A Pacifist at Iwo Jima

Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn from Pulpit to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Bloodiest Battle

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About the Book

In the 1930s, Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn was a distinguished scholar and vocal pacifist. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he had a change of heart and volunteered to serve as a chaplain in the US Navy. The first rabbi ever deployed with the Marine Corps, he found himself in the bloody battle at Iwo Jima. At war’s end at the dedication of the 5th Marine Division cemetery, he gave a renowned speech known as “the Gettysburg Address of World War II.”
This biography is based on multiple sources, including Gittelsohn’s personal papers, beginning with his family’s emigration from Russia to the United States. From the growing antiwar movement after World War I, to the training of military chaplains and the anti–Semitism among their ranks, important events further contextualize Gittelsohn’s life, including his illustrious postwar career and service on President Harry S. Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights.

About the Author(s)

Lee Mandel is a retired U.S. Navy physician. He served at four Navy hospitals, was twice a staff internist at the Office of the Attending Physician, U.S. Congress, and was the Senior Medical Officer aboard three U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. He has published numerous journal articles both in medicine and history. He lives in Suffolk, Virginia.

Bibliographic Details

Lee Mandel

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 268
Bibliographic Info: 10 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8741-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4676-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1
Introduction 3
Prologue 5
Part I. Pacifist  7
One. Family Origins 9
Two. Gifted Student 23
Three. War No More 32
Four. Discovery 46
Five. The New Rabbi 56
Six. Speaking Out for Peace as the Temple Grows 61
Seven. Popular Front 64
Eight. “The Next War for Democracy Will Kill Democracy” 70
Nine. “On Three Things Does the Whole World Depend” 74
Ten. Munich 80
Eleven. A World on the Brink 92
Twelve. The War Begins 96
Thirteen. Private Life 99
Fourteen. A Vision of the Common Man at War and a Surprise 103
Part II. Warrior  115
Fifteen. Becoming a Chaplain 117
Sixteen. The First Marine Rabbi 131
Seventeen. The Road to Iwo Jima 141
Eighteen. Going Overseas with the 5th Marine Division 148
Nineteen. Invasion 160
Twenty. In the Heat of Battle 167
­Twenty-One. Uncommon Valor 174
­Twenty-Two. Coping with Hell on Earth 184
­Twenty-Three. Endgame 195
­Twenty-Four. The Purest Democracy 199
­Twenty-Five. Aftermath 210
­Twenty-Six. Why Pacifism Failed 217
­Twenty-Seven. Once a Marine … 223
­Twenty-Eight. ­Post-War Years 227
Epilogue 233
Chapter Notes 237
Bibliography 251
Index 255

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Lee Mandel traces the unique and well-documented story of Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, grandson of an Orthodox rabbi from Lithuania who became one of the most famous (Reform) US rabbis by the end of World War II. Originally a pacifist, Gittelsohn found himself changed by the totalitarian threats of the late 1930s. He volunteered to serve during World War II as a military chaplain, becoming the first Jewish chaplain in the United States Marines. He survived the famous battle of Iwo Jima and numerous antisemitic incidents to thrive after World War II. A moving blend of social and military history.”—Richard Breitman, distinguished professor emeritus, American University, author of The Berlin Mission: The American Who Resisted Nazi Germany from Within
  • “Rabbi Gittelsohn’s journey as told by this amazing work should inspire everyone, regardless of faith or politics to dedicate themselves to service to others!!”—Rabbi Irving A. Elson, Captain, USN (Ret.), director, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council
  • “Lee Mandel has written a compelling portrait of Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, the values that informed him, the events that transformed him and the moment–the Battle for Iwo Jima–that tested him and revealed his greatness. He understood the man and his faith. His portrait of the battle for Iwo Jima his compelling and he captures the struggles of a chaplain to support the Marines in the fiercest moments of battle. One comes away deeply impressed, profoundly moved, with a sense of gratitude not only for Gittelsohn’s brilliance and bravery but for Mandel’s ability to tell this most compelling story. The work is more important today than ever as patriotism is being trivialized and politicized and when so few understand the valor of the greatest generation as they faced their most difficult battle.”—Michael Berenbaum, professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, California
  • “Roland Gittelsohn led an extraordinary life as a rabbi, pacifist, and World War II chaplain. Lee Mandel’s masterful biography does justice to the man, his beliefs, and his legacy.”—Irwin F. Gellman, author of The President and the Apprentice and Campaign of the Century