When they first called me I was 18 with the 18’s and we were for 6 weeks infantry training then we were distributed to different regiments which were going overseas right away
When I was 18 years old I was living with my parents
1:40-5:31- Story about wife and how they met.
5:40- I was away three years, I came back and I had three weeks leave and we got married and then I went back to Greece because they were running around with the communist flag. ..?
6:40- The six week training was infantry training, They taught you in that time how to use a machine gun, how to use a rifle… they taught us in hand to hand combat … they taught us in everything an infantry should know. It also concerned the big guns too . It was set up that everybody got so much training quickly and to obey orders very very quickly.
What led up to you going in the military?
9:33- Everybody was called out and this was the time when they called the 18’s .Brittan was in the war two years and was being bombed for out of that two years about a year and a half. If you went to work we were obligated to take turns and go onto the roof at night because they were dropping firebombs on the roof …we had to put out the fires and it was done by sandbags and water and as the firebombs were dropped onto the roof which concerned us individually,. We had to drop the sandbags on them and expel it.
AwareAbout the Jewish community in England. What was happening to Jewish people
11:20- We knew everything . Germans were just rounding them up and they were putting them into the concentration camps. The way it was done. They wore their black shirts and broke into their homes and just pulled people away like in the movies during the was.
(Wife speaking) Yes we knew that was happening. There were many German Jews that escaped from Germany and came to England . They would tell us about it. My mother came from Poland and left sisters and a brther and nieces and nephews. Someone told her they saw them go into the camps. They saw them dragged away to the camps and being murdered.
Benjamin- the smell was atrocious. Everybody knew .
13:50-15:04(wife speaking about her mothers house being bombed
My mother came from Poland. Left family.
My mother’s house in England was bombed three times. The last time.it was a miracle that we were all alive. Met an aunt and went to visit early in the day and stayed over night. Breakfast. Terrible night that night, bombs dropping terribly. Left to go home. Saw all houses crumbled. Police said can’t go down your street. There is nothing left there. Followed our mother. House was flattened. Sister cried. Mother said , don’t cry , we’re all here. Workers were digging for people. We’re digging for the people who were in there. we said we weren’t in there. Thank God every day we weren’t in there.
Ben: She saw it all. The buzz bombs.
15:42- Wife speaking)- when the house was still up we used to go to the basement for shelter because youd hear the buzz bombs and when they stopped you prayed and waited 10 seconds and if no bomb you knew you were ok.
Because nobody was in the plane, theye’d send over these planes without a pilot and wipe out 5, 6 streets at a time.
Knew would be called to war? How did you feel about it?
16:43- I knew I was going to be called up eventually but I felt good about it because the Jewish people were being destroyed and here the Christian people were prepared to go and fight for their country and it was a very emotional time and there was nothing that could replace them because what was going on in Germany was something that was beyond imagination. As smart as they are, and they are smart….. that’s how wicked they were…to be able to do these kinds of things and when you talk about it, it breaks your heart to think about it.
18:00- 18:40- It was seen in the movies. People could not deny it was happening.
Did films show what war was like?
Saving Private Ryan was pretty close to everything.
Being in the Artillery
18:44- when you are in action sometimes its very quiet and if its bad weather it stops a bit but the Germans…I was in the heavy artillery and the heavy artillery which was 155’s they were big American guns that you could screw into the ground because they were so heavy and they could hold these big sized bombs
with codite (dynamite) and then you put the codite…very heavy you put them onto a tray and you went up to the barrel of the gun and you pushed them in, it took a few people too push the gun right in then they put the codite in which was the dynamite and then you blew the gun and that would go for quite a way.
How far would they go?
It went way past the German lines they used our guns to go up with the infantry so that they could bomb way beyond that where the Germans were bringing up their supplies. We could be a month in the line before we could come back for rest. We used to shoot those guns constantly while we were in action.
How long battles?
A month before came back.
How often shooting those guns?
Constantly when we were in action.
21:40- Italy was a place where they had three months of rain on and off …I mud and slosh……….it took thee years we went through Italy.
Were you afraid?
22:30- at that age you don’t realize the fear of it but as you’re being bombed and they get the range of how far you are, then you have to get out pretty quick because their gonna come down with their shells that burst in the air. But thank goodness ,alots of times they were way off as well so that was in our favor.
Italy it took us two years to push right through because the Germans were in the mountains all the time and we were down below so they could see everything. They had the advantage the whole time through Italy and they were able to put down tanks and one tank could hold up a whole army because that was the only way to go through the mountains was on these roads. Rough deal
Drive them out?
23:30- What turned it around was the mere weight of arms and things that actually pushed then through . Once the United States came into the war they were in Italy as well and I was in a place called Remeny and Ancoda where the Canadians were and we were their artillery. There were so many graves left there so many men didn’t survive.
What kept you fighting?
25:23- The fact that we weren’t thinking about it, we were just thinking about winning this awful war so that we could go back to living a life of peace. But it took a long time. that’s the way it happened
The rains in Italy were on and off for 3 months. The Germans used to use a lot of horses to pull there guns out. They were kind of advanced in that way that they used horses rther than a tank or something . In fact we had horses towards the end as well. There was a special group of men that were artillery but they only used their horses for that purpose to get the guns out.
Did you realize at the time that you had a higher chance of not returning because you were in the infantry?
I wasn’t in the infantry, but in the 54th heavy regiment to the royal Artillery but I was trained as an infantry man so I knew how to fire most of the guns and those sort of things.
There were times that we had a gun that was overrun by the Germans and thank God it wasn’t our battalion but the regiment itself there was one gun that was overrun. That’s why those in our infantry had these machine guns, Thompson machine guns, an American machine gun, with 200 rounds of ammunition we had to carry, tommy guns.
200 rounds was a lot to carry around when you have to march and you have to march for quite a few miles.
Rita: And you got blisters on your feet. (laughter).
Rita , tell that story of yours? Your cousin and the tags.
28:24 Explain about those dog tags that said Jew on tem.
Dog tags were for everybody. The Christians had theirs. Not so smart to put Jew in there.
At the same time I have to tell you about the British. When they came, when we were coming back from the line to rest. Sometimes there was a town close by with synagogue we could go to. The British Army put on orders, only when we were out of action, that any Jewish people that wanted to attend services at the nearest town, there would be a truck with a driver drove us there, waited, and when we came out he would pick us up. (laughter). I was the only one… When I think back, that was very nice..
So you never had any problem in the military because you were Jewish ?
No, but that doesn’t apply to everybody. There are people that do.…
But I’ll tell you when you’re in the army you have to mix, you have to get along with everybody,. We’re all part of the same thing.We’re all there to win a war. And as it happens I was quite friendly with most of them.
Did you ever lose anybody from the war?
No. I never went on a church parade. Every Sunday there was a church parade. All through those war years I never had to go to a church parade. Occasionaly a Jewish chaplain would come in and speak to us individually. But I was the only one in my group that was Jewish, anyway. So… it didn’t matter…
I learned how to mix a lot which was probably a good thing .
When you were raised in England, were you segregated, in any way , as Jewish?
Not segregated in the way like the Germans. There were places where a lot of Jewish people would live, like here. Certain towns more Jewish than others. Now, a lot of the Jewish people have left.
(Rita: Where I lived in London there was a lot of antisemetic…..)Yes, unfortunately it was everywhere
(Rita: I used to go to a Jewish school when I was young, English and Hebrew in the school) Yes, they did have those…
(Rita: When I would come home from school every day these girls would be waiting and beat me up. I was the only one who lived that far away from the school and I would be walking alone ,but with all that I still get along w non Jewish people and in this building I get along w everybody and everybody loves us )
We are the only Jewish couple.
Well, it the building is called “St. Francis something?”
Yes. ( laughter)
So, Rita, tell me the story about the person you knew and the dog tags?
It was my brother-in-law ,and he was in the 8th army in Italy. He was on a tank and blown off a tank. He was blown off the tank and fell in some sandy place and the tank kept on going and he realized that he was was alone, and if the Germans captured him that would be the end so he pulled his tag which said Jew off and threw it in the sand. so they wouldn’t know he was Jewish..He was captured by the Germans and he didn’t look Jewish, was blond……You would never believe he was Jewish.
His name was Lewis Jacobs.
He was captured by the Germans and ended up an Italian prisoner of war.The kept him so dirty. He was full of lice. It was just terrible.And the Germans came in and took over the British prisoners and took them to Germany
Benj: It was what you call a “forced march”.
Rita. It was really bad. He was mentally sick. He lived to a ripe age, late 70s. But it ruined his life.
Food was a big problem in Italy?
B: Very big ..You always got enough to get by. In some ways the black market was where you paid more for the food but you got it.
R: He never smoked so he would sell his cigarettes.
B: Everybody smoked in those days. Except me ( laughter)I had the will power never to smoke. I boxed in the British Red_ Cross? __ I had two or three fights. It was something I felt it was honest to do to help the wounded.
When you think back, what was the hardest part of the war for You?
I was away from home. There is something about home that you can’t replace even though you get leave . ….Actually the Americans had it better ( laughs) _ to better places ( laughs). They said, “you can rough it more”. ( laughs) Why did the Americans always get the best place? It was true, actually….
What kind of places?
Billets… (laughter ) In the war years they ( Americans ) would get the better ones. They used to get upset about it. At the same time….that’s how the British looked at it.
What were the good parts?
You get out of line when you got out a line and away for a month before they put you back in again. Still gave us drill that occupied us. You could go in the town. These towns were passed over and tried to get back best they could.
How did these towns treat you?
Not too bad. …In Italy. They needed your money .you were spending your money. They suffered too
Unfortunately, as you went over you destroyed a lot of their livelihood. They suffered, too, The children were hungry and came begging with their cans while we were eating. We gave them ____Though we needed the food ourselves, we always shared it with the youngsters.
Your war experience did it change you as a person?
I hope so…..I don’t think so really. .Now, if I was a soldier that was really badly wounded and you see what’s happening to them . Lost their arms and legs ….. not very happy and going to suffer the rest of their life…. I’ve been blessed that I went through the war. We were in the lines and for every two or three months on ,we were off a month.
The job itself: getting the guns in, winding them up, putting them in the earth, That was part of a job. The older boys used for watching the infantry and all that. Being the young one….putting up the shells. Push it up and fire away. Don’t think about killing off some Germans ( laughs). Didn’t care. They were trying to kill us.
Did it change how you feel about war?
Well, generally, it’s a lousy thing. No one can like a war. There’s nothing to like about it. There are some things that are worth fighting for. That particular war was worth fighting for. At least some Jewish people were saved. Not many. Unfortunately the Germans went right on burning to the end.
How feel about your part in it?
I expected, knew that I was coming home.
I kept thinking about that little girl. She wrote me every day. ( laugh) I got them all at once. Something to look forward to.
R: Said he didn’t suffer. He lost his hearing. Sometimes he has nightmares and is fighting someone. He lashes out.
Ben: To my mind, the bad times are when .they get your range and shower you with shrapnel coming down. You can get killed or maimed. … How did we know we were tracked? They realized we were a big gun and up in the infantry. They had ways to get your range….they were not always accurate, thank God. …. It would burst all over.
In our battalion there were 4 guns. ??????
The machine guns we carried for that very reason, if a gun was over run you could use it to spray and kill as many people as you can…
And protect yourself?
With all their advantage that the enemy had in Italy, once we pushed them down to the low ground, then could move very fast. By that time the Americans were in the war, And the Canadians. Some bad times.
French Canadians couldn’t be together with ?????? They were angry with each other. The British went all over the French all those years ago. . Still engrained . All those years ago.
We had one gun in the regiment which was unfortunate. Depends on where you are and orders. With all their advantage ( the Germans) in Italy once we pushed them down to the low ground, could move very fast. Then the Americans and the Canadians on the other side.
French Canadians couldn’t be together with the British. The British has it all over them years ago. Have to keep them separate. To this day.s
Rita, what was it like for you? You were on one of those trains?
R: When I was about 12. All children to be evacuated from London. I was evacuated to Windsor. Probably seemed save because the queen was there and no bombing would occur. Very fortunate. Lovely and quiet. You would never know there was a war going on. Went to school for a year. Then I told my mother I wanted to come home. I had 5 older sisters. I was the youngest. I missesd my family.
Did you know what was happening in the war?
R: Oh, yes, people knew……newspapers and radio. I definietly heard about the war when I came back to London. With all the bombs
B: The wealthy British helped.
R: The wealthy would give up their homes. Take the children in. A place to live. Not all wealthy. Paid poorer people to take care of the children
Remember Winston Churchill speak?
B: He had that determination.
R: He really lifted you up. He was fantastic.
B: He could rouse
R: Everybody huddle around radio. Gave people courage to carry on. In London, people slept in subways. All have sing songs. Some of the British people really were amazing,
R: We are strong because of what we suffered during the war.
You must be grateful, too
R: Oh, yes, incredibly grateful. I thank God every day.
B: To think 3 ½ years and I got away with it. This is something amazing and others not so lucky.
Some times your sleeping around the gun. You have to dig slit trenches to sleep in. Wrapper things on the ground, and then blankets.
Just wide enough for a soldier to jump into. Put on your helmet. If shrapnel came in could fight it off – would just hit your helmet.…. these are all things you have to remember , If you remember…
I was a a royal recruit. Never had the training. Had training for lifting the shells , put them in, and put it back (laughs)
You get used to it. Britain got used to the bombing. ….Lost lots of people that way. There were 500 people. Lived in a building and would go to the basement so not to get killed. A bomb hit. They all got electrocuted because of the water…Distant relatives. Father, mother and daughter that was pregnant. Mixed Jewish and Christian area.
R and B: Very sad.
How did going through that change you?
R: Well, it made me stronger. Thank God, God, was watching over us.
B: We have to believe somebody up there, watching over us, although inclined sometimes not to believe.
1:01:25 Pat stopped (10-18-15)
Pat started (10-19-15)
Rita: I had a sister that died when she was eleven years old. And I believe that she is watching over us.
What happened to her?
She fell down in school, got blood poisoning from the dirt. Didn’t tell my mother anything. One day she got sick. She rushed her to hospital. And she died. They sidn’t have penicillin in those days.
Do you remember hearing King George speaking?
Yes. At the coronation.
Ben: I’ve heard him speak. His father was King George the 5th. So many from each class would go. My father was a hat maker. For the schools they took a few kids out. and I was picked.
Rita: So he made him this beautiful hat.
Ben: Red , white and blue. I was outside the gate when he came out. The gowns came out ….with the shining brass. It was a beautiful day and it would shine. ? (laugh) You know the British are very militaristic. They love that stuff.
( they like the pageantry) . Yeh.
Rita: So he was chosen. Sat in the front. Quite a close view of the king and queen. The old queen. Her face was like ? They didn’t have the good kind of things they have now.
George was the 5th, son of Victoria?
Albert was the father?
That was the queen now, her father
Do you remember Elizabeth during the war?
Rita: Yes she was only a child, a little older than me. I remember her and her sister, Marget. I remember we went to the Red Cross one time to inquire about my sister’s husband who was taken prisoner of war. They said the queen is coming here to day. The queen now, her mother. We all stood aside. She was dressed all in blue. Head to toe. A blue hat, a blue coat with blue fur., blue shoes. She was beautiful. Came down, and went to us like this (gestures). It was very exciting.
Ben: (laughs) A lot of the British stuff is exciting. Rita: Yes., it’s exciting . It just
Ben: The pageantry ( laughs)
The soldiers outside the palace. The kids make fun of them.
Rita: I used to go and make faces to them to see if they would move. But they wouldn’t move. But one day one of them said, “Get away from me, kid!” (gruff voice).
Ben: Yes ( laughs)
Ben, you were helping shoot these guns ….. Did you think what you would do if captured?
I thought about it. I would try to do something . If it was personal., but sometimes it’s not personal. Before you could go in with a gun. Go in with ground things to listen to see if the Germans had put a bomb underneath where you want to put a bomb.. ..,,,Just like in Italy when you see those wonderful grapes you can’t resist. (laughs) You pick and jump off and grab a bunch of grapes and you’re blown up. It’s a sad thing, but that’s what happens.
You never know It’s all fair in love and was.
Were you home before the war was over?
The war was still on. ?
Remember when it endedI, t started. I think it ended in “45.
Rita: You came home 6 months before the war ended.
People knew the war was ending. The germans eventually giving up.
I was never on that side of the war. The only part was the Italian campaign. and north Africa.
Had you gone away from home before? What was it like?
Ben: Never. It was pretty amazing. (laughter)To see all these soldiers. And all doing the same thing. A ll living together. It was a new kind of freedom
Africa what you expeted?
Very hot. 120 degrees. Very tedious. Had to keep covered at night. In day we wore short pants. Things that bite you cause you malaria. We used to take quinine tablets to help us survive. A lot of people got sick.
Why not biting in the day?
They went into wet places. .. Only reason they kept away….the heat as well ( just like it would affect a human being (laugh))
Did you have contact with people N. Africa?
Most of them. …The Arabs were very nice. The reason being it was French N. Africa. We were supporting artiliery for the French Foreign Legion. (laughing)
……That was different. These guys bring up food, kill the animals. We never had such good food. We did get food like the British -….canned food,.. sardines…. The British food wasn’t that desirable, especially after Jewish food ( laughs) ….. But that was something you had to put up with.
When the war was over how did you feel when you looked back?
Very good about the fact, finally was brought to their knees and made to suffer. – knew suffering. though nothing like we suffered.
Talk about Jewish dog tags
28:44- well the dog tags were for everybody, the Christians had their thing on it was something that they had done, it wasn’t a very smart thing for them to do really I mean to put Jew on there (indistinguishable.
29:45- sometimes when we were coming out of the town to rest there was a synagogue that we could go to and the Brittish army would put on orders that any Jewish people could go. They would put a track on for us and they would drive us down there and the driver would wait. It was only me really that they took. I was the only Jewish soldier.
31:27- when you’re in the army you have to realize you have to mix and get along with everybody we’re all part of the same thing, we’re all there to win a war.
31:50- I never went on a church parade. Every Sunday there was a church parade I never had to go on them all through those war years
32:00- 34:56- about segregation in England wife talks
35:14-38:30- story of wife’s brother in the 8th army with the Jewish dog tags
38:30- 40:30- talks about not smoking and selling cigarettes and boxing for the British Red Cross
Hardest part of the war?
40:44- The hardest part of the war for me was that I was away from home. There’s something about home that you cant replace.
41:00- 42:00- Americans always got the best places to retreat
the good times of the war
42:18- the good parts of the war were when you got out of the line and you were away maybe for a month before you went back in again. They still gave you the regular drills and kept us occupied but that was the good times you could go into town and some of these towns the war had past over them and the towns would try to get back to normal as best they could.
43:50- Talks about Italy and sharing food with the youngsters
did war experience change you?
44:24- not really, when I came back I felt differently. But maybe if I had been a soldier who got really badly wounded or one of them you see that lost there arms or legs then you can imagine you’re not very happy after, fr the rest of your life you are going to suffer, so I have been blessed that I went through the war and was a person that constantly we were in the line for every two or three months we were in the line we were a month out of it. The job itself was putting the guns in and winding them up and getting them into the earth and ready was part of a job
you just didn’t think about that your killing Germans but you didn’t care either way.
46:43- war in general is a lousy thing, no one can like a war theres nothing to like about it but there are some things that are worth fighting for that particular war was worth fighting for.
47:17- I expected, I always had it in my mind that I was going to come home and marry that little girl, she wrote to me every day and I couldn’t write every day but she did and I would get a whole batch at once so that was something to look forward to and feel good about.
47:44- Pat stopped 10-22
Rita: I felt very good the finally Germany thrown to their knees and knew suffering. Could no longer behave in the f ashion that they were…… . They were very hateful. And you feel very bitter towards them to this day, unfortunately.
How did you feel about your role in the war?
Something I was meant to play. I never thought ……? 18 yrs of age, very young.
Did you feel good about helping Jewish people?
Yes , this was the whole point. … The fact that they were destroying my people. .I would never have deserted like people could, never think of that. Nothing worse than being tortured day in and day out. Put in mass graves. Bodies burned. It showed the worst of the German nature. I still feel that way.
I can’t trust ( the Germans to this day).
Wouldn’t drive a Mercedes.?
No, I wouldn’t drive any German car.
Being in the war should have faith, think of the future, appreciate people more, because they all have feelings , (The British) fought the war for the Jewish people. …That was something. ……The British turned around – not like Chamberlin. British very determined people comes to ? . But it’s changed a lot since the…..? The towns that were all Jewish……. ???
British made the biggest mistake taking in these people.
I wouldn’t say the Arabs was bad. But I can say what the Germans and the Arabs are capable of.
So things rubbed off on me that I can’t get over. I don’t feel about Britain the same. …?.Taking in the Arabs.
Rita: Our wedding anniversary coming up. Children taking us on a trip.
Where are you going?
Going to ? – A big party the day before we leave. My Big family – all are coming, about 70 people.
Ben: There’s nothing like America . …..But they’re bringing in everyone and everybody.
Rita: People in our building are also giving us a party.
Would you like to say something about the Congregation of Bn”nth ?
Ben: and Rita: Owe so much to the rabbi. In LA, getting into temples – not so good. Couldn’t afford it, Didn’t have so much money.
Rita: I wanted for my granddaughter to have a bar mitazh. And go to Hebrew school. I didn’t have the money,so they said no.
In SB I told my daughter I would like to join. I asked Rabbi Cohen . Could we pay whatever we can.? He said, you pay what you can afford and you can be a member.
We go whenever we feel well enough.
Rita: He had wonderful experience w Rabbi Cohen
He had a heart attack and unconscious. For two days. I m going to call Rabbi to come say some prayers. I called. They said the Rabbi just got off the plane from Israel. Can come tomorrow. The next day we’re standing around the bed, Ben still unconscious. But as soon as the Rabbi walked through the door, Ben opened his eyes. It was a miracle.
The Rabbi started praying. He opened and closed his eyes. Then he opened his eyes and said, “Thank you for coming”, Rabbi”.
My children and I were just in awe. We couldn’t talk. A miriacle. From then he started to get better.
Rita: We have had a wonderful experience with this temple.
He’s a wonderful man and his wife, too.
Ben: I think he’s given me extra years. On the twelth I’ll be 92.
It’s a big gift to live in this area.
How long lived here?
About 12 years here.
Rita: We’ve been blessed. They’re very lovely people.Accepted us with open arms. We’re the only Jewish people.
Ben: My wife she knits a lot. Makes hats and scarves and blankets. Does the same in the temple.
Rita: People have accepted us. The sisters from the church hug us and kiss us. They love us and we love them.