Jewish GI members smile for the camera in World War II photo

Filmmaker brings documentary to U-M campus.

Documentary filmmaker Lisa Ades will be on the University of Michigan campus 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the U-M Museum of Art Auditorium for a screening of her latest work, GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II.

Lisa Ades
Lisa Ades Newsroom

The film, based on Frederick G.L. Huetwell and Professor Deborah Dash Moore’s 2004 book, GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation, has appeared at several film festivals across the United States and premiered on PBS this past April to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Ades and Dash Moore, who also served as a senior adviser for the film.

Ades first became interested in making a film about Jews in World War II in 2012 during her production of a documentary about the history of Jewish people in Syria. While speaking with Jews of Syrian decent in America, she learned about their experiences in World War II.

“Their stories were fascinating and surprising — how after Pearl Harbor they had lied about their age in order to enlist; what it meant to serve as children of immigrants; the anti-Semitism they confronted in basic training on their way to fight the Nazis; the horror of the concentration camps they liberated; and how, on their return home, they found themselves changed forever,” she said.

“I was surprised that even though several films had been made on aspects of Jewish Americans in WWII, no one had yet made a comprehensive documentary on the subject,” Ades said. “Here, we would be able to tell the stories of Jews not only as victims of the war, but also as Americans fighting for both their nation and their people.”

She turned to Dash Moore’s book, which tells the stories of 15 Jewish men who enlisted during World War II and how they simultaneously managed the demands of military service and the prejudices of their fellow American soldiers.

Ades hopes viewers walk away with a better understanding of the many Jewish Americans who have served in U.S. wars, going at least as far back to the Civil War, and how important the fight for equality still is now.

“Today, with the rise of white supremacists, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and throughout the world, these stories of the children of Jewish immigrants fighting anti-Semitism at home in order to fight it abroad — and thereby becoming more American and Jewish in the process — resonate profoundly for me.

“Every American has a relationship to World War II,” Ades continued, “but the role of Jewish American service people has not been fully explored on film. It’s been gratifying to hear from Jewish Americans about how grateful they are that this story has been told for a national audience. Many Jews don’t know the full history of this period, and it’s important for non-Jewish audiences to learn about the Jewish experience of World War II, from the standpoint of the men and women who served.”

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