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

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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" aspart 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.

328 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2007

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About the author

Bryan Mark Rigg

10 books10 followers
Bryan Mark Rigg teaches history at American Military University and Southern Methodist University. Dr. Rigg's work has been featured in the New York Times and on programs including NBC Dateline and Fox News. Dr. Rigg has served as a volunteer in the Israeli Army and as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He currently lives in Dallas, Texas.

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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Glen.
29 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2013
"Lives of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers" provides rare insight into the lives and psyches of the men of mixed Jewish-German ancestry who fought under the banner of the Swastika. It focuses primarily on the personal lives and the views of these men, their concept of Jewishness, their knowledge of the Holocaust, and how they tried to reconcile having served a regime that murdered their families. It is a collection of complex feelings about identity and internal moral and spiritual conflict.

Although not widely known, under Nazi racial law, one was considered Jewish only if three or more of a person's grandparents were members of a Jewish congregation, regardless of one's faith. All of these men had been Lutherans or Catholics prior to the war, and many had very little concept of what it meant to be Jewish until Nazi persecution sought to segregate them from the greater German population.

This law effectively meant that children born of a marriage between a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father would result in a birth that, although Jewish by Jewish law, did not make the baby Jewish - under Nazi racial law. Nazi racial law further divided people into degrees of ethnic mix. Someone who had a Jewish mother, for example, was a "Half-breed of the 1st Degree." If one was born to a mother who had only one Jewish parent, one was considered a "1/4" Jew and categorized as a "Half-breed of the 2nd Degree." Prior to 1940, anyone of these two ethnic backgrounds was expected to fight for Nazi Germany. However, they were not allowed to become officers. In 1940 a law was passed that effectively forced all people of mixed ethnicity to leave the armed services. A select few, who had proven their worth, were deemed Aryan and their ethnicity purged of all "contamination" by the stroke of a pen.

Despite the law banning "half-breeds" from serving, many remained. In many cases they lied about their ethnicity or were hidden by superiors. Their motives to continue to serve the Nazi regime often stemmed from a desire to prove that they were equal to their "Aryan" brethren, and that by serving, they might be able to use their patriotism to stem the tide of persecution that their families faced. Interestingly, not a single soldier claimed knowledge of the Holocaust. They knew of the persecutions, and they had heard the rumors of the executions, but the knowledge we have gained in hindsight, at their own admittance, would have been too terrible to comprehend.

The subject matter is fascinating in so many ways, and it is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the personal accounts of fighting men, or World War II in general. The only issue I had with the book was the rather clunky writing style; it lacks polish. I found this rather distracting. Had it been more eloquently presented, I would have given it 4 or even 5 stars. The content is excellent, but the presentation needs improvement.

1 review
August 7, 2022
I found this book very frustrating, as someone with similar training to Rigg (we've even attended the same schools).

First: the book does not engage in the rules of academic writing; he frequently puts his own opinion into his analysis (as in, uses words as "evil" when describing a person -- any good analysis should have the reader drawing those conclusions themselves) and seems to fall gimmick to emotional language. It feels cheap when reading it and reminds me often of middle-school style writing, and it is present in every sentence. My Yale professors (where the author also went) would have failed me for writing like this.

Second: and perhaps my biggest gripe, is that it feels like the book is written through the perspective of someone who does not actually understand the Holocaust. He makes several untrue statements throughout his analysis, i.e. declaring that all Mischling would have been killed if Germany had succeeded in the war (there is no proof of this, and most proof suggests the opposite, as Germany had over 12 years to kill Mischling and did not do so). This is just the beginning of that issue.

Third: the book feels misogynistic at times. It only took 20 or so pages for a long section about genitalia to show up, which yes, the topic of circumcision as an identifier is an important one, that was not really what was going on in the book. Furthermore, it also talks a lot about sexual exploits of women, often in detail, which is troublesome because arguably that is irrelevant to the topic. The terms the author uses to describe this makes it also feel gross, but that may be due to the issues described in my first bullet point.

Fourth: the author never seems to consider questioning what the soldiers are telling him. I am not someone who universally condemns every single man who served; my uncle was drafted against his will (and is still missing to this day), so despite being in Holocaust academia, I understand the complexities that these men went through. Obviously the author had to befriend the men he interviewed, but he seems to have taken the friend role quite seriously and lost sight of what he was there to achieve in regards to his research. The closest he gets to questioning the men is asking why one man's mother felt the need to hide, and the author doesn't elaborate on that thought process, so I assume he didn't even understand why he was asking the former soldier that.

The men biographied all experienced trauma and their actions are understandable based upon that trauma, even decades later when they were being interviewed -- we understand why they wouldn't be honest and also understand that it is not necessarily out of an innate desire to be dishonest. The author pointing this out in his analysis would not be offensive to those who were interviewed, but Rigg took everything that these men said as absolute fact, which is troubling. All people are complex, and those who experienced trauma may not always tell the whole story in order to protect themselves or due to how they deal with trauma. That is okay, but the author had the responsibility to deal with this trauma professionally and also point out inconsistencies, and he did not.

With that being said: one man admitted to knowing about the Holocaust while he was serving, and then the author grilled him inappropriately and clearly made him regret saying anything at all. That is not how you get honest and sincere testimony out of people. There are ways to ask what he wanted without flat out saying things like, "why didn't you do anything to stop it?" as if a lowly gefreiter could do absolutely anything to stop a deportation train of Jews that was ordered by the top in Berlin. Of course the interviewees are defensive after that -- Rigg seems ignorant to the fact that there were hundreds of cogs in the machine of each deportation and that one lowly gefreiter (who was not part of the deportation, he just caught a glimpse of it while passing by) would not have a chance to do anything meaningful, beyond getting himself shot.

Fifth: as a continuation of the thought about, a lot of the questions were just downright stupid. He asked one man who was granted an audience with Hitler why he didn't kill him, despite having a gun on him. Seriously?

Sixth: the book is horribly edited and its unclear, which makes it clear at times that the author does not quite understand what he is talking about. i.e. in one section, he talks about an event in Minsk, which he says is in Ukraine (Minsk is the capital of Belarus). Then he talks about Ukraine further. It's confusing and hard to follow. And, no, Minsk was never part of Ukraine (it's pretty far from the Belarus-Urkraine border), nor is/was there a city or town in Ukraine named Minsk.

Seventh: this book is weirdly about him, including photos of him with people he interviewed. And not just one or two. Why is he in it at all, if its suppose to be a historical analysis of the Wehrmacht?

In conclusion, I could write about the problems with this book literally all day. It gets a generous 2 stars from me because the topic is important; albeit, despite the author's claim, we all knew Mischling served, it wasn't some big secret that he claims that he personally uncovered. No two people experienced the Holocaust in the same way, which is why it can be so hard to track someone who is missing. This is also true for Mischling, which the author doesn't seem to understand: Rigg operates on the assumption that everything during the war was "firm" and things happened the same way every time, which is like Holocaust 101 that the exact opposite happened.

Essentially, the author could have had a great topic, but he absolutely dropped the ball. He likes to explain these things away by talking about his ADHD, but I am a Yale-educated academic with ADHD and dyslexia. This book is just bad academia, full stop.

The only reason it gets two starts from me is because one of the men was actually in my uncle's unit and company, which was a wonderful surprise and I took it as my reward for drudging through the rest of the poorly presented nonsense in this book.
Profile Image for Max Dynerman.
1 review
June 16, 2018
Really interesting subject matter, but remarkably poorly written. If the subject interests you, the book is certainly worth the read and explores a unique facet of the Reich. But the amateurish writing style and accompanying grammatical mistakes, as well as the author's unwelcome and shallow opinions distract the reader constantly.
Profile Image for Fred Klein.
519 reviews19 followers
August 10, 2022
I was on Facebook arguing with a stranger (which is always a dumb thing to do) who asserted that Ukraine is a Nazi country. My response was how could Ukraine be a Nazi country when it has a Jewish president. This person responded back to me that Jews can be Nazis and cited this book to me, which induced me to read the book.

Well, that genius either never read the book, but found its title to be convenient support for a stupid point, or completely missed the point of the book.

NO, Jews cannot be Nazis. The great majority of persons discussed in the book were Jews by the Nazis' definition because they had Jewish blood, but they did not consider themselves Jewish, did not identify as Jewish, and many did whatever they could to prove that they were loyal Germans. The stories vary, so there are exceptions, with some actually identifying as Jews but just trying to survive, and there was one who was fully on-board with the Nazi agenda (a rarity).

When introducing his subjects, the author attaches "half-Jew" or "quarter-Jew" before their names, which was jarring to me each time. I believe those descriptions would have been more appropriate after their names or just put in the stories.

The book itself is interesting, but it actually disproves the argument of the idiot with whom I was debating: Jews could not be Nazis. Had the Nazis won World War II, undoubtedly most of the men who had Jewish blood would have been killed, even if they had received a special designation as "Aryanized" from Hitler.

Although interesting, I did not find that this book warranted more than three stars as it can be tedious.
Profile Image for Sarah Gatewood.
25 reviews
October 5, 2017
Just finished this book. I have done extensive reading on The Holocaust and even I didn't know about Jewish Mischlinge serving during World War II. I was really amazed at the details the author was able to discover about these men even those that weren't alive anymore. I was impressed with the amount of men that were willing to talk about their history. The Mischlinge are definitely a minority and their stories are those we have not heard of. It was very sad reading how many of the men were still treated poorly while serving their country and how many lost family members during The Holocaust. The only complaint I have is the conclusion the author did at the end of each chapter. I found he would compare the different stories about how the men dealt with their situation. I found it extremely unnecessary and I had to try to remember each man's name and match to his story.
Profile Image for Zhelana.
501 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2020
This book is told as a series of interviews with different men. The vast majority of them (all but one in two chapters that I read) do not consider themselves Jewish at all, and were surprised by the announcement by the regime that they were considered Jews. It's hard to answer the question of what could make you fight for someone doing that to your people when you don't consider them your people at all. Also, the author tries to muddy the waters between perpetrator and victim in this book, but the line still seems perfectly clear cut to me. Furthermore, I am completely unconvinced that that is a line which needs to be blurred. I really feel like this book is doing something that is better undone. Also, the entire second of four chapters is about men who went to the camps, and I really, really do not need yet another book about the camps.
269 reviews1 follower
December 10, 2021
Excellent book with surprising stories of soldiers who served Hitler during WWII. I learned a lot of new information and it was a gripping read! Very talented author!
Profile Image for Michael Lewyn.
781 reviews19 followers
November 2, 2014
If you have read the first 100 pages of this book, you have received about 90 percent of the content. However, I found that content to be fascinating. Rigg tells the stories of numerous people who were at least partially of Jewish descent and yet fought in Hitler's militaries.

The most unusual stories are those of a couple of full-blooded Jews who, by forging documents, were able to avoid Nazi persecution by joining the military (and in one case, the Waffen-SS, many of whom fought as ordinary soldiers).

But the majority of Rigg's stories are about half- and quarter-Jews (nearly all of whom identified themselves as Christians, since to a greater extent than today, Jews involved in mixed marriages converted to Christianity). These men did not have to conceal their identities, but often had to engage in considerable bureaucratic string-pulling to stay in the military (since as the war went on, the Hitler regime became more willing to discharge soldiers with Jewish blood).

Why did they bother? The men who told Rigg their stories were not particularly enamored of Hitler; however, some were career military men who fought for Germany first, while others believed that if they stayed in the military, their Jewish relatives would be protected from deportation to concentration camps (although most of them apparently had no idea that mass murders were going on at the camps).
2 reviews
January 16, 2017
Compelling personal stories that provide a lens into the complexity of competing loyalties for Jewish soldiers in the Third Reich, based on upbringing, historical family and social values, personal relationships and aspirations in a world without 24x7x365 social and commercial media coverage.
Profile Image for Lenore.
105 reviews
May 25, 2009
A must read for history buffs, especially an informative addition to holocaust materials.
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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