Fact: During World War I, 10 percent of the officers in the German army were Jewish. Fact: During World War II, 4.7 percent of soldiers in the United States Armed Forces were Jewish, despite comprising less than 2 percent of the population.
Jews have always served in the military and fought to defend their country of residence. As a tribute, Jewish National Fund (JNF) has erected a Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to commemorate Jewish soldiers who fought in any war in any country. Started in 2008 with 15 plaques, today the names of 331 men and women from around the world, including Israel, are inscribed there.
“Ammunition Hill was chosen as the location for the Wall of Honor because of a famous battle waged here by the Israeli Paratrooper’s Brigade,” said Yoel Rosby, JNF Ammunition Hill liaison, speaking at the visitor’s center of this national heritage and memorial site. “During the Six-Day War in 1967, fierce and bloody fighting against Jordanian forces took place on this hill, and the Israeli victory led directly to the capture of the Old City and the reunification of Jerusalem. This site is revered as a symbol of heroism and bravery.”
This year, some 270,000 visitors are expected to visit Ammunition Hill. When construction on its new museum is finished, in time for the battle’s 50th anniversary, a half-million visitors are anticipated.
Two days before Americans observe Veterans Day this year, a group from the U.S. gathered at the wall to add a new plaque to the roster of names. In an emotional ceremony, Philip A. Brodie, of Long Branch, N.J., stood by as a plaque bearing his name was unveiled. Brodie, who enlisted in the National Guard in 1964 and served for six years during the Vietnam era, was visibly moved by the recognition of his service and said the honor meant a great deal to him.
“I think that any person who is Jewish who served in the [U.S.] Armed Forces, especially during the Second World War, did so because of the need for the Jewish people to survive. Certainly, you served because of a love for your country and a desire to protect what your country believes in, but it was also a matter of the survival of Judaism,” Brodie said.
That’s the idea behind the wall, said Rosby. “It’s about being connected to the Jewish people, and to other Jewish combatants, whether they are alive or dead.”
Ken Segel of Albany, N.Y., was also a part of the U.S. group, and had previously donated two plaques, one for his father, who served in the Navy during World War II, and the other for his father-in-law, who served in the Polish army for less than a month before being captured and sent to a concentration camp.
“The Wall of Honor is an appropriate way to remember people and to memorialize them in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish People. It is also a way of raising money to support the upkeep of this very important site,” he said. JNF is an Ammunition Hill sponsor and Segel is JNF’s vice president, campaign.
An online database of the names already inscribed on the wall, as well as any names to come, is currently in the works and is expected to be ready in the next few months. When it is completed, Internet visitors will be able to visit the Ammunition Hill website, click on individual names, read that person’s story, and view a photo.
“We want the wall to be about real people—why they were honored, where they served and fought, what they did,” Rosby said. “In that way, anyone, anywhere in the world can simply click and be connected.”