Throughout “GI Jews,” there are moments when you want to pause the film and reflect on the stories told by men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II.
These members of “the greatest generation” served because they were Americans, many of them first generation, the children of immigrants from Europe.
They served to dispel any notion that Jews would not fight for their country.
The film includes interviews with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Henry Kissinger, but the strongest content is the reminiscences of men who would not become household names.
In its 87 minutes, “GI Jews” tell their stories, beginning with life before the United States entered the war, even as American Jewry heard reports about Nazi atrocities.
Though most of the film focuses on the war in Europe, to which many of the Jews in uniform had familial and emotional connections, the experiences of troops in the Pacific theater are not ignored.
Interviews and archival footage take the audience through basic training, deployment overseas, the fears of the Jewish soldiers in combat, and their reckoning with the death and destruction in their midst.
Some memories prove painful to retell.
“GI Jews” includes extraordinary moments, such as a Shabbat service led by an aspiring cantor then in uniform near an active battlefield in Aachen, Germany, on Oct. 29, 1944, broadcast on radio in Germany and by NBC in the United States.
Another is the service conducted by Rabbi David Max Eichorn, serving as a military chaplain, at the Dachau concentration camp on May 5, 1945, just days after its liberation by the U.S. Army, as American Jews in uniform encountered nearly skeletal fellow Jews who had survived.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 25, 8:45 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Feb. 1, 3:50 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Feb. 4, 11 a.m., Atlantic Station, and 6:05 p.m., Springs; Feb. 9, 1:25 p.m., Tara)