The forgotten heroes of the Great War

The forgotten heroes of the Great War

NJ Jews ‘stepped up’ during World War I

Guy Brewster challenged soldiers to shoot him to demonstrate the effectiveness of the bulletproof armor he designed. Photo courtesy Jewish Historical Society of NJ 
Guy Brewster challenged soldiers to shoot him to demonstrate the effectiveness of the bulletproof armor he designed. Photo courtesy Jewish Historical Society of NJ 

Of all the Jewish New Jerseyans who made contributions to fighting World War I, few were as colorful as Lillian “Bubbles” Marx, a 14-year-old who stood in uniform on the corner of Broad and Market streets in Newark, raising funds for the troops after American forces joined the conflict in 1917.

“On one particular day, while Bubbles was standing there, along came President Woodrow Wilson,” said Linda Forgosh, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of NJ (JHS). “He took note of her contribution to the war effort and gave her a medal.”

A photograph of the teen will be one of the featured items on display at “The Road to Victory: MetroWest and WWI,” a JHS exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the war.

Lillian’s son, Kelly Marx of Short Hills, helped fund the exhibit “with a generous donation in his mother’s memory,” Forgosh told NJJN.

Bubbles’ image is one of many interesting items that will be on display between Oct. 3 and Nov. 13 at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.

There will be a scratchy woolen uniform worn by a “doughboy,” the nickname given to American servicemen during World War I; a Jewish prayer book that a soldier took with him into battle; and photographs of clunky body armor that Guy Brewster, a Jew from Dover, invented and tried to sell to the United States Army.

Forgosh has been planning the event for months, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I. She was assisted by Marvin Slatkin, a designer from Livingston who arranged the display panels and showcases in the atrium of the Aidekman building.

The exhibit’s focus is on the role of the Jews who lived in what is now the Greater MetroWest community and their participation — both in the field and on the home front — in World War I.

Military scholars estimate that 250,000 Jews fought for the United States in World War I; some 5,000 of them were from New Jersey. 

On display will be a large bronze plaque honoring the troops that Jewish philanthropist and department store magnate Louis Bamberger mounted on an outside wall at Bamberger’s in Newark; alongside it will be a set of posters, on loan from the NJ Historical Society, that were financed by Bamberger urging people to buy Liberty Bonds to aid the American war effort.

Visitors will be able to read letters that servicemen wrote home from basic training at what was then Camp Dix, later Fort Dix, in New Jersey and from war zones in Europe.

Also on display will be original paintings of “remembrance poppies” — the flowers that symbolized the U.S. servicemen who died in World War I and subsequent conflicts and were inspired by John McCrae’s “In Flanders Field,” the 1915 poem honoring combat victims. A recorded musical version of the poem will play on a loop near the paintings.

One World War I veteran featured in “The Road to Victory” will be Albert Richman, who left Dvinsk, Russia, and settled in Millburn. “He thought it was his duty to serve in the U.S. Army,” said Forgosh. 

Richman was a member of the 78th Infantry Division and was among those gassed by German troops in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He survived, and after the war, he became active in the veterans’ association. For his work, Richman was honored at a tribute dinner at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark in June 1968. His ribbons and other war souvenirs were presented by his family, then donated to JHS.

Among the photographs on display will be those of the Brewster-Heller Armor Protector, an invention that caught the interest of General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing after he witnessed a demonstration of the cast-iron bulletproof garment. The prototype was offered to the United States Army, which, however, chose not to purchase it. Alongside those pictures will be others of soldiers with their rifles pointed at inventor Guy Brewster, “who defied them to injure him with gunshots” while he was wearing his protector, Forgosh said.

The armor itself was given to JHS, which donated it to the West Point Museum at the military academy in New York. Leslie Jensen, a curator at the museum, will visit the Aidekman campus on Thursday, Nov. 9, to speak on World War I. His presentation will be preceded by a march by a color guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

During its run, the exhibit will offer several other special events. On opening day, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 7-9 p.m., the New Jersey-based Florian Schantz Jazz Combo — led by 16-year-old Florian on trumpet — will play music that was popular in the World War I era. He will be accompanied by Rup Chattopadhyay on trombone, Lowell Schantz on guitar, and Cory Ackerman on drums.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, from 2 to 4 p.m., actress Carol Simon Levin, a resident of Bedminster, will visit the exhibit in a period uniform to speak about female pilots of the World War I era; Forgosh has invited students and teachers from the area’s Jewish day schools to attend Levin’s presentation. 

“The Jews stepped up and served their country and maybe were not given sufficient credit for that,” Forgosh told NJJN. “It is our share of what has become a nationwide commemoration of what President Wilson called ‘the war to end all wars.’”

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