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Index cards from the British Army Post Office

index cards with red, black and blue handwriting

Thousands of German and Austrian emigrants, both Jews and non-Jews, fought in the British Army under new names during the Second World War. When the war started, stateless refugees on British territory were initially interned as "enemy aliens," but after a time the British authorities permitted them to enlist in the army as "friendly enemy aliens." Many wanted to make a personal contribution to defeating Hitler.

Upon enlisting, they were asked to drop their German names in case they were captured by the Nazis. They were given just a few minutes to decide what their future English names would be. Salo Carlebach took on the name Michael Charles Brook, and Werner Oppenheim chose William Oakfield. Nevertheless, the name changes did not mean the soldiers automatically became British citizens. It was not until the late 1940s that most of the emigrants—provided they had stayed in England—were granted British nationality. Almost all of them kept their Anglicized names.

The index cards kept by the British Army Post Office document the soldiers’ name changes. They make no explicit reference to their background or religious affiliation. By a fortunate coincidence, the cards were not thrown away, and one of the former soldiers helped the Jewish Museum acquire them for its collection.

Index cards from the British Army Post Office
Great Britain, 1940–1946
Ink on paper
Card dimensions: 7.6 x 12.6 cm
Authorized gift from British Army Post Office holdings

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