‘GI Jews’ Is A Must See For History Buffs Across The Board

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

The atrocities committed against Jews before and during World War II has been well-documented throughout the decades.  It has been presented time and again in so many books, movies and documentaries.  Now PBS has brought to DVD a new, rarely told story of Jews in WWII in the new documentary GI JewJewish Americans in World War II.  This 90-minute documentary tells the story of the battles that Jewish Americans fought externally and internally as part of America’s military.  Those internal battles included anti-Semitism from their own fellow servicemen.  This story of Jewish immigrants becoming American all while working to overcome so many obstacles is just one part of what makes this new WWII tale so impressive.  The bonus extended interviews add even more depth to its presentation.  The program’s pacing puts the finishing touch to its presentation.  Each element is important in its own right to the whole of the program.  All things considered, they make GI Jews an important watch for any WWII history buff and history buff in general.

PBS’ new WWII documentary GI Jews is a presentation that WWII history buffs and history buffs in general should see.  That is because it is such a rare story.  So often, the stories that Americans are presented with from The Greatest generation involve white, anglo-saxon males doing great things.  Having a story about the contributions made by this minority group – and its struggles therein – is almost nonexistent. It starts at America’s entry into the war and ends at Japan’s surrender, which ended the war once and for all.  Audiences get to hear firsthand from the soldiers who were there, the stories of discrimination that Jewish-American soldiers faced from their own fellow soldiers and the dangers that they faced while fighting the Nazis in Europe.  Those stories came from everyday Jewish soldiers and from some more well-known officers, including none other than comedian Mel Brooks and Henry Kissinger.  Yes, Brooks and Kissinger fought for the Allies during the war, and even they dealt with discrimination.  Their stories, and those of their fellow Jewish soldiers and officers are powerful to say the very least.  One of the most notable is that of the service led by a Jewish chaplain during the Battle of the Bulge.  As it turns out, that impromptu service was broadcast by military radio in Europe and by NBC radio in the United States.  This is one of so many stories that has rarely if ever been told from World War II.  Another service was also held at the site where Hitler delivered his propaganda-filled speeches after Germany fell and just before the giant swastika atop the building was destroyed.  Yet again, this is another story that has rarely been told, if ever.  The importance of its symbolism will definitely not be lost on viewers.  One of the most powerful of the stories shared throughout the program comes late in its run.  It is a story of a protestant U.S. military officer who protected a group of Jewish soldiers from being killed by refusing to turn them over to their Nazi captors at a concentration camp.  This simple action is so powerful because it showed that despite so much discrimination, there were those who saw the soldiers and officers as fellow soldiers and officers first, and Jews second.  The very realization of Jewish military members being discriminated against just as much as African-Americans is powerful in itself.  Between these stories and so many others throughout the program, the whole of the stories that makes up the bigger story of GI Jews does more than enough to make this documentary worth the watch.  It is just one part of what makes the program worth seeing.  The bonus extended interviews add even more interest to the program.

The bonus extended interviews are important to note in examining GI Jews because they present additional stories that did not make the final cut for the program’s main feature.  Audiences learn through the extended interviews that Brooks’ hit movie The Producers actually came to be – at least in part – from Brooks’ experience in the war, as well as some other fun and interesting tidbits related to that story.  Carl Reiner, one of Brooks’ good friends, also shares an anecdote about facing off against another soldier just because of his willingness to talk to an African-American about the war.  It ends with a discussion about that soldier threatening a gun fight, to which Reiner won that without even letting it get to a gunfight.  That story in itself will have plenty of viewers laughing.  It should be noted though, that there is some language that some might find offensive.  It is used wholly in context, though, not in a derogatory sense.  To that end, it should not be taken as an offensive term here.  Paul Cohen, another obviously not as well-known soldier, shared a story in the bonus interviews of the discrimination that he suffered, always being called “Jewboy” and never by his name.  It’s shocking that other Americans could treat their own so badly.  Another additional interview reveals that there were Neo Nazis even marching in New York at one point—Americans marching in support of the Nazis.  Yes, it was real then just as it sadly is now.  It adds even more depth to the story because it showed just how much discrimination Jews faced in America.  They faced it not only from their fellow GIs, but even from traitor Americans marching in support of the Nazis.  What’s more, the very fact that there were Americans supporting the Nazi movement IN America is just shocking and a dismay.  It’s just one more of so many interesting stories included in the bonus interviews.  When it is coupled with the other stories noted here and others not discussed, the whole of the stories shared in the bonus interviews adds so much depth and interest to the program.  They make the documentary whole and the experience wholly engaging.  When they are joined with the stories shared in the main feature, the whole of those stories ensures without doubt, viewers’ engagement, showing even more the importance of this program.  Even with this in mind, the bonus extended interviews still are not the last of the program’s most important elements.  The program’s pacing puts the finishing touch to its presentation.

The total run time of GI Jews without its bonus interviews is roughly 90 minutes.  That’s actually not a bad run time, but considering its just short of the two-hour mark, it also means making sure that the program doesn’t lag at any point.  Thankfully, those behind the doc’s creation made sure to keep the program moving throughout by mixing the interviews and overall story elements at just the right points.  What’s more, the soldiers’ anecdotes are directly tied in to the varied narration points, connecting one scene to the next seamlessly.  The end result is a program that ensures viewers’ engagement with ease thanks to pacing that never moves too fast nor too slow at any one point or another.  When this is considered along with the stories in the main feature and the bonus interviews, the whole of the program becomes a presentation that ends before audiences realize it’s over, leaving them wanting more in the best way possible.  That is because it all collectively keeps viewers enthralled.  This shows without doubt that the story of Jewish contributions to the war effort is one that has deserved to be told for such a long time, and one that deserves more attention in the future.  In the meantime, GI Jews will have to do.  It is available now.  More information on this and other programs from PBS is available online now at:

 

 

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