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UK-Jewish Veteran, 99, Commemorates 80th Anniversary of D-Day

A Journey of Faith, Courage, and Remembrance.

Even at 99 years old, Mervyn Kersh's spirit and dedication to his country remain undimmed. As he prepares to return to Normandy for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Kersh reflects on his experiences that shaped not only his life but also the course of history.

In the days leading up to the Normandy landings, a young Private Kersh faced a bizarre accusation from his commanding officer—refusing to eat army rations in favor of canned peaches. His adherence to kosher dietary laws was misunderstood as an attempt to weaken himself for battle. Kersh, indignant, clarified his religious observance, leading to the charges being dropped. This incident highlights the unique challenges faced by Jewish soldiers during the war.

Kersh's journey to Normandy was fraught with danger. Boarding a landing ship under a hail of artillery fire, the sense of adventure quickly gave way to fear. Seeking solace in a pocket edition of Psalms, he landed in France days after D-Day, ready to fight for a cause deeply personal to him. Growing up in a Jewish family in south London, Kersh was acutely aware of the Nazi threat. The bombings in London and the horrific reports of the Holocaust fueled his determination to defeat Hitler.

"I could almost say it was a crusade," Kersh recalled, emphasizing the mission's purpose beyond mere survival. The atrocities against Jews across Europe galvanized him and many others, leading to a remarkable level of military service among British Jews. About 70,000 Jews served in the UK armed forces during World War II, a significant contribution given the population size.

Kersh's role in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps was vital in ensuring a steady flow of military vehicles to the front lines. As he advanced across Europe, he witnessed the war's impact on Jewish communities. From Bayeux to Brussels, he encountered stories of survival and resilience. However, nothing prepared him for the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Although he arrived post-liberation, the sight of emaciated survivors left an indelible mark.

In an effort to help, Kersh shared chocolate rations with the former prisoners, an act he later learned was harmful to starving individuals. This moment of unintended consequence has stayed with him, a reminder of the complexities of war and humanitarian aid.

Post-war, Kersh faced new challenges. Despite his military service, he struggled to secure a job in retail due to his age. Instead, he found success as a writer and innovator in the faux fur industry. His later years have been dedicated to educating younger generations about the perils of antisemitism and the importance of remembering history.

Recognized by the French government with the Legion d’Honneur and honored by former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Kersh's contributions extend beyond his wartime service. His efforts to keep history alive are vital as the number of surviving veterans dwindles.

Reflecting on his experiences, Kersh humbly acknowledges his fortune compared to those who paid the ultimate price. Visiting military cemeteries, he is reminded of the lives lost for a greater cause. "I just think how lucky I am because I’ve got the choice of going home again,” he said. “And they haven’t. They just lost their lives, but it was for something worthwhile."

As we honor the heroes of D-Day, Kersh's story stands as a testament to courage, faith, and the enduring importance of remembering our past.

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