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Jewish Patriotism in WWI and Post War Germany PART I

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


Photo: German and Austro Hungarian Soldiers, Rabbi, and Nurse observing Chanukah (חנוכה) sometime between Dec 19-27, 1916 (25 Kislev - 2 Tevet 5677). German and Austro-Hungarian Jews saw WWI in the East as a war of liberation for millions of Jews persecuted by the Russians.

 

World War I continues to provide surprising historical details that have been lost or suppressed over time. One revelation is the high level of integration, commitment to the Imperial German cause, patriotism, and participation of Jewish Germans both in the military and civilian sectors.


Both Jewish German men and women were "All In" from the trenches to the homefront. From Rabbis, Orthodox, Secular, Zionist, and every group in between, Jews in Germany were just as patriotic, if not more so at times, than their non-Jewish neighbors.


The embracing of "Germanic" military culture by Jews was retained by many Jewish veterans after the war, especially in the 1930s when the National Socialists attempted to erase the memory of Jewish sacrifice for the Fatherland from the minds of both Germany and the Jewish community.


After reviewing the evidence, the question of how a draft dodging stateless migrant (Adolf Hitler) could, within one year of being given German citizenship, begin to erase and reverse the perceptions and rights of the Jewish Veterans, their families, and fellow patriots becomes even more profound.



JEWISH PARTICIPATION IN THE GERMAN ARMY: BY THE NUMBERS.


Germany, at the dawn of the 20th Century, was known for having the highest rate of integration, including intermarriage, among all the nations of Europe and potentially the United States. (1)

The Jewish population in Germany at the start of WWI was around 550,000, of which about half, 225,000, can be estimated to be males. (2)

Of these 250,000, only a fraction fall within the parameters of qualification for modern military service (age, physical and mental fitness, not required to retain a civilian job due to family hardship or national requirements, etc.). So roughly 100,000 to 150,000 Jews can be estimated to have been eligible for military service.


Photo: German soldiers and child observe Yom Kippur (יום הכיפורים) in Brussels on 18 September 1915 (10 Tishrei 5676).


Despite this small population, the Jewish community provided 100,000 soldiers, 12,000 of whom were killed in action, and 30,000 decorated for bravery, 18,000 of those with Iron Crosses.


This appears to be a higher proportion than similar Christian populations in Germany. It is a far higher percentage than the Jewish commitment to the armies of France, Britain, Russia, or America. For example, comparing the percentage of Jewish participation in the American Army, we see that out of a Jewish population of 2,993,374, only 100,000 had signed up, according to a 1918 survey. This represents only a 3% military participation by American Jews compared to 18% participation in Germany despite having a manpower pool almost 5 times larger.

NOTE: The number of Jewish soldiers in the German army increases if we factor in Jews that converted recently or had a Jewish father. These soldiers would not be considered Jewish by Orthodox or Conservative Jewish tradition. However, they would be classified as "Jewish" after the Nazis took power in Germany in the 1930s. For the purposes of this article, only the Jews that self-identified as such during the German wartime survey will be used, leaving the number at 100,000. This reclassification by the National Socialists may skew the numbers of Jewish veterans arrested, tortured, and murdered by 1945 as there would be an increase in "Jews" who served in WWI according to the National Socialist standards.


Not only did Jews sign up for service, but in many cases, once in the service, they continued to sign up for front-line positions and hazardous duties such as infantry, fighter pilots, and submarines. They were willing to sacrifice on the battlefield continually over 4 years of increasing carnage and horror. Jews were among the earners of the Pour le Merite, Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords, the Iron Cross, and more.


While there are many examples of Jewish military service and heroism, two examples below highlight the record of sacrifice and commitment to the Fatherland during the First World War.


TWO MEMBERS OF THE GERMAN REICHSTAG GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THE FATHERLAND. ONE WAS JEWISH.


The first of only two members of the German Reichstag to die on the front was the Jewish-German Social Democrat Ludwig Frank. Demonstrating that class was no barrier to military service for the broader Jewish community. Frank enlisted in the Army on August 5, 1914, and was assigned to the Mannheim Landwehr Battalion. He had fought against going to war, but once the Russians had mobilized and it became clear that the Entente was not interested in negotiations, he felt the only course was to fight.


The Jewish politician who had fought before the war for a Franco-German rapprochement followed his belief in justice and gave up his political standing to become a military defender of his German homeland. He was killed by French forces near Nossincort, France, on September 3, 1914.

PHOTO: Dem Andenken Ludwig Franks (In Memory of Ludwig Franks) by Otto Hettner. Museum of Modern Art, German Expressionism Collection. More details and source here.

"... I do not know if the French artillery will also respect my parliamentary immunity. I have a burning wish to survive the war and then join in with the rebuilding from within of the German state. But for now the only possible place for me is in the front line with the rank and file" - Jewish Reichstag Member Ludwig Frank KIA in France, September 3, 1914.

THE KAISERS JEWISH EAGLES

Photo: Fritz Beckhardt is one of a hundred Jewish pilots for the Kaiser who exemplify bravery, dedication to service, and patriotism of the Jewish community to Germany in WWI.


While Jews served in all branches and specialties of the Imperial German military, the examples of The Kaisers Jewish Eagles serve to highlight a few examples of the patriotism and martial culture that many Jews exemplified during the period.


There were 100 known Jewish German pilots in World War I. One of these wartime aviators who is a testament to the heroism and dedication of Jewish servicemembers in Germany during World War I is Fritz Beckhardt.


Born in 1889, Beckhardt volunteered for military service before the war in 1907 and served two years as an infantryman in the 143rd Regiment (INF). When World War I broke out, Beckhardt re-enlisted and spent the first two years as an infantryman on the Western Front, earning the Iron Cross twice.


In 1917 he was selected for pilot training and flew recon missions in Fliegerbteilung 3. His skill as a pilot was noted, and in 1918 he was retrained and transitioned to a fighter pilot and was assigned to JagdStaffel 26. Remarkably, in only a few months flying at JagdStaffel 26, he was an air ace with 17 confirmed victories, earning one of only 18 wartime House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords awards, and was personally honored by the Kaiser twice. It is worthy to note that out of only 18 wartime awards of the House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords, 3 were won by Jews, including Beckhardt.

The "Jewish Eagle" for the Kaiser retained the warrior spirit after Germany's surrender. The Jewish ace refused to surrender and instead flew his Siemens-Schuckert DIII into Switzerland.


The Jewish sacrifice and patriotism as soldiers had, in some cases, the effect of dispelling the Anti-Semetic myths that permeated Europe and America during the early 20th Century. The diary of a non-Jewish German officer, Leutnant Rudolf Veek, illustrates this universal process of cohesion forming across perceived peacetime lines while on the front. "Veek told his wife that the antisemitic stereotypes that he had been taught before the war did not make sense at the front. The front experience caused him to criticize the stereotype that Jews were selfish, unmanly cowards...He wrote in October 1914 about three friends in the unit who were Jewish and how they constantly volunteered to go back to the front, even when they were on leave. When one of his Jewish comrades, Schumacher, lost a brother at the front, Veek told his wife how impressed he was by Schumacher's courage. He wrote that though Schumacher was given the opportunity to go on leave to mourn his dead brother, he chose to stay with his comrades at the front." Veek wrote directly to his wife that, "Jews really do give all their courage to fulfill their duty." (5)


Many of the letters from the Jewish soldiers on the front home illustrate the commonality with non-Jewish soldiers of the time. An excellent primary source translation of some of the letters, in addition to more information on the wartime records and correspondence of Jewish knights in WWI is here.

PATRIOTISM ON THE HOMEFRONT


Jewish civilian contributions to the war effort alongside the soldiers and the patriotic volunteerism for Kaiser and the country were no less enthusiastic and pervasive than their brothers in uniform. As Ernst Lissauer, a patriotic Jewish-Prussian poet awarded the Red Eagle by Kaiser Wilhelm II for his early war poems encapsulating the feelings of most Jewish and non-Jewish Germans, noted, it was "Military service of an intellectual kind." (6)


Jewish Women's groups formed associations to support the war and warriors and were enthusiastically contributing to the domestic media campaigns and overseas propaganda that supported Germany’s efforts in the war.


In Beyond Inclusion and Exclusion Jewish Experiences of the First World War in Central Europe, we see the efforts of the homefront Jews that reveal the depth of commitment and belief that the Jewish community in Imperial Germany had for the efforts of the Fatherland in the war. The collective Jewish response was driven in many instances by the hope that the Jewish community had more than their Christian German compatriots to gain from the war. Many Jewish individuals and communities believed that their participation would lead to an enhancement of their civil rights."

Echoing the Kaiser's speech, a Rabbi wrote with hopeful ecumenism from his synagogue on 12 August 1914: “In the German fatherland, there are no longer any Christians and Jews, any believers and disbelievers, there are only Germans. May God allow these great times to become a part of the consciousness of our people and to make us truly united people.” (7)

PHOTO: Pictured with his Catholic and Protestant contemporaries, this Jewish Feldrabbiner (Field/Military Rabbi) was one of 10 German Army Rabbis selected out of 81 volunteers at the start of the war.


The sacrifices of the Jewish patriots were not invisible to Germans on the homefront. As a former Jewish German soldier, Alfred Wiener wrote:


... a leading German Volkish representative, the Munich-based author Dietrich Eckart ... once organized a competition. Anyone who could name a Jewish mother who had three sons in the front line for three weeks would receive a prize of one thousand marks, a considerable sum at that time. When Rabbi Dr (Samuel) Freund from Hanover submitted a list of twenty such families, Eckart declined to pay the promised sum.” However, we can see the legal system in Imperial Germany was on the side of justice for the Jewish patriot families as “He was made to pay because a court judged the claim proved. At the hearing, Dr. Freud demonstrated not only the twenty Jewish families that had three sons at the front line for three weeks, he provided a list of fifty Jewish families who had up to eight sons on the front line of battle for three weeks. “ (8)



PHOTO: Familienblatt Feb 1918. The Jewish Knights who earned the Iron Cross from the Kaiser that month. Online Source



The "intellectual soldiers" duties were not reserved for men. Jewish women were "All In" for the Imperial German war effort as much as their male counterparts. Again, we see the support for the war crossing affiliation lines and Orthodox, Zionist, and Secular. Jewish feminists threw their support in a way that is more reminiscent of participation in America's WWII homefront effort, although in a more organic way. The radical Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (SPD) feminist member Henriette Furth demonstrated commitment to a total war effort by Germany when she made a homefront cookbook and stated: "Just as the men in the army are defending the wellbeing of the fatherland, so we women want to contribute to a victorious outcome to this harsh war by prudent austerity and with a sense of duty for the population as a whole."(9)


Due to Germany's limited agricultural resources and Britain's blockade of food, women on the homefront were on the frontlines in some way. Struggling to maintain both foods on the table and factory floors staffed. The shared struggle produced an elan among both Jewish and non-Jewish German women, just as it deepened the cohesion among Germans of all backgrounds in the trenches. Mally Dienemann was one of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish women involved in the homefront. She joined the Nationaler Frauendienst (Patriotic Womens Group). She wrote that when war broke out, "One awakened from one's peaceful life and realized that everything had been as wonderful as previously thought...By distributing assistance, which I delivered to the homes of soldiers' wives, I was given the opportunity to see the inside of the apartments of working-class families for the very first time. In many cases, I felt appalled by the sights that met me there. I wouldn't have thought that in rich Upper Silesia workers would live like that...We had many losses in the Jewish community, and my husband and I had the impression that these difficult shared experiences linked us with these people much more closely and intimately." (10)


Jenny Wieruszowki, a member of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein (General German Women's Association) who led the youth league, noted her daughter Ruth had "unlimited Patriotism" and "knew all the flags, the pictures of counts and generals." and would demand to go with her mother to the military hospitals and help the troops." (11)

In addition to the two German Women's organizations mentioned above, there was the Judischer Frauenbund (League of Jewish Women) which had 32,000 members who actively supported the war and war efforts on the homefront in line with non-Jewish German middle-class organizations. It even suspended its advocacy work in 1914 to focus on Imperial Germany's war efforts. As their declaration stated, "We want to be a united nation of sisters, not dreading any hardship or danger!" During their intense and pervasive support across class and religious lines, the Jewish women, "intellectual (and social) soldiers," formed bonds among Catholic, Protestant, and secular Germans and German organizations in a unified front to support the needs of German civilians and injured soldiers.


WWI AS A WAR OF LIBERATION FOR JEWS. Despite Lissauer's famous poem focusing anger on England, the Jewish community in Imperial Germany, as well as most Jews in Europe and America, knew of the brutal anti-Semetism and bondage of Jews in Russia and saw the war in the East against the Tzar as a kind of holy war in addition to the nation against nation. Jews faced off against Russia as both German and Jewish patriots.


To be sure, England and France, now aligned with Russia against Germany, did have long histories of government-sanctioned anti-Semetic incidents of their own. England had banished all Jews during the medieval period. Still, more recently, Labor leaders blamed Jews for promoting war, illegal speculation, and famously wanting to banish all British Jews to Palestine. France, of course, had recently attained infamy by the targeting of a Jewish French officer, Alfred Dreyfuss, which had outraged the Jewish community in Europe. These Entente powers internal policies set a contrast to the integration of Jews, however imperfect, in the Imperial German nation and army.


But it was Russia that had institutionalized violence against the Ost Juden (Eastern Jews) that the German and Austro-Hungarian Jewish communities focused most intently on. Kaiser Willhelm's saber was seen as a "sword of G-D" by some Jews to be set against the despotic Entente oppressors in Moscow. As A Deadly Legacy by Tim Grady noted:


"Both Zionists and liberals began to compare the Central Powers (Germany/Austro-Hungary) current fight with the ancient struggles of the Maccabees. In the same way that the Maccabean forces had crushed the ancient Greeks to re-establish Jewish rights in biblical Jerusalem, German Jews were now fighting to free 'Russia and the world from unprecedented tyranny', argued the Zionist Judische Rundschau. In short, Jews were engaged in a new 'holy war' not against Greek but against Russian oppression...the knowledge that they were engaged in a religious war, similar to the heroic struggles of past Jewish history, was supposed to allay their fears." (12)

Jewish relief agencies and political groups were mobilized and deployed in the recently liberated territory to both care for and potentially mobilize the "Eastern Jews" in support of German wartime and hoped-for post-war efforts. The reality was that the Jews under Russian occupation would take a generation of freedom from oppression before they could meaningfully contribute to the region in the minds of Jewish Germans and German administrators alike. The abject poverty and oppression of Russian rule came as a shock to many upper-middle and upper-class Jews that visited the region.


Nevertheless, many leading Jews and Jewish groups in the immediate post-war period fought hard to retain both the lands liberated from Russia as well as, later, to fight against surrendering Prussian lands to a new state of Poland, which was seen by German Jews as just as anti-Semetic as the Russian state they were formed from. Many Jewish leaders fought harder to retain German Prussia in the immediate post-war period than did some non-Jewish Prussians themselves. Jews transferred to so-called "right-wing" paramilitary organizations that were fighting Polish land grabs in the north as well as donating for political and financial resistance. Alfred Weiner noted that many Jewish civic and resistance leaders were among the first victims in the North of the "New Order" in Europe caused by the Entente's draconian post-war machinations. So the years 1914-1918 saw Jews, in some cases, disproportionally support Germany and the German war and hoped for post-war aims. The bonds with non-Jews, both in uniform and on the homefront, had been strengthened.


But despite all of this, just two decades later, these veterans would have the medals earned in combat ripped off their chests by political cosplayers that, in many cases, never served and thrown into concentration camps and killed. The sacrifice and support were all but erased.


How did that happen? We examine some of the little known aspects of this in PART II of this series: Post War Descent: The Long Road.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS


The Jewish stereotypes present in many cultures today, and especially in Germany at the dawn of the 20th Century, were clearly refuted by the facts. Jewish Germans were, at times, more patriotic and dedicated than their non-Jewish brothers and sisters. Yet despite the clear examples of heroism in the trenches and sacrifice on the homefront by the entire Jewish community, the historical record was not only erased but malignantly reversed. Even today in the US, for example, the memory of the Jewish patriots in Germany is "qualified and contextualized" to reduce the scale in some research publications.



NOTES and SOURCES:


1. Jewish authors of the period, such as Ulla Wolff (Hirschfeld) Frankfurter (1850-1924), who wrote prolifically on Jewish life in Germany, reflect tensions internal to Jewish tradition and modernity and showcase Jewish participation at all levels in German society. Her book Simon Eichelkatz. Aus dem Tagebuch eines Arztes (republished in English as Simon Eichelkatz and the Patriarch. Two stories of Jewish Life) provides a window to German Jewish perceptions in Germany and Europe at that time and reflects a Jewish community integrated at all levels with perceptions that Jewish military officers were as natural a guest at a Jewish Seder as the rabbis family. Ulla Wolff's writing is bereft of the later focus on Anti-Semetic tensions in Germany that would appear more commonly post World War I. Modern authors and researchers seem to have a tendency to extend post-war and Nazi period Anti-Semetism into pre-war mainstream culture.


2. The Bureau of Jewish Social Research. (1921). STATISTICS OF JEWS. The American Jewish Year Book, 23, 279–299. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23601050 see also Miriam Rürup, Demographics and Social Structure (translated by Insa Kummer), in Key Documents of German-Jewish History, 22.09.2016. URL: https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-224.en.v1


3. Grady, Tim. A Deadly Legacy German Jews and the Great War. (London: Yale University Press, 2017.), p.41 Interestingly, Lissaur gained wartime fame through famous patriotic poems that singled out England. In Hassgesang gegen England (Hate Song Against England), England was noted as the only nation Germany should hate, mirroring the belief of many Germans, Jews, and Christians alike that Britain had long schemed to destroy Germany as an economic and cultural competitor, and this time was manipulating France and Russia to do most of the dirty work. The poem was criticized by none other than the Anti-Semetic and future Nazi, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who stated, "a fierce hatred of the enemy was a Jewish, rather than a German trait." Coming from the future Nazi, this stands as one of many tragically ironic moments in WWI Jewish history in Germany. His other poem Gott strafe England (May G-D Punish England), became equally famous and was used as late as 1946 as a protest against England.


4. Grady, Tim. A Deadly Legacy German Jews and the Great War. (London: Yale University Press, 2017.), p. 52.


5. Crouthamel, Jason, Michael Geheran, Tim Grady, Julia Barbara Kohne, ed. Beyond Inclusion and Exclusion Jewish Experiences of the First World War in Central Europe. (New York: Berghahn Books, 2019.), p. 242-243


6. Grady, Tim. A Deadly Legacy German Jews and the Great War. (London: Yale University Press, 2017.), p. 41.


7. Crouthamel, Jason, Michael Geheran, Tim Grady, Julia Barbara Kohne, ed. Beyond Inclusion and Exclusion Jewish Experiences of the First World War in Central Europe. (New York: Berghahn Books, 2019.), p. 294.


8. Wiener, Alfred. The Fatherland and the Jews, Two Pamphlets by Alfred Wiener 1919 & 1924. Kindle Version. (London: Granta Publications, 2021.), p.86.


9. Grady, Tim. A Deadly Legacy German Jews and the Great War. (London: Yale University Press, 2017.), p. 52.


10. Crouthamel, Jason, Michael Geheran, Tim Grady, Julia Barbara Kohne, ed. Beyond Inclusion and Exclusion Jewish Experiences of the First World War in Central Europe. (New York: Berghahn Books, 2019.), p. 182.


11. Ibid.,p. 180.


12. Grady, Tim. A Deadly Legacy German Jews and the Great War. (London: Yale University Press, 2017.), p. 41. In addition, the Russian Army’s advance into Austro-Hungary in 1914 was marked by a wave of massacres, rapes, and other atrocities along its route, most notably in Lemberg (now Polish Lvov). Over 400,000 Austrian Jews were displaced by the Russian Army’s brutality, and memories were still very fresh in German and Austrian minds even as they were erased among the Entente nations. German and Austrian Jews knew that many of the Russian military soldiers were now in the newly formed Polish army and were loathe to hand over German territory to an anti-Semitic group. Crouthamel, Jason, Michael Geheran, Tim Grady, Julia Barbara Kohne, ed. Beyond Inclusion and Exclusion Jewish Experiences of the First World War in Central Europe. (New York: Berghahn Books, 2019.) p.257.



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The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most notorious and widely distributed antisemitic publication of modern times. It lies about Jews, (that Jews are scheming to control the world) and despite being repeatedly discredited by scholars the Protocols remains in the psyches of the those who want "proof" to back anti-semitic assertions. The Protocols are similar to the so-called "Tanaka Chronicles," which claimed the Japanese were plotting to take over the world. And once presented to the public as FACT it is hard to eradicate, because once it takes hold, every action can be interpreted as more proof of a Jewish or Japanese plot to control the globe.

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Hitomi Nagayama
Hitomi Nagayama
Nov 14, 2023

This is thought-provoking.

I would like to hear your opinion on this blog by a Jewish American. The Jewish American Dilemma - Kunstler

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Hitomi Nagayama
Hitomi Nagayama
Nov 18, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for your reply. I am very happy to talk with you again.

Your article is always educational for me.

I am looking forward to your next post.

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