OPERATION Jacob coordinator Peter Allen and his wife Gloria joined representatives from Australia’s embassy in Bangkok at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery on February 17, for a moving commemorative ceremony for Jewish POWs who died while, or after, working on the infamous 420km Thai–Burma railway.
An estimated 90,000 civilians, and 13,000 POWs, perished from disease, malnutrition or brutal treatment by their Japanese captors, and were buried along the line, including at least five Jewish Diggers.
Three Australian Jews are among the 6982 men commemorated at Kanchanaburi.
Gunner Alan Rosenberg from Sydney, in the 5th Field Regiment, died of beri-beri disease, aged 41.
Warrant Officer (class two) Victor Blashki, also from Sydney who served in the Headquarters 22nd Infantry Brigade, is named on a special memorial, as his ashes are buried with those of 300 men – mostly victims of cholera.
And Able Seaman Isaac Herman from Perth was one of 328 survivors from HMAS Perth’s crew of 681, after it was sunk in the Battle of Sunda Strait, off Java, in March 1942.
Most became POWs at the Thai–Burma railway, and that is where Herman died of dysentery, aged 22.
Lance-Sergeant Evsik Altshuler – who was born in Harbin, but moved to Australia in 1938 – was also remembered in a heart-rending component of the service.
Altshuler, of the 8th Div Ord Corps, was taken prisoner in February 1942 during the fall of Singapore, and then endured forced labour on the railway line.
On September 12, 1944, the 26-year-old was on the Japanese transport ship, the Rakuyo Maru, when it was mistakenly torpedoed by the submarine USS Sealion.
The rest of his story was passed on to his niece, Sunny Gold of Sydney, by her grandparents, and her late father, El.
Gold recalled, “When two of the survivors returned to Australia, they contacted my grandmother, Deborah. They described how, two days after the sinking, they and Evsik were clinging to a raft, when he caught sight of a fellow soldier struggling in the water, and tried to rescue him [but drowned].”
Some 1158 POWs, including Altshuler, died in the tragedy, and their names are inscribed on the Labuan War Memorial in Brunei Bay in Sabah, Malaysia.
Operation Jacob continues to pursue the correction of the headstones of Jewish Australian soldiers buried under markers that falsely represent their religion and heritage, and is currently focusing on Signaller Jacob Sorsky, and Pilot Officer Raymond Shaw.