Landmark book on Jewish Diggers

The cover of Jewish Anzacs, by author Mark Dapin.

AFTER years of painstaking research, the most comprehensive book detailing the lives and remarkable stories of mateship, sacrifice and valour of Jews who served in the Australian military, hit bookshops across the country on April 1.

From the First Fleet to the War on Terror, author Mark Dapin’s Jewish Anzacs – published by New South and the Sydney Jewish Museum – delves deep into Australian Jewry’s substantial military history.

Dapin told The AJN that when first approached by the national coordinator of the Centenary of Anzac Jewish Program, Peter Allen, to write it four years ago, he’d envisaged a book of about 120 pages, but soon realised it warranted a work triple that size to do it justice.

“I was really surprised at just how much material there was actually available, even for the smaller battles,” Dapin said.

“There were so many stories that emerged that it was hard to choose what to include. As far as I possibly could, I worked off personal accounts like diaries and letters – of servicemen and women who’d left testimonies – to include their own words.

“I felt that was important. To me, the real joy of it was finding those testimonies.”

General Sir John Monash deservedly features prominently, but readers can discover hundreds of lesser-known but no less fascinating characters.

Like Colonel Walter Karri Davies who became a hero of the Boer War but refused to accept the Victoria Cross, and Distinguished Flying Cross recipient Peter Isaacson who flew 45 bomber command missions during World War II, including a miraculous escape after his plane was almost shot to pieces over Germany.

The book includes 45 photographs, a memorial roll with 342 names and cemetery or memorial details, and a 56-page list of the names, ranks and units of 6798 Australian Jewish servicemen and women.

The prologue features a moving interview with Felix Sher whose son, Private Greg Sher, was killed by a Taliban-fired rocket on January 4, 2009 while serving in Afghanistan.

The epilogue also focuses on Afghanistan, via a heartfelt speech Josh Fink delivered at Mount Scopus Memorial College, recalling his mentorship role to the Afghan army.

Dapin, whose books include wartime novel Spirit House and nonfiction book The Nashos’ War, said linking the prologue and epilogue in this way was no accident.

“I wanted it to be circulatory … for the story to end where it began … to emphasise their [Jewish Diggers’] contemporary roles serving in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I wanted to make it clear that this is not just a history book – that history is still being made now.”

SHANE DESIATNIK