"Not every victim was a Jew but every Jew was a victim." --Elie Wiesel speaking of World War Two. "If there were Jews in (Hitler's) armed forces...who served knowing what was going on and made no attempt to save (lives), well then that is unacceptable and dishonorable." --Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Institute.
Thousands of men of Jewish descent and hundreds of what the Nazis called 'full Jews' served in the German military with Adolf Hitler's knowledge and approval.
Cambridge University researcher Bryan Rigg has traced the Jewish ancestry of more than 1,200 of Hitler's soldiers, including two field marshals and fifteen generals (two full generals, eight lieutenant generals, five major generals), "men commanding up to 100,000 troops."
Milch with Keitel and Brauchitsch
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 Mark Rigg shows in this provocative new study, nowhere was that heinous process more fraught with contradiction and confusion than in the German military. 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.
In approximately 20 cases, Jewish soldiers in the Nazi army were awarded Germany's highest military honor, the Knight's Cross.
Milch with Albert Speer
One of these Jewish veterans is today an 82 year old resident of northern Germany, an observant Jew who served as a captain and practiced his religion within the Wehrmacht throughout the war.
One of the Jewish field marshals was Erhard Milch, deputy to Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Goering. Rumors of Milch's Jewish identity circulated widely in Germany in the 1930s.
ERHARD MILCH, THE JEWISH FIELD MARSHAL
Erhard Milch (March 30, 1892 – January 25, 1972) was a German field marshal who oversaw the development of the Luftwaffe as part of the re-armament of Germany following World War I. Milch was sentenced to life imprisonment at Landsberg prison. His sentence was commuted to 15 years imprisonment in 1951, but he was released in June 1954. He lived out the remainder of his life at Düsseldorf, where he died in 1972.
In one of the famous anecdotes of the time, Goering falsified Milch's birth record and when met with protests about having a Jew in the Nazi high command, Goering replied, ``I decide who is a Jew and who is an Aryan.''
Rigg's research also shed light on stories surrounding the rescue by German soldiers of the Lubavitcher grand rabbi of that time, who was in Warsaw when the war broke out in 1939.
Jews also served in the Nazi police and security forces as ghetto police (Ordnungdienst) and concentration camp guards (kapos).