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Hitler's Jewish Soldiers
by Reuters
Monday Nov 3rd, 2003 11:37 AM
Hitler's army included many of Jewish descent
Hitler's army included many of Jewish descent
18:11, Oct 30 2003
By Emma Thomasson

BERLIN (Reuters) - 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.

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.

* SENSITIVE SUBJECT *

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.