from global jewish advocacy
Then, on October 26, he wrote to his wife, in Richmond, Virginia, ”A bit of excitement – an NBC reporter phoned me last night…and told me he wanted to broadcast part of my service on this Sunday afternoon…” While Lefkowitz would write and deliver the sermon, Max Fuchs, a First Division rifleman, was given the honor of serving as cantor. Born in Poland, Fuchs had come to America at the age of twelve. Raised on New York City’s Lower East Side, he attended yeshiva, sang in a number of choirs, and had been enthralled by some of the city’s great cantors. He could never have imagined, when he joined the army in 1942, how this background would impact his military service. Fuchs often led services because the First Division, known as the Big Red One, did not have a Jewish chaplain. His religious knowledge and melodic voice were noticed by commanding officers and, after Omaha Beach, he was transferred to division headquarters and made an acting chaplain. So, on October 29, 1944, Corps Chaplain Sidney Lefkowitz, Max Fuchs, NBC war correspondent James Cassidy, and 50 Jewish soldiers gathered not far from the destroyed Aachen synagogue to deliver a message of hope and renewal to the world. “We hear the sound of artillery guns, because the front line is not far from where we are,” Cassidy warned listeners. “How sweet upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger of good tidings!” declared Rabbi Lefkowitz. “The light of religious freedom has pierced through the darkness of Nazi persecution.” Amidst the explosion of artillery shells, Fuchs led the Jewish GIs in the singing of Ein Keloheinu and Yigdal. In a show of brotherhood the broadcast ended with comments by Catholic Chaplain Father Edward Waters and Protestant Chaplain Bernard Henry. “One of the great fruits born of this war,” said Father Waters, “is religious freedom for all men.” Protestant chaplain Bernard Henry closed the service with the hope of Jewish renewal. “I am confident that the Jews everywhere in Europe shall soon again have the opportunity to enter their houses of worship,” said Henry. “That is definitely one of the things we are fighting for and are resolved to preserve.” The broadcast from Aachen reverberated across the U .S. Those that missed the original Sunday morning transmission were able to listen to one of a number of repeat programs. Philip S. Bernstein, director of Jewish chaplains of CANRA, the Committee on Army and Navy Religious Activities, wrote to chaplain Lefkowitz, “The Ayn Kaylohaynu will never have the same meaning for me again. I think that I will never be able to sing it without remembering the American boys singing it from Aachen.” He added, “You have made history Sidney. I believe this with all my heart. It seems to me that in this phase of the war our chaplains have become the symbols of liberation.” Sitting in her Brooklyn home, Naomi Groob also was moved by the broadcast. “What a beautiful voice,” she thought as she listened to Fuchs sing. Shortly after the war, while on a Shabbat walk along the East River, she met Max, the man with the beautiful voice. They married in 1946. After the war, Fuchs became a cantor, serving at the Bayside Jewish Center for 39 years. He also maintained a second career, cutting and polishing diamonds in New York City’s Diamond district, an activity he still engages in at the age of 85.