By Haley Cohen
A Jewish accountant is offering his expertise on honours and medals to help Cape Town Jews identify their relative’s awards. Anthony Pamm, 66, a resident of Sea Point, has produced what he describes as the most extensive reference book on military awards. The book, published in 1995, contains sections dedicated to Jewish accomplishments.
In his first interview with a local newspaper, Pamm tells reporter Haley Cohen how he got started, and what he has up his sleeve next — including a generous offer to the community.
Cape Jewish Chronicle: How did you first become interested in the topic of military awards? Did you serve in the military yourself?
I became interested in medals when I was a child, and from there I began studying the subject and have continued to do so for about 50 years.
I thought that the existing coverage was inadequate so wrote a 1657 page reference book entitled Honours and Rewards in the British Empire and Commonwealth (published by Solar Press in 1995) which took what is normally studied in all spheres (military and civil), added very considerably to what had previously been published and placed it in a wider context. Because I’m Jewish, I also developed an interest in Jewish history. In my reference book, there’s a large chapter on Palestine during the British Mandate period and World War I. There were Jews from Palestine serving on the British side. So that’s a very developmental stage in the history of the state of Israel. And then I studied awards relating to Israel’s history from 1948 onwards. I was one of the first in that field.
CJC: How common has it been over the course of history for Jews to receive medals?
Medals started coming into issue in the 1800s and as time went by, the awarding of medals in various countries progressed. Before that, it was more that nobility and upper classes had orders. This finally loosened up and the eligibility of Jews for medals would vary from country to country and by the degree of Jewish participation in armed forces.
In WWII there was a fairly large Jewish participation here in South Africa, and 10 000 Jews volunteered to serve and received medals. Medals came from this war, as well as from World War I. But before WWI Jews participated because they were in the armies and joined as soldiers of whichever country they were living in. There were Jews in the American Civil War on both sides. And some of them won American medals.
CJC: I’d like to know more about Israeli decorations. What makes them unique? Did you spend time in Israel for your research?
In Israel, when it was Palestine, the Jews who served were eligible for British awards according to their service. Starting in 1948, Israel had its own awards. In the Independence War, they only had one type of decoration, and it was only awarded to 12 people. The war lost 6000 people out of a 650 000 population. In terms of rewarding service most countries issue a medal — Israel went the route of only issuing a small strip of ribbon. Sometimes they also issue certificates. So you have a series of ribbons carrying the various Israeli wars. They also issued some retrospective ribbons for pre-State service, such as World War I.
In the 1970s it was decided that medals should be instituted in addition to ribbons. The top one has a yellow ribbon with a star, which is reminiscent of the WWII star. The police service and fire service has followed by instituting their own medals which mimic the defense force medals.
CJC: What are some of the challenges?
British medals are usually issued with the recipient’s name stamped on them, which allows identification. With some American medals, as well as many other countries, names are not always included. Some may have a number which could be difficult to tie to the recipient’s name. This results in the Jewish context getting lost.
With the massive destruction of World War II, a lot of medals probably went into the death camps and were destroyed. Finding a medal from a Jew who served in World War II also represents all those whose medals did not make it out. That one medal could represent a piece of history and not just the individual.
CJC: I understand you are offering a new service to help Cape Town Jewish families identify medals that they are in possession of from their relatives. Can you tell me more about this? Why did you decide to offer the service free of charge?
It’s a new offer, so I have not actually done it yet, but I’m offering for families to come to me and say ‘I’ve got this medal from my ancestor, what’s it about?’
Because I have expertise in this area I thought I would offer a free identification service to the Cape Town Jewish community for any family medals that they may have. It’s not an evaluation. My service is identifying, to the best of my ability, what they have. I can tell them where it came from. I can also recommend to them where they can go for further research. The identification service that I offer covers all awards, military and civil , governmental and nongovernmental. I have the expertise; I am interested in Jewish recipients. So, why not?
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