One day in 1941, a young Julius Garber was walking to a property owned by his father when he came to the corner of 11th and Vine streets in Milwaukee.
“I saw that the old Romanian shul on the corner was being torn down,” said Garber, who is now 94 and lives at Chai Point Senior Living, 1400 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. “Half of the roof was already off, and I saw this beautiful Star of David that was going to be torn down.”
Garber couldn’t bear to see the Star of David get thrown out, so he resolved to try to save it. The only problem – he didn’t exactly know how. Then a name popped into his head: Phillip Rubenstein.
“When I got to the office, I called Phil Rubenstein,” he said. “That’s all I did. Rubenstein — he did the rest.”
Perhaps there was something about Rubenstein’s character that made Garber call him. It turns out Garber’s instincts were right, because Rubenstein rescued the Star of David and went on to become a philanthropist in the Milwaukee Jewish community. (In 1989 the Jewish Home and Care Center opened the Rubenstein Family Kosher Oasis. The Jewish Home’s Senior Adult Day Center is in the Rubenstein Pavilion.)
More stars for Garber
In 1942, Garber was drafted to fight in World War II. He was assigned to the 36th Infantry Division. Garber wouldn’t return home until 1945 after many harrowing experiences.
He saw action in North Africa (near Casablanca in modern-day Morocco), Italy, France and Germany. During those three years, he received two purple hearts, an Oak Leaf Cluster (for fighting in a major combat zone) and four bronze stars (signifying meritorious service in a combat zone).
To the horror of his family, telegrams bearing bad news arrived on numerous occasions.
“I was a casualty four times,” said Garber. “I was also [declared] missing in action.”
Once, Garber was almost left for dead after being wounded by German tank fire in Italy. “I was passed out for eight or nine days, and all I remember was somebody said, ‘This one’s alive, take him to the ER.’ I still have that piece of shrapnel.”
After he recovered, he saw combat in Alsace, France, and became a prisoner of war. He was held for nine months in a German prison camp but wasn’t identified as Jewish. He said American Jewish prisoners of war in his camp were “kept separate in a different part of the camp. They didn’t treat [Jews] well, but they didn’t kill us.”
Star of David
As for the rescued Star of David, it’s prominently situated in the Kohl Family Synagogue at the Jewish Home & Care Center, 1410 N. Prospect Ave.
Garber never imagined that the Star of David he helped rescue would be in his life 75 years later.