This is one of the funnier old family stories. My family believes that it documents the first time being a conscientious objector was used as a rationale to get out of military service. The concept didn’t exist in World War I.
Abe was my grandmother’s brother. He was a nebbish and a schlemiel. He was not too bright, whiny, screwed things up a lot and the family often had to bail him out. For example, in around 1908, he and my grandmother had first class tickets on the ship that was bringing them to America to live. He lost the tickets. New tickets had to be procured, but this time they were steerage. My grandmother was not happy with him.
Abe got drafted and somehow managed to snivel his way through basic training. He was scheduled to ship out to Europe to fight in World War I. The family got a call. It was Abe. “They want to send me overseas to get shot at! I’m not going! I’m coming home!” He went AWOL, was caught, thrown into the brig and faced a long prison term. Or worse – he could be shot!
Whenever the family faced a serious problem, the person to call was Ivan Abramson, a well-connected cousin. He was brilliant, charming and knew a lot of “important” people. He was a producer in the Yiddish theater and I think he had something to do with gambling. He was definitely “a player”. One of the people he knew was the Secretary of the Navy. Go figure. It just so happened that the Secretary was coming to New York City to review the troops before they shipped out. A perfect time for Ivan to talk to him about Abe.
So, picture the military pomp of a formal viewing ceremony. There was the Secretary of the Navy, the troops, the press, Cousin Ivan and – Uncle Abe, dragged out in chains, crying. The story goes that Abe was pleading with Ivan to “Save me! Don’t let them shoot me!”
Ivan was clever and made a persuasive pitch to the Naval Secretary. He said that Abe belonged to an obscure Jewish sect that didn’t believe in violence. He said that fighting in the war would be against all of Abe’s religious convictions. He argued that this should never happen in “the land of the free” etc., etc. The ploy worked. Or he paid off the Secretary in some under the table way we’ll never know about.
Abe was discharged from the navy and released back to his family. He continued to cause problems for everyone for the next 60 odd years! But I like to think that he had one shining moment, inadvertently paving the way for future conscientious objectors. It would be the only candidate for shining moment in his life. So I’m going to stick with my story!