Fritz Beckhardt

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Fritz Beckhardt
Born 27 March 1889
Wallertheim, Rheinhessen, Germany
Died 13 January 1962(1962-01-13) (aged 72)
Wiesbaden, Germany
Allegiance Germany
Service/branch Infantry, Air Service
Years of service 1907 - 1909, 1914 - 1919
Rank Vizefeldwebel
Awards Grand Duchy of Hesse War Honor Decoration, Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, Iron Cross First and Second Class, Grand Duchy of Hesse Bravery Medal, Bavarian Military Merit Cross, Baden War Merit Cross (Baden), black Wound Badge, Hamburg Field Honor Badge, The Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918

Vizefeldwebel Fritz Beckhardt (27 March 1889 – 13 January 1962), was a German Jewish fighter ace in World War I.[1][2] The Nazis later expunged him from Luftwaffe history because his valorous war record of 17 aerial victories belied their assertions that Jews were inherently cowardly.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Fritz Beckhardt was born in Wallertheim, Rheinhessen, Germany. His father was Abraham Beckhardt.[4]

Prior to World War I, he had worked in a grocery store, then in a menswear warehouse in Hamburg.[5] As part of his apprenticeship in textiles, he worked in Bingen, Hadamar, and Hamburg. During this prewar period, he served in Infanterie-Regiment No. 143 from 1907 to 1909.[4]

By 1914, he was working in an uncle's clothing factory in Marseilles, France. He repatriated himself to Germany to once again serve in the infantry, until 1916.[5]

On 3 August 1914, Beckhardt volunteered to serve in Company 12 of Infanterie-Regiment Graf Bose (1. Thüringisches) Nr. 31. On 30 November, he transferred to Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 86. During his service with this regiment, he earned both the First and Second Class Iron Cross.[4]

Aerial Service[edit]

Fritz Beckhardt at far right of picture, with Bruno Loerzer (centre of picture), his brother Fritz Loerzer, and other members of "Jasta" 26. May 1918.

He then trained as a pilot at FEA 5 at Hannover in January, 1917.[4] His first operational assignment, from 29 August to 14 November 1917, was with FA 3, which flew exceptionally long reconnaissance missions. He transferred to Shusta 11. He attended Jastaschule 1 to upgrade to fighter pilot status. He then went on to Jagdstaffel 26, where he served from 17 February 1918 through to 20 May 1918; Hermann Göring also served in Jasta 26. As well, Göring moved up to command Jagdstaffel 27, which shared many of the same airfields with Jasta 26 over an eight-month period.[6]

Rather ironically, Vizfeldwebel Beckhardt's personal insignia, which was featured on at least three of his airplanes, was a Swastika however, the swastika at that time was not yet an anti-Semitic symbol. Also, Beckhardt's swastika turned the opposite direction as the Nazi symbol.[4][7]

When the armistice ended the war on November 11, 1918, he refused to surrender his fighter plane. Instead, two days later, he flew his Siemens-Schuckert D.III into Switzerland and was interned until 1919.[8]

By war's end, Beckhardt was a member of the League of Jewish Soldiers at the Front.[4]

Between the wars[edit]

In 1926, Beckhardt married Rosa Emma Neumann in Wiesbaden, Germany. He then ran his father-in-law's grocery store until 1934. When the Nazis began their boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933, he moved from the suburb of Sonnenberg, where he had been doing business, to the center of Wiesbaden.[4] There he had a business that specialized in edible oils and fats.[5]

In 1936 he drove a couple of Jewish brothers named Frohwein to the Belgian border so they could flee the Gestapo. The Frohweins later opened a kosher butchery in Golders Green, London.[5]

In 1937 Beckhardt was accused of having sexual relations with a non-Jewish "Aryan" woman. As a result of the trial on 14 December 1937, he was convicted and sent to prison for a year and nine months. After his time in prison he was taken in protective custody to a penal company in Buchenwald concentration camp as prisoner no. 8135. Upon his release in March 1940, it was written in his records by the SS that he had scored 17 victories as a fighter pilot during World War I.[4]

World War II and beyond[edit]

Beckhardt was released in March 1940. Apparently, Hermann Göring had interceded on the grounds of sentiment towards his old comrade in arms. Beckhardt's lawyer, Berthold Guthman, had served with both Göring and Beckhardt during World War I. (Guthman, who was Jewish, died in KZ camp Auschwitz on 29 September 1944).

Fritz and Rosa Emma Beckhardt escaped to neutral Lisbon, Portugal, thence to England. After a brief internment on the Isle of Man, the Beckhardt family reunited and moved in with one of the Froweins. In London he reunited with his two children Kurt and Sue Hilde who had been brought to England by the "Kindertransport"-Organizations (Refugee Children's Movement (RCM)). The RCM had its seat in London, Bloomsbury house. It consisted of many Jewish and Christian organisations.

In 1950, Fritz Beckhardt returned to Wiesbaden and recovered his house and shop and a part of his other property through legal action. He and his son Kurt then opened the first self-serve grocery in Wiesbaden. Fritz Beckhardt ran the grocery until his death on 13 January 1962. His death was caused by several strokes. He and his wife are buried at the cemetery of Wiesbaden - Sonnenberg.[4]

His son Kurt lived in a camp in Barham, Claydon (Suffolk), in different hostels in Sheffield and in Golders Green, London until he returned with his father to Germany. He is now living in Bonn, Germany. His daughter Suse Hilde became a British subject in January 1954 and lived in London.[5][9]

Decorations and awards[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military. Bryan Mark Rigg. University Press of Kansas, 2002. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized Aug 27, 2008. ISBN 0-7006-1178-9, ISBN 978-0-7006-1178-2.
  • American Jewish Year Book. American Jewish Committee, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1916. Original from Harvard University. Digitized Jan 2, 2007.