THE LIFE OF BENJAMIN GARADETSKY
Benjamin Barney Garadetsky was born Boruch Reigorodeczki on April 14, 1914 in the city of Zhitomir, a sprawling metropolis in the Volhynia province of the Russian Empire (now part of modern-day Ukraine). His parents, Mordche “Motel” and Bina (nee Liffer), were also parents to a young daughter, Malka. They had decided long before their son’s birth that they would leave Russia to start a new life in America. Peace between the Jews of Zhitomir and their Gentile neighbors was fragile, and the threat of pogrom loomed over the Jewish community like a heavy fog.
On August 20, 1913--eight months before little Boruch was born--his father Mordche Reigorodeczki arrived in New York City, where he changed his name to Max Garadetsky and sought work as a tailor in order to finance his family’s trip to join him.
Max and Bina were separated by an ocean for over 8 years. In 1919, two separate, violent pogroms left over 330 of Zhitomir’s Jews dead, and the rest of the community fearing for their lives. Bina knew she could not wait any longer; it was time to bid farewell to Russia. With the funds sent by her husband, she traveled with 6-year-old Boruch and 8-year-old Malka to join Max, safe in America.
6-year old Benjamin's arrival at Ellis Island on ship manifest
Bina, Malka, and Boruch traveled under the surname “Grodecka,” and arrived at New York’s Ellis Island on October 21, 1921, aboard the RMS Aquitania. Shedding their Yiddish names, it was here that Boruch became Benjamin Barney Garadetsky, his mother adopted the name Blanche, and Malka became Mollie. Finally reunited, Max and his family settled in a teeming, heavily-Jewish area of the Bronx in New York City.
Benjamin's Declaration of Intention to become a US citizen
Telegram that Benjamin's mother received from the War Department
On February 17, 1941, nearly twenty years after he arrived in America with his mother and sister, 26-year-old Benjamin enlisted in the U.S. Army in the fight against Nazi barbarity. Upon his enlistment, he registered with the National Jewish Welfare Board, a proud Jew and proud American. Benjamin became part of the legendary 66th Armored Regiment, known as “Hell on Wheels.” He served in the army for over three years.
As they fought their way through Nazi-occupied Europe, U.S. soldiers met stiff enemy resistance. In August 23, 1944, Benjamin was killed instantly during a Luftwaffe bombing of the 2nd Armored Division positions.
From the city of Zhitomir, to the shores of Ellis Island, to the streets of the Bronx, to the battlefields of Europe, Benjamin Garadetsky lived as Jew. He died a Jewish American hero and was finally laid to rest at the American military cemetery in Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, along with 9,386 other heroes of the war.
CORRECTING A HISTORICAL ERROR
At the Normandy American Cemetery, a mistake was made, and remained uncorrected until the summer of 2018. A member of our team discovered that Benjamin Garadetsky was buried not under the Magen David (Star of David) of his faith, but under the sign of the Latin Cross, in 2016. This was a grievous historical error that demanded correction, but it turned out that correcting it was not a simple matter.
The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is understandably guarded about the burials under its custodianship. For those seeking to effect a change in a grave marker’s religious identification, it is first necessary to create a substantial brief on the deceased, proving the case. The next step is to identify and contact living descendants of the soldier, encouraging them to advocate to the relevant authorities on behalf of the deceased. This takes research, dogged determination, patience, empathy, and dedication.
Our researchers worked for weeks to recreate the live of the Garadetsky family through painstaking research in documents, historical records, and even field trips to various archives and cemeteries. Volunteers paid a visit to the graves of Benjamin Garadetsky's parents and sister, confirming that theirs were Jewish burials with Jewish grave markers. Once the historical record was absolutely certain, no change of marker could be made to Benjamin’s grave without a relative/descendant making the request. The next challenge was to find a living Garadetsky descendant
In hopes of reaching Benjamin’s relatives, our group took out an advertisement in New York City’s Jewish Week, which caught the eye of someone who knew name Garadetsky from research they had conducted years ago. From this individual, we gained two clues: One relative was a doctor in a St. Louis hospital, and that they were active in a Conservative synagogue there. Through a family connection of one of our volunteers, this doctor was found, but he was wary of a stranger reaching out to him, so that lead ended.
Following our second--and last--lead, we contacted every Conservative synagogue in St. Louis until we found the right one. Quite correctly, the Rabbi did not provide us with the family’s contact information, but he did pass along the message that we were looking for them, the reason, and a phone number where our representative could be reached. To our team’s delight, Benjamin’s family in St. Louis reached out to us. We were pleased to share the massive amount of research we had conducted on Benjamin and his family, which in turn proved the authenticity of our mission.
Our team then assisted the family in writing the requisite letters to the ABMC, and then shepherded that information through the proper channels by means of our government contacts. Just over two months after it received the request, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) agreed that a historical mistake had been made, and needed to be corrected. The ABMC’s dedication to completing Benjamin’s headstone change in the most dignified manner was remarkable, and touched the hearts of all involved.
In the summer of 2018, an emotional graveside ceremony was held with Benjamin’s extended family, members of our team, and representatives from the Normandy cemetery. Benjamin Garadetsky was offered eternal rest under the symbol of his heritage, as his white marble grave marker was finally changed to a Magen David (Star of David), standing tall and proud in the presence of his comrades in arms.