Hitler's Jewish Soldiers
The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military
Bryan Mark Rigg
On the murderous road to "racial purity" Hitler encountered unexpected detours, largely due to his own crazed views and inconsistent policies regarding Jewish identity. After centuries of Jewish assimilation and intermarriage in German society, he discovered that eliminating Jews from the rest of the population was more difficult than he'd anticipated. As Bryan Rigg shows in this provocative new study, nowhere was that heinous process more fraught with contradiction and confusion than in the German military.
“Rigg’s bracing and unintimidated study lays bare the contradiction, confusion and expedience that governed Mischlinge policy and the maiming cost to those whose lives were burdened by anxiety, guilt and collusion. In the end we must be grateful for his book, a penetrating light cast on some of the murkier corners of the human psyche.”
—Michael Skakun, Aufbau
“Rigg has opened brand new territory for historians and students of war, offering new insight into the Nazi mentality on race.”
—World War II MagazineSee all reviews...
“Through videotaped interviews, painstaking attention to personnel files, and banal documents not normally consulted by historians, and spurred by a keen sense of personal mission, Rigg has turned up an unexplored and confounding chapter in the history of the Holocaust. The extent of his findings has surprised scholars.”
—Warren Hoge, New York Times
“Rigg has done a very significant piece of historical research and writing.”
—Milt Rosenberg, WGN Radio, Chicago
“Rigg has written a truly important history. It is original, it has outstanding scholarship, and there is plenty of it!”
—James F. Tent, author of In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi Persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans
“A brilliant and extremely disturbing work of masterful historical research. A must read for everyone. It raises more moral dilemmas than one can answer.”
—Steve Pieczenik, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and co-creator of the best selling novels and TV series OP-Center and Net Force
“The revelation that Germans of Jewish blood, knowing the Nazi regime for what it was, served Hitler as uniformed members of his armed forces must come as a profound shock. It will surprise even professional historians of the Nazi years. ”
—John Keegan, author of The Face of Battle and The Second World War
“Startling and unexpected, Rigg’s study conclusively demonstrates the degree of flexibility in German policy toward the Mischlinge, the extent of Hitler’s involvement, and, most importantly, that not all who served in the armed forces were anti-Semitic, even as their service aided the killing process.”
—Michael Berenbaum, author of The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust
“Rigg’s extensive knowledge and the preliminary conclusions drawn from his research impressed me greatly. I firmly believe that his in-depth treatment of the subject of German soldiers of Jewish descent in the Wehrmacht will lead to new perspectives on this portion of 20th century German military history.”
—Helmut Schmidt, Former Chancellor of Germany
“An impressively researched work with important implications for hotly debated questions. Rigg tells some exquisitely poignant stories of individual human experiences that complicate our picture of state and society in the Third Reich.”
—Nathan A. Stoltzfus, Florida State University, author of Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany
“An impressive work filled with interesting stories. . . . By helping us better understand Nazi racial policy at the margins—i.e., its impact on certain members of the German military—Rigg’s study clarifies the central problems of Nazi Jewish policies overall.”
—Norman Naimark, Stanford University, author of Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe
“An illuminating and provocative study that merits a wide readership and is sure to be much discussed.”
—Dennis E. Showalter, Colorado College, author of Tannenberg: Clash of Empires
“An outstanding job of research and analysis. Rigg’s book will add a great deal to our understanding of the German military, of the place of Jews and people of Jewish descent in the Nazi state, and of the Holocaust. It forces us to deal with the full, complex range of possible actions and reactions by individuals caught up in the Nazi system.”
—Geoffrey P. Megargee, author of Inside Hitler’s High Command
“With the skill of a master detective, Bryan Rigg reveals the surprising and largely unknown story of Germans of Jewish origins in the Nazi military. His work contributes to our understanding of the complexity of faith and identity in the Third Reich.”
—Paula E. Hyman, Yale University, author of Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History and The Jews of Modern France
“A major piece of scholarship which traces the peculiar twists and turns of Nazi racial policy toward men in the Wehrmacht, often in the highest ranks, who had partly Jewish backgrounds. Rigg has uncovered personal stories and private archives which literally nobody knew existed. His book will be an important contribution to German history.”
—Jonathan Steinberg, University of Pennsylvania, author of All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941–1943
“An original, groundbreaking, and significant contribution to the history of the Wehrmacht and Nazi Germany.”
—James S. Corum, School of Advanced Air Power Studies, author of The Roots of Blitzkrieg and The Luftwaffe
“Rigg’s work has discovered new academic territory.”
—Manfred Messerschmidt, Freiburg University, author of Die Wehrmacht im NS-Staat (The Wehrmacht in the Nazi State)See fewer reviews...
Contrary to conventional views, Rigg reveals that a startlingly large number of German military men were classified by the Nazis as Jews or "partial-Jews" (Mischlinge), in the wake of racial laws first enacted in the mid-1930s. Rigg demonstrates that the actual number was much higher than previously thought—perhaps as many as 150,000 men, including decorated veterans and high-ranking officers, even generals and admirals.
As Rigg fully documents for the first time, a great many of these men did not even consider themselves Jewish and had embraced the military as a way of life and as devoted patriots eager to serve a revived German nation. In turn, they had been embraced by the Wehrmacht, which prior to Hitler had given little thought to the "race" of these men but which was now forced to look deeply into the ancestry of its soldiers.
The process of investigation and removal, however, was marred by a highly inconsistent application of Nazi law. Numerous "exemptions" were made in order to allow a soldier to stay within the ranks or to spare a soldier’s parent, spouse, or other relative from incarceration or far worse. (Hitler’s own signature can be found on many of these "exemption" orders.) But as the war dragged on, Nazi politics came to trump military logic, even in the face of the Wehrmacht’s growing manpower needs, closing legal loopholes and making it virtually impossible for these soldiers to escape the fate of millions of other victims of the Third Reich.
Based on a deep and wide-ranging research in archival and secondary sources, as well as extensive interviews with more than four hundred Mischlinge and their relatives, Rigg’s study breaks truly new ground in a crowded field and shows from yet another angle the extremely flawed, dishonest, demeaning, and tragic essence of Hitler’s rule.