World War I and the Jews


To mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I and to consider the war’s legacies in the present day, the Center for Jewish History is launching a series of exciting public programs to explore the way that the war transformed Jewish life around the globe. This includes a conference, a film series, a concert and, as a keystone for the centennial commemoration, an evening of performance.

The World War I and the Jews initiative is made possible by funding from The David Berg Foundation and The Brenner Family Foundation.

Additional funding has been provided by the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies (New York University), the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History (New York University), American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, and Leo Baeck Institute.


An international roster of scholars will discuss the state of scholarship and introduce cutting-edge research on Jews in World War I, examining the war’s importance as a cataclysmic event in Jewish and world history. In shattering empires and creating new states, the war disrupted Jewish ties around the globe and forged new ones, bringing about an entirely new era of ideologies, nation states, and circumstances that have affected Jewish life to the present day.

Sunday, November 9 (public sessions)

    Day 1 - The State of Scholarship

  • 9:00am
    Coffee and Registration
  • 9:30am
    Welcome and Greetings

    Judith C. Siegel, Center for Jewish History
    David Engel, New York University

  • 9:45am -
    Session 1: Keynote Presentation: Jewish Diplomacy and the Politics of War and Peace

    Carole Fink, Ohio State University
    Introductions: David Engel, New York University

  • 11:15am -
    Session 2: The Jewish World in 1914 and 1919: What Changed?

    Marsha Rozenblit, University of Maryland
    Introduction: Gennady Estraikh, New York University

  • 12:45pm -
    Lunch on Your Own
  • 2:00pm -
    Session 3: Jews in the Military

    Derek Penslar, University of Oxford and University of Toronto
    Introduction: Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan

  • 3:30pm -
    Session 4: Political and Social Transformations during World War I

    David Engel, New York University
    Introduction: Marsha Rozenblit, University of Maryland

  • 5:00pm -
    Session 5: The War and Jewish Culture

    Emily Bilski, Independent Scholar
    Introduction: Jonathan Karp, Binghamton University

  • 6:30pm
    Wine and cheese reception

Public interested in attending on Sunday, November 9 may purchase tickets online.

Monday, November 10 (for college faculty and students only)

    Day 2 - New Research

  • 8:15am
  • 8:45am -
    Session 1: Western and Central Europe
    Chair: Jess Olson, Yeshiva University

    Erin Corber, University of Maine
    "How to be an 'Exemplary Hero': Jewish First World War Heroes and the Politics of Sacred Union in Wartime and Interwar France"

    Steven Schouten, Scientific Council for Government Policy, the Netherlands
    “Jewish Identity, War, and Matriarchy: Ernst Toller and the First World War”

    Mirjam Zadoff, Indiana University Bloomington
    “Revolutionaries and Kabbalists: The Scholem Brothers and World War I”

  • 10:45am -
    Session 2: Eastern and Central Europe
    Chair: Gennady Estraikh

    Mihaly Kalman, Harvard University
    “The Union of Jewish Soldiers between Ukrainian Nationalism and Soviet Internationalism”

    Daniel Rosenthal, University of Haifa
    “Confronting Mass Death: Philanthropy, Public Health, and Jewish Responses to Typhus in Poland, 1914-1921”

    Polly Zavadivker, University of Delaware
    “Rescue and Representation: Jewish Home Front Activists in Russia’s Great War”

    Rebekah Klein-Pejšová, Purdue University
    “Between Refugees and the State: Hungarian Jews and Wartime Hungarian Refugee Policy”

  • 12:30pm -
    Lunch on Your Own
  • 1:30pm -
    Session 3: North America
    Chair: Hasia Diner, New York University

    Jessica Cooperman, Muhlenberg College
    “The US Military in World War I and American Religious Pluralism”

    Jaclyn Granick, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
    “Organized American Jewish Responses to Child Sufferers of World War I”

    Melissa Klapper, Rowan University
    “American Jewish Women’s Organizations and the Great War”

    Matt Silver, Max Stern College of Emek Yezreel
    “Louis Marshall and Transformations in Diaspora Politics during World War I”

    This panel is sponsored by the Goldstein-Goren Institute at NYU.
  • 3:30pm -
    Session 4: Ottoman Empire
    Chair: Sarah Stein, UCLA

    Michal Ben Ya'akov, Efrata College for Education, Jerusalem
    “The Social and Economic Impact of the First World War on Sephardi Women in Palestine”

    Paris Papamichos Chronakis, University of Illinois at Chicago
    “Global Conflict, Local Politics: The Jews of Salonica and the First World War”

    Reeva Simon, Columbia University
    “World War I and the Jews of Baghdad“

    Devi Mays, University of Michigan
    “The 1919 ‘Haggadah dela Gerra’ and the Myth of Ottoman Jewish Loyalty in World War I”

  • 5:30pm -
    Session 5: Concluding Roundtable
    Chair: Jonathan Karp

    Emily Bilski, David Engel, Rebecca A. Kobrin, Marsha Rozenblit, Sarah Stein

College faculty and students may register for tickets online at

Click here for a copy of the Conference program

Speaker Bios

Michal Ben Ya’akov (Ph.D., Hebrew University of Jerusalem) is an assistant professor in modern history at the Efrata College of Education in Jerusalem and chair of the history department.  She created a unique certificate program for Teaching the Holocaust and its Commemoration at the Efrata College for both pre-service and in-service teachers, and has headed the program since 2007. Her academic research centers on 19th and 20th century Eretz-Israel/Palestine/Israel, with special emphasis on North African and Sephardi Jewry, as well on the experiences of North African Jews during both World Wars. In recent years she has focused on Jewish women, particularly, but not exclusively in those communities. 

Emily D. Bilski has published on modernism and on the interface between art, cultural history and Jewish experience, and on contemporary art. She has served as curator and consultant to museums in the United States, Europe and Israel. A graduate of Harvard University, she is the winner of two National Jewish Book Awards, for Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture: 1898-1918 (University of California, 1999) and The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons (Yale, 2005). She is currently editing the volume of Martin Buber’s writings on art for the complete edition of his works; and writing on the history of Munich’s Thannhauser Gallery. 

Paris Papamichos Chronakis is Lecturer in History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received his M.A. in Comparative History from Essex University and his Ph.D. in Modern Greek and European History from the University of Crete. A recipient of numerous grants, he was a Rothschild Foundation Europe post-doctoral teaching fellow at the University of Thessaly and a research fellow at UCLA. He is a historian of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean working on the late Ottoman Empire, the modern Greek state, and Sephardic Jewry and holding a special interest in the interrelated histories of the middle classes, interethnic relations, and the passage from empire to the nation-state.

Jessica Cooperman is Assistant Professor of Religion Studies at Mulenberg College.  She received her Ph.D. from New York University in modern Jewish history.  Her dissertation was entitled,  "The Jewish Welfare Board and the American Jewish Cititzen: Jewish Chaplains, Soldiers and Welfare Workers in the First World War."

Erin Corber is a historian of modern France and modern Jewry. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of European History at the University of Maine.  Originally from Montréal, QC, she defended her Ph.D. in November, 2013 in the Department of History  and Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University, Bloomington. In spring 2014 she was a Postdoctoral Visiting Research Scholar and instructor in the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Hasia Diner is the Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, History, and Director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History at New York University.  She received her Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Chicago, her M.A. from University of Chicago, and her B.A. from University of Wisconsin.

David Engel is Greenberg Professor of Holocaust Studies, Professor and Chair of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and Professor of History at New York University and a fellow of the Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center at Tel Aviv University.  He is the author of 7 books on aspects of the history of the Jews in the 20th century and has edited 15 volumes of the series Gal-Ed: On the History and Culture of Polish Jews.

Gennady Estraikh is Clinical Associate Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and Rauch Associate Professor of Yiddish Studies at NYU.  He received his Ph.D. from the University of Oxford.  His research interests include Jewish intellectual history in the 19th and 20th centuries with an accent on Yiddish literary milieus.

Carole Fink, Humanities Distinguished Professor of History Emerita at The Ohio State University, has recently published Cold War: An International History. She is the author of two prize-winning books, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938, and The Genoa Conference: European Diplomacy, 1921-1922, as well as Marc Bloch: A Life in History, which has been translated into six languages. She has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the German Marshall Fund, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Association of University Women.

Jaclyn Granick will complete her dissertation, "Humanitarian Responses to Jewish Suffering Abroad by American Jewish Organizations, 1914-1929," in spring 2015. She is a Ph.D. candidate in international history at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland and is spending the 2014-2015 academic year as a Dr. Sophie Bookhalter Graduate Research Fellow here at the Center for Jewish History.

Mihaly Kalman is a Ph.D. candidate in Jewish Studies at Harvard University. He is currently completing his dissertation on Jewish armed self-defense against the pogroms in Russia and Mandatory Palestine, with a special eye to the history of Jewish paramilitarism during the Russian Civil War.

Jonathan Karp is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Binghamton University. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. His areas of interest include Jewish cultural and economic history and Jewish-Christian relations. He is the author of The Politics of Jewish Commerce: Economic Thought and Emancipation in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2012). He served as Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society from 2010-2013.

Melissa R. Klapper is Professor of History at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ.  She is the author of Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920 (NYU Press, 2005) and Small Strangers:  The Experiences of Immigrant Children in the United States, 1880-1925 (Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2007).  Her research has been awarded numerous grants and fellowships from such institutions as the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Schlesinger Library on the History of American Women at Harvard University, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.  Her most recent book, Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace:  American Jewish Women's Activism, 1890-1940 (NYU Press, 2013), won the 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies.

Rebekah Klein-Pejšová is Jewish Studies Assistant Professor of History at Purdue University specializing in Modern Jewish and east central European History. She is the author of Mapping Jewish Loyalties in Interwar Slovakia (forthcoming, Indiana University Press), and recent articles in the Austrian History Yearbook, Shofar, and AJS Review. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Rebecca Kobrin, Russell and Bettina Knapp Assistant Professor of American Jewish History at Columbia University, works in the field of American Jewish History. She received her B.A. from Yale (1994), and her M.Phil. (1995), and Ph.D. (2002) from the University of Pennsylvania. She served as the Hilda Blaustein Post-Doctoral Fellow at Yale University (2002–2004) and the American Academy of Jewish Research Post-Doctoral Fellow at New York University (2004–2006). Her area of specialty is Jewish immigration history, which she approaches through a transnational lens. Her research interests span from the fields of urban history to American religion and diaspora studies.

Devi Mays is Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She received her Ph.D. in History from Indiana University in 2013, and was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Modern Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her research interests include the modern Sephardic diaspora, the Jewish Mediterranean, transnational networks and migration, and how minority groups navigate transitions from empire to nationalizing states.

Deborah Dash Moore is the Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and a Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Her fields of Study include American Jewish history, 20th century urbanization, migration, and acculturation and community building.  She is the author of GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation (2004).

Jess Olson is an Associate Professor of Jewish History and the Associate Director of the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies. His areas of research include the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, history of Zionism and Jewish nationalism, and the intersection between Jewish Orthodoxy and political engagement. His recent book, Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity: Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism and Orthodoxy appeared in 2013 with Stanford University Press

Derek Penslar is the Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies at Oxford and the Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History at the University of Toronto.  He is a comparative historian with interests in the relationship between modern Israel and diaspora Jewish societies, global nationalist movements, European colonialism, and post-colonial states.  Penslar's most recent book is Jews and the Military: A History (2013).  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the American Academy for Jewish Research.

Daniel Rosenthal received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Toronto in 2014. His doctoral dissertation focused on the ways in which all Jews in Poland, irrespective of religious or political affiliations, refashioned their ideas about death, funerals, and burial in the decades between the World Wars due to new ideas of selfhood, changing forms of social cohesion, and the growing regulation of death by the new Polish republic. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Haifa University through the Israeli Inter-University Academic Partnership in Russian and East European Studies.

Marsha L. Rozenblit (PhD, Columbia University) is a social historian of Jews in Central Europe.  She is the author of The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914: Assimilation and Identity (1983) and Reconstructing a National Identity: The Jews of Habsburg Austria During World War I (2001).  She has been at the University of Maryland since 1978, serving as the Director of the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies from 1998 to 2003 and currently as the Director of Graduate Studies of the History Department.

Steven Schouten is a Research Fellow at the Scientific Council for Government Policy in the Netherlands. He is a specialist in Modern German-Jewish History, with focus on intellectuals, food and the First World War. He wrote a dissertation on the early life and thought of the German Jewish writer and public intellectual Ernst Toller (1893-1939) (European University Institute, Florence, Italy, 2007) and published, amongst others, ‘Fighting a Kosher War: German Jews and Kashrut in the First World War’, in Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Rachel Duffett and Alain Drouard (eds), Food and War in Twentieth Century Europe (Ashgate, 2011).

Matthew Silver, from the Max Stern College of Emek Yezreel, received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern Jewish History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has taught as a visiting professor at several universities in North America. His book Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America was selected as a finalist in American Jewish History in the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards. His latest book, In the Service of the West: A New Look at Modern Jewish History (Hebrew) was published by Hakibbutz Hameuchad  in September 2014.

Reeva Simon served as Associate Director of the Middle East Institute, Columbia University and has taught history at Columbia and Yeshiva Universities. She is the author of Iraq Between the Two World Wars (2004)  and  Spies and Holy Wars: The Middle East in Twentieth Century Crime Fiction (2010); co-author of Conflict, Conquest and Conversion: Two Thousand Years of Christian Missions in the Middle East (2012) and is a contributor and co-editor of The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times (2003).

Sarah Abrevaya Stein is Professor of History and Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies at UCLA.  Her award-winning scholarship includes Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Sephardi Lives:  A Documentary History (co-edited with Julia Phillips Cohen, Stanford University Press, 2014), and Plumes:  Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce  (Yale University Press, 2008).

Mirjam Zadoff holds the Alvin H. Rosenfeld Chair in Jewish Studies and is Associate Professor for History at Indiana University, Bloomington. She has studied at the Universities of Vienna and Munich, and from 2006 to 2014 she was Assistant Professor in Jewish History at Munich University. Among her major publications are most recently “Der rote Hiob. Das Leben des Werner Scholem” (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2014; in English: Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, in preparation) and “Next Year in Marienbad. The Lost Worlds of Jewish Spa Culture” (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

Polly Zavadivker is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Delaware. She received her Ph.D. in History at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2013. Her dissertation is entitled "Blood and Ink: Russian and Soviet Jewish Chroniclers of Catastrophe from World War I to World War II." It explores the Jewish history of war from 1914 to 1945, as recorded by the writers S. An-sky, Simon Dubnov, Isaac Babel, Vasily Grossman, and others. She has published her research on World War I in The Simon Dubnow Institute Yearbook and the forthcoming series Russia's Great War and Revolution (Slavica).


This film series, curated and introduced by Olga Gershenson (Professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts), commemorates the start of the Great War. Four classic international films reflect a range of Jewish experiences in the East and the West.

Monday, September 15

The Fighting 69th is a 1940 Warner Brothers film directed by William Keighley. The film is based upon the actual exploits of New York City’s 69th infantry Regiment during WWI. The plot centers on misfit Jerry Plunkett (James Cagney), a macho and a coward, unable to fit into the Irish brigade. Among the cast of characters is also Mischa Moskowitz (Mike Murphy for his Regiment friends), who speaks Yiddish, prays in Hebrew, but fights like an Irishman.

Discussant: Thomas Doherty, Professor of American Studies, Brandeis University

Purchase Tickets Online

Monday, October 13

La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion) is a 1937 French war film directed by Jean Renoir. The story concerns class relationships among a small group of French officers who are prisoners of war during WWI plotting an escape. The perspective of the film is generously humanistic to its characters of various nationalities. A key character among them is Rosenthal, a wealthy French Jew. It is regarded by critics and film historians as one of the masterpieces of French cinema and among the greatest films ever made.

Discussant: Stuart Liebman, Professor of the History and Theory of Cinema, CUNY Graduate Center

Purchase Tickets Online

Monday, November 3

A Letter to Mother (1939) is one of the last Yiddish films made in Poland before the Nazi invasion. The plot centers on the story of a mother's persistent efforts to support her family, while her husband moves to America. After her family is pulled apart by severe poverty and the turmoil of WWI, she finally makes her way to New York in hopes for better future. A Letter to Mother was hailed by the New York Times as one of the best Yiddish films to reach America. It was the highest grossing Yiddish film of its time. (106 minutes, Yiddish with English subtitles).

Discussant: Dr. Eric Goldman, recent co-host of the month-long Turner Classic Movies series, “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film” and Adjunct Professor of Cinema at Yeshiva University

Purchase Tickets Online

Monday, December 1

Commissar was made by Aleksandr Askoldov in 1967, but was banned by Soviet censors for 20 years. The reason is the film’s sympathetic depiction of Jews. Commissar is a heartbreaking story of a Jewish family in backwater Ukrainian shtetl ravaged by war and pogroms. When a female commissar fighting in the Red Army gets pregnant, the Jewish family takes her in, as she is expecting to give birth and to return to the fronts… The film is remarkable for its beautiful cinematography, contrasting the domestic Jewish life with powerful images of the Russian Civil War. (110 minutes, Russian with English subtitles)

Discussant: Dr. Jonathan Brent, Executive Director, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Purchase Tickets Online

Film screenings will held at 6:30pm.
Admission for each film: $10 general, $7 members, seniors, students.
For reservations and ticket information please contact Smarttix at 212-868-4444.


Monday, November 10 at 8:00pm

Jews and the Great War: A Reflection at the Centennial
Join us for dramatic readings that reflect the war that created the modern world—featuring memoir and theater, the music of Irving Berlin and Jewish cabaret, Emma Goldman’s activism, and the art of poets Siegfried Sassoon and Isaac Rosenberg.  A reception follows the program.

Admission: $15 general; $10 members, seniors, students

Purchase Tickets Online

Tuesday, November 18 at 7:30pm

Stravinsky, Ravel, and Prokofiev: Composing in War Time
The Phoenix Chamber Ensemble performing Stravinsky’s Suite de L'histoire du soldat for violin clarinet and piano, Prokofiev’s Sonata in D Major for violin and piano and Ravel’s Piano Trio.

This concert is made possible through the generous support of Mr. & Mrs. Leonard Blavatnik.

Purchase Tickets Online

Exhibition: The Kaiser's Call to Arms: Jewish Expression in the Great War

November 9, 2014-January 30, 2015

World War I was a global conflict that mobilized society in the combatant states to an unprecedented extent. After an initial surge of patriotism, the citizens of Germany and Austria-Hungary began to express criticism of the war even as they continued serving as soldiers, workers, volunteers, and artists. The Kaiser’s Call to Arms presents items from the collections of the Leo Baeck Institute which illustrate how Jews expressed such sentiments, and show the many important roles Jews played during the war. Items include Ernst Lissauer’s patriotic “Song of Hate against England” and Karl Kraus’s uncompromising antiwar play “The Last Days of Mankind.”

The Kaiser’s Call to Arms exhibition is on view in the David Berg Rare Book Room. Additional World War I archival materials are on view in the Great Treasures in the Great Hall case through December 9, 2014, featuring selections from the collections of the American Jewish Historical Society, the Leo Baeck Institute, and Yeshiva University Museum.

Der Kaiser ruft zum Streit
Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute

Related Exhibition Presented by the Leo Baeck Institute:

German Jews at the Eastern Front in WWI: Modernism meets Tradition

November 8, 2014-February 15, 2015

German army marching through Neu Sendec, Galicia, 1915
Courtesy of the Bundesarchiv Berlin

For the nearly half-million Jews who served in the German and Austro-Hungarian armies during WWI, military service represented a long-awaited path to full acceptance in societies many Jews had considered their Fatherlands for generations. In the shtetls of Eastern Europe, however, many of these patriots would encounter a different cultural expression of Judaism that would inform new dialogues about assimilation, patriotism, and peoplehood. These issues took on an additional urgency as anti-Semitism mounted in the German military. Original correspondence, photographs, artwork, and objects saved by German and Austrian veterans of WWI illuminate the German-Jewish encounter with the Jews of the East.

The World War I and the Jews initiative is made possible by funding from The David Berg Foundation
and The Brenner Family Foundation.

Additional funding has been provided by the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies (New York University), the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History (New York University), American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, and Leo Baeck Institute.