As many as 150,000 men of Jewish descent served in the German military under Adolf Hitler, some with the Nazi leader's explicit consent, according to a U.S. historian who has interviewed hundreds of former soldiers.
Bryan Mark Rigg, history professor at the American Military University in Virginia, told Reuters on Thursday that the issue of soldiers of partial Jewish descent was long a somewhat taboo subject, overlooked by most academics as it threw up thorny questions.
"Not everybody who wore a uniform was a Nazi and not every person of Jewish descent was persecuted," he said. "Where do they belong? They served in the military but lost mum at Auschwitz."
According to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, Jews or those of partial Jewish descent were unfit for military service, but Rigg tracked down and interviewed more than 400 former soldiers of partial Jewish descent -- labelled "Mischlinge" ("half-caste") by the Nazis.
He estimates there were about 60,000 soldiers with one Jewish parent and 90,000 with a Jewish grandparent in the Wehrmacht, the regular army as distinct from the Nazi SS.
"They thought 'if I serve well they're not going to hurt me and not going to hurt my family'," he said.

Image of Military Service Book
Military service book of "half-Jew" Hermann Aub

Picture of a line of soldiers
Soldiers taking the oath of allegiance to Hitler
However, on returning home from the campaign in Poland at the start of the war to find persecution of their families worsening, many soldiers classified as half-Jewish started to complain, prompting Hitler to order their dismissal in 1940.
But many of these so-called half-Jewish soldiers continued to serve, sometimes due to delays in the discharge order reaching the front, because they concealed their background or because they applied and won clemency for good service.
Many senior officers with Jewish ancestry won special permission to serve from Hitler himself.
"History is not so black and white. History about Mischlinge shows how bankrupt the Nazi racial laws were," said Rigg.
While Germany has long been aware of men serving as soldiers who Nazi race laws should have classified as Jewish, most notably former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Luftwaffe Field Marshal Erhard Milch, Rigg's large estimate has surprised many.
Die Welt daily called Rigg's book "Hitler's Jewish Soldiers" "one of the most important Holocaust studies of recent years". The author was in Berlin to launch the German language version.
"The Mischlinge suffered the same fate in academic life as they did in real life. There was nobody to speak for them," Rigg said. "People thought it could be misinterpreted, it would be like saying: 'look they did it to themselves'."
Rigg, who has served in the U.S. Marines and as a volunteer in the Israeli army, was moved to research the subject after he discovered his own Jewish ancestry while probing his family tree and after a chance meeting with a Jewish Wehrmacht veteran.
Many of his subjects were telling their story for the first time and in some cases their families knew nothing of their Jewish heritage. "They would talk their hearts out, telling me all about this schizophrenic story they went through," he said.
He is convinced that most of the soldiers of Jewish decent were not aware of the Nazis' systematic murder of Jews, noting that most half-Jews reported to deportation stations in 1944.
"Most say they do not feel guilty about serving in the military, they feel guilty about what they didn't do to save their relatives," he said.

Picture of Horst Geitner
"Half-Jew" Horst Geitner was awarded both the Iron Cross Second Class and the Silver Wound Badge.
Picture of Werner Goldberg
This photo of "half-Jew" Werner Goldberg, who was blond and blue-eyed, was used by a Nazi propaganda newspaper for its title page. Its caption: "The Ideal German Soldier."

Picture of Commander Paul Ascher
"Half-Jew" Commander Paul Ascher, Admiral Lütjens's first staff officer on the battleshipBismarck; Ascher received Hitler'sDeutschblütigkeitserklärung. (Military awards: EKI, EKII, and War Service Cross Second Class.)

Picture of Admiral Bernhard Rogge
"Quarter-Jew" Admiral Bernhard Rogge wearing the Ritterkreuz; he received Hitler'sDeutschblütigkeitserklärung. (Military awards: oak leaves to Ritterkreuz, Ritterkreuz, samurai sword from the emperor of Japan, EKI, and EKII.)
Picture of Johannes Zukertort
"Half-Jew" Johannes Zukertort (last rank general) received Hitler'sDeutschblütigkeitserklärung.

Picture of Colonel Walter H. Hallaender
"Half-Jew" Colonel Walter H. Hollaender, decorated with the Ritterkreuz and German-Cross in Gold; he received Hitler'sDeutschblütigkeitserklärung. (Military awards: Ritterkreuz, German-Cross in Gold, EKI, EKII, and Close Combat Badge.)

Picture of Luftwaffe General Helmut Wilberg
"Half-Jew" and later Luftwaffe General Helmut Wilberg; Hitler declared him Aryan in 1935. (Military awards: Hohenzollern's Knight's Cross with Swords, EKI, EKII.)

Picture of Fielf-Marshal Erhard Milch
"Half-Jew" and field-marshal Erhard Milch (left) with General Wolfram von Richthofen. Hitler declared Milch Aryan. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz for his performance during the campaign in Norway in 1940.

Picture of General Gotthard Heinrici
General Gotthard Heinrici, who was married to a "half-Jew," meeting Hitler in 1937.

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.

Mugshot Style Pictures of Anton Mayer
Side and front photographs of "half-Jew" Anton Mayer, similar to those that often accompanied a Mischling's application for exemption.


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