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Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military Hardcover – May 6, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Working in newly opened archives and reexamining old evidence, historian Bryan Mark Rigg turns up a surprising wrinkle in the history of Nazi Germany: the presence of part-Jewish soldiers not only in the ranks but also in the upper echelons of the German military. One such soldier recalled, "I served because I wanted to prove Hitler's racial nonsense wrong. I wanted to prove that people of Jewish descent were indeed brave and courageous soldiers." By Rigg's estimate, as many as 150,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen of partial Jewish descent (Mischlinge, in Nazi terminology) served in Adolf Hitler's forces--some, such as field marshal and war criminal Erhard Milch, placed in high positions by Hitler himself even as he tightened the noose on the Jews of Europe. Rigg considers the role of these men as they negotiated the confusion of the monolithic, racist state in dealing with Germans of partial Jewish descent. "[Their] experience clearly demonstrates the complexity of life in the Third Reich," writes Rigg. His book sheds light on a difficult subject in the face of certain controversy, and it merits discussion. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

What the Nazis called partial Jews, or mischlinge, served in the Wehrmacht during World War II, often joining to prove their loyalty and becoming decorated soldiers. Rigg, who received a B.A. from Yale in 1996, studied at Cambridge and currently teaches at the online American Military University, estimates their numbers to have been in the range of 150,000. He begins by carefully describing Nazi racial law and recounting the assimilation and military service of "/ Jews" (among other categories) in the German and Austrian states in the two centuries before WWI. Moving on to the Nazi era, Rigg details the exemptions to Aryan law that allowed mischlinge to serve. The extent to which the mischlinge knew of the regime's true character is a constant theme, and feelings of helplessness in the face of knowledge of the Holocaust are vividly illustrated with numerous examples, such as the mischling soldier who visited Jewish relatives the night before they were deported to an extermination camp not knowing then that "deportation" meant "death." Interviews with some surviving mischlinge (including former chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who served in the Luftwaffe), along with quotations from memoirs and diaries, help to enliven an otherwise dry, academic style. By 1944, many of the loopholes in the racial purity laws were closed, and many military mischlinge perished in the camps. Those who survived were later often rejected by the Jewish community because of their service in the German armed forces.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern War Studies
  • Hardcover: 460 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; First Edition edition (May 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700611789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700611782
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

148 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Anita Bleyleben on July 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I spent my youth and adolescence during WWII in the Third Reich.
Although Aryan by birth I followed the fate of and befriended
several 'Mischlinge' (half- and quarter-jews) during and after
the War, and even knew some who served in the Wehrmacht. I found
Brian Mark Rigg's book excellent in scope and fair in its
contents. The research he conducted is extraordinary. The author
shed light on an angle that hitherto has been neglected by
historians of Nazi-Germany. He also describes splendidly the
irrational stupidity of the racial laws with their tragic
consequences. I wonder whether these 'Mischlinge' fought
valiently in the German Army as a refuge from the Gestapo or
under the peer pressure of the 'comradeship' of one's fighting
unit.They wanted to prove to the system that they were real' Germans.
I vividly remember also Aryan friends who were strong
Anti-Nazis but who courageously fought in the Wehrmacht,
particularly on the eastern front. Some of them were even
scheming plots to kill Hitler. Was it again the bonding among
soldiers or did they consider Naziism the smaller evil to
Bolshevism? I think these questions can only be only answered
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Socol Anna, 9-th grade on April 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The book is about the phenomenon of people of partial Jewish descent (mischlinge in German) that served in the German military (Wermacht) during the World WarII. The book is the result of a ten years' study including 430 interviews with mischlinge that had served in Wermacht. The book is very serious: for example, index and references comprise one third of the volume. The author claims that about 150,000 mischlinge (probably, about half of them - halachic Jews) served in Wermacht.
The first chapter discusses the question: who is a Jew? Several points of view are presented. The Halacha says that person born to a Jewish mother is also a Jew; and also one that converts to Judaism (makes "giyur"). However, many Jews believe that Jewishness means "ethnic allegiance". Reform Jews believe that "paternal descent" is also enough to be a Jew. The author mentions that this problem (who is a Jew) in modern Israel is "second only to Israel's preoccupation with problems of peace and security."
The second chapter explains who were mischlinge and how they felt in Nazi Germany. In most cases, mischlinge felt themselves as Germans. Part of them felt like second-class Germans, and many of them made their best to be considered as Aryans (i.e. pure Germans).
The third chapter is about the assimilation in Germany and Austria, and also about Jews serving in German Military prior to WWII. The assimilation rate in Germany and Austria was very high: for example, between 1901 and 1929 ther were over
36,000 mixed marriages in Germany alone. And from all the facts we see that many Jews served in the German army during WWI and afterwards. They felt united to fight for Germany.
The next three chapters give the historical background. When Hitler came to power, he started the racial policy.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John M. Greathouse on June 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Brian Mark Rigg's "Hitlers Jewish Soldiers" brings a new dimension to Third Reich and Wehrmacht scholarship. The Third Reich of the movies is often portrayed as a seamless juggernaut brought down only because of Hitler's decision to fight a two-front war. The reality was far more complex. Nazi Germany was a hodgepodge of competing governmental, party and military bureaucracies with overlapping responsibilities, run by ambitious men with often disparate agendas. Thus it is not surprising that even in what the Nazis considered the unambiguous goal of the removal of Jews from German life, there arose contradictions, confusion and exceptions in the particulars of its implementation.
The 1935 Nuremburg Laws began the eclipse of Jewish existence in Germany. Casting a wide net, the Reich ascribed Jewish identity to some who were astonished at their inclusion. In defining as Mischlinge (mixed breeds)those Germans with one or two Jewish grandparents, many who had been raised Christian and considered themselves Aryans suddenly found themselves on society's scrapheap.
This affected the Wehrmacht in that serving officers and NCOs who were "full"`Jews and Mischlinge -- many who had served with distinction in World War I -- were ordered purged from the ranks. The 'lucky" one applied for and received -- from Hitler personally -- exemptions enabling them to continue serving, or in some cases declarations that they were "of German blood" and entitled to the rights of Aryans. A notable example is the retention of Luftwaffe General -- later Field Marshall -- Erhard Milch, the organizational wizard who helped prepare the air armaments industry for the coming war.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Kathy F. Cannata on September 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Best thing I have read in awhile.

Author Bryan Mark Riggs was in his late twenties when he wrote this a couple of years ago. He is a (Reform?) Jew. At that point he had already earned a PhD at Cambridge, served as a volunteer in the Israeli Army and US Marines, and was teaching at SMU. This book grew out of his (undergraduate!) thesis at Yale. He found and interviewed a huge number of "Mischlinge" -- half or quarter-Jews who served in the Nazi military during WWII, sometimes with as high a rank as general.

Rigg improbably estimates there may have been as many as 150,000 such soldiers under Hitler.

Many of these men served to escape death. Some were just strong German nationalists.

The interesting part is that both Jewish halakah and Nazi law regarded many of these men as Jews, while most themselves did not! By Nazi law anyone who was 25% Jewish was a Jew whether or not he was baptized, a Nazi Party member, practiced another religion, etc. But those who had already shown loyalty to the German military often were given special exemptions if they continued to serve. Remarkably, most of those part-Jews were proud Germans, with roots in the nation hundreds of years back, who did not practice Judaism. Some were even somewhat anti-Semitic, looking down on the culturally, economically and educationally less advanced (and religiously more Orthodox) East European Jewish immigrants (Ostjuden) as inferior.

Sadly most fought bravely for the very government that was murdering their relatives, and would surely murder most of them when the war was over and they were no longer needed. (Some lost their exemptions even during the war).

The madness and the vicious absurdity of the Nazis is portrayed very skillfully by Rigg.
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