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London, December 17, 1996, p. 28

Jews who wore a Nazi uniform

by Jim King


The presence of officers with Jewish backgrounds in the German armed forces has been uncovered in state documents traced by a young American currently studying at Cambridge.

Among the thousands of soliders of Jewish parentage who we reported briefly last week as serving in Hitler's army during the Second World War were two generals, eight lieutenant generals, five major generals, and 23 colonels.

They fought for the Nazi leaders who ordered the extermination of the Jews.

The German army personnel office prepared a list in January 1944 of 77 "high ranking officers of mixed Jewish race or married to a Jew" serving in the Wehrmarcht, the German armed forces.

All 77 had received a declaration from Hitler that they were "of German blood."

The list was drawn up on Hitler's instructions, so that, late in the war, the officers could be discharged.

Research by Bryan Rigg, a 25-year-old American now studying at Cambridge University, has uncovered not just the list but many more such high-ranking officers in the army, the navy and the Luftwaffe.

"I could add 60 names to that list," he said.

The officer drawing up the list admitted in January 1944 that it was incomplete.

Mr. Riggs has found documentation to show that in the case of one field marshal who father was Jewish, Goering and Hitler ruled that his "true father" was his mother's uncle and that the field marshal was therefore of true German blood.

His research has so far uncovered 17 instances where the the Nazi hierarchy awarded the Ritterkreuz, or Knight's Cross, Germany's highest miliary honour, to someone known to be of Jewish parentage.

Many of the subjects of Mr. Rigg's research were not religious Jews. But the law of Reich citizenship and the law for the protection of German blood, defined as a Jew anyone with at least three Jewish grandparents. They also created created two categories of Mischlinge 1 (half-Jews) and Mischlinge 2 (quarter-Jews) were denied full citizenship of the Reich.

In 1940, those Mischlinge with two Jewish grandparents were expelled from the military. The expulsion order was repeated in 1942, 1943 and 1944. Those Mischlinge with only one Jewish grandparent were allowed to continue in the military, although not to be officers.

It appears the Mischlinge have been neglected by historians, perhaps because they were neither Jewish victims nor Nazi executioners. Mr. Rigg, who began his research into Jews in the miliary when he was at Yale University, said that, at first, his professors had tried to dissuade him, expecting him to find nothing. One of his interviewees was Helmut Schmidt, the former West German Chancellor, who had been an officer in the Luftwaffe though his grandfather was a Jew. Herr Schmidt, Mr. Rigg recalled, had estimated that there were only "15 to 20" like him.

Mr. Rigg said thousands of Mischlinge and Jews served in the military under the Nazis. He had documented 1,200 cases and interviewed more than 300 soldiers or their relatives. He had collected 30,000 documents and detailed the Jewish ancestry of two field marshals, 10 generals, 14 colonels and 30 majors.

He said: ""While these soldiers served, many of their Jewish relatives were murdered in concentration camps. Close to 2,300 Jewish relatives of a group of nearly 1,000 soldiers I have documented were Holocaust victims -- cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, mothers, fathers." One of his interviewees was a Wehrmacht veteran who visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1942 wearing the Iron Cross he had earned in battle.

Challenged by an SS officer, he said he had come to visit his father, a Jew. The SS officer said: "If you did not have that medal, I would send you straight where your father is."

But another man he interviewed, now aged 76 and living in Germany, was a full Jew who escaped to German-occupied France in 1940 and then enrolled in the Waffen SS under a new name.

Mr. Rigg said the people he interviewed were at a loss to know their place in history.

"They don't know where they stand," she said. "If I was in the German military and I lost my mother in Auschwitz, am I a victim or a perpetrator?"

He said the Mischlinge had been ignored because "neither side wants to claim to them. The Germans who feel guilty don't want to talk about them. The Jewish community doesn't want to claim them because it goes against everything they have been taught about the Holocaust."

Dr. Jonathan Steinberg, Reader in Modern European History at Cambridge and Mr. Rigg's supervisor, said the discoveries had not been made before "because the documents did not appear in the sorts of places that ordinary researchers would look." Historians had no reason to look at the hundreds of thousands of "perfectly ordinary personnel files".

"Bryan Rigg would not have looked, but he found the people themselves and they put him to the files," he said. Dr. Steinberg, the author of a study which contrasted treatment of the Jews by the German and Italian armies, said Mr. Rigg's findings exposed "an incredibly human chapter" involving the highest-ranking officers.

"It makes the reality of the Nazi state more complicated," he said. Mr. Rigg's research will inform both the argument about Hitler's role in shaping the Holocaust and the debate about anti-Semitism among ordinary Germans.

The cases Mr. Rigg has documented reveal varying experiences. Some were practising Jews; others did not consider themselves Jewish, whatever the laws said.

The research details how Nazi intolerance for those of mixed race hardened during the war. By 1944 even the high-ranking officers whose presence had been tolerated were being discharged: the Nazi leadership revoked the declaration of German blood signed by Hitler.

Uncovering mystery role of man who rescued Rebbe

The research sheds light on one of the strangest episodes of 1939: how German soldiers rescued Rebbe Joseph Schneersohn, the leader of the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Jews, from Warsaw.

The tradition of the Lubavitcher Jews, now a highly influential political group in Israel and New York, relates that the Rebbe, their dynastic leader, was rescued by a German Jewish soldier. But the story seemed too fantastic to be true. Bryan Rigg has identified the soldier and established his Jewish background.

When the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, Rebbe Joseph Schneersohn, one of the world's most eminent Jewish scholars, was trapped in Warsaw. The fate of the Rebbe was of special significance to thousands of Jews throughout the world. Hasidic Judaism regards the Rebbe as a human being endowed with superior spiritual powers that enable him to serve as an intermediary between God and man.

In September 1939, when Lubavitcher Jews in America heard that their revered leader was trapped in Warsaw, they petitioned help from the US Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. Hull relayed the appeal to the US consul-general in Berlin who, in turn sought help from Helmut Wohlthat, the chief administrator of Goering's Four Year Plan. Wohlthat contacted Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence.

Canaris sent a group of his men to Warsaw. They somehow found the Rebbe and his followers, who were unlikely to make themselves known to a group of German soldiers, brought them through Germany and helped them to escape via Latvia to safety in America. Rabbi Schneersohn's secretary described the perilous journey from Warsaw: "German soldiers were bloodthirsty like wild animals to hurt our group of Jewish men with beards and sidelocks as soon as they saw us.

"A German Jew, who had served in the First World War and wore a uniform covered with medals, helped the Rebbe and his family escape this danger. Several times during the journey, Nazi soldiers threatened us, but this Jew would yell at them and tell them that he had special orders to take these Jews to Berlin."

Until recently, the involvement of a Jewish army officer in the Rebbe's escape and the preservation of the Lubavitcher dynasty seemed unbelievable. But Mr. Rigg's researches identify the man as Lt. Col. Dr. Ernst Bloch, one of the 77 high-ranking officers named in the list of January 1944. His father, Dr. Oscar Bloch, was a Jew.

A First World War veteran, Bloch had joined the infantry at the age of 16. He fought at Verdun, the Somme, Champagne and Flanders. Canaris recruited Bloch to the Abwehr in 1935 and gave him the task of gathering data on the industrial capacity of other countries.

Canaris brought the case of Bloch's Jewish parentage to Hitler late in 1939. Hitler signed the official document reading: "I, Adolf Hitler, leader of the German Nation, approve Major Ernst Bloch to be of German blood. However, after the war, Ernst Bloch will be re-evaluated to see if he is still worthy to have such a title."

On July 1,1940, Hitler promoted Bloch to lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Iron Cross and several service decorations. But, in September 1944, Heinrich Himmler discovered his Jewish parentage and requested that the officer be discharged. He was removed from the army in October 1944 and discharged by Hitler the following February.

Soldier who left family behind

Joseph Hammburger, who has asked for his real name to be kept secret, is a religious Jew who hid his Judaism and served in the Wehrmacht. Now 82 and living in north Germany, his family died in the Holocaust.

He was born a full Jew but, before the war, moved from north to south Germany where he assumed a new non-Jewish identity and entered officer training school. He became an officer and married a Jewish girl whom he brought from his home town to join him.

He served six and a half years in the military and reached the rank of captain. He said he remained a religious Jew during his military service but nobody knew about his Jewishness.

Field marshal Erhard Milch was a personal friend of Hermann Goering and the highest ranking officer found to be of Jewish parentage.

Born in 1892, he became the chairman of Lufthansa in 1926 and head of the air ministry in 1935. He masterminded German aircraft production and transformed the Luftwaffe.

His father, Anton Milch, was Jewish. The response of the Nazi hierarchy was to change Milch's parentage.[see bottom of page]

Milch documentBryan Rigg has found a document, dated Aug. 7, 1935, when Milch was a lieutenant general, in which Goering writes:

"Erhard Milch is of Aryan descent ... we have seen that his real father is Karl Brauer. His siblings are also of Aryan descent."

Brauer was Erhard's maternal uncle. The Nazis preferred incest to Jewishness. Milch was convicted at the Nuremberg war crimes trial and was imprisoned from 1945-55. He died in 1972.

Helmut Schmidt, the Chancellor of West Germany from 1974-82, had a Jewish grandfather but only learnt of this from his mother when he was in his late teens and about to enter a higher rank of the Hitler Youth. The secret of his Jewish grandfather had been suppressed because his father was the son of an illegitimate relationship. Helmut Schmidt kept Jewish ancestry secret and went on to become a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe.

Edgar Jacobson, another pseudonym, was, by Nazi definition, a full Jew, though not practising. He married a non-Jew and his wife is still alive. He was a film-maker who worked in the propaganda office in Paris in 1941 and was awarded the Iron Cross First Class.

In 1941 his sister, who was wearing a Jewish star, tried to attend a Nazi meeting but was refused admittance. She remonstrated with those who barred her way that her brother was a major in the army.

The case was investigated. Jacobson was court-martialled, put in prison for having given a false statement about his ancestry and discharged from the military as "Jude."

Later he was sent to a labour camp, where he was made to work for an officer of lesser rank than he had been. The officer complained at this injustice. Jacobson was given compensation by the German authorities after the war.

Historians divided over significance of find

The revelations have provoked spirited debate among historians.

Several acknowledged the significance of the list of 77 high-ranking officers of "mixed Jewish race or married to a Jew" serving in the German army, found by Mr. Rigg.

Others expressed concern that the discoveries might divert attention from the Holocaust and yet others claimed that the research amount to "nothing new."

While the historians began their discussions, news organizations across the world pursued the story of how Mr. Rigg had found the documents and his personal quest to interview the ex-members of the Wehrmacht who had Jewish parentage.

Prof. Lothar Kettenacker, of the German Historical Institute, said the apparent contradictions between the anti-Semitism of Nazi rhetoric and evidence that those designated by the Nazi race laws as being non-Aryan were promoted within the Wehrmacht would surprise the outsider more than the professional historian.

The list of high-ranking officers, he said, was "a revelation," but "it will not shatter our views of the Third Reich and the Holocaust."

David Cesarani, professor of modern Jewish studies at Southampton University, was concerned that the fate of the so-called Mischlinge should not detract from the real story of the Holocaust. Although Nazi law had designated these people as part-Jews, he said, they did not consider themselves as Jewish and nor did he.

"The Nazis imposed certain racial categories. It does not mean we should accept them ourselves." It would be wrong, he said, to equate them with victims of the Holocaust.

"I think Bryan Rigg is to be congratulated for ploughing through the army personnel files. He has turned up some very interesting human interst stories. I wish there were more historians doing such oral history. But it is not really altering our understanding of the Third Reich."

Jeremy Noakes, professor of history at Exeter University, thought the most significant find was the list prepared by the German army personnel office of 77 senior officers.

Prof. Noakes has himself written an article about the Mischlinge, those designated by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 as being neither Aryans nor full Jews.

He had thought the Mischlinge interesting to research because "they raised questions about Nazi policy-making." He said he had written about the existence of Mischlinge in the Wehrmacht but had "no means of knowing" about the numbers.

He said the list of 77 officers had taken forward historical knowledge in that it added numbers and names. "It is surprising that there were so many senior officers," he said.

Mr. Rigg says he has identified another 60 officers in addition to the list of 77.

Anthony Glees of Brunel University told the BBC he thought the research added "nothing new." Jonathan Steinberg, Reader in modern European history at Cambridge, where he is Mr. Rigg's supervisor, said it was too early to assess the impact of the research on understanding the Nazi state.

The fact that Hitler signed many declarations "of German blood" had been shown but historians had still to assess why he did it and whether he did it willingly or not. But he said the impact of the reearch was not just its academic importance.

"There is the extraordinary personal history of Bryan Rigg. There people he is researching want their story told. They are giving him documents and telling him much more than you would expect."

'I just had to get to these people before they died'

Raised a Bible-belt Protestant, Bryan Rigg tells Caroline Davies of his shock when he uncovered the secret of his Jewish lineage.

Bryan Rigg was unaware of the impact his research would make. On the day it was published in The Daily Telegraph, he awoke to requests for interviews from television and radio networks worldwide.

"I am just overwhelmed," he said exhilarated and exhausted by the interest in a that has been his driving force for four years.

Four years ago Mr. Rigg, a Texan who won a scholarship to Cambridge, had planned to become a doctor and was studying pre-med at Yale.

Then he decided to visit Berlin for the summer holidays, knowing that his mother had German ancestors.

Two things happened. He went to see Europa, Europa, the film of Solomon Perel's story about a Jew who hid his identity and fought in the German army. And he discovered he himself was of Jewish descent. At the film, he met an elderly man who told him he too was a man of Jewish descent who enlisted in the German army.

"One month later I made my own discovery of my Jewish past," he said. He learnt enough German to understand birthdates, names and addresses and learnt old German script as well."

But when he finally traced details of his great grand-mother at Leipzig, he was shocked. He had been brought up in Texas "in the Bible-belt, a Protestant."

"Next to her name it said Mosaiche Religion. That meant nothing to me. But when my interpreter gave me the copy, he wrote Jew. It was shocking. It's like someone telling you your grandmother is Chinese when you have no idea. Here I was, in Germany, and I discover this. What would have happened if my great grandparents had not gone from Germany to America? What did it mean for people like this elderly man in the cinema. It snowballed from there."

From that one encounter, he learnt of more people who had Jewish connections yet served with the German military. He returned to Yale, switched to Humanities, and threw himself into research.

"At first my professors were sceptical. I was young. They had been studying the Holocaust for decades. They did not think that I was going to find out anything that they not already know."

Undeterred, he took a year off in Germany going through the archives. "I had to get to these people before they died. Time was crucial. When I took the year off, I had about four or five names. I went to Germany and lived with friends. I had very little money. Yale gave me enough for a few months. I lived very frugally on peanut butter and jam and fruit and vegetables. I made myself survive on 10 or 15 marks a week. I would plan to visit as many as possible in each town to save money.

"I got night trains because they were cheaper. On one visit I had to bike 100 miles from the nearest station to reach a remote village."

The train journeys also provided vital research. "I would always look out for elderly people alone in a cabin. Then I would go in with my huge bag full of documents and cameras, with the tripod sticking out. Naturally they would ask me what was in it and what I was doing. That allowed me to start talking to them."

Mr. Rigg desperately needs funding to continue his research. "I am going to take this as far as I can, and take it to its proper conclusion, if there is one."

All illustrations added by this website

Our opinion

MilchBRIAN RIGG is a fine "shirtsleeves" historian. Note the smugness of his university-scholar superiors who doubted there was more to be learned than they already knew.

David Irving first published the story of Erhard Milch's true parentage in his biography of the Field Marshal [right], "The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe," in about 1967. Milch had shown him a November 1933 letter written by his mother, in which she admitted that their real father was her uncle Carl Bräuer. Bowing to the Milch family's urgent request, however, Mr Irving omitted this curious geneaological detail during their lifetime. After the field marshal's death, he included the facts in his biography of Hermann Göring. Magnificent and detailed research had by then been done into Milch's family origins in Breslau by the late Klaus Herrmann, a Jewish professor at the University of Montreal, who collaborated closely with Mr Irving in his research.

See the 1935 letter

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