June 6, 1944: Over 4,000 Jewish Soldiers Fought in D-Day

This year marks the 79th anniversary of the largest sea and air invasion in this history of warfare.
June 6, 2023
Digitally restored vintage World War II photo of American troops wading ashore on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

It was ten minutes after midnight on Tuesday, June 6, 1944. The first U.S. pathfinders parachuted into the Cotentin Peninsula in northern France— they were the first of 23,400 paratroopers who would jump out of airplanes that day.

The Nazis had occupied France for the past four years. And now, the first Allied troops led by the United States, United Kingdom and Canada officially entered Nazi-occupied territory in France.

Just hours before, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the  green-light to what would be the largest sea and air invasion ever known to humanity.

In his decree, Eisenhower said, “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

At 3:30 am, the first of over 6,000 ships and landing crafts embarked across the choppy waters of the English Channel for a three hour trip south to battle a well-trained, well-equipped German military.

The Allied invasion of France was codenamed Operation: Overlord. The Battle of Normandy on June 6th was code named Operation: Neptune. Most people know the events of that cold and bloody Tuesday as D-Day.

In addition to troops from the U.S., U.K. and Canada, there were troops fighting alongside them from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland. There were also an estimated 177 French commandos. In all, over 160,000 Allied troops invaded Nazi-occupied France that day.

And amongst the Allies, there were an estimated 4,000 Jewish soldiers who fought on D-Day, according to the Jerusalem Post. In that report, British D-Day veteran Walter Bingham, found that “Jews made up 4.2% of American soldiers, 1% of the British fighters, and 1.5% of the Canadian forces.”

They were amongst the estimated 550,000 Jewish men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.

One of those 4,000 Jewish soldiers who fought on D-Day was U.S. Army T/5 Irving Lukoff from Chicago. At age 27, Lukoff was a Signal Corps Lineman in General George S. Patton’s Third Army.

His son, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Lukoff, United States Army (ret.), a Vietnam veteran, told the Journal that his father spoke very little about his experiences on D-Day. But he also said that if his father were alive today, he would be honored to have his sentiment in Jewish newspaper all these years later:

“The only serious thing he ever said about his experience was that as a Jew, it was important for him to be in Europe, fight the Nazis,  that Jews can use guns, Jews don’t lie down, regardless of what the Nazis say,” Lukoff told the Journal of his father. “They knew what was ahead of them, but they went.”

The Allied invasion was successful, but came at an enormous cost: over 9,000 Allied soldiers would die that day. When the Allied troops crossing the English Channel arrived in the morning during low tide, they were met by massive Nazi gunfire from an elevated position on the seaside cliffs.

In 2022, Lukoff visited Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, where his father and fellow American troops first made landfall. When he saw the cliffs overlooking the beaches where the Nazi gunners were stationed, he was in awe at the will and determination of the Allied troops..

“We were there a year ago and to say, ‘well how did these guys climb up that hill?’” Lukoff said. “When you see it, you really understand. You wonder, ‘how did that happen? How did they do it?’”

When asked about the upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day next year, Lukoff wondered how many veterans will be left to attend.

The publication Stars and Stripes reported that about 50 World War II veterans participated in a ceremony commemorating the 79th anniversary of D-Dayat the Normandy American Cemetery in France, where over 9,300 are buried.

U.S. Ambassador to France Denise Bauer, who attended the ceremony, posted a message on Twitter in French (translation provided by Twitter): , “Very moved by this ceremony at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, in memory of those who fell for Freedom. I would also like to pay tribute to all the veterans who honor us with their presence. We are deeply grateful to you.”

Among the veterans who made the return for the ceremony was 99-year-old Charles Shay, who traveled to northern France from Maine. At age 20, Shay was an infantryman and medic who served at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

 “There aren’t many of us left,” Shay told Stars and Stripes. “I hope to be here again next year.”

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