Jewish soldier who died in World War II finally laid to rest
Jewish BurialService and Duty

Jewish soldier who died in World War II finally laid to rest

'It's one of the biggest mitzvahs. It's a sacred task, and it's being fulfilled.'

U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Nathan B. Baskind's remains are transfered. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Baskind)
U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Nathan B. Baskind's remains are transfered. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Baskind)

Eighty years after Pittsburgher Nathan B. Baskind died battling Nazis, the Army 1st lieutenant will receive a proper Jewish burial.

The ceremony, according to Baskind’s family, is a salve on a multi-generational wound.

In June 1944, Baskind was assigned to Company C, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion, as a platoon commander of four M-10 tank destroyers, according to military records.

During a scouting mission, he and another member of his company were ambushed by enemy forces. Although the other soldier escaped the firefight and returned to the U.S. force heavily wounded, several attempts to retrieve Baskind’s body from the ambush point failed, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Following the war’s conclusion, the American Graves Registration Command learned more about Baskind’s death. A burial report indicated he was captured and later died at a hospital for German air force personnel near Cherbourg on June 23, 1944. The report also stated that Baskind was interred at a nearby military cemetery.

Nearly four years later, one of Baskind’s identification tags was sent to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Another decade passed before the German War Grave Commission (Volksbund) contacted the U.S. Army with further information. While disinterring a mass grave of Germans, the Volksbund discovered one of Baskind’s ID tags and “remnants of an American-type shirt with a first lieutenant rank and tank destroyer insignia.”

Despite these identifiers, the Volksbund was unable to further distinguish any remains.

Discoveries were divided into seven burial pouches and “re-interred” in the Marigny German War Cemetery, 40 miles south of Cherbourg, in Normandy, France, according to military records.

Subsequent attempts to identify Baskind’s remains, by both U.S. and German teams, were unsuccessful.


Former Squirrel Hill resident Samantha Baskind, 54, grew up hearing stories about her “Uncle Nate” and the family business.

“I knew his sister [Pearl],” she said by phone from her home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “His brother, Sam, is my grandfather, who I am named after.”

Nathan, Sam and Pearl Baskind were born to Abe and Lena Shapiro Baskind. Abe Baskind, his brother Moe and their cousin Harry Blonder opened the Peerless Wallpaper and Paint Company, at 808 Fifth Avenue, around 1928.

U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Nathan B. Baskind in his uniform. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Baskind)

Twelve years later, after a fire “greatly damaged their Fifth Avenue building,” the owners separated. While Abe Baskind relocated Peerless to nearby Forbes Avenue, Moe Baskind “bought the Barnes Paint Company on Centre Avenue in East Liberty,” according to the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center. Nathan, Sam and Pearl all joined their parents’ business. Before enlisting in the military, Nathan managed Peerless branches in Wheeling, West Virginia, and New Castle, Pennsylvania.

An honor roll, included in the Jewish Criterion on Sept. 24, 1943, lists Nathan Baskind among New Castle Jewish men in the U.S Armed Forces.

“Nate was supposed to take over the business with my Grandpa Sam,” Samantha Baskind said. “He had a life ahead of him.”


In May 2023, Samantha Baskind received an email from Shalom Lamm, CEO of Operation Benjamin.

“He needed a family member, a next of kin sort of, to give permission to do several things,” Samantha Baskind told the Chronicle.

Though she initially doubted the email’s veracity, the former Squirrel Hill resident received several internet links to stories about the organization and its work identifying Jewish American World War I and World War II soldiers mistakenly buried under Latin crosses.

Samantha Baskind decided to speak with Lamm, who told her he might have more information about Nathan Baskind’s burial.

“Since then, it has been a whirlwind,” she said.

Operation Benjamin officials believed they could finally identify Nathan Baskind’s remains and sought approval and assistance from the German ambassador to Israel, the Volksbund and the Baskind family, to exhume the mass grave at Marigny.

Tank Destroyers of the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion (Photo courtesy of National Archives, 111-SC-421366)

“We had to get permission from the French, German and American government,” Samantha Baskind said.

After getting the go-ahead, Lamm traveled to Normandy in December.

“It was a bad time of year, and the ground was really hard,” Samantha Baskind said. “Shalom was messaging me the whole time that it wasn’t looking good, that the ground was too hard, the erosion was so bad and there’s so many bones thrown into this grave.”

Lamm and other investigators discovered a bag of remains collected during a previous identification attempt. The pouch was broken, however, according to the organization. Despite the predicament, investigators had a clue: Nathan Baskind was about 5 feet 4 inches tall.

A femur measuring for an individual that height was found among the remains. A “teeny bit” was removed and sent by diplomatic pouch to Virginia for testing, Samantha Baskind said. “We got a match.”

She and Operation Benjamin shared the information with the Army, which needed to accept the DNA analysis.

“There was a lot of paperwork,” Samantha Baskind said. “I learned more about forensic anthropology than I ever thought I would know.”

The Clevelander still needed help from the German and U.S. governments.

“I wanted Nate to be buried in the American cemetery in Normandy,” she said. “I wanted him buried under a Jewish star. And I wanted him to have a ceremony with a rabbi.”

The requests were met.

Baskind selected a coffin and chose a date — June 23, 80 years after her great-uncle died in battle.


Although Samantha Baskind and family member Stewart Sadowsky will travel to Normandy for the burial, another ceremony already occurred, Samantha Baskind said.

Weeks ago, the German government officially transferred Nathan Baskind’s remains to the American government.

“It was very moving,” Samantha Baskind said.

She expects the June 23 burial to be similar.

“They’ll bring the coffin out, he’ll be lowered down and finally Nate will have some peace,” she said.

The ceremony will include full military honors. A rabbi will officiate. Samantha Baskind plans to speak. A rosette will be placed next to her great-uncle’s name on the Walls of the Missing at Normandy American Cemetery; the marker signifies that Nathan Baskind has “been accounted for.”

The upcoming event presents both unusual and familiar aspects.

“Given the delicate nature and historical significance of this effort, leading rabbis in Israel and the U.S. were consulted about its propriety and gave their approval within certain Jewish law parameters,” according to Operation Benjamin.

Rectifying such an “ignoble burial” is necessary, Samantha Baskind said. “Uncle Nate was thrown into a mass grave, with the enemy, with the people that were trying to annihilate the Jews, the people that were trying to annihilate the Baskind family. Uncle Nate went and fought for his country and he died for his country, and he should be buried with full military honors as a Jew for his service.”

“There’s this aspersion that Jews didn’t fight for their country,” she continued. “Uncle Nate fought for his country. He probably could have gotten out of going into the service, but he did go and serve.”

Samantha Baskind’s upcoming visit to Normandy, she said, is a personal and purposefully Jewish act.

“My great-grandparents never had closure,” she said. “And yes, these are just bones and Nate is dead, but it just seems that as a man, as a Jew, as a soldier, you should be buried appropriately. As Jews, it’s considered one of the greatest honors to bury our dead because they can’t thank us. It’s one of the biggest mitzvahs. It’s a sacred task, and it’s being fulfilled.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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