Private Daniel Stern was drafted into the U.S. Army in February 1918 and assigned to the infantry. In May he landed in Bordeaux, France, and was promoted to bugler. Then came September: “Gassed in the Argonne. Sept. 2, 1918. Totally blinded for six weeks—lost speech for some length of time.” He spent six months in the hospital recuperating, was discharged in April 1919, then ended up staying in France “employed by American Red Cross as leader of Jazz Band.”
Private Stern is one of thousands of WWI-era veterans whose histories are documented on the questionnaires featured in this database. These surveys were sent out by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Office of Jewish War Records as part of an effort to document the service of Jews in the American armed forces. The AJC felt it important to both record and publicize Jewish service—in particular casualties and decorated soldiers—in the war and sent out 16,000 questionnaires soliciting information on soldiers they believed to be Jewish. The questionnaires came in 2- and 4-page versions, though both forms asked for the same information. The longer forms were typically sent to officers, casualties, or next of kin.
Using the Records
Recipients filled out the questionnaires with varying degrees of completeness, but the forms asked for
- present and legal address
- parents’ birthplace
- branch and unit of service
- rank and promotions
- how the soldier entered the service
- dates entered and left service
- length of time overseas or afloat
- whether wounded
- honors received
- last unit
- station or ship
- actions participated in
- names and addresses for other Jews in the service
Some respondents provide brief summaries of their entire time in service.
Records are searchable via name, residence, birth year, and birthplace.
Browsing the Records
Letters requested that the soldiers send supporting documents with the questionnaires, which some did. So you will want to check the pages immediately before and after your soldier’s questionnaire to see whether his file contains additional documents, such as copies of discharge papers, citations, letters, or pictures. Note that sometimes the files contain a letter from the AJC acknowledging the receipt and return of a photo as requested. In these cases, unfortunately, copies of the photo are not typically included in the file.
Questionnaires were sent out based on the assumption that a soldier was Jewish. Some recipients, it turned out, were not. When a non-Jew returned the form, he almost always left the questionnaire blank. For this reason, these questionnaires are viewable in the roll-based browse, but they have not been indexed in the database.
Questionnaires are generally organized by city for enlisted men and branch of service for officers. Casualties are organized separately by status: enlisted, officer, civilian.