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Efforts to change crosses on graves of Jewish American soldiers

Hundreds of Jewish American soldiers killed during World War II are thought to be buried under Latin crosses.
Posted at 5:40 PM, Jun 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-05 17:40:03-04

A certain stillness hangs heavy over the beaches of Normandy, France, even 79 years after Allied forces stormed these shores during D-Day. It's hard not to be struck by the sacrifice thousands of soldiers made here as they pushed back Hitler's army.

Row after row, white crosses mark the 9,387 graves of Americans buried at Normandy American Cemetery. But many of the Latin crosses were unknowingly placed above the graves of Jewish American soldiers.

That includes Lt. Lawrence Craig, who died in 1944.

"He was just one of the thousands of people who gave the ultimate sacrifice so we can have the life we have," said Bill Loventhal.

Loventhal's father, William Loventhal Sr., signed up for the service in Chicago in 1941. With him that day was his cousin, Lt. Lawrence Craig.

William Loventhal Sr. came back from the war, but Lt. Lawrence Craig did not.

"It was just something our family never really talked about," Bill Loventhal's sister Anne said.

On a mission to learn more about Lt. Lawrence Craig, Bill Loventhal found himself in Normandy, France, last year. Walking the rows of crosses, Bill Loventhal spent hours looking for the grave of his father's cousin but found nothing.

"We were looking around and going up and down the rows and looking up and down for a Jewish star and we didn't find one," Loventhal said.

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Lt. Lawrence Craig, who was Jewish, was not buried under a Star of David as his family assumed. Instead, his grave was marked by a Latin Cross."I had sort of a visceral reaction when I saw it," Anne Loventhal explained.

Hundreds of Jewish American soldiers killed in World War II are thought to be buried under Latin crosses, including Lt. Lawrence Craig. But it turns out this seven decades-old problem could be fixed.

When Lt. Lawrence Craig died, officials at the cemetery did not know he was Jewish — he had changed his last name in case of being captured by the Germans.

For 79 years, his memorial was marked by a Latin cross. That changed on Memorial Day last week, when years of heavy bureaucratic lifting with U.S. officials finally got it changed to a Jewish Star of David.

In the crowd was Bill Loventhal, who made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean from his home in Atlanta, Georgia,  to watch this historic wrong made right."Very, very meaningful, yeah," Loventhal said after the ceremony had ended.

The change was made possible as part of Operation Benjamin. So far, the non-profit has secured approval from the American Battle Monuments Commission to replace 23 grave markers of Jewish-American service members. The organization says they have 30 more in the works.

"I hope it says to the world we still care about these soldiers, even 79 years after [their] sacrifice," said Scott Desjardins, Superintendent of Normandy American Cemetery.

This effort, families say, is bringing in to focus the faith of Jewish-American soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

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