An Eye-Opening Number Of German Soldiers In WWII Had Jewish Lineage

During the late 1930s and early 1940s the last place that a person of Jewish descent would want to be was in Germany. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime had risen to power by 1933, and by 1935 had passed the Nuremberg Laws (aka N├╝rnberg Laws), per Britannica. This set of laws stripped Jewish people in Germany of their citizenship and made marriage or relations with anyone of German blood illegal, according to History and Britannica. Laws of this type were just the beginning of the persecution of the Jewish population.

Hitler had a known obsession with race, the concept of "ethnic purity" and the idea of a superior Aryan race. He was so focused on turning his ideas into reality that he started World War II to make it happen. Police forces like the GESTAPO and Germany's military forces were used to persecute, torture, and execute millions of Jewish people and anyone else they deemed "undesirable." With such a heavy focus on eradicating the Jewish population, many would be surprised to learn that there were a large number of soldiers in the German military who were actually of Jewish lineage.

How And Why They Were In The German Military

One question about something like this would probably be: How did anyone of Jewish descent get into a military that hated them? According to Tablet, some of these men were drafted, while others actually enlisted of their own free will. There were many potential reasons that they may have done this. Some placed their duty to their country over their faith. There were others who didn't actually see themselves as Jewish, due to being only part Jewish or not adhering to religious practices. Others might have believed that their military service might save them or their families down the line.

Many of those who served in the German military kept their heritage a closely-guarded secret. There were some among them, though, that managed to still remain observant of their religious faith and practices, like praying. Doing something like that was particularly dangerous: if it was revealed that you had Jewish blood, there could be dire and deadly consequences.

Many Had Jewish Lineage

When it comes to the actual number of men believed to be of Jewish heritage who served, the number is quite staggering. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, researcher Bryan Rigg said, "Thousands of men of Jewish descent and hundreds of what the Nazis called 'full Jews' served in the military with Hitler's knowledge. The Nazis allowed these men to serve but at the same time exterminated their families." Astoundingly, some of them became high ranking officers. Most surprisingly though, is that Hitler knew their ethnic backgrounds, and let them serve anyway.

Though many were allowed to serve, and a few made it into respected positions, it did not fully protect them. While they worked to further Hitler's vision for Germany, many of their families and friends were being exterminated. By 1940 a command came down to eliminate all Jewish blood from the German military ranks (per Tablet). Some of these men were eventually granted exemptions from Hitler when it came to their ancestry. There were others to whom fate was not so kind, and their service to the Third Reich is an often forgotten part of history.