“There was a lot of concern among Jewish soldiers that if they were captured and their dog tag marked them as Jewish, they would receive different treatment than the Germans,” said Ben Brands, a historian with the commission. “A decent number of Jewish soldiers not only hid their Judaism from the enemy but by keeping it out of their official records, and the official records are what the military was supposed to do if they were killed.”
Some soldiers also feared the anti-Semitism of other American soldiers.
Barbara Belmont, 80, a retired Virginia executive, was three years old when her father, Albert, was killed. His dog tags identified him as a Christian. Mr. Belmont’s brother later told his niece that his brother “wanted to feel like one of the boys,” she said.
“There was a lot of anti-Semitism and he didn’t want to be ‘that Jewish soldier’ or whatever,” she said. “He just wanted to be one of the soldiers.”
Mrs. Belmont had spent her life trying to learn more about her father, a photographer who moved with his family from New York to Kansas City shortly before the war. Her mother remarried and rarely spoke of her first husband, in part because of the social norms surrounding grief at the time, Ms. Belmont said.
“In that generation, those who came back from the war didn’t talk about it,” she said. “The families who lost soldiers didn’t talk about it.”
The therapeutic approach to trauma and loss that is common today did not exist for a widow and her young children in the 1940s. In fact, Ms. Belmont didn’t meet relatives on her father’s side of the family until the 1990s, when she first visited his grave and saw the cross there.
Ms. Belmont, who also attended a rededication ceremony last month at Lorraine American Cemetery in France, said she felt she was both meeting her father for the first time and saying goodbye. “It felt like I was going to my father’s funeral,” she said. “That was the greatest gift you could have given me.”