Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers
The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military

 Colby Award

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.

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.

Lives of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers
Untold Tales of Men of Jewish Descent Who Fought for the Third Reich

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 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.

The Rabbi Saved by Hitler’s Soldiers
Rebbe Joseph Isaac Schneersohn and His Astonishing Rescue

“Were this story a novel, it would have the character of an implausible fable, but as often occurred in the Holocaust, reality exceeds the imagination.”—Michael Berenbaum, from the Foreword

When Hitler invaded Warsaw in the fall of 1939, hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped in the besieged city. The Rebbe Joseph Schneersohn, the leader of the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Jews, was among them. When word of his plight went out, a group of American Jews initiated what would ultimately become one of the strangest—and most miraculous—rescues of World War II. And this is the incredible but true story that Bryan Mark Rigg tells in The Rabbi Saved by Hitler’s Soldiers.

Amid the chaos and hell of the emerging Holocaust, a small group of German soldiers shepherded Rebbe Schneersohn and his Hasidic followers out of Poland. In the course of the daring escape—traveling by train to Berlin, rerouted to Latvia and Sweden, and carried by ship through U-boat-infested waters to America—the Rebbe would learn a shocking truth. The leader of the rescue operation, the decorated Wehrmacht soldier Ernst Bloch, was himself half-Jewish, and a victim of the rising tide of German anti-Semitism. Perhaps even more remarkable were the central roles of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Nazi military intelligence service, and of Helmuth Wohlthat, chief administrator of Göring’s Four Year Plan. Pursuing every lead, amassing critical evidence, pulling together all the pieces of what could well be a political thriller, Rigg reconstructs the Rebbe’s improbable escape, and tells a harrowing story about identity and moral responsibility. His book is the definitive account of an extraordinary episode in the history of World War II.