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5 Amazing Jewish Women Who Served During World War II

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Did you know that 550,000 Jews served in the U.S. military during World War II? That number includes famous Jews, like film director Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, but they weren’t only men.

Some 10,000 Jewish women enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces — and, like so much of women’s history, they often performed unsung roles.

This incredible history (or herstory, should we say?) is the topic of the 90-minute PBS special, GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II, premiering on the PBS network  at 10 p.m. April 11 (tonight!). Timed to air on the evening of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the film explores the anti-Semitism many Jewish men and women experienced in the service — often from their peers — at a time when Jews were still considered “the other.”

Here are some of the outstanding Jewish women who enlisted:

1. Mimi Rivkin, who served as a lab technician in a photography unit at China-Burma-India headquarters.  She spoke to the anti-Semitism of the time, saying: “Suddenly kids weren’t playing with me. I asked one why and she said, ‘The teacher told us you’re a Jew and we’re not supposed to play with you.’” She currently resides in a veterans retirement home in Washington, D.C.

2. Bea Cohen, who was once the oldest living female veteran in California, worked in communications with top-secret documents. She immigrated from Romania to the U.S. at age 10 and grew up in Los Angeles. She enlisted in the service when she was of age and went to England, where she also helped Jewish children and orphans. She died at age 104 in 2015.

3. Ellan Levitsky Orkin and her sister, Dorothy Levitsky Sinner, enlisted together as nurses. They were stationed in France in 1944. After the war, both continued working as nurses. Ellan currently resides in Milford, Delaware, while Dorothy passed away in 2015 at age 98. Even in their 90s, both sisters visited France every year, because as Dorothy stated, “We come back for the people. They’re our friends. It’s a family.”

4. Mildred Landis joined the Women’s Auxiliary Corp, where she cared for returning wounded soldiers as a nurse in a hospital in California. After the war, the Chicago native continued to volunteer in a general hospital. She resides in southern California.

5. Dahlia Johnston joined the Women’s Auxiliary Corp in 1942 at age 21, eventually becoming a Sergeant. She grew up in Philadelphia and served stateside at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where she could discharge personnel. After the war, she settled in Stamford, Connecticut, where she ran for mayor three times. She passed away in 2017.

Filmmaker Lisa Ades explained in a press release why this story is so important to tell. “After years of battle, these pioneering servicemen and women emerged transformed: more profoundly American, more deeply Jewish, and determined to fight for equality and tolerance at home.”

Watch two clips below:

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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