Jewish Women in World War II: An Oral History Project
There is little documentation concerning the American Jewish women whose lives were changed by World War II. In 2009, Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven volunteers interviewed and copied pictures and memorabilia from several such New Haven area women, then in their mid-80s to 90s. Their complete interviews are available in our archives.
The interviews tell of the many new roles Jewish women played as a result of the war, both on the home front and in the armed services, and how they reacted and adapted to adversity. Short segments of these interviews are available below.
This project was undertaken in conjunction with the work of the Jewish Women’s Archives in Brookline, Massachusetts, and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford. Funding for this project was provided by the Women of Vision Society of the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven. Interviews were conducted by Rhoda Sachs Zahler, recorded by Marvin Bargar, summaries were prepared by Barbara Rader, and Cynthia Beth Rubin scanned still images and edited the recordings. In 2010, Cynthia Beth Rubin designed a webpage for the project with funding from the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven.
Ruth enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), better known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and worked in communications as a decoder, then in recreation supervising the WAVES pool. She kept a scrapbook of her experiences, which she donated to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven.
Ruth passed away in 2022 at the age of 101. You can read her obituary here.
A New Haven native, Rita Melman was a teenager during World War II. Her family owned and managed a hotel in New Haven. After the U.S. entered the war, her father enlisted and her brother was drafted into the armed services, leaving her and her mother to run the hotel. During this interview, she recalls the challenges and difficulties she and her mother experienced during this time.
Rita passed away in 2013 at the age of 84. You can read her obituary here.
Mitzi was in high school when the war broke out. She describes her memories of the war, the support from Hillhouse High School students who enlisted and purchased war bonds, and her training as a nurse toward the end of the war.
Laura Small Levine
A young bride during World War II, Laura Levine followed her husband to three Army postings around the country before he shipped out to Europe. She describes life as an Army wife, her experience working as a “Rosie the Riveter” in the Watertown Arsenal in Brookline, Massachusetts, and the uncertainty she felt following her husband’s deployment to Europe just when she learned she was pregnant with their first child. It was not until their son was eleven months old that her husband saw him for the first time. In her words, the war was “tough to live through.” Although there were good times, there were also “harsh realities.” Her story is one echoed by many women and service wives on the home front.
Laura passed away in 2016 at the age of 96. You can read her obituary here.
Lucille Alderman talks about the impact of the war on her family. Her brother Sidney enlisted in the Army and was killed in action. She and her family worked on the home front to support the war effort’s required rationing, saving reusable materials, and using the ever-present blackout window shades.
Edith Gillman served in the United States Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), better known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Born in Minnesota to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, she joined the WAVES because she was “determined to get away from home and do my part somehow.” In the WAVES she trained to be a pharmacist’s mate and served at a hospital base in California where she cared for mentally and physically wounded soldiers from Europe.
Edith passed away in 2018 at the age of 93. You can read her obituary here.
A shy, naïve teenager in Providence, Rhode Island at the start of World War II, Rose Dubin quickly grew up as she faced the challenges of war, first as the sister of two brothers who enlisted and then as a war bride who traveled from one end of the country to the other at age 18 to be with her serviceman husband.