During World War II, Washington’s Jewish community played an active role in supporting American troops both at home and abroad.
Wartime food shortages required Washingtonians to save and reuse everything. To limit consumption of products like butter, coffee, liquor and sugar, the US Office of Price Administration distributed ration books to individuals and families. Households exchanged specific ration stamps for limited amounts of a particular food item at grocery stores.
Rationing in the US allowed for more food to be diverted to the war effort. Hardship at home was a worthwhile price to pay if it ultimately led to victory in Europe and the well-being of American soldiers.
As American factories shifted their attention to manufacturing goods that supported the war effort, production of liquor, like other luxuries, slowed. “There were always shortages,” recalled Washington liquor vendor Milton Kronheim in an oral history, “[It] became difficult to get the popular brands we were selling.
Local businesses also supported troops overseas by providing food from home. Fred Kolker’s wholesale poultry business at Union Terminal Market supplied the US Army during the war. In his oral history, Kolker fondly recalled, “My chicken went to our soldiers who were located all over the world…Boys from Washington, DC wrote me letters thanking me for the good poultry they received.” The JHSGW will soon start offering walking tours of Union Market that feature the original Kolker’s Poultry.
Washington’s Jewish community welcomed soldiers and war workers who flocked to the city as part of on the war effort. When severe housing shortages forced workers to share scarce rooms in boarding houses and private homes, the Jewish Community Center provided housing references to thousands of newly arrived “government girls” through a Room Registry.
Roselyn Dresbold Silverman came to Washington in 1941 to work for the Navy Department. She lived at Dissin’s Guest House, a boarding house in Dupont Circle that catered to young Jewish women. Each month, she paid $35 for her room, two kosher-style meals a day and maid service.
The Jewish War Veterans’ Washington Post No. 58 and the Jewish Welfare Board sponsored High Holiday services and Passover seders for military personnel stationed far from their families. The Jewish Community Center, at 16th and Q Streets NW, offered a full program of activities, including daytime jitterbug contests for nighttime shift workers. Its policy was: “Your uniform is your admission to all activities and facilities.”
Washington’s Jewish community was very much a part of the war effort. As Washingtonian Henry Gichner said when he accepted an award for exceptional efficiency and production on behalf of Gichner Iron Works, “Let’s keep right on going until we get the V-Flag for Victory.”
Top photo: Pages of ration stamps in Lena Chidakel’s ration book. JHSGW Collections. Gift of Edith and Charles Pascal.