The Forgotten Black Soldiers
Israel Meir Lau was born in 1937 in Piotrkow Trybunalski Poland. At age five, most of the city’s Jews, including Lau’s parents, were deported to the extermination camp known as Treblinka, where the Nazis would go on to murder 925,000 Jews. Four of my own cousins all under the age six were killed there.
Young Lau, however, was eventually sent to a labor camp known as Buchenwald where Jews were forced to work in factories under awful conditions with very little food.
Not long after Lau arrived at the camp, the U.S. and its allies began bombing Buchenwald. In response, the Nazis opened fire on the Jewish prisoners, hoping to kill as many as possible before they lost the war.
Finally, on April 11, 1945, the U.S. 76th Battalion, an all-Black unit, helped liberate Buchenwald from the Germans. The U.S. rescued Lau and his brother Naftali. Lau had been hiding behind a pile of Jewish corpses when he was found.
This eight year old boy ended up finding refuge in the ancestral Jewish homeland Israel where he studied in Jewish institutions for many years and wrote several books on Jewish spirituality. Israel Meir Lau went on to become the Chief Rabbi of Israel.
One of the first soldiers who arrived at Buchenwald to save the future chief rabbi was Corporal Leonard Smith, one of a million Black soldiers who fought in racially segregated units for the U.S. in World War II. Over 700 Black Americans died fighting against the Nazis in World War II.
But this wasn’t the first time Black Americans fought and died for the nation that hasn’t treated them so well.
Over 200,000 Black men fought in the War of 1812 and for the Union in the Civil War, helping win some of the most important battles. Over 37,000 of them, many former slaves, gave their lives fighting for the U.S.
Other Black soldiers fought and died in the Battle of New Orleans. Slaves and free soldiers comprised a majority of the two battalions that succeeded in repelling elite British forces. Fifty Black soldiers died in battle.
In 1885, the all-Black 10th Calvary courageously saved other American soldiers who had been…