least 60,000 from the UK.
It will tell their stories in chronological wings from September 1939 to the surrender of the Japanese six years later.
Speaking to the Jewish News at the launch of the Friends of the Museum of the Jewish Soldier at the House of Commons last week, Armed Forces minister Mark Francois said: “We are all familiar with the history of the Holocaust and we commemorate what happened each year in Parliament. It’s also important to remember Jewish people fought including in the British forces to defeat Nazism and this museum helps to tell that story as well. It’s undeniable that Jewish servicemen and women made a really important contribution to winning the Second World War. If we’re not going to take living in a free country for granted, we must correctly honour those who defended that freedom, not least the Jewish personnel.”
An estimated 250,000 lost their lives during the War and around 200,000 were honoured for their service. The museum project was also hailed by event host, MP John Whittingdale, the chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, who addressed the Jewish News-partnered gathering along with former Israeli defence minister Moshe Arens.
Dr Tamar Ketko, curator of the museum, pointed out that three of those who served went on to command the IDF and two became president of the Israel.
She told the Jewish News: “Jews are usually represented by the Torah, the synagogue and the star of David. The time has come to realise that they came also be symbolised by the shield of David, ready to defend themselves in times of danger and ready to help wherever it is needed to save other people’s lives as they did in World War Two.”
The launch came in the same week as it was announced that the Jewish Military Museum’s collection of diaries, photographs, medals and uniforms will be integrated into the Jewish Museum’s permanent galleries in Camden from next spring. Highlights of the 4,000 items currently housed in Hendon and telling the story of military personnel over three centuries include original handwritten posters by the first Jewish chaplain on the Front Line, Reverend Michael Adler and the Victoria Cross of Tommy Gould, who saved the lives of those aboard his submarine.