Family’s agony in battle over soldier’s gravestone

By Marcus Dysch, September 24, 2013
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The family of a Jewish First World War soldier have spoken of their heartache that his grave is still marked by a cross nearly 100 years after he was killed in action.

Corporal Joseph Nossek was buried in a war cemetery in France in July 1916 but his headstone does not display a Star of David.

His family, supported by the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, have campaigned for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to reconsecrate the stone, but their requests have been rebuffed.

It was common at the time for Jewish soldiers to conceal their faith or to provide non-family members’ details as their next-of-kin. But the Nosseks were a Jewish family and placed a death announcement in the JC in August 1916.

It showed that the soldier’s father died a month after his son was killed, and that the family observed shiva for both men at their home in east London.

Peggy Gosen, a niece of Cpr Nossek, said this week she had been “completely stymied” in her attempts to have the grave altered. Mrs Gosen, of north-west London, said: “He was my uncle and the whole family were Orthodox Jews. There’s no way they would have let this slip by at the time.”

She said the family had been left “flabbergasted” by its dealings with the CWGC.

Relative Colin Nossek, of Romford, Essex, said trying to resolve the issue had been “like banging your head against a brick wall”.

“We have sent the CWGC birth certificates and death certificates. I have now sent a letter to the Chief Rabbi in the hope he can get the headstone changed to a star of David,” said Mr Nossek.

CWGC commemorations policy officer Nic Andrews said earlier this month that while he did not dispute the evidence provided by Cpr Nossek’s relatives that he was Jewish, the commission’s hands were tied by the earlier decision made by the soldier’s next-of-kin.

However in a letter to Mrs Gosen, the commission admitted it did not have the final verification form stating what wishes had been expressed at the time of death.

While the commission accepted that “it is possible a mistake was made”, it could not now “second-guess such decisions”, the letter said.

Last updated: 8:45pm, September 24 2013