Max (Mordechai) Fuchs, a G.I. and cantor who led a tefillah service in Germany during World War II that was broadcast nationally in the U.S., was niftar July 3. He was 96.
Fuchs was born in Rzeszow, Poland, and immigrated to New York with his family when he was 12, according to his obituary in The New York Times. He grew up on the Lower East Side, where he enjoyed singing chazzanus in a choir. He also had some private lessons in chazzanus, he said in a 2009 interview with the American Jewish Committee.
Drafted into the Army, he was a rifleman in the First Infantry Division during the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France. Four months after D-Day, Aachen became the first German city to fall to the Allies.
On Oct. 29, 1944, a highly emotional tefillah service, led by Mr. Fuchs, was held in an open field in Aachen, broadcast coast to coast in the U.S. by NBC radio, in conjunction with the AJC. As the sounds of artillery boomed in the background, the singing of “Ein K’Elokeinu” and “Yigdal” in that field in Aachen was heard in radios across the United States.
“The emotion was tremendous; it was unbelievable,” Mr. Fuchs recalled in the AJC interview. “All the soldiers there, they themselves couldn’t believe it, because of everything that they had heard, all the atrocities … we all knew what was happening.”
“I can’t describe it. It’s indescribable, how you really felt, as a Jewish soldier,” said Mr. Fuchs, especially as most of his fellow soldiers at the service “had family that perished in the Holocaust.” Many members of Mr. Fuchs’s family were killed in the Holocaust; recalling this would bring him to tears more than 60 years after the war.
Audio clips of the service are available online. Photographs from the historic event show Mr. Fuchs and Army Chaplain Rabbi Sidney Lefkowitz wearing tallisos as they lead the service, while dozens of soldiers participate behind them, along the Siegfried Line of German tank traps.
“The atmosphere there was unbelievable, to have the first service on German soil. It’s difficult really to describe it, what you felt in your heart. They felt their Jewishness in their hearts. You felt so elated. I would think that would be the description.”
Yehi zichro baruch.