For scores of Jews, the mention of World War II evokes images of the Holocaust. But Israeli native Tamar Ketko is confident that her seven-part documentary series will shed light on another chapter during that period — one relatively unknown to worldwide Jewry.
“Very little is known about the involvement of Jewish soldiers among the armies of all the nations that opposed the Germans and their allies,” said Ketko, who formerly served as an educational officer in the Israel Defense Forces. “It presents a different image of the ‘humiliated Jew.’ And it’s extremely important to show this part of history without reducing the importance of learning and remembering the Holocaust.”
Nearly 100 people attended her lecture on “Jewish Women in World War II: The Unknown Story” in the Rosa Jacobson Kolker Room at Beth El Congregation. The Monday night event was hosted by the Rabbi Mark G. Loeb Center for Lifelong Learning, the Center for Jewish Education and the Baltimore Hebrew Institute.
The daughter of Auschwitz survivors, Ketko said her 22 years of research into the involvement of women in World War II is the outcome of a promise she made to her late parents.
“They were living examples who showed me that Hitler didn’t win — we did. We’re still here,” Ketko said. “I promised them that I would never stop researching the history of the Holocaust and the braveness of those who fought in this horrible war. I’m proud of my parents. They’re my personal heroes. I am what I am thanks to them.”
The mother of three presented a PowerPoint to the hushed audience, condensing her years of extensive research into a few slides. Ketko, who oversees the Humanities and Culture Department at Kibbutzim College in the heart of Tel Aviv, reported that approximately two million women served in combat roles to fight the Axis Powers in World War II. Roughly 150,000 of those soldiers were Jewish, according to her findings.
“We are obligated to reveal and remember all the heroic stories and make them an important chapter in our history and national heritage,” she said. “It is our responsibility to tell their stories — our story.”
Israeli-born educator Hana Bor, who serves as program director for leadership in Jewish education and communal service graduate programs at Towson University, organized Ketko’s three-day lecture series, with two sessions at TU and one at Beth El.
“She’s brought these unknown stories of Jewish women doing unimaginable things during World War II to light,” said Bor, who attended preschool through high school with Ketko. “And it’s important for her to share her findings.”
Attendee Sheila Ziegler, 61, was baffled by the sheer number of young women who willingly left their families to serve in the war. The Mount Washington resident said these buried stories need to be told.
“They were such young girls, and yet they were so committed,” Ziegler said.
The lecture also featured the first hour-long video in Ketko’s documentary series, which took her five years to complete, entitled “Women in War.” She interviewed more than 1,000 Jewish women, including Sonia Peres, wife of the late Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres, who she said were steadfast in their pride of contributing to the defeat of the Third Reich.
“Underneath their military uniforms was the beating of that same Jewish heart — the heart of their grandmother and grandfather as well as those who they never knew,” she said. “We are the next link in this honorable change.”