by Sophie Roberts
Prior to the outbreak of World War One, there were approximately 300,000 Jews living within Britain. The majority of the Jewish community, a staggering 80%, resided within London (180,000), Manchester (30,000) and Leeds (20,000). The rest of the Jewish community were scattered more disparately across the country. There is evidence of there being a variety of active Jewish communities within Cheshire and the Merseyside, predominantly found in the areas of Wallasey, Birkenhead and Stockport. This post will draw upon a variety of case studies including Russian Jewish refugees who resided in Stockport and Jewish soldiers who served in the Cheshire Regiment. Furthermore, it will contemplate whether the war and the Jewish community’s contribution to the British war effort led to a change in people’s attitudes and the general prejudice that Jews were ‘aliens.’
Many Jews had sought refuge in Britain in the years preceding World War One, fleeing the Russian Empire as non-Russian minorities were treated appallingly by the Tsarist state. One prime example of this is the case study of Herbert Benedict Hand. The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, of 7th September 1915 reports how Hand was charged in Stockport, where he had emigrated to, for ‘failing as an enemy alien to register himself under the Aliens Act.’ Hand was a tailor who had registered himself as a German with an insurance society, and had continued to introduce himself as a German. However, when the accusation was made against him, he claimed that he was not of in fact of German origin. Hand told the magistrates that in reality he had never been to Germany and that his ancestry was all of Russian descent. In addition, Hand further confessed that he had tried to adopt a German identity because he had been in the process of courting a woman, who was now his wife, and knew that society would have condemned their interracial marriage due to him being a Russian Jew. This case study highlights that members of the Jewish minority group in the region of Cheshire were even going to the extent of denying their true ethnic and religious identity, in the hope of being more readily accepted into British society. The 1905 Aliens Act, modified into the significantly harsher and more restrictive Aliens Restriction Act of 1914, heightened Britons’ sense of nationalism, encouraging prejudice and discrimination to be shown towards Jewish immigrants during the war years.
Peter Perlstein, another Russian Jewish man, who moved to Chester in August 1915 was put on trial for failing to register himself as an Alien on his arrival to Chester. Perlstein, an established musical director, had taken on the name and persona of ‘Herbert Stone’, claiming it was a more professional name to use as a director. Yet it is questionable as to whether this was the true motive behind the adopted persona or whether it was to try and dissociate himself from his Russian Jewish identity and alien label. Perlstein had lived in Britain since he was two years old, when he had emigrated from Russia and fled the tsarist state with his family. Perlstein and his family had lived in Lincoln, prior to him moving to Chester. It is interesting to note, however, that Perlstein had not registered in Lincoln as an alien either, claiming that he had thought registration was only necessary on an individual’s immediate arrival into the country, and that he had been registered in Liverpool which was his shipping centre and way into the country. Moreover, Perlstein is reported in the Chester Chronicle to have remained adamant during his interrogation, that he was thoroughly unaware that Chester was a prohibited area for aliens whose presence was not registered or of common knowledge. However, his consequences were lenient, the trial was dropped and no charges were pressed on the condition that he registered himself as an Alien immediately. Once again, this case study clearly highlights how vehement xenophobic feelings were within Cheshire at the time, a relevant microcosm of the feelings that were present within Great Britain during the Great War years. Perlstein’s case also indicates how systematically foreign refugees, in this case Russian Jews, had to be recorded.
There is also evidence that Jews served in the Cheshire Regiment, contributing to the British war effort. Arthur Isaac Glasstone, a British Jewish man, served as a Corporal in the Cheshire Regiment during the war years. Originally from Walton, Liverpool, he lived in the city with his wife Annie Glasstone at 101A Rice Lane. He died during conflict on the 11th August 1916, aged 38. Glasstone is buried at Liverpool Anfield Cemetery where he is commemorated alongside fellow comrades who died fighting for their country. Similarly, Israel Gordon held the position of Private in the Cheshire Regiment, dying on the 20th November 1916 at the mere age of 21 years old. However, Gordon unlike Glasstone was from Manchester, emphasizing how the majority of the Jewish community were located in larger cities such as both Manchester and Liverpool.
Both Glasstone and Gordon’s records can be found on the Jewish war graves website, on which there is an accessible database that contains burial and military records, and commemorates the individual Jewish soldiers who fell in both World War One and Two serving Britain in various regiments. In particular their individual grave registration report forms have been digitised and recorded within this online archive. Grave registration report forms are highly useful primary sources, they provide fundamental details of individual soldiers, such as their: name, regiment, rank, service number, unit and date of death, and indicates which plot and row their particular gravestone can be found in.
Glasstone and Gordon are a mere microcosm of the Jews’ involvement in the British war effort. 10,000 British Jews volunteered and signed up to the military before conscription was introduced in January 1916; and when conscription was implemented a total of 41,500 Jews ended up serving the British armed forces in World War One. The support of British Jews for the war is epitomized by the patriotic appeal of the Jewish Chronicle from 7th August 1915, which stated: ‘England has been all she could be to Jews, Jews will be all they can be to England, and the Jewish manhood is responding with alacrity and enthusiasm to the call of England.’
To conclude, the case studies surrounding the Russian Jewish refugees, and the trials which were held due to their failure to register as Aliens within Stockport and Chester, show how seriously the accusation of being an Alien was taken. They also highlight how during the War, the Jewish minority within Cheshire was actively tracked and recorded under registration of the Aliens Act, and if people did not co-operate it led to trials, charges and arrests as it was seen to be a criminal offence. However a conclusion which we can draw is that although many Jews were continued to hold foreign citizenship, and made to feel isolated from British society with their Alien labels, they still forced took on the role of British citizens and fought for Britain in the war. However we can infer that attitudes did change, there was a greater sense of community cohesion in the post-war period, and it was if the Jewish minority had proved themselves through fighting and representing Britain within the war. Arguably the War was a catalyst for Jews in Cheshire and Britain alike, as Colin Holmes succinctly states ‘the war assisted in the secularisation and acculturation of the Jews’. The War permitted the minority group to gradually begin to be integrated into society and move away from the condemnation of their Alien labels.
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
The Jewish Chronicle
Grave Register, Anfield Cemetery, Cemetery Index Number Lancashire 2,
Grave Register, Blackley St Andrew Churchyard, Cemetery Index Number Lancashire 21,
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
The Jewish Chronicle
Endelman, T. M, The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000, (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2002)
Jeuda, B., World War One and the Manchester Sephardim, (Shaare Hayim, 2014),
Kushner, T., Anglo-Jewry since 1066, place, locality and memory, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011.)