Influential Rabbi Writes about Aiding a Jewish POW in Italy During WWI

Signed by Judah Magnes

Item: 21228
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MAGNES, JUDAH. (1877-1948). Influential American rabbi, pacifist, Zionist, and co-founder of the American Jewish Committee. TLS. (“J.L. Magnes”). 1p. 4to. New York, June 29, 1917. To American Jewish activist ALBERT LUCAS (1859-1923).

I am enclosing a letter which has been received from Mr. Prinz, a prisoner of war at Aquila, Abruzzi, Italy.

May I suggest that this letter, together with the envelope in which it came, be forwarded to Rabbi Prof. Margolis, Rector of the Rabbinical Seminary at Florence, Italy, with the suggestion that they consider the welfare of this Jewish prisoner…”

Born in San Francisco, Magnes began preaching even before his bar mitzvah. He went on to study at Hebrew Union College and ordained as a rabbi in 1900, after which he continued his studies in Germany where he first encountered Zionism. Settling in New York, he spoke against assimilation and for a return to Jewish traditionalism. In 1906, he was a founder of the American Jewish Community, one of the oldest such organizations, and, as chair of a conference of Jewish organizations in New York, Magnes worked to unite the Jewish community which, because of immigration from Eastern Europe had ballooned from 50,000 to nearly a million in the course of a single decade.

With the outbreak of WWI, Magnes devoted himself to mobilizing funds to aid Jews who were displaced on the war’s Eastern front, organizing several organizations into the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. However, after the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, he put all his energies into speaking against it. A longtime pacifist, Magnes formed the Civil Liberties Bureau to defend pacifists and conscientious objectors against whom charges were brought under the Conscription and Espionage acts.

He later assisted in the founding of Israel’s Hebrew University, becoming its first chancellor and a future president. However, he opposed nationalism and vocally opposed the partitioning of Palestine to establish a Jewish state. Although he rescinded his disapproval after the Israeli Declaration of Independence, he continued to attempt to foster cooperation between the Arabs and Israelis.

Judah Magnes

During World War I, as prisoners exceeded the capacity of existing Italian prisons and similar structures to hold them, prison camps were hastily constructed including one in Avezzano in the Abruzzi region of the province of L’Aquila, built in 1916. The previous year, Avezzano had been decimated during the Marsica earthquake. The Italian government located the prison camp for Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war there to assist city officials in rebuilding the city; prisoners helped clear rubble, construct new buildings and roads, plant trees, and repair the municipal cemetery. The Avezzano camp housed Allied POWs during World War II.

Lucas was secretary of the Joint Distribution Committee as well as editor of its newsletter, The Bulletin. Like Magnes, he opposed assimilation and the Reform movement, and instead promoted Orthodox Judaism while fighting against anti-Semitism and workplace discrimination, and for Jewish youth education.

Orthodox rabbi and scholar Samuel Hirsch Margulies (1858-1922) headed the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano, the only rabbinical seminary in Italy. Beginning his long tenure as rector in 1890, he became regarded as the Italian Jews spiritual leader.

Folded with some minor creasing and wear. A pencil notation in the upper right corner in an unidentified hand reads “P. of W.” (likely prisoner of war). Neatly signed and in fine condition.

Influential Rabbi Writes about Aiding a Jewish POW in Italy During WWI

Signed by Judah Magnes

$250 • item #21228

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