Remembering Lionel Cohen and Meyer Bubis


WWII is also a part of the history of Iceland. It is a late Saga, which is still being written, and Jews play a part in it. The photograph above shows a Jewish soldier in Reykjavík. It was taken on 12 October 1940. Posing in his uniform wearing a Tallis (a prayer shawl) the soldiers was photographed after the first ever Jewish gathering in Iceland, on the eve of Yom Kippur. He is sitting in front of an interim Aron Hakodesh/ or rather an altar

In 1994 the group photograph below was published in the Jewish Chronicle in England. I had kindly asked the Chronicle to publish it hoping someone could identify those attending the Yom Kippur gathering in Reykjavík back in 1940. Then, a Reykjavík based photographer, Sigurđur Guđmundsson, was asked to take some photographs. In 1994 his original negatives were donated to the National Museum of Iceland by his relatives. Among the negatives was the group photograph and three sets of photographs of two soldiers sitting besides the Aron Hakodesh "altar" in Reykjavík Good Templars´ Lodge in 1940.


In 1994 I knew, who the civilians posing in the Reykjavík group photo were. They were Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. However, I had no idea about the identity of the Jewish soldiers. Thanks to the Jewish Chronicle, where the photograph was published on  19 August 1994 , I received information from soldiers who were present as well as from families of some the soldiers, who had passed away. Three of the gentlemen attending the Yom Kippur service in 1940 were still alive and I corresponded a lot with Mr. Harry Schwab in London in the following years. Mr. Schwab had been in Iceland after the war as a sales representative for Marks & Spencer. He was very fond of Iceland.

One of the men who announced his participation in the Yom Kippur fast in Reykjavík was Maurice Kaye of Bournemouth, England. In a letter of 19 August 1994 Mr. Kaye informed the Jewish Chronicle that he was the man in the centre row extreme left with some ones hand on his shoulder. Mr. Kaye wrote that he had been a P.T. instructor (Physical Training Instructor) attached to the command gymnasium in Reykjavík.

For several year I was convinced that that the man on the extreme left centre row as well as on the photograph at the top was Maurice Kaye and I have written so in articles in Icelandic, Danish and English about the first Jewish gathering in Iceland. (See here).

In August 2014 I read on several British media websites about the 80 year wedding anniversary of Maurice Kaye and his wife Helen (see e.g. here). In the media coverage there was a wedding photograph of the couple dating from 1934. Honestly speaking, when seeing that photograph, I didn´t find it likely that the groom of 1934 was the same person he himself pointed out on the 1940 Yom Kippur photography. In fact the man on the photograph at the top isn´t Maurice Kaye.

Recently, and by pure luck, I came across the blog of Professor Ellin Bessner, and discovered the true identity of the man. He was Lionel Cohen of Toronto, Canada.



The two top images show Lionel Cohen and the bottom one is of Maurice Kaye when he married in London in 1934. Maurice was blue-eyed in the reports of the media on his 80th wedding anniversary in 2014. However, the man he believed he was on the photograph of 1940 was black-eyed and can in no way possible be identified as Maurice Kaye.


The man on the two photographs, who took part in the Yom Kippur service in Reykjavík in 1940, was Lionel Cohen, a Canadian from Toronto, born 12 April 1912. He came to Iceland as a private in the Royal Regiment of Canada. In 1942, on 19 August , he died in action in France, only 31 years of age. He died in the attack on Dieppe and is buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Hautot-sur-Mer (See here and here). He was married to Rose (later Richmond; 1913-2005).

Where was Maurice Kaye?

Now I am certain that the man in the photographs is not Maurice Kay, who still lives in Bournemouth at the grand age of 104. The man in the photograph is in fact Lionel Cohen. However at a closer look at the servicemen, who haven´tt yet been identified, I find it likely that Maurice Kaye is standing in the upper right hand row at the far right, standing beside Kurt Zeisel a refugee from Austria, who was the first Jew to be bar mitzvahed in Iceland. Mr. Kaye informed the British press in 2014 that he had been court-martialed after punched a soldier in the face for anti-Semitic remarks. The sentence was stationing in Iceland. - Was Iceland really that bad??bubis1.pngmeyer_bubis_1940.jpg

Meyer Bubis

Another Canadian from Toronto, Meyer Bubis (b. 1914) was also present at the Yom Kippur service in Reykjavík in 1940. He was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, United States in 1914. He was also killed in battle in France. He was announced lost in battle on the coast of Dieppe on 19 August 1942 and declared dead by the Canadian Royal Regiment on 1 November 1942. He arrived with the Canadian Royals in Iceland in June 1940. Above you can see him in Reykjavík and his photograph in the "book of remembrance for Canadian soldiers"

Meyer Bubis received a small print of the group photograph from photographer Sigurđur Guđmundsson and he sent it to his father, Salomon Bubis in Toronto. On the back of the photo-card Meyer wrote:.

"Pop, This is the first time in the history of Iceland that such a service has been held, Meyer. P.s. Take care of this for me, please. B66596 Pvt. M. Bubis, Royal Regiments Canada."


A photo-card which Meyer Bubis sent to his father, Salomon in Toronto, from Iceland in 1940. Less than two years later Meyer Bubis lost his life in the raid on Dieppe in Northern France. Ontario Jewish Archives. Photo Sigurđur Guđmundsson 1940.

Lionel Cohen og Meyer Bubis


Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson © The author of this article is Dr. Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson.

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