Working in newly opened archives and reexamining old evidence, historian Bryan Mark Rigg turns up a surprising wrinkle in the history of Nazi Germany: the presence of part-Jewish soldiers not only in the ranks but also in the upper echelons of the German military. One such soldier recalled, "I served because I wanted to prove Hitler's racial nonsense wrong. I wanted to prove that people of Jewish descent were indeed brave and courageous soldiers." By Rigg's estimate, as many as 150,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen of partial Jewish descent (Mischlinge
, in Nazi terminology) served in Adolf Hitler's forces--some, such as field marshal and war criminal Erhard Milch, placed in high positions by Hitler himself even as he tightened the noose on the Jews of Europe. Rigg considers the role of these men as they negotiated the confusion of the monolithic, racist state in dealing with Germans of partial Jewish descent. "[Their] experience clearly demonstrates the complexity of life in the Third Reich," writes Rigg. His book sheds light on a difficult subject in the face of certain controversy, and it merits discussion. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
What the Nazis called partial Jews, or mischlinge, served in the Wehrmacht during World War II, often joining to prove their loyalty and becoming decorated soldiers. Rigg, who received a B.A. from Yale in 1996, studied at Cambridge and currently teaches at the online American Military University, estimates their numbers to have been in the range of 150,000. He begins by carefully describing Nazi racial law and recounting the assimilation and military service of "/ Jews" (among other categories) in the German and Austrian states in the two centuries before WWI. Moving on to the Nazi era, Rigg details the exemptions to Aryan law that allowed mischlinge to serve. The extent to which the mischlinge knew of the regime's true character is a constant theme, and feelings of helplessness in the face of knowledge of the Holocaust are vividly illustrated with numerous examples, such as the mischling soldier who visited Jewish relatives the night before they were deported to an extermination camp not knowing then that "deportation" meant "death." Interviews with some surviving mischlinge (including former chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who served in the Luftwaffe), along with quotations from memoirs and diaries, help to enliven an otherwise dry, academic style. By 1944, many of the loopholes in the racial purity laws were closed, and many military mischlinge perished in the camps. Those who survived were later often rejected by the Jewish community because of their service in the German armed forces.
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