After its efforts on behalf of Jewish soldiers and chaplains in WWI, the National Jewish Welfare Board became the officially recognized civilian social and religious support arm for Jewish personnel in the U.S. armed forces. The Board and other affiliates established the Bureau of War Records (BWR) during WWII to document the role of Jewish-American service personnel during a conflict which saw approximately 550,000 Jews serve. The BWR and its affiliates compiled service files on over 106,000 soldiers that make up part of the Bureau of War Records, 1942–1947, collection, with supporting documentation from War Department records, newspapers, Anti-Defamation League manuscripts, correspondence by BWR volunteers, POW lists, and other sources.
The cards that make up this database were extracted by the BWR from these service files and serve as an annotated index to those files. They typically provide a name, address, next of kin, rank, and source information, as well as indicating whether soldiers received awards, were taken prisoner, or were wounded, missing, or killed in action. They may also include service number, theatre of action, branch of service, when the soldier’s name appeared on a military Honor Roll, and even whether the subject turned out not to be Jewish. BWR staff created two sets of cards—one alphabetical and the other geographical. Only the alphabetical set is included in this database.
The original service files are now held by the American Jewish Historical Society.
Decoding the Cards
The BWR used several codes in creating the cards. Knowing these codes can help you glean more information from these records. The following description comes from a finding aid to these records created by the American Jewish Historical Society (for the entire guide, click here).
The BWR printed two different versions of the master card forms; both of these versions are color coded and indicate several different categories of information about Jewish service personnel. One set of the master cards is printed in white with a band of color running along the far right side of the card. The color bands are white for death, green for missing in action, red for wounded, or orange for an award bestowed. Another set is printed in solid colors: blue for prisoner, pink for wounded, peach for missing in action, yellow for award, and white for death.
The BWR transcribed information on the master card forms using several encoding schema. In one encoding scheme, labeled the Master Card Symbols, the BWR cut the left corner of a card to indicate that a soldier is one of several members of the same family who died during the war; punched a hole in the card to indicate that a soldier is not Jewish; stamped the word "authenticated" in a box if the information is verified; stamped XX if the case is in abeyance; or left the box blank if the case is pending (see Box 273, card 1).
Another encoding scheme uses acronyms and abbreviations copied from I.B.M. punch card fields used to denote branch of military service and rank, awards, combat action, and theater of operation (copies of the I.B.M. encoding schema are in Box 89, folder 1). These acronyms and abbreviations frequently appear on the front and back sides of the master cards. In addition, many of the cards are stamped on the back side with a grid patterned after Hollerith punch cards created by I.B.M. for the BWR. BWR clerical staff used the grid to note changes made to the soldiers' files; these notes were forwarded to I.B.M. employees who compiled lists of soldiers and sailors for the BWR.
BWR staff also marked some of the master cards with a large dark blue, star-shaped stamp. The star indicates that BWR staff compiled information about service personnel from War Department, Navy Department, or Office of War Information releases, but had not made further inquiries. Finally, as a means to track changes made to the files, BWR clerical staff generally typed their initials and the date in the footer section of the cards.