AUSTRALIAN Jewish military historian Peter Allen launched Operation Jacob this week – a campaign aiming to achieve corrections to headstones on the graves of Jewish Diggers who were buried under markers that falsely represent their religion and heritage.
In the days leading up to Anzac Day, Allen confirmed he has started discussions with the Office of Australian War Graves in a bid to correct the headstones of Signalman Jacob Sorsky and Pilot Officer Raymond Shaw, on behalf of their families.
The headstone on Sorsky’s grave at Melbourne’s Springvale Cemetery was erected in 1948, six years after his burial.
Shaw was buried in Libya in 1942, his body was re-interred two years later at Knightsbridge War Cemetery in the Libyan town of Acroma, and a headstone added several years later.
Both fallen Diggers are two of more than 340 Jewish servicemen listed on the Australian Jewish War Memorial – located at ACT Jewish Community headquarters in Canberra – that Allen is writing narratives for, to appear on an information touchscreen at the memorial, and in due course, on the Australian Jewish Historical Society’s online database.
He told The AJN that while Sorsky and Shaw are first on Operation Jacob’s priority list, that’s only the start.
“I estimate from my research so far that up to 10 headstones of Australian Jewish servicemen need correction,” Allen said.
Sorsky was born in Liverpool in England in 1926, but after his bar mitzvah he ran away from home, became a galley boy on merchant ships, and changed his name to James Terence Drummond.
By October 1941 he had settled alone in Melbourne, aged 15, and enlisted in the army under the name Drummond, lying to the recruitment officer that he was 21 and that his religion was Roman Catholic, perhaps to avoid antisemitism.
On January 27, 1942, Sorsky was assigned to deliver messages across Melbourne by motorbike for the Army Headquarters Signals Unit.
He died on March 25, 1942 from injuries sustained in a crash.
His grave was erected in Springvale Cemetery’s Roman Catholic section in December 1948 with the name James Terence Drummond engraved on it, and without a religious emblem.
It’s his family’s wish to correct his name and age on the headstone, and include a Star of David.
Shaw was born in Sydney in 1922, had his bar mitzvah at The Great Synagogue, and when 18 in May 1940, enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force, stating his religion as Church of England.
After completing scores of successful missions against German aircraft in North Africa, Shaw died, aged 20, on May 29, 1942 on an operating table from wounds sustained when his Kittyhawk plane was shot down near Gazala in Libya.
Shaw’s headstone has a cross inscribed on it, despite his War Graves Card stating “Religious emblem: Star of David”.
Allen said, “I am assisting VAJEX and NAJEX (the Jewish ex-servicemen and women associations in Victoria and NSW) on behalf of Sorsky’s siblings and Shaw’s nieces and nephews, to see that these lamentable errors are addressed by 2022 – 80 years since their deaths.”
Operation Jacob has also received the full support of Federal Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women president Keith Shilkin.