Second World War researchers are calling on Jewish families whose relatives fought and died while serving in Bomber Command to detail how their loved ones from around the world helped defeat Nazi Germany.
A staggering 44 percent of the famous fighting unit’s 125,000 aircrew were killed, but no details on religion and ethnicity of the 58,000 who lost their lives were recorded.
Now, after talking to several visiting Jewish families, Cathie Hewitt, an archivist and genealogist at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, is hoping to add this missing detail.
“I decided to look into it after noticing how many Jewish visitors we were getting,” she says.
“We’ve already identified 500 Jews who were killed while serving in Bomber Command, including three Jamaican Jews, but we think there are many more to be identified.”
Hewitt explained that the often-Anglicised names of Jewish fighters, plus the lack of ethnicity data, meant the true Jewish contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany was only now beginning to emerge. “No-one knows how many Jews died in the RAF’s Bomber Command, and of those we do know about, there is very little information,” she says.
“However, families are now beginning to add details about the lives of those who served and share photographs with us, and we want to hear from others.”
Among examples unearthed by Hewitt is that of Cricklewood boy Norman Gorfunkle, who was shot down over France, but it wasn’t just British Jews who were involved.
“For many Jews who came from mainland Europe, serving gave them the only opportunity available to take revenge on their persecutors,” she says.
One foreign Jewish fighter was Canadian Joey Jacobson, killed on 28 January 1942. His father Percy said: “He hated the Germans for what they had done to his people and what they were trying to do to the liberty which meant more to him than his life.”
Hewitt is keen to hear from families who lost Jewish relatives or friends who served in Bomber Command, along with their untold stories, photos, documents and memorabilia that can be recorded, scanned and preserved for future generations.
She can be contacted on email@example.com
Shot down at 22: Norman’s story
Hewitt learned of Norman Gorfunkle when his family visited the Lincoln centre. Born in Liverpool in 1920, Gorfunkle was the son of Jewish-Polish immigrants who arrived in the UK in the 1850s. His father died when Gorfunkle was 13, so the son moved back to London, where his mother was from, together with his sister Naomi, settling in Cricklewood in 1936.
Gorfunkle volunteered for the RAF in 1940, aged 20. Two years later, his Halifax bomber was hit by flak above France and crashed. Gorfunkle was seriously injured and later died of his injuries and was buried in a local cemetery. Since the Germans did not know he was Jewish, the grave was inscribed with a cross.
In 1948, his mother put a bag over the headstone and had a new one made with a Star of David. It was installed days later by the Commonwealth War Office.
Thanks to his family, Norman’s collection of photographs, documents and the final letter he wrote to his sister a week before he was killed has now been digitally scanned for the Bomber Command Centre’s archive.