Jewry’s Book of Honour
World War II
with the co-operation of NAJEX historian
Australian Federation of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women
Throughout centuries of persecution, in peace and in war, Jews have clung tenaciously and stubbornly to their religion, finding solace in its wisdom and comfort in its prayer.
How true this was of a unique Barmitzvar service by proxy held in a prisoner of war camp at Tamarkan, Thailand, on September 27, 1944.
The service marked the thirteenth birthday of the son of Victorian signaller Mark Hayman 8th Division). Jewish fathers hold dear the service of a thirteen-year-old boy, since it signifies the lad has reached the age of manhood. Because Signaller Hayman could not be present at the Barmitzvar of his son Leon, he determined to hold a special service by proxy at Tarmarkan.
With difficulty, a sceptical Japanese commandant was persuaded to allow the service to be held. Negotiations extended for four days before his approval was obtained. He was apparently highly suspicious that the proposed gathering would be simply to hold a religious service, so there was the spectacle colonels and other officers of field rank on opposing sides seriously conferring about a service for a boy of 13 living thousands of miles away. It must surely have been one of the most unique conferences of the war.
Approval for the service finally was granted on condition that the Japanese colonel’s interpreter attended. Because the service proper was to be followed by a social gathering, the date chosen was not a Sabbath. Guests included Australian, British, American, Canadian and Dutch servicemen, as well as the Japanese interpreter.
Despite the restrictions placed on the service, it was deeply impressive. Before leaving, the Japanese interpreter made a speech in which he expressed his best wishes for Signaller Hyman’s son and the hope that father and son would be speedily united.
The service was conducted with the assistance of a Singer Daily Prayer Book belonging to Signalman Neville Milston (N.S.W.), who was a P.O.W. with Mark Hyman. Signaller Milston, who was suffering from a severe bout of malaria, could not attend the service. He said later than on occasions the temptation to sell the prayer book for food was great indeed (its pages would have made excellent cigarette paper). But Signaller Milston’s faith and the book survived the horrors of three and a half years of prisoner-of-war existence in Malaya, Bu and Thailand. He brought it safely back to Australia when he was repatriated. Signaller Hayman also returned safely to Melborne. The boy in whose honour the Barmitzvar service was held became a barrister.
This is the Synagogue built within the confines of the infamous Japanese prisoner-of-war camp at Changi. The induction took place in August, 1944. Jews from Holland, England, India, America and Australia participated in the induction service. Regular services were held each Friday evening and Saturday morning and lectures given on Sunday afternoons. The Synagogue, which could hold a little more than fifty men, was the largest religious hall or church in Changi prison.
A Dutchman named Nussbaum, an extremely orthodox Jew, officiated at the services. These pictures were provided for this War History by Sgt. Sam Biner, who enlisted in the A.I.F. in Victoria. The prayer book he used was given to him by the Japanese after it had been sent out from Jewish sources in America. Its opening page bore the Japanese Censor’s stamp No. 320.