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A Brief History of the Orunameh in World War II

This article was written by a Canichmeh for the monthly newsletter produced jointly by the Canichmehah and Yaechahre. The newsletter typically contains a brief note from Master Joshua, public notices and news, individual news and announcements (rather like a college alumni bulletin), classifieds and personals, and scientific and historical news of interest. It is produced in Cainite (transliteration), English, Hebrew, French, and German. In 2003, paper copies were eliminated in favor of e-mail. The current issue--as well as all back issues--may also be viewed in the digital Archives, and are searchable by keyword.

A Brief History of the Orunameh in World War II
by Byron Tidwell
Written for the Orunameh Newsletter September 1989[1] 

On September 1, 1939, Germany—after having already taken over Austria and Czechoslovakia—invaded Poland, beginning World War II.

As Germany began to divvy up Poland with Russia, the Council hurried to arrange papers for Canichmehah and Yaechahre to flee to British-held Palestine. Initially, there was little problem gaining these documents, but as the immigration requests (and illegal immigrants) began to pour in, the British began strictly enforcing immigration quotas, and it became difficult for the Council to get our people into Palestine legally. Most of the evacuees from Europe ended up in Britain, Canada and the U.S.

From the outset of the war, there was a question of whether effort should be expended to help rescue non-Orunameh. Canichmehah and Yaechahre both begged permission to bring with them friends, neighbors, lovers, and family members who were outside the group. No less than 23 Yaechahre (of various nationalities) have admitted to lying to the Council (all with the knowledge of their Erujah) by claiming children as their own who were not, in order to obtain papers for them.

While most of these rescued children were relatives of Yaechahre (and, in one case, the biological grandchild of a Canichmeh), nine children were not related to anyone in the group. The most famous example is that of the de Vos’, Catholic Yaechahre who were friendly with their Jewish next-door neighbors. As European countries fell like dominos to the blitzkrieg, the de Vos’ mentioned to their neighbors they were going to leave if the Nazis came. Their neighbors begged them to take their three children (twin boys, aged 3, and a girl, aged 17 months) with them. After discussion with their Eruj, the de Vos’ agreed to take the children, and when Belgium fell a few weeks later, the Eruj sent the Council the names of the members of the group, with the three children included as if they were the biological children of the de Vos’.

The extraordinary part of the story, however, is not that the de Vos’ took in the children (and that their Eruj participated in the cover-up), but that the de Vos’—despite their Catholic faith—raised the children as Jews.

“We did not adopt the children,” Mrs. de Vos said in an interview, when asked why they did not raise the children as their own (they were childless). “The Oehl’s did not give them away. They asked us to get them out of Belgium because they thought it would be easier to get papers if they travelled separately, instead of as a family. They had every intention of also leaving and finding us in Israel. We were just taking care of the children for them temporarily.

“God rest their souls, but they never managed to get out. We continued to correspond with them by letter until… late 1943 or ‘44, I think it was. Then we stopped hearing from them. But we knew what was going on in Europe—things the British wouldn’t put in the newspapers. We knew how bad things were for Jews, and we followed it as it got worse and worse. We held out hope, after the War was over, that they had survived, and we worked for several years to try and find them, but we never could find out what happened to them and their family, and no one ever contacted us about the children. So we raised them as best we could, trying to do what their parents would have done for them. Both the boys are rabbis now, you know,” she added, with no small amount of pride.[2]

The Convening in 1939 was one of the most continuous ever recorded. While everyone was in agreement that every effort should be made to rescue Orunameh from the advancing Nazis (and, in the case of partitioned Poland, from the Russians[3]), there was bitter disagreement on the issue of evacuating others. Many were afraid if the Council used its influence to obtain too many documents, or forged too many, our government contacts would shut down all requests, and some of our people might not have the means to escape. “Orunameh first” became the unofficial motto of many at that Convening.

Master Joshua and a number of other people, however, advocated that no person seeking our help should be turned away. He, along with many other Jews in our number, feared what would happen to the Jews of Europe. Christians, however, tended to believe that outright violence would not be perpetrated against the Jews, and the only concern was that Orunameh be shielded from warfare. Abelard argued, “The days of the Inquisition are over. Europe is a continent of democratic ideals, where people of all faiths may live. While there is—and will always be—pockets of anti-Semitism, Europeans are far too civilized to participate in medieval-style pogroms. Hitler’s personal vendetta against the Jew is just that—personal; I do not foresee the German people giving much credence to his rantings on that point. What rational person would?”

For the first time in our history, a vote at the Convening divided strictly on religious lines, with the Jewish Council members voting for helping those who were not Orunameh, and those who were Christian voting against. The vote went 8 against, 7 for.

Master Joshua also proposed declaring war on Germany, but such a radical proposal shocked the entire Convening, and the vote was 3 for and 12 against.

Immediately following the Convening, Master Joshua contacted Erujah throughout Europe and told them if they wished to help any non-Orunameh escape, they could Accept them as Yaechahre, and the Council would guarantee their safe escape. While this was perfectly legal—an Eruj may Accept any person he or she so chooses—there was an immediate uproar from both the dissenting portion of the Council and from the Yaechahre council (who feared that wholesale acceptance into the Yaechahre would create loyalty and performance problems, which might bring a legal backlash against all Yaechahre).

Master Joshua is famously remembered for replying to an anonymous newspaper editorial (rumored to have been submitted by one of the Council members) which accused him of overstepping his authority. “Kiss my ass. If you don’t like it, vote me out. I will not rescind [my instructions].” While there were rumors that someone planned to call for a vote of no-confidence, none ever materialized.

While some children, as already noted, were rescued by Yaechahre by claiming false family ties, some 452 adults and children throughout Europe--almost exclusively Jewish--were Accepted and evacuated with the other Orunameh.[4]

In fact, this rescue resulted in the first of a number of deaths among our people. Luka Dato (aka Lukasz Data) was the Eruj for the group in Bydgoszcz, Poland, when it was overrun by the Nazis. He had obtained papers for his group, and was in the process of evacuating them in staggered groups, to avoid attracting too much attention, when he was approached by Avram Woititz, a Jewish cobbler, who asked if Luka could obtain papers for his two children and his pregnant wife. He offered Luka everything he owned in payment.

Master Joshua’s injunction to offer Acceptance to anyone who asked for help having been issued the week before, Luka revealed himself to Avram, and told him that he would get the entire family out if he and his wife would join the Yaechahre. Avram went home to discuss the matter with his wife, and returned with her less than an hour later, and they both Accepted (Hala could not be bitten at the time, though, because she was pregnant; her Acceptance was finalized three months later).

Luka sent the rest of his group out of the country, while he remained behind with the Woititz’s, waiting on papers for them. He took them into his home and hid them from the Nazis, who came three separate times to ask him about the missing family (a neighbor had observed them coming to him and reported it). While he was able to turn them away twice, the third time he was apparently unable to convince them that he knew nothing, and he was taken away. Just two hours later Ryszard Sawicki arrived with the necessary paperwork. When he was informed that Luka had been taken by the Nazis, he went out to look for him, but quickly learned that a man, taken in for questioning by the Nazis a short time before, had turned on them and had killed four and wounded three before being killed. Knowing this had to be Luka, Ryszard took over the Woititz family, and escaped with them under cover of darkness that evening.[5] Luka was posthumously honored at the 1940 Convening.

The tone was radically different at the 1940 Convening, as most of Europe was occupied by the Nazis by that time. Master Joshua once again motioned to declare war on Germany, and after a heated and intense debate,[6] the declaration of war was passed by one vote. For the first time in our history, our entire people was at war.[7]

Groups had been evacuated from Germany beginning in 1935, but with the passage of the Law of Warfare Against Germany, 1940, it became a punishable crime to live in Germany or any territory occupied by Germans (exemptions were granted for people who lived, either openly or in secret, in Occupied Europe as part of an allied army, or in order to participate in an underground resistance movement). It also became illegal to materially or physically aid the Germans in any way.

In May 1941, one Canichmeh and three Yaechahre were tried in absentia after detailed reports came in that, while claiming to be aiding the resistance movement in Austria, they were, in fact, aiding the Nazis. They were summoned to appear before the Council, but declined, saying that it was too dangerous for them to leave (despite the fact that the Council had sent them papers allowing them to travel to Palestine). The Council sent them a detailed list of questions, which they barely answered. Given witness testimony against them, and their lack of a defense, the Canichmeh, Heinrich Fuchs, was banished,[8] and the three Yaechahre were ejected.

While the Council never required anyone to fight against the Germans, many Canichmehah and Yaechahre did so.[9] In addition to fighting at sea, on land, and in the air, Orunameh around the world helped with the war effort by working in civil defense, military intelligence, and the aforementioned underground resistance movements. Canichmehah proved adept at espionage and sabotage, and the American and British governments used a number of our people as interrogators of captured POWs, and much valuable information was gained. In at least two instances, a pair of Canichmehah, who were blood-bonded, served to provide instant communication between officers in the field and the high command. And because of our strength, ability to heal, and ability to detect lies, a number of Canichmehah served as security—and, if necessary, rescue—at atomic facilities in the United States.

The following is a list of Orunameh killed (or presumed dead) during the War for Europe:





Piers, Richard “Shorty”


America, Army

Battle of the Bulge

Schwartz, Peter


America, Army

D-Day/Normandy Invasion

Stewart, James


America, Army

Explosion at the atomic facility in Oak Ridge, TN

Bender, Matthew


America, Army (Air Force)

Bombing run over Germany

Matthews, Evaline “Eva”[10]


America, Army Nurse’s Corps

German shelling of field hospital in Anzio, Italy

Meckler, Sophie


America, Army Nurse’s Corps

U-Boat attack on her transport ship, en route to Europe

Gerand, Timothy


America, Merchant Marines

German air assault on the Italian port, Bari (body lost at sea)

Brown, Jeffery


Britain, Ambulance Corps

German bombing of London (body never positively identified)

Wooten, Patricia


Britain, Ambulance Corps

German bombing of London (body never positively identified)

Raleigh, Scott


Britain, Army

D-Day/Normandy Invasion

Adkins, Joseph


Britain, RAF

German bombing of Biggin Hill airfield

Bishop, Holly


Britain, Women's Voluntary Services (Fire Service)

German bombing of London

Pincus, Adam


Canada, Army

D-Day/Normandy Invasion

Smith, Geoffery [11]


Canada, Army

D-Day/Normandy Invasion

Klaus, Heinrich


Germany, independent service

Killed by Allied bombs dropped on Dresden (the only Orunameh killed by friendly fire during the War)

Rehberg, Jørgen


Holger Danske (Danish resistance group)

Captured and killed by the Nazis for sabotage.

Girard, Odette


La Résistance française (French Resistance)

Nazi raid on the resistance’s headquarters in Paris; Odette was able to delay the Nazis long enough that all the other members were able to escape.

Dato, Luka


Poland, independent service

Presumed killed by Nazis for hiding Jews.

Sawicki, Ryszard [12]


Poland, independent service

Captured and killed by Nazis while attempting to smuggle Jews out of Poland.

The list of war dead represents only one-tenth the number of Yaechahre and Canichmehah who served in some capacity during the European Theater.

[1] This article was reviewed and updated by the author February 1995, prior to its re-publication in the online Archives.

[2] The de Vos’ were publically honored (Mr. de Vos posthumously, as he died in 1976) at the 1990 Convening, on the 50th year anniversary of their flight from Belgium. In attendance was their former Eruj—who was also honored for his role in allowing the de Vos’ to claim the children—and all thirty-six descendants of the late Oehl’s.

[3] The Council has always been fearful of communism and dictatorships, due to the police state and spying it engenders, and when Russia fell to the Soviets in 1917, all Orunameh were evacuated.

[4] These people became known as “War Yaechahre.” While this was originally somewhat derogatory, it quickly ceased to be as people became increasingly horrified by the war crimes committed in Europe, and sentiment changed from one of “Orunameh first” to “save the innocent.”

And despite the initial fears of the Yaechahre council, none of the War Yaechahre had any serious trouble integrating into our culture. And also contrary to some predictions, not one of them reneged on their Acceptance once they were safe, and their children and grandchildren actually have higher rates of Acceptance than among the rest of Yaechahre population (99.8% versus 96.5%).

Now the term “War Yaechahre” is a badge of honor, passed down through their descendants, who are taught to feel gratitude for the Erujah and others (including Master Joshua) who helped rescue them from the Nazis.

[5] The Woititz family successfully escaped to Palestine, where their numerous descendants all live as Yaechahre. Five of them bear the name Luka (or a variation thereof).

[6] The debate was no longer over whether Hitler and the Nazi regime was a real problem, but whether or not our entire people should actively involve themselves in the War.

[7] During the Jewish-Roman Wars, our people in Judea actively fought against the Roman occupation, however, people outside of Judea did not fight against the Romans. WWII represented the first time that all of our people, worldwide, actively fought against another country/regime.

[8] Another Canichmeh, Falk Feldt, openly admitted to killing Fuchs and one human (presumed to have been one of the former Yaechahre) in December 1943 after learning they were aiding Nazi Jew-hunters. Because Fuchs and his associate were considered enemies under the Law of Warfare Against Germany, 1940, and because they had been turned out of the Orunameh, Feldt suffered no repercussions. Among German-born Canichmeh, the name “Fuchs” is synonymous with “traitor,” in the way that “Benedict Arnold” is for Americans.

[9] Everyone who fought did so on a volunteer basis; the Council did not allow Yaechahre to be drafted by any government, although they were given blanket permission to join any Allied army fighting in Europe (to fight in the Pacific, they still had to have permission—as we never declared war on the Japanese—although this was never denied).

[10] Eva Matthews was James Stewart’s sister-in-law

[11] Adam Pincus and Geoffery Smith were blood-brothers; they died together at Normandy.

[12] Ryszard, by his own admission, was thrilled when he successfully escorted the Woititz family to safety. He returned to Poland on his own and personally rescued 47 Jews before he and the family of six, which he was escorting, were ambushed and executed by the Wehrmacht near the Polish border in 1943.

It was not until after the War that Joshua admitted he had secretly been feeding Ryszard—and several other Canichmehah, similarly engaged—legal papers, which he himself forged, in order to facilitate the escape of Jews from Europe. He denies knowing how many Jews he helped escape by providing papers, but estimates are between 500 and 1,000, with most historians favoring the higher number.

© 2012 by Keri Peardon. All rights reserved.


Web design by Keri Peardon.


Background for the website and the header is from Lilium medicinae by Bernardus de Gordonio, translated into Hebrew by Moses ben Shmaya de Castro in Escalona, Spain, January 11, 1466. The original manuscript is housed at the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The female figure in the header is from the Manesse Codex, which is housed at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany.