Jewish Life in Germany: How Some Mischlinge Survived the Holocaust
by Mark Enmeier
Jews in the German Army
In the story Europa Europa, Shlomo Perel tells an extraordinary tale of how he survived the Nazi Holocaust. After escaping the German occupation of Poland by fleeing to the Russian side, he was later captured by the Germans as they advanced into Russia. Once captured, he pretended to be German and was recruited as a German soldier. The commander of his unit liked him so much that he was sent to a prestigious Hitler Youth program, keeping his identity secret until the end of the war. It is a tale of survival at the cost of disowning one’s own heritage and of helping those who ultimately persecute your relatives. My question is, was this a single case? Did other Jews join the ranks of the army or deny their heritage in order to survive? In his book Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Rigg: Hitler's Jewish Soldiers." In his book Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Rigg looks at the particular case of the Mischlinge (the half-Jews and quarter-Jews), and how they lived and were treated during the Nazi Regime. His book gives new insight into how this large ethnic population was viewed during the Holocaust, and how they viewed themselves. In focusing on the Mischlinge who served in the Nazi army, we come to a realization of how deep personal beliefs in one's heritage will go, as well as what others will do in order to survive.
Many people assume that there were no Jews in the Wehrmacht . Rigg adequately proves that this is far from the truth. "Although the exact number of Mischlinge who fought for Germany during World War II cannot be determined, they probably numbered more than 150,000." (Rigg, Mark. Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, University Press of Kansas, 2002) Rigg came to this number by searching through hundreds of German documents which listed names of men in the army with ‘half-Jewish’ ancestry, as well as lists of exemptions for these Mischlinge. If this number is correct, the question arises as to why these Mischlinge would help to fight for a regime that openly persecuted them? Rigg tries to answer that question by answering other questions and issues such as, who is a Jew? Who is a Mischling? Jewish assimilation in Germany, a history of German and Austrian Jews who served in their countries’ armed forces, the regulations for Jews and Mischling in the Wehrmacht, and official exemptions from racial persecution offered by Hitler himself.
The Nazi regime had sole control in deciding who was Jewish and who was not when it came to their documentation in identity, as well as who was a Mischlinge. However, an individuals definition of what it meant to be Jewish may be different. For instance, Hitler argued that the Jewish father passed as much Jewsihness to a child as a Jewish mother (Rigg, 16). However, the Jewish tradition of Hekel states that they inherit their Jewishness from the mother’s side (Rigg, 7) Mischlinge, was an even more confused definition, as it implied that one was also half German. It was in determining which half was more "prominent" that determined one’s identity.
One answer to why some "half-Jews" joined the army may be that some of the Mischlinge did not think of themselves as Jewish. Rigg summarizes what one "half-Jewish" survivor, Helmut Kruger, had to say about his ancestry:
He struggled for twelve years to convince the Nazis he was not Jewish but rather a loyal German Patriot…Kruger insists that he had nothing to do with his mother’s Jewishness. He was born German and raised as a Christian. Kruger dislikes being called a Jew, not because he is anti-Semitic, but because he does not feel Jewish. Kruger believes that he is just Helmut Kruger, born a German not by choice but by chance to a German-Jewish mother who, like many Jews, assimilated and shed her Jewishness to integrate fully into the dominant society. Krguer’s opinion is common among Mischlinge. (Rigg, 11)
Apparently many Mischlinge did not feel that half of their ancestry should be reason enough to be considered a Jew over being a German. Moreover, they were truly passionate Germans. Many like Kruger joined the ranks of the Wehrmacht in order to prove their "Aryanhood," and be considered normal. One German Mischling wrote this to his grandmother, "Don’t you realize how much I’m with my whole being rooted in Germany. My life would be very sad without my homeland, without the wonderful German art, without the belief in Germany’s powerful past and the powerful future that awaits Germany." (Rigg, 28) These Mischlinge thought of themselves as fully German, they were not trying to hide their ancestry, but mainly trying to show that they did not believe in it. One "half-Jew," Hans Pollack, learned of his Jewish ancestry in 1935. Rigg writes:
He had read about Jews in school and the press and felt upset to be associated with the. ‘I tell you honestly, I don’t like Jews…That’s correct. I would never do anything to a Jew, I must also tell you that, because the Jew is also a human being…When I get to know a Jew, he’s no longer a Jew, but a mensch like you and me. (Rigg, 24)
Hans, like so many others, did not identify himself as being Jewish. They went to join the ranks of the Wehrmacht to prove their loyalty to the German people as faithful Germans, not to escape the fate of being Jewish.
Many Mischlinge, however, followed the same path as Shlomo Peril, that is, hiding by disowning their religious affiliation.
Field Marshal and State Secretay of Aviation Erhard Alfred Richard Oskar Milch’s "Aryanization" was the most famous case of a Mischling falsifying a father. In 1933, Frau Clara Milch went to her son-in-law, Fritz Heinrich Hermann, police president of Hagen and later SS general, and gave him an affidavit stating that her deceased uncle, Carl Brauer, rather than her Jewish husband, Anton Milch, had fathered her six children.… In 1935, Hitler accepted the mother’s testimony… (Rigg, 29)
This testimony of incest was accepted as a means to save her son’s life, thus making him pure Aryan and able to serve the Luftwaffe. Ironically, Brigg later says that there was suspicion that Milch’s mother was also Jewish, making the Field Marshal and Secretary of Aviation a full blooded Jew. It is also interesting to note that incest was seen as more socially acceptable then being a Jew. Through his mother’s own testimony Milch was able to hide his ancestry, and thus survive the war as a top commander.
Many more Mischlinge soldiers had to hide their ancestry in order to stay in the army and avoid persecution. Many Aryan mothers would testify that they had affairs with other Aryan men instead of their Jewish husbands. Others, like Joachim Lowen, decided to attack their mother’s virtue in order to hide their blood. "My own brother went to the Gestapo and claimed that our mother was a slut and had been a prostitute. The Gestapo reviewed our case and declared us deutschblutig (of German blood)." (Rigg, 31) These two brothers were then able to hide their ancestry by defaming their mother and continuing to serve in the army.
Other Mischlinge went to serve in the army not to save or hide themselves, but rather to save their Jewish relatives. Three Mischlinge brothers joined the army in order to save their Jewish mother, whom their Aryan father had divorced her because she was Jewish and he might have lost his business. "He (Unteroffizier Gunther Scheffler) hoped that as long as one of them served in the Wehrmacht, the Gestapo would leave their mother alone. Helena survived the war." Through proving themselves as strong soldiers and valuable to the German people, these three brothers were able to save their mother.
In the end there are numerous examples of Mischlinge who decided that the best way for survival was to prove their Aryanhood. The army, for many, was one successful way to prove their worth to society, and consequently, to survive.
Interesting how Milch's mother falsified his parentage by claiming incest.