Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Bryan Mark Rigg has dedicated his craft, so far at least, to the study of a very particular and interesting topic few are familiar with: the “Mischlinge” (“partial-Jews”), referring to the Jewish people who served in the Nazi army. In Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers he delves deep into the topic, documenting the stories and fates of some 150,000 such men and how their lives unfolded while caught between two worlds.
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Bryan Mark Rigg Sheds Light on the Mischlinge
Though we are fast approaching the hundred-years mark for the start of the Second World War, it remains steadfast in our memories, history books and popular culture, hopefully to remain there as a lesson of the terrible deeds humanity is easily capable of.
We might be moving further away from it, but it seems we are never short on new discoveries to make about the time period, especially with the innumerable amount of meticulous documentation done by all sides of the conflict. In his book titled Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Mark Rigg explores the very interesting and relatively-unknown topic of the “Mischlinge”.
As most of you already no-doubt know, one of Hitler‘s biggest goals during his reign at the head of the Third Reich was the extermination of all Jewish people. The mass genocide was planned down to the smallest details, and over six million innocent people perished to it.
However, what the history books don’t really discuss is an unexpected problem encountered by Hitler: the Jewish people had been intermingling with the German population for centuries upon centuries now. The amount of people who had a Jewish heritage of some sort was quite high, and proving or disproving it was a complex affair in many cases. What’s more, it came to Hitler‘s attention many such people would be serving in the Wehrmacht (the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany), and the idea of culling the country’s military forces wasn’t exactly on the table.
As such, Hitler made the decision of creating the afore-mentionned classification of “Mischlinge”, which stands for “partial-Jews”. In Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, Rigg explores the fates of those Mischlinge, which he estimated made up for about 150,000 people in the Nazi army. He takes a look at the various laws made around them, the exemptions they were afforded, how they themselves perceived their own deeds, and how they were treated as the war escalated towards ruin.
The Unseen Elements of the Army
While I was aware of there being Jewish collaborators with Nazi Germany, I can certainly saw I was never aware of this whole situation discussed in the book, and as such I went into this with very little to no specific foreknowledge on the subject. The facts presented by Rigg from the beginning are quite startling and captivating in their own right, especially in regards to the extent of Jewish ancestry among the German people.
He slowly works his way up to the real main topic of this book, ensuring we have a very detailed context through which to interpret all the information he is about to impart on us. By the time we start discussing the effects of the genocide and the laws which gave birth to it on the Mischlinge in the German military, we have everything we need to follow this particular branch of World War II.
At the same time, Rigg doesn’t make a point out of sharing every single little detail he came across in his research, being especially adept at isolating the truly pertinent facts from the rest. Pretty much every piece of information we come across is related to our main subject of discussion.
When the author revealed there had been more than 150,000 people in the German military classified as “partial-Jews”, it felt as if I had fallen through the rabbit hole into a different dimension where the Nazi army had Jewish high-ranking officers and decorated veterans in it. I think Rigg does an exceptional job at diving into the minds of those people, revealing how many of them did not even consider themselves Jewish, but were instead loyal to the military and a rejuvenated Germany.
We learn about how they felt increasingly betrayed by the Wehrmacht; where before Hitler it gave little thought to ethnicity or race, now they were all scrutinized under the microscope. Ultimately, even they could not escape the fate which befell the victims of the Holocaust, for the closer came to its end, the more Nazi politics took over logic and common sense.
The Politics of Extermination
If there is one thing on which the Third Reich can be commended for, it’s the tremendous amount of precise documentation it left behind for us to explore it through. As such, the political aspects of the Holocaust have been documented like few things ever have, and the same goes for the topic at hand.
The author takes a good bit of time to discuss the nature of the politics which prevailed in Nazi Germany, and how the Mischlinge were essentially in direct conflict with the laws of the country, caught in a bit of a No-Man’s-Land; they were destined for death, but also needed for the war effort.
The author also discusses what was perhaps one of the more surprising parts of this book for me: Hitler‘s willingness to sign exceptions to his own genocidal plans, even if he was being purely pragmatic. Indeed, countless documents exist with Hitler‘s own signature on them which prove numerous exemptions were handed out to partially-Jewish soldiers, for anything from allowing them to stay in the army’s ranks to preventing the incarceration or execution of a relative.
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While overtly-speaking, Jewish collaboration with the Nazis seems like an indefensible sort of action, the things we learn in this book paint a somewhat different picture of the situation. Many of them did not even consider themselves Jewish and were only trying to save themselves as well as loved ones from the Nazi regime. Please keep in mind, I do not seek to condemn, condone or excuse their actions, but rather to simply explain and understand them, which is something I feel the author allowed me to do expertly, all things said and done.
The Final Verdict
Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers by Bryan Mark Rigg is one of the more eye-opening and interesting books on lesser-known WWII topics I had the pleasure of reading recently. The author did an exceptional amount of research and, in my opinion, successfully manages to assemble it into an extremely educative and thought-provoking narrative. If you are interested in the Second World War in any capacity, then I firmly believe this is one book you would be glad to have in your library.
Bryan Mark Rigg
Bryan Mark Rigg is an American speaker and author who earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1996 and a doctorate from Cambridge University in 2002 following the reception of a Henry Fellowship.
Following a chance meeting with Peter Millies, an elderly German man, Bryan dedicated his career to the topic of Jewish soldiers in the Nazi army, publishing acclaimed works on the subject such as Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers and Rescued from the Reich.