"The Fighting 69th"

  1. Date/Time

  2. Location

    Center for Jewish History

    15 W. 16th St.
    New York, NY 10011


  3. Admission

    Members: $7 (including seniors and students) per film
    Non-members: $10 per film

This film series commemorates the start of the Great War, a time when violence once again disrupted peaceful life around the world. Jews were among the soldiers and civilians who paid the high price of war, including economic hardship, population dislocation, pogroms, unjust accusations and death. During the aftermath of the war, some Jews were politically radicalized and many assimilated, while others emigrated. The Great War had a long-lasting effect on the following decades, leading to WWII, which caused its own catastrophic events. Four classic international films reflect a range of Jewish experiences in the East and the West.


Monday, September 15, 6:30 pm

The Fighting 69th is a 1940 Warner Brothers film directed by William Keighley. The film is based upon the actual exploits of New York City’s 69th infantry Regiment during WWI. The plot centers on misfit Jerry Plunkett (James Cagney), a macho and a coward, unable to fit into the Irish brigade. Among the cast of characters is also Mischa Moskowitz (Mike Murphy for his Regiment friends), who speaks Yiddish, prays in Hebrew, but fights like an Irishman.

Discussant: Thomas Doherty, Professor of American Studies, Brandeis University.


Monday, October 13, 6:30 pm

La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion) is a 1937 French war film directed by Jean Renoir. The story concerns class relationships among a small group of French officers who are prisoners of war during WWI and plotting an escape. The perspective of the film is generously humanistic regarding its characters of various nationalities. A key character is Rosenthal, a wealthy French Jew. It is regarded by critics and film historians as one of the masterpieces of French cinema and among the greatest films ever made.

Discussant: Stuart Liebman, Professor of the History and Theory of Cinema, CUNY Graduate Center.


Monday, November 3, 6:30 pm

A Letter to Mother (1939) is one of the last Yiddish films made in Poland before the Nazi invasion. The plot centers around the story of a mother’s persistent efforts to support her family, while her husband moves to America. After her family is pulled apart by severe poverty and the turmoil of WWI, she finally makes her way to New York in hopes of a better future. A Letter to Mother was hailed by the New York Times as one of the best Yiddish films to reach America. It was the highest grossing Yiddish film of its time.

Discussant: Eric Goldman, Adjunct Professor of Cinema, Yeshiva University.


Monday, December 1, 6:30 pm

Commissar was created by Aleksandr Askoldov in 1967, but was banned by Soviet censors for 20 years, due to the film’s sympathetic depiction of Jews. Commissar is a heartbreaking story of a Jewish family in a backwater Ukrainian shtetl ravaged by war and pogroms. When a female commissar fighting in the Red Army gets pregnant, the Jewish family takes her in, as she is expecting to give birth and to return to the front. The film is remarkable for its beautiful cinematography, contrasting the domestic Jewish life with powerful images of the Russian Civil War.

Discussant: Jonathan Brent, Executive Director, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.



Tickets for all of the above programs are available at 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.


The World War I and the Jews initiative is made possible by funding from The David Berg Foundation and The Brenner Family Foundation.


Additional funding has been provided by the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies (New York University), the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History (New York University), American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, and Leo Baeck Institute.