London, December 17, 1996, p. 28
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
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
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
The officer drawing up the list
admitted in January 1944 that it was
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
marshal Erhard Milch was a personal
friend of Hermann Goering and the
highest ranking officer found to be of
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
His father, Anton Milch, was
Jewish. The response of the Nazi hierarchy
was to change Milch's
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Rigg has found a
document, dated Aug. 7, 1935, when
Milch was a lieutenant general, in which
"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
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
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.
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.
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
The list of high-ranking officers, he
said, was "a revelation," but "it will not
shatter our views of the Third Reich and
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
"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
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
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
"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
Raised a Bible-belt Protestant, Bryan
Rigg tells Caroline Davies of his
shock when he uncovered the secret of his
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 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, 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
"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
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
"I got night trains because they were
cheaper. On one visit I had to bike 100
miles from the nearest station to reach a
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
illustrations added by this