Lives of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: Untold Tales of Men of Jewish Descent Who Fought for the Third Reich

Overview

They were foot soldiers and officers. They served in the regular army and the Waffen-SS. And, remarkably, they were also Jewish, at least as defined by Hitler's infamous race laws. Pursuing the thread he first unraveled in Hitler's Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Rigg takes a closer look at the experiences of Wehrmacht soldiers who were classified as Jewish. In this long-awaited companion volume, he presents interviews with twenty-one of these men, whose stories are both fascinating and ...

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Overview

They were foot soldiers and officers. They served in the regular army and the Waffen-SS. And, remarkably, they were also Jewish, at least as defined by Hitler's infamous race laws. Pursuing the thread he first unraveled in Hitler's Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Rigg takes a closer look at the experiences of Wehrmacht soldiers who were classified as Jewish. In this long-awaited companion volume, he presents interviews with twenty-one of these men, whose stories are both fascinating and disturbing.

As many as 150,000 Jews and partial-Jews (or Mischlinge) served, often with distinction, in the German military during World War II. The men interviewed for this volume portray a wide range of experiences—some came from military families, some had been raised Christian—revealing in vivid detail how they fought for a government that robbed them of their rights and sent their relatives to extermination camps. Yet most continued to serve, since resistance would have cost them their lives and they mistakenly hoped that by their service they could protect themselves and their families. The interviews recount the nature and extent of their dilemma, the divided loyalties under which many toiled during the Nazi years and afterward, and their sobering reflections on religion and the Holocaust, including what they knew about it at the time.

Rigg relates each individual's experiences following the establishment of Hitler's race laws, shifting between vivid scenes of combat and the increasingly threatening situation on the home front for these men and their family members. Their stories reveal the constant tension in their lives: how some tried to hide their identities, and howa few were even "Aryanized" as part of Hitler's effort to retain reliable soldiers—including Field Marshal Erhard Milch, three-star general Helmut Wilberg, and naval commander Bernhard Rogge.

Chilling, compelling, almost beyond belief, these stories depict crises of conscience under the most stressful circumstances. Lives of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers deepens our understanding of the complex intersection of Nazi race laws and German military service both before and during World War II.

This book is part of the Modern War Studies series.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Several thousand Jews and over 100,000 others of Jewish descent served in the Wehrmacht from 1939 to 1945. Rigg dips into material he mined for Hitler's Jewish Soldiers to present a selection of personal histories. Many enlisted to protect their families, often in vain; Rigg tells heartrending stories of soldiers risking their lives in battle as relatives disappeared into extermination camps. When police grew suspicious of his forged papers, Karl-Heinz Löwy enlisted in the elite Waffen-SS, apparently its only Jewish member, and fought heroically. Helmut Krüger and Karl-Heinz Schleffler were serving faithfully when Hitler ordered all half-Jews discharged in 1940. Although they and the others discharged spent much of the war in dreadful labor camps, far more of them survived than thousands who appealed successfully to remain in service. Readers expecting expressions of shame will be surprised-most felt proud of their wartime experiences. Few admitted knowing of the Holocaust, but all knew Jews were being mistreated and felt helpless to change matters. As Rigg compellingly shows, these were men dealing with crushingly stressful circumstances as best they could. 64 photos. (Mar. 3)

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Library Journal

Rigg's book focuses on the moral dilemmas faced by Michlinges(those defined by Nazi racial laws as being part-Jewish) who served in the Wehrmacht. Billed as a companion piece to Rigg's earlier Hitler's Jewish Soldiers, this volume focuses more on the individual stories rather than providing a broad history. Rigg's compassion for his subjects, most of whom he interviewed in the 1990s, comes through clearly. The book is strongest on the emotional conflicts the men faced. Most defined themselves as Christians and hoped that military service would prove their patriotism and protect them and their families. Instead, their government continued to oppress them and often killed their Jewish relatives. One of Rigg's weaknesses is accepting his subjects' ex post facto assertions that they did not know about the Holocaust until after Nazi Germany was defeated; he fails to consider much recent historical literature by scholars such as Peter Fritzsche and Robert Gellately, which demonstrates that knowledge of the Shoah was widespread during the war. The book is often repetitive, noting on multiple occasions, for example, that conflicting emotions were common in Mischlinges. Recommended for specialized collections.
—Frederic Krome

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700616381
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 1/15/2009
  • Series: Modern War Studies
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,045,650
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryan Mark Rigg is the author of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers, which won the William E. Colby Award for Military History, was featured on NBC-TV's Dateline, and has been translated into eleven languages. He is also the author of Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler's Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Standard Rigg excellence in research and relevance

    Once again Bryan Rigg has succeeded in presenting a book that details the actions and lives of men who, by clear definition of Nazi policy as established by the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, should have died in the death camps. As someone who has known Bryan for many years, shared research, as well as spoken to some of the very people he interviewed for this book (and others), his dedication to the truth and presenting a concise and well chronicled account of these soldiers is commendable, but not unexpected.

    The reader who is familiar with the policies of Adolf Hitler and his chief lieutenants will find the book of immense value. Those who do not have this knowledge will become educated. Rigg manages to detail their lives in a brief yet informative method, while extolling their bravery under the most uncertain of conditions. Fighting for the very nation dedicated to eliminating them and their families as a matter of state policy makes the reader pause, and think.

    The USA had racial segregation in the armed forces as a matter of state policy. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis once said: "Getting up in the morning, flying into combat, and knowing that even if we came back alive our nation would still consider us second class citizens' resonates. Unlike the African Americans serving in the US military, for Hitler's Jewish soldiers and their families state sponsored murder was their future. The actions of Hitler's Jewish soldiers, much like the African Americans in previous conflicts proves that men may still feel patriotism to their nation, even while loathing their government.

    This book is a fine edition to his previous publications, and should be required reading at every public school, as well as the institutions of higher education. A damned good read and a critical piece of history that is not preserved forever.

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