May 24, 2017 – Base Hospital 21
More than nine months before the US officially entered WWI, the Red Cross called for the creation of a base hospital unit to be organized at Washington University St. Louis School of Medicine. Within a short amount of time, the entire faculty had volunteered for the unit. In fact, many members of the faculty had signed up for surgical units in France when the fighting began in Europe.
By the time of the US declaration of war in April 1917, the Red Cross had organized 33 base hospitals (eventually there would be 36), and within weeks they had selected six for immediate mobilization – including the one at Washington University. At the time, Base Hospital 21 had no commissions, no uniforms and no orders. The original 28 officers, 65 nurses and 185 enlisted men left St. Louis for New York on May 17 and arrived in Liverpool England on May 28, about a month after being mobilized.
Although Base Hospital 21 was a US unit, it was assigned to General Hospital 12 of the British Expeditionary Force and was assigned to take over the 1300-bed hospital at the racetrack in Rouen, France. The hospital was one of 14 British medical units established along the southern line in France in 1914. Not long after the Americans arrived, most of the British medical staff withdrew.
With the exception of the flu epidemic, Base Hospital 21 served as a medical clearing station. During the primary 18 months of its operation, the small staff of doctors, nurses and enlisted men handled more than 60,000 patients. Of that number, less than 5 percent (2,833) were Americans soldiers; the rest were British.
After the armistice, Base Hospital 21 continued their work but now cared for sick and repatriated POWs. The last patients left Rouen in January 1919 and the unit began to demobilize. Many of those who served with Base Hospital 21 were from the St. Louis Jewish community. Some were nurses, others were doctors, and still others enlisted men. Among those known to have served with the unit in France were:
Olive Handy George
Edwin S. Kohn
Shepherd J. (Joe) Magidson
Sidney Isaac Schwab
Julius V. Silberberg
Elkan C. Voorsanger
The photograph of Base Hospital 21 is provided by Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine.
May 17, 2017 – Jewish Welfare Board
On April 9, 1917 the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) came into being to meet the needs of Jewish soldiers and sailors. Created by merging about a dozen national Jewish organizations, its goals were to meet the needs of Jewish soldiers. By September of that year, the JWB became one of the “Seven Sisters” of the United War Work Campaign. Although one of the five religious groups under that umbrella, the JWB did not want to segregate Jewish men and women from others, but rather to help “Jewish boys adjust themselves to understand and sympathize with their Gentile brothers-in-arms and to be, in turn, understood by them.” [New York Tribune 11/10/18]
Among the tasks undertaken by the JWB was the recruitment and training of rabbis for military service as chaplains and their oversight of Jewish chapel facilities at military bases. The JWB also sought to help with the recreational and spiritual needs of all soldiers at military camps, by providing them with religious services, prayer books, literature and music, as well as classes, concerts, lectures and debates. They also arranged to sell non-perishable kosher food in camps where Jewish soldiers were stationed.
The Board also organized branches in more than 150 US cities where community centers could help send off draftees, collect and distribute gifts, provide entertainment, help look after relatives left at home (especially in terms of correspondence), and offer hospitality when soldiers were on leave. Thousands of volunteers manned these centers throughout the US during the war. In time, there was even a JWB center overseas, headquartered in Paris for those serving in Europe.
In all, the Jewish Welfare Board provided about 50 Jewish chaplains during the war and served more than a quarter million Jewish soldiers. The centers and spiritual help were not restricted to Jewish soldiers. In fact, the idea was to show that Jewish beliefs did not conflict with what all soldiers were fighting for. The JWB noted in its own October 1918 publication that it “…sought to mobilize the enthusiasm and patriotism of the Jews of this country, and to muster the natural resources and forces of American Jewry…”
The photograph of the Jewish Welfare Board is provided by the St. Louis Jewish Community Archives.
May 10, 2017 – Rose Tuholske Jonas
Many people don’t realize today that not everyone wanted the US to join in the war effort in WWI. In fact, between 1901 and 1914 there were 45 new peace organizations that arose in the United States, most with the support of religious organizations, statesmen, politicians, and educators. The most ardent devotees, however, were women. Rose Tuholske Jonas was one of those women. The daughter of Herman Tuholske, one of the most prominent physicians in St. Louis and a founder of the Jewish Hospital, Rose was a charter member of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (originally Women’s Peace Party) founded by Jane Addams in 1915. During her life, Rose was a member of the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the National Council for the Prevention of War, chair of the first peace committee of the National Council of Jewish Women, and a board member of the St. Louis Civil Liberties Committee.
Those who joined peace organizations did so for various reasons, and while many dropped their support of such groups after the US entry into the war, others like Rose did not. Rose Jonas’s German-born husband, Ernst Jonas, was a well-respected physician at the Jewish Hospital but not yet an American citizen when the US entered the war. Thus, he had to register as an enemy alien, one of 122 individuals in St. Louis who received the mandatory permit forms in May 1917. As a registered enemy alien, he was required to carry the permit as a pass that restricted him to certain zones of where he worked and lived. In 1918, Ernst Jonas was forced to resign his position at the Jewish Hospital because former staff members then serving in the military protested his enemy alien status.
Ernst Jonas applied but was turned down for citizenship in 1921 because of his enemy alien status, even though later in the war he offered his services to the Medical Corps. He finally became a US citizen in 1924. Rose Tuholske Jonas continued her support of peace organizations, something she did for the rest of her life.
The photograph of Rose is provided by the St. Louis Jewish Community Archives.
May 3, 2017 – Henry Haffner
Henry Haffner was the fifth of eight children born to William and Annie F. Haffner. While his parents immigrated from Russia and Austria respectively, he and his seven siblings were all born in Missouri and lived to adulthood in St Louis. The family lived at 1900 N. Whittier and later moved to 5114 Lotus Avenue. Henry’s father, William, was the prosperous proprietor of the North Market Feed and Seed Company at the intersection of North Market & Whittier. Around the time of the war his sons ran the business while William worked for St. Louis inspecting hay and grain purchased by the fire department.
Although not quite 17 years old, young Henry Haffner enlisted in the US Navy not long after the declaration of war. Once in the Navy he trained as an apprentice seaman at Great Lakes, Illinois. During the war he was promoted to Seaman and assigned to the USS Mercury.
Ironically, the USS Mercury had been built in Germany in the late 19th century, operating as the SS Barbarossa of the North German Steamship Line and carrying freight and passengers. When the war began in Europe in 1914, German ships that reached the US were quarantined and their crews restricted to the ship. British and Canadian ships patrolled the US coastal waters making it dangerous for German-flagged ships and their crew to ply the waters to Europe. Thus the Barbarossa stayed in port in New York for several years. After the United States declared war with Germany on April 6, 1917, the US government confiscated all German ships in the US, renamed them, and staffed them with American seamen. Thus the SS Barbarossa became the USS Mercury. During the Great War, the troopship Mercury made seven voyages across the Atlantic, encountering bad weather, getting separated from the convoy, and even submarine attacks. After the armistice, the USS Mercury reversed its trips, crossing the ocean eight times to bring men home. The ship was decommissioned in 1919 and scrapped in 1924.
Henry Haffner’s older brother, Mandel, also served during WWI, but unlike his brother he served in the infantry and fought overseas. After the war, both brothers went into the real estate business.
To read more about the USS Mercury, look at: freepages.military.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cacunithistories/USS_Mercury.
To learn more about Henry Haffner, or any Great War soldier from St Louis, go to: Genealogy.MOHistory.org/Genealogy/Names and type in a name.
The photograph of the USS Mercury is courtesy of the Department of the Naval History & Heritage Command.
April 26, 2017 – Walter Adler
Walter Adler was the oldest of seven children born to Adolph Adler and his wife Rose Epstein Adler, immigrants from Austria and the Czech Republic respectively. Adolph was a butcher who opened his first store in 1885 at Eleventh & Chestnut Streets (later the site of the Bell Telephone Building), and by 1917 Walter was working at the Adler Brothers Grocery at 1123 N. Taylor Avenue in St. Louis. Sadly, Rose died in 1912 after 22 years of marriage.
Walter enlisted in the Missouri National Guard and was in the first group drafted from St. Louis departing to Camp Funston. He was selected for Company A, 314th Engineers, 89th Division. After training at Fort Leonard Wood, they departed for France, where they built roads and fought until the Armistice. Company A also served in the Army of Occupation in Germany from November 24 until April 26, 1919. During the occupation of Germany, Company A was responsible for guarding bridges and railroads. They also had time for leave and many visited Paris and took riverboat trips on the Rhine River. Private Walter Adler’s brother, Monroe, also served during the war, having been inducted on May 12, 1918 and sent to Fort McArthur, Texas. He was assigned to the school for bakers and cooks.
To learn more about Walter Adler, or any Great War soldier from St Louis, go to: Genealogy.MOHistory.org/Genealogy/Names and type in a name.
April 19, 2017 – Ben Moreell
Ben Moreell was the youngest of five children born to Samuel Moreell of New York City and Sophie Sossnitz, a Russian immigrant and daughter of Rabbi Joseph Sossnitz of New York. Although Ben was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the family moved to 1368 Clara Avenue in St. Louis, and he graduated from Central High School. He won a four-year scholarship to Washington University where he studied Civil Engineering. After completing his degree in 1913, Moreell was admitted to the Civil Engineering Corps of the U.S. Navy.
During the Great War, Lt. Moreell was assigned to the naval base at the Ponta Delgado, Azores, assisting Admiral Herbert Dunn, the commander of the Atlantic Fleet. It was here that Ben’s work was commended by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt, an association that would later prove advantageous for Moreell.
While his WWI service was admirable, it was his service after the war that makes him worthy of even higher praise. Having moved back to St. Louis, Moreell married Clara Klinksick, a Navy nurse from Missouri. They lived the life of a career naval family, moving frequently and raising a family. In 1937 President Roosevelt chose Moreell to be Chief of Bureau Yards and Docks. Ben Moreell soon advanced to the rank of full admiral, the first to do so without having graduated from the US Naval Academy. As another war approached, Rear Admiral Moreell saw the need for a naval force that would perform engineering projects in support of the Navy and the Marines overseas. Known as the Seabees, this new force of more than 300,000 managed construction projects overseas during WWII and continue their work to this day.
Ben Moreell went on to work with President Truman before his retirement from the Navy, and later served on the board of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company. Unlike his father, Admiral Moreell is not buried in St. Louis. Instead he lies at rest in Arlington National Cemetery, a fitting location for the “Father of the Seabees.”
To learn more about Ben Moreell, or any Great War soldier from St Louis, go to Genealogy.MOHistory.org/Genealogy/Names and type in a name.
Ben Moreell’s photograph is provided by the US Navy Seabee Museum.
April 12, 2017 – The Abramson Brothers
Julius and Bertha Abramson were the parents of five sons, three of whom served in the Great War. Julius immigrated to Missouri from Germany in 1890 and soon met and married Bertha Klein. The three brothers, Alvin (1894), Sidney (1898) and Herbert (1896) illustrate the St. Louis Jewish community’s commitment to serve their country in time of war.
Alvin Abramson enlisted on May 30, 1917 at the Student Citizens Training Camp, Fort Riley, Kansas, and reached France in August 1918 with Company C of the 530th Engineers. Sgt. Abramson was one of 400,000 engineers who repaired war damage to expedite troop movements. Their mission included bridge and road building, maintaining communication lines, erecting stables and hospitals, and repairing train tracks.
In the spring of 1917 Herbert and Sidney Abramson were part of Company I of the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Missouri National Guard, which became the 138th Regiment. The unit also included a young Captain Harry Truman. They participated in the offensive at Cheppy from September 26 to October 1, which became known as “Six Days in the Argonne.” According to a newspaper report, Sidney witnessed the death of Washington University graduate and Medal of Honor winner Captain Alexander Skinker, commander of Company I, on September 26. Sidney was only five feet away from Capt. Skinker, with bullets piercing his own blouse pocket and backpack. Both Herbert and Sidney were wounded during the war, but in an announcement made by their mother Bertha, and printed in the Modern View, all three of her sons returned safely from “over there.”
To learn more about the Abramson brothers, or any Great War soldier from St Louis, go to Genealogy.MOHistory.org/Genealogy/Names and type in a name.
April 5, 2017 – Welcome to World War I Wednesday
The postings you will find here each Wednesday, today through the end of the year, are part of the St. Louis Jewish community’s commemoration honoring those who served their country during the Great War, 1917-1918. While this first post, dated to coincide approximately with the beginning of the U.S. involvement in the war, is a general description of the community’s involvement in the war, those that follow will be more specific, highlighting individuals or groups who served. Most were members of the military, but others served their country in the medical field or on the home front.
This project has been a labor of love for a few dedicated volunteers who, over the past several years, have diligently gathered information about service members from the St. Louis Jewish community (and those we claim as ours). Our database is certainly not complete, but currently we have identified more than 600 individuals who fit that description. Thirty-six of them died during the war. Needless to say, we cannot give information about each one of these individuals in a weekly posting. However, those we have selected represent the various service units, places of birth, duties, service overseas (or not), etc., which we have identified.
While there are numerous sources that deal with the Great War, none deal thoroughly with the local Jewish community. Thus we have gone through numerous sources and pulled out those individuals who, in at least one source, stated that they were Jewish. Resources from which we gathered information include the St. Louis Jewish Community Archives, the Modern View, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Star & Times newspapers, WWI Draft Registration cards (searchable on the Missouri Secretary of State’s Missouri Digital Heritage Soldiers’ Records: War of 1812-World War I website), and the various World War I collections at the Missouri History Museum (such as the Casualties of the European War, WWI: Biographies & Service Records, and Portraits of Members of the Armed Forces from St. Louis City and County Killed in World War I) among others.
We are pleased to present a brief survey of those from the community who served their country in the Great War, and we hope that you enjoy learning more about them. Some of these individuals sacrificed all to serve in the First World War, and all of them sacrificed part of their lives. We are honored to recognize the people who fought “the war to end all wars.”
All photographs on this page are courtesy of the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.