Jewish-American WWII soldiers buried under crosses receive new headstones

Jewish American soldiers often had other religions on their dog tags, in case they were captured by the Germans.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 11:38 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - This Memorial Day weekend, some fallen Jewish-American WWII soldiers will be getting headstones that are a more accurate depiction of their faith and family legacy.

Those buried in Normandy under Christian cross headstones will have them replaced, with the family’s permission, with a Star of David headstone.

One Atlanta man is making the trip to France this weekend to see the ceremony take place.

“I think it’s important, if you can, to find out about your roots,” says Bill Loventhal.

He went on a journey to do just that. While he and his wife were visiting France last year, Loventhal learned his father’s cousin, or first cousin once removed, was buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.

Lt. Lawrence Craig was in the U.S. Army and killed in action shortly after D-Day at age 28.

“There was a cross on the grave, and we’re Jewish,” says Loventhal. “I said, ‘Can we get that fixed?’”

It turns out the organization Operation Benjamin was already working on it.

Founded in 2019, they work to replace the grave markers of Jewish-American service members buried under Christian crosses with Jewish Stars of David.

“He had a ‘P’ for Protestant, instead of ‘H’ for Hebrew on his dog tags, in case he got captured by the Germans,” Loventhal explains. “Apparently, hundreds of Jewish guys did that, which is why, even though Jews disproportionately volunteered in World War II, they are disproportionally represented in the cemetery.”

Operation Benjamin CEO Shalom Lamm says, during that time, Jews had to hide so much of themselves for their protection. Now, he says, this is a way to share more about their lives.

“Very often, stories in Jewish history are stories of victimhood,” Lamm says. “But there’s also stories of heroism and stories of Jews as liberators against evil. And that story needs to be on the same plane as any other story, and we are telling that story and bringing these young men and women to life.”

The only picture they could find of Lieutenant Craig is his senior year yearbook photo from Chicago. Loventhal learned he was on the swim team and was president of his class.

“It’s very meaningful that I could learn more about him and a little bit, at least, about his life,” he says.

He travels to France on Saturday, ahead of Memorial Day, to see his relative have the marker he was meant to have.

For those who gave it all, there will be a proper symbol of their heritage to mark their lives forever, honoring their faith and families.

There will be two other ceremonies in Normandy this weekend, as well, bringing the total number of headstones exchanged through Operation Benjamin to 23.

They have also done these ceremonies in the American cemeteries in Belgium and the Philippines.