The American Battle Monuments Commission changes seven headstones to Stars of David to correctly honor Jewish-American service members from WWII
Four ceremonies were held with participation of U.S. officials, Operation Benjamin, ABMC representatives, and family members of the fallen service members.
ARLINGTON, Va. (Apr. 29, 2022) — The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), in coordination with Operation Benjamin, replaced the Latin Cross headstones marking the graves of seven Jewish-American service members with Stars of David. Ceremonies were held at Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial, Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial and Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial.
The headstone replacements and graveside honors for the fallen, correct errors that had persisted for nearly 80 years until they were discovered by Operation Benjamin, a U.S.-based organization whose mission is to ensure that Jewish-American military members, who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, are buried under headstones that correctly reflect their faith.
Through extensive military history and genealogical research, the four ceremonies were made possible by request of the families through the Operation Benjamin team to ABMC, which oversees American military cemeteries around the world.
The service members honored this week are:
Epinal American Cemetery
Pvt. Marvin Ashkenas
Place of birth: Bloomfield, N.J.
Enlistment: June 29, 1942, Newark, N.J.
Unit: 1st Battalion Medical Detachment, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd infantry Division
Date of death: Oct. 3, 1944
Place of burial: Epinal American Cemetery, Dinozé, France, Plot A, Row 44, Grave 9
|Pvt. Marvin F. Ashkenas from Bloomfield, New Jersey – Pvt. Ashkenas was born in 1922 in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants and was later adopted by an aunt and uncle after his parents’ deaths when he was very young. He enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was killed in action during the liberation of northern France on October 3, 1944. His tags were lost, and his injuries were very severe, which made identification difficult. Ashkenas was given a temporary grave marker and a non-denominational funeral ceremony at Epinal American Cemetery, France, with his religion being listed as “unknown.” After a few years of unanswered correspondence to his widow, Pvt. Ashkenas’s gravesite was marked with a Latin cross. He is buried Plot A, Row 44, Grave 9.|
Maj. Maxwell J. Papurt
Place of birth: Cleveland, Oh.
Enlistment: New York
Assignment: Office of Strategic Services, European Theater
Date of death: Nov. 29, 1944
Place of burial: Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France, Plot F, Row 7, Grave 8
|Maj. Maxwell J. Papurt, born in Cleveland, Ohio (lived in Brooklyn, New York) – Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1907, Maxwell Jerome “Jerry” Papurt received his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and - ultimately - Ph.D. in psychology from The Ohio State University in 1931. Dr. Papurt worked in a variety of institutional and educational settings in upstate New York and was an accomplished psychologist, educator, and Jewish children’s home director who lectured and wrote on his analyses of enemy movements and propaganda. In 1942, he was recruited to become a member of the Army’s counterintelligence division of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In 1944, Maj. Papurt was stationed in Luxembourg City, when he was injured and taken prisoner along with three other soldiers. While in captivity by the Germans, Maj. Papurt never revealed his Jewish identity. He was killed in an Allied raid on November 29, 1944, and buried among other POWs in a civilian cemetery, his grave marked with a wooden cross. Despite attempts to confirm Papurt’s religion by the War Department, he was reburied at Lorraine American Cemetery, France – again under a cross. His family, proud Jews for many generations in America, are relieved to have this error corrected and for Maj. Papurt to be honored for his extraordinary service to the United States. He is buried Plot F, Row 7, Grave 8.|
2nd Lt. Howard U. Feldman
Place of birth: Allentown, Pennsylvania
Enlistment: May 11, 1943, Allentown, Pennsylvania
Assignment: 602nd Bomber Squadron, 398th Bomber Group, Heavy. Position: Navigator
Date of death: Apr. 25, 1945
Place of burial: Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France, Plot A, Row 28, Grave 6.
|Lt. Howard U. Feldman from Allentown, Pennsylvania – Howard Feldman, born in 1923, graduated from Allentown High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania and enlisted in the Army in 1943, and was commissioned as an officer. He trained as a navigator on B-17 heavy bombers and was dispatched to the 8th Air Force Headquarters in England, earning an Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. On April 25, 1945, Lt. Feldman was part of the crew aboard “Godfathers Inc.,” flying near Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, when the ship was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The Lieutenant and five of his crewmates were killed and buried by civilians in a common grave in the cemetery in Litice, Czechoslovakia. Lt. Feldman was officially “Missing in Action” for two months before the Army was able to declare that he and his crewmates had died. Despite information to the contrary, he was listed as “Catholic,” and his final resting place at Lorraine American Cemetery, France was marked with a cross, which his nieces and nephews are now profoundly gratified to correct. He is buried Plot A, Row 28, Grave 6.|
Pvt. Albert Belmont
Place of birth: Brooklyn, NY
Assignment: 378th Infantry Regiment, 95th Infantry Division
Date of Death: Nov. 30, 1944
Place of burial: Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France, Plot J, Row 19, Grave 32.
|Pvt. Albert Belmont from Syracuse, New York/Kansas City, Missouri – Born Abraham Belkowitz in 1911 in New York City, the family moved to Syracuse, New York where they adopted the surname “Belmont.” He married, moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and had two daughters before volunteering for military service in 1943. He was killed on November 30, 1944, during an operation in France and buried at Lorraine American Cemetery, France. His daughter, Barbara was only three when her father was killed. The memory of her father’s loss is still very much with her. He is buried Plot J, Row 19, Grave 32.|
Tech. 5 Everett M. Seixas, Jr.
Enlistment: New York
Rank: Technician Fifth Grade, U.S. Army
Unit: 319th Infantry, 80th Division
Date of death: Dec. 27, 1944
Place of burial: Luxembourg American Cemetery, Plot H, Row 2, Grave 40.
|Tech. 5 Everett M. Seixas Jr. from New York, New York – Everett Moses Seixas, Jr., was born in New York City on November 28, 1911 - the only child of Everett Moses Seixas and Alma Tenner. He graduated from Horace Mann School, attended Brown University, and earned his Juris Doctor at Columbia University Law School in 1935. His lineage included Mendes Seixas, the famous Revolutionary War-era rabbi, and Mendes’s brother, Moses, the lay-leader of Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue - the first synagogue in America - whose letters won President George Washington's famous pledge of security for Jews. Everett Jr. enlisted in the Army in 1943. He was assigned to the 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division which landed at Utah Beach in August of 1944. Cpl. Seixas was killed in action during the infamous Battle of the Bulge on December 27, 1944. While his identification tag may have included a “P” (for “Protestant”), it was not uncommon for Jewish soldiers to hide their faith if they knew they were headed to Europe. In an unfortunate oversight, the War Department had no indication that Seixas was Jewish. He was buried under a cross at Luxembourg American Cemetery, Luxembourg on November 30, 1948 – a full four years after his death. He is buried Plot H, Row 2, Grave 40.|
2nd Lt. Kenneth E. Robinson
Place of birth: Cleveland, Ohio
Enlistment: Jan. 26, 1942, Columbus, Ohio
Assignment: 533 Bomber Squadron, 381st Bomber Group, Heavy
Date of death: Aug. 17, 1943
Place of burial: Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupré, Belgium, Plot A, Row 41, Grave 7.
|Lt. Kenneth Earl Robinson from Cleveland, Ohio – “There is no question Kenny was born, lived, and died as a Jew,” writes Robinson’s step-sister, Mariellen Robinson Miller, now 85. She is unsure, however, why her step-brother was buried under a Latin cross. So she, with the help of Operation Benjamin, wrote to the American Battle Monuments Commission requesting the change. She remembers the grief caused not only by his death on August 17, 1943 but by the six years in between his disappearance and when he was buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery, Belgium. Eventually, the family was notified of his burial and that his plot was marked with a Latin cross. Mariellen Robinson Miller has been waiting 73 years to correct this error and is very much looking forward to seeing it finally made right.|
1st Lt. Joseph Sugarman
Place of birth: Memphis, Tennessee
Enlistment: June 16, 1941 (U.S. Army Reserves commissioned officer), Knoxville, Tennessee
Assignment: 839th Bomber Squadron, 487th Bomber Group, Heavy. Position: Pilot
Date of death: March 11, 1945
Place of burial: Ardennes American Cemetery Neupré, Belgium, Plot D, Row 9, Grave 24.
|Lt. Joseph M. Sugarman, Jr. from Memphis, Tennessee – Along with other Jewish American soldiers during World War II, Joe Sugarman identified himself as non-Jewish on his paperwork for fear of Nazi retaliation. However, he was raised in a Jewish household with roots spread deep on American soil. As a result of emotional testimony by his father, Joseph Marks Sugarman, Joe Jr. was authenticated as Jewish in the National Jewish Welfare Board’s records after the war. Born in 1917, Joe Jr. attended ROTC in high school and then again at the University of Tennessee. After graduation, he put his education to work at the famous Seagram’s distillery in Greendale, Indiana, rising to Director of Production Planning. However, before graduation, he enlisted in the Army Reserves, was appointed 2nd Lt. in the Officers’ Reserve Corps two years later and called up for active duty soon after Pearl Harbor, becoming part of the 8th U.S. Army Air Force in Europe. On March 11, 1945, Sugarman’s 487th Bomb Group was sent to bomb an industrial area and shipyards on the south bank of the Elbe River in Hamburg, Germany. Lieutenant Sugarman and eight of his crewmates were killed when their aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire. They were initially buried in a civilian cemetery in Sinstorf, Germany (near Hamburg) and Sugarman was reburied in Ardennes American Cemetery, Belgium. As a proud Jewish family from antebellum Memphis, Lieutenant Sugarman’s family is profoundly happy for Joe to finally be honored as a Jewish American war hero.|
“Our partnership with Operation Benjamin has truly been an honor and reflects the very mission of ABMC - to accurately tell the stories of the fallen and maintain our sites at the highest standards so that ‘Time will not dim the glory of their deeds’,” said Alison Bettencourt, director of public affairs for ABMC. “The teams at our cemeteries were able to show the visiting family members that though a mistake was made, their loved ones have been honored with amazing respect and care for over 70 years, and we take pride in being able to right this wrong.”
During remarks at the Ardennes ceremony, President of Operation Benjamin Rabbi Dr. Jacob Schacter reflected what these efforts to appropriately remember the fallen mean not just to the Jewish community, but to the American people and all those who continue to uphold the ideals that the fallen sacrificed for - highlighting the fragility of peace and freedom in light of today’s current conflict in the Ukraine.
Operation Benjamin is named for Benjamin Garadetsky, a U.S. serviceman killed in 1944 during a Luftwaffe bombing of the 2nd Armored Division positions. Garadetsky was laid to rest in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, mistakenly buried underneath a Latin Cross. His headstone was changed to a Star of David in 2018 inspiring the name of the newly formed organization. The organization also led the efforts that resulted in the change of the headstones of the brothers Charles (also buried in Normandy) and Frank (buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium) Solomon, killed in action two months apart during WWII as well as Robert Fink, Allan Franken, Jack Gilbert, Arthur Waldman and Louis Wolf buried in Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.
NB. All prepared biographies were provided by Operation Benjamin.