German Jewish military personnel of World War I

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An estimated 100,000 German Jewish military personnel served in the German Army during World War I, of whom 12,000 were killed in action. The Iron Cross was awarded to 18,000 German Jews during the war.[1]

While strong attempts were made during the Nazi era to suppress the Jewish contribution and even to blame them for Germany's defeat, using the stab-in-the-back myth, the German Jews who served in the German Army have found recognition and renewed interest in German publications.[1][2][3]


Pre-World War I[edit]

German Jews serving in the military predates the formation of the second German Empire in 1871, Jews having served in the Prussian Army in the German Campaign of 1813, the "Wars of Liberation". Meno Burg became the highest ranking German Jew in the Prussian Army in the 19th century, reaching the rank of Major. Jews continued to serve in the Prussian Army during the Second Schleswig War (1864), the Austro-Prussian War (1866), and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). After the establishment of the Empire in 1871, Jews in the Prussian Army did not receive the anticipated equal rights; they were barred from government positions and officer ranks, while other German states like Hamburg and the Kingdom of Bavaria were more liberal.[2] Between 1880 and 1910, up to 30,000 German Jews served in the Prussian Army, but none were promoted to the rank of officer. However, among the 1,500 Jews who converted to Christianity, 300 were promoted.[4]

World War I[edit]

Tombstone of Zalmen Berger (d. 1915), a Jewish soldier who fell while serving in the German army during World War I, Jarosław, Poland.
Feldrabbiner Aaron Tänzer during World War I, with the ribbon of the Iron Cross and a Star of David, 1917
Fritz Beckhardt in his Siemens-Schuckert D.III fighter of Jasta 26; the reversed swastika insignia was a good luck symbol.
Poster in memory of 12,000 German Jewish Soldiers who died in world war I (1920)
Jewish war veterans entering synagogue for service to honor the war dead; Munich 1935

Some Jews did fear marginalisation as the German public enthusiastically geared up for the Great War, but once the war began such attitudes dissipated and the general reaction of Germany's Jewry was to greet the war with enthusiasm.[5] With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the situation drastically changed for German Jews in the military. At the start of the war, 12,000 German Jews volunteered for the German Army. Of the 100,000 Jews who served with the German military, 70,000 fought at the front line, 12,000 were killed in action, and 3,000 were promoted to officer ranks,[2] but they could only become officers of the reserve, not the regular army.[6] The Iron Cross was awarded to 18,000 German Jews during the war, of which 1,000 received the first class award. Jewish-born Wilhelm Frankl became the first member of the flying corps to be awarded the Pour le Mérite.[1] The anti-semitic Judenzählung of 1916 disgusted many German Jewish soldiers, being aimed at falsely proving that Jews were trying to avoid military service.[2] For many German Jews, the war held the hope of being treated equal to non-Jewish Germans for the first time. Many Jews also held strong patriotic feelings for Germany and the belief that the war in the East against the Russian Empire would bring the liberation of their fellow Eastern European Jews from pogroms and persecution.[7]

Immediately with the outbreak of the war, the Federation of German Jews requested the introduction of Feldrabbiner (English: Field Rabbis), rabbis dedicated to military chaplaincy in the German Army, something that had not existed before in the German Empire. In August 1914, eighty-one German rabbis volunteered to serve as Field Rabbis, and the first seven, among them Leo Baeck, entered service the following month. On the Eastern Front, with the approval of the German High Command, the rabbis also served the local Jewish population, not just the German Jewish soldiers.[8]

Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany[edit]

The Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten was formed in 1919 with the aim of helping veterans as well as promoting the sacrifice of the German Jewish community during the conflict. After the rise of the Nazis to power in 1933, Jewish veterans were initially protected against dismissal from government jobs after an intervention on their behalf by German President Paul von Hindenburg, but this changed in 1935 after his death.[9] After the events of the Kristallnacht in 1938, the federation stopped its activities and advised its members, almost 40,000, to emigrate from Germany. The veterans who remained in Germany, also initially released after arrests during the Kristallnacht, received no special treatment after this, being deported to concentration camps and murdered like other Jewish German citizens. The Nazis attempted to eradicate all evidence of Jewish soldiers fighting for Germany in World War I.[2][1]

After World War II[edit]

In 1968 the Jewish authorities in Germany decided to mark the 3,000 known Jewish war graves of the Western Front of World War I with special markers bearing the Star of David and a Hebrew inscription.[1] The names of the 12,000 Jewish war dead had been published under the direction of Leo Löwenstein in a book published in 1932, titled Die Jüdischen Gefallenen.[10] A book consisting of letters sent home by Jewish soldiers during the war was published by the West German Bundeswehr in 1961.[6]

In 2006, on the eve of the 68th anniversary of the Kristallnacht, soldiers of the Bundeswehr formed the Bund jüdischer Soldaten, a federation of Jewish soldiers in the German Army, similar to the former Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten.[3] While few German Jews joined the West German Army after the Second World War, descendants of people who suffered through the Nazi persecution having been exempt from national service, by 2014 the Bundeswehr had around 250 German Jewish soldiers in its ranks again.[4]

List of German Jewish military personnel[edit]

Notable German Jewish military personnel of World War I, sorted by surname in alphabetical order:

Name Born Died Notes
Leo Baeck 1873 1956 Feldrabbiner in the German Army, president of the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden, survivor of the Theresienstadt concentration camp[11]
Fritz Beckhardt 1889 1962 Vizefeldwebel, Fighter ace in World War I, awarded the House Order of Hohenzollern[12]
Rudolf Callmann 1892 1976 German lawyer and World War I veteran[13]
Emanuel Carlebach [de] 1874 1927 Feldrabbiner in the German Army[14]
Ludwig Frank 1874 1914 Member of the German Reichstag, killed in action[1]
Otto Frank 1889 1980 Leutnant, Father of Anne Frank[15]
Wilhelm Frankl 1893 1917 Leutnant, First member of the flying corps to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, killed in action[1]
Hirsch Gradenwitz [de] 1876 1943 Feldrabbiner in the German Army, murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp[8]
Berthold Guthmann 1893 1944 Served in German Air Force in World War I; murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp[16]
Hugo Gutmann 1880 1962 Leutnant, Adolf Hitler's superior officer in 1918 who nominated the latter for the Iron Cross[6]
Bruno Italiener [de] 1881 1956 Feldrabbiner in the German Army[17]
Siegfried Klein [de] 1882 1944 Feldrabbiner in the German Army, murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp
Victor Klemperer 1881 1960 Romance Languages scholar, his diary of his life in Nazi Germany is an important historic source, author of LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii
de:Richard Lachmann 1885 1916 Awarded the Iron Cross at Fort Souville, was later killed in action with the 3. Jäger-Regimentsnear at Carny Czeremos in the Carpathian Mountains. Founding member of the de:Paläontologische Gesellschaft (Paleontological Society of Germany)
Kurt Landauer 1884 1961 German World War I veteran and president of FC Bayern Munich on four occasions between 1913 and 1951
Paul Lazarus [de] 1888 1951 Feldrabbiner in the German Army[8]
Ernst Levy 1881 1968 German World War I veteran of 1. Garde-Feldartillerie-Regiment and Professor of Roman Law.
Leo Löwenstein [de] 1879 1956 Hauptmann, founder of the Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten, survivor of the Theresienstadt concentration camp[2][18]
David Mannheimer [de] 1863 1919 Feldrabbiner in the German Army[17]
Julius Marx Leutnant, had his war diaries published in 1964[2]
Edmund Nathanael 1889 1917 Offiziersstellvertreter, Fighter ace in World War I, awarded the House Order of Hohenzollern, killed in action[12]
Leopold Rosenak [de] 1868 1923 Feldrabbiner in the German Army, opened a Jewish school in occupied Kowno during the war[19]
Willi Rosenstein 1892 1949 Leutnant, Fighter pilot in World War I[16]
Friedrich Rüdenberg 1892 1977 Fighter pilot in World War I[16]
Martin Salomonski [de] 1881 1944 Feldrabbiner in the German Army, murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp[4]
Hugo Schiff [de] 1892 1986 Feldrabbiner in the German Army
Karl Schwarzschild 1873 1916 German physicist, astronomer, and World War I veteran
Jacob Sonderling 1878 1964 Feldrabbiner in the German Army[20]
Aaron Tänzer 1871 1937 Chaplain, Feldrabbiner in the German Army, volunteered and served at the Eastern Front for three years[21]
David Alexander Winter [de] 1878 1953 Feldrabbiner in the German Army[22]
Josef Zippes Youngest volunteer of the German Army[1]

In fiction[edit]

Avi Primor, formerly the ambassador of Israel to Germany, published a novel based on letters from Jewish soldiers titled Süß und ehrenvoll (English: Sweet and honourable), describing the experiences of two Jewish soldiers in World War I, one fighting for Germany, the other for France.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Deutsche jüdische Soldaten" [German Jewish soldiers]. (in German). Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Jüdische Soldaten in deutschen Armeen" [Jewish soldiers in the German Armies]. (in German). Der Spiegel. 18 January 2008. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Bund jüdischer Soldaten website" [Federation of Jewish soldiers]. (in German). Bund jüdischer Soldaten. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "Jüdische Soldaten in der Bundeswehr" [Jewish soldiers in the Bundeswehr]. (in German). Deutschlandfunk. 12 April 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  5. ^ Tim Grady (2017). A Deadly Legacy: German Jews and the Great War. Yale University Press. pp. 25–26. ISBN 978-0-300-19204-9. At a time of national crisis, some sections of Jewish communities feared being pushed to the margins amidst a wave of patriotic fervour. German Jews, whose response to the July crisis had spanned a gamut of emotions, managed to project an image of unified war enthusiasm once the conflict was in full swing.
  6. ^ a b c d "Jüdische Soldaten im Ersten Weltkrieg" [Jewish soldiers in the First World War]. (in German). Der Spiegel. 29 June 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  7. ^ "12.000 jüdische Soldaten fielen für Kaiser Wilhelm" [12,000 Jewish soldiers died for Emperor Wilhelm]. (in German). Die Welt. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b c ""Ich stehe als Feldrabbiner zur Verfügung"" [I'm available as a field rabbi]. (in German). Paul Lazarus Stiftung. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  9. ^ "The German-Jewish Soldiers of the First World War". History Today. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  10. ^ "Introduction to Die Judischen Gefallenen". Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  11. ^ "Der Hirte der Verfolgten" [The shepherd of the persecuted]. (in German). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 5 November 2007. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  12. ^ a b "Der Jude mit dem Hakenkreuz. Meine deutsche Familie" [The Jew with the Swastika. My German Family.]. (in German). Archived from the original on September 8, 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  13. ^ Stiefel, Ernst C.; Mecklenburg, Frank (1991). "Rudolf Callmann". Deutsche Juristen im amerikanischen Exil (1933–1950) (in German). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 126–127. ISBN 3-16-145688-2.
  14. ^ "Emanuel Carlebach". (in German). Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  15. ^ "Otto Frank Biography". Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  16. ^ a b c "World War I German Jewish Fighter Aces". Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  17. ^ a b Berger, Michael (2006). Eisernes Kreuz und Davidstern – Die Geschichte Jüdischer Soldaten in Deutschen Armeen [Iron Cross and Star of David: The history of Jewish soldiers in the German Armies] (PDF) (in German). Berlin: Trafo-Verlag. ISBN 3-89626-476-1.
  18. ^ "er Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (RjF)". (in German). Lebendiges Museum Online. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Hochdekoriert, dann deportiert" [Highly decorated, then deported]. (in German). Deutschlandradio. 24 June 2009. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Jacob Sonderling". (in German). Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  21. ^ "Wer war Dr. Aron Tänzer?" [Who was Dr. Aron Tänzer?]. (in German). Südwest Presse. 3 November 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  22. ^ "David Alexander Winter". (in German). Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Retrieved 26 February 2016.

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