Approximately sixteen million people died, among them nine million combatants and twenty million were wounded between 1914 and 1918 as a result the senseless conflict known as the “Great War.” Unfortunately today, with rare exceptions, we study this particular war “no more.” It’s hard to fathom that the First World War could be overshadowed by subsequent brutality spawned by similar political hubris and strategic miscalculations.
My grandfather, Rabbi Aron (Arnold) Tänzer, was highly decorated by the German Reich for his exemplary patriotic service to German soldiers on the bloody Eastern Front where the forces of Germany and Russia collided with terrible consequences for the local, largely Jewish, populations of Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine.
Unfortunately, for us in the English speaking world, most of Aron Tänzer’s voluminous scholarship has not been translated into English. Now, for the first time, thanks to Peter Appelbaum, we not only have my grandfather’s gut wrenching wartime diaries, skillfully translated into English, but also a panoply of other historically significant memoirs, sermons and official documents from the pens of then famous Jewish-German rabbinical chaplains including, among others, Rabbis Leo Baeck, Georg Salzberger, Martin Salomonski, Bruno Italiener and David Alexander Winter. The majority of these papers reveal untold devotion to Germany and unimaginable sacrifices made for the German homeland during these terrible times when initial exhilaration gradually wore off as the burdens of endless and futile trench warfare in the west became painfully evident. The theological paradox which these religious leaders had to confront is reflected in their sermons.
One hundred thousand Jews served in the German armed forces during WW I and twelve thousand Jews sacrificed their lives for Germany, all hoping to overcome anti-Semitism by proving their loyalty and selfless bravery.
Accounts of these Jewish chaplains’ wartime service to soldiers and local populations, regardless of creed, are fascinating in themselves. The proverbial icing on the cake which renders “Loyalty Betrayed, Jewish Chaplains in the German Army during the First World War” insightful and historically important, are Peter Appelbaum’s commentaries, his summaries, the photographs and the painstakingly researched footnotes. These attributes combine with the original texts to provide the reader with a greater depth of understanding for those tumultuous times and the locations where these long-forgotten events took place.
Also on behalf of our family, the descendants of Rabbi Aron (Arnold) Tänzer, I congratulate Peter Appelbaum, his sources and publisher, for bringing this important chapter of First World War Jewish history to those of us who have to rely on the English language for a deeper appreciation of important historical events which have shaped the lives of our parents and grandparents and thereby impacted our lives and the heritage to be passed on to future generations.
I highly recommend this fine book for both scholarly and casual reading by anyone interested in learning more about conditions of Jewish soldiers and local populations through the eyes of contemporary German Rabbinical chaplains who selflessly volunteered to serve their country during the Great War, only to see their efforts come to naught with the rise of Hitlerism . Uri Hugo Taenzer