Lives of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers
Untold Tales of Men of Jewish Descent Who Fought for the Third Reich
Bryan Mark Rigg
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’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.. . . . 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.”
“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.”
—Publishers WeeklySee all reviews...
“For at least one Jew in Nazi Germany, the way to avoid persecution was to join the army under an assumed Aryan identity. Others in the army who considered themselves Christian had their military careers ruined or compromised by the disastrous revelation of their part-Jewish descent. In this intriguing work, the author, a military historian and former Marine officer, has collected the oral histories of Jews and part-Jews who served in the German armed forces during World War II. He presents his 'heroes' in a candid and unbiased fashion. Did they have any qualms about fighting in support of Hitler while their relatives were in concentration camps or were otherwise threatened? No, they reasoned, how else could they have saved themselves? Several did, in fact, use their privileged position to help Jews in trouble. Skillfully written and carefully researched, the book is absorbing reading. Its controversial quality suggests using it as a basis for discussion groups interested in moral problems.”
—Jewish Book World
“Rigg’s fascinating and carefully footnoted account is the result of meticulous research over the course of a decade. It lends a valuable glimmer of understanding to an incomprehensible period of history.”
“There are some amazing stories here, and some notable surprises, for Rigg identifies as Jews, at least under Nazi law, several prominent political and military figures, among them Fritz Bayerlein, the noted panzer leader. The stories of these men vary greatly, some trying desperately to be recognized as “real” Germans, others merely trying to survive. A valuable addition to the literature on the Hitlerite regime and the Holocaust.”
—The NYMAS Review
“Rigg has done exhaustive research that will force scholars once again to confront the nuances and complexity of life in Nazi Germany. His oral histories not only provide a poignant glimpse at the human stories behind the impersonal faade of Nazi racial laws, but also show just how these individuals—far from passive victims—responded in an effort to shape and influence their own fate. Rigg’s evidence reveals the variety of strategies they employed to navigate the ambiguities of the Nazi racial state.”
—Stephen G. Fritz, author of Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II
“Fascinating and powerful.”
—W.E.B.Griffin, author of The Brotherhood of War
“Lives of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers is insightful and provocative. It is masterfully researched and should be, along with Rigg’s first book, Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, a must read for everyone interested in World War II and the Holocaust. It is intended to shock and it is shocking.”
—Steve Pieczenik, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and co-creator of the bestselling novels and TV series OP-Center and Net ForceSee fewer reviews...
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 how a 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.