Eyes dark brown, Hair black, Complexion medium
Bezelle Rabinovitch – his early years
Story text (with minor edits and additions) is reproduced with permission from the copyright holders, the Australian Jewish Historical Society on behalf of Peter M. Allen.
Solomon Rabinovitch, a stonemason, married Caroline (daughter of Rev. Greenbaum of East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation) in 1882. They produced five children whilst they lived in Carlton, Victoria, then moved to Sydney in about 1890, where Caroline bore another six children, including Eliezer in 1896 and Bezaleel (known as Bezelle) in 1898. The family returned to Melbourne in about 1900, where their twelfth child was born and the children attended public school. Caroline had passed away in 1909 and Solomon in 1912.
At the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation in March 1911, Rev. Danglow officiated at the barmitzvah of Bezelle, like many of the young Jewish men that he would re-encounter later as Chaplain to the AIF. Bezelle served in the Junior Cadets and worked as a junior clothing cutter.
Bezelle enlisted at Melbourne in the AIF on 24 December 1914, age 16 – underage. He claimed to be 18 and it seems likely that (being under 21) he also forged his eldest sister Jeanie’s signature on his attestation form:
”I consent to my son (sic) enlisting in the expeditionary forces, signed Miss J. Rabinovitch.”
No. 1798 Private Bezelle Rabinovitch embarked with 4th Reinforcement of 8th Battalion aboard HMAT A18 Wiltshire for Egypt on 14 April 1915 – a month after he turned 17. He joined the main body of the unit at Gallipoli on 26 May, where it was defending the ANZAC beachhead as part of the 2nd Brigade and in August fought at the Battle of Lone Pine.
On 6 September, Bezelle was admitted to 1st Casualty Clearing Station with tonsillitis, transferred to Mudros and then Egypt, where he was admitted to No. 4 Auxiliary Hospital, Abbassia (debility and tonsillitis) on 11 September.
He was discharged to Helouan Convalescent Camp on 7 October and re-joined his battalion at Gallipoli on 23 November – in time for the evacuation in December – returning to Alexandria on 7 January 1916.
As part of the ‘doubling’ of the AIF, he was transferred to the 60th Battalion at Tel el Kebir on 24 February, then to the 59th on 15 March 1916. On 1 May he was found guilty of being absent from camp without leave and was “awarded 10 days Field Punishment No 2.”
From Gallipoli and Egypt to France
The unit sailed from Alexandria on 18 June and disembarked Marseilles 29 June, then entrained to the north of France to join the 15th Brigade at Fleurbaix, 20 kilometres west of Lille.
On 19-20 July 1916 - less than a month after arriving in France - the 59th became embroiled in the AIF’s first major battle on the Western Front, the Battle of Fromelles, which was a disaster for them and the whole 5th Division. Attacking in the first wave, the battalion's advance faltered far short of its objective, suffering the 5th Division’s heaviest casualties, especially from German machine-gunners on the Sugarloaf.
Bezelle’s record does not give any details of the circumstances of his death. He was posted ‘missing in action’, like many of the Division’s 5,533 casualties, which included 35 of the battalion’s 39 officers participating. Subsequently:
“Presumed Buried in No Man's Land at approx. 5J90 43 to 5K02.5.1 Sheet Hazebrouck 5A”
was handwritten in his record, the same note as Privates Edward Samuel and Gershun Harbert - another two Jewish soldiers of 59th Battalion, from some 100 in the division.
Killed in action
It was not until more than a year later, a Court of Enquiry on 29 August 1917 pronounced him ‘Killed in Action, 19 July 1916’ and his fate was then advised to his siblings. As he has no known grave, 18-year-old Private Bezelle Rabinovitch’s name is engraved on Panel 17 of VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, Lille Nord Pas de Calais, France.
Over 24 hours 19-20 July 1916, in Australia’s – and Australian Jewry’s - worst-ever civilian or military disaster, of more than 2,000 diggers killed at Fromelles he was one of ten Jews amongst them. Only two Jewish soldiers have identified graves, Joseph Hart, buried in 1921, and Berrol Mendelsohn, one of the 250 ‘Lost Diggers of Fromelles’ reinterred in 2010.
More loss for the Rabinovitch family
Bezelle’s older brother, Eliezer, enlisted in October 1916, perhaps seeking to find his missing younger brother in France. Private 17708 Eliezer Rabinovitch served with the 9th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps in England and France until he died of wounds on 31 August 1918. He was 22 years old.
Eliezer is buried in the Suzanne Communal Cemetery Extension, Suzanne, Picardie, France. During the period arrangements were being made for his military grave, his sister, Cecilia Marks (nee Rabinovitch), wrote to authorities requesting the addition of two Hebrew characters on either side of the Magen David (star of David) on Eliezer’s headstone to also commemorate his lost brother, Bezelle. Unfortunately, her request was rejected - in line with official Commonwealth War Graves standards.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||Bezelle RABINOVITCH 1898-1916 born Sydney, New South Wales|
|Parents||Solomon RABINOVITCH b. 1852 Russia, d. 1912, Victoria|
|and Caroline GREENBAUM b. 1857 London, England, d. 1909, Victoria|
|Siblings||Jeanie 1882-1916||Cecilia 1884-1935|
|Leah 1885-1950||Miriam 1887-1970|
|Ethel 1889||Beatrice 1890-1960|
|Rebecca 1892||Sabbathi 1894-|
|Rose 1895-1895||Eliezer 1896-1918|
|Maternal||Simon GREENBAUM b. 1827 ??? d. 1892 Victoria and Miriam CROWNSON b. 1821 ??? d. 1885 Victoria|
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