Judenzählung (German for "Jewish census") was a measure instituted by the German Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL) in October 1916, during the upheaval of World War I. Designed to confirm accusations of the lack of patriotism among German Jews, the census disproved the charges, but its results were not made public. However, its figures were leaked out, being published in an antisemitic brochure. The Jewish authorities, who themselves had compiled statistics which considerably exceeded the figures in the brochure, were not only denied access to the government archives but also informed by the Republican Minister of Defense that the contents of the antisemitic brochure were correct. In the atmosphere of growing antisemitism, many German Jews saw "the Great War" as an opportunity to prove their commitment to the German homeland.
The census was seen as a way to prove that Jews were betraying the Fatherland by shirking military service. According to Amos Elon,
"In October 1916, when almost three thousand Jews had already died on the battlefield and more than seven thousand had been decorated, War Minister Wild von Hohenborn saw fit to sanction the growing prejudices. He ordered a "Jew census" in the army to determine the actual number of Jews on the front lines as opposed to those serving in the rear. Ignoring protests in the Reichstag and the press, he proceeded with his head count. The results were not made public, ostensibly to "spare Jewish feelings." The truth was that the census disproved the accusations: 80 percent served on the front lines."
The official position was that the census was intended to discredit growing anti-semitic sentiments and rumors. However, the evidence indicated that the government's intention was the opposite: to acquire confirmation of the purported ill deeds.
There was a long history of Jews in Germany being discriminated against, oppressed, and denied rank within the military and other government institutions. This fact disproves the "less than eager to serve" attitude of Jews in Germany.
Results and reactions
The episode marked a shocking moment for the Jewish community, which had passionately backed the War effort and displayed great patriotism; many Jews saw it as an opportunity to prove their commitment to the German homeland. Over 100,000 had served in the Army; 12,000 perished in battle, while another 35,000 were decorated for bravery.
That their fellow countrymen could turn on them was a source of major dismay for most German Jews, and the moment marked a point of rapid decline in what some historians called "Jewish-German symbiosis." Judenzählung, denounced by German Jews as a "statistical monstrosity", was a catalyst for intensified antisemitism. The episode also led increasing numbers of young German Jews to accept Zionism, as they realized that full assimilation into German society was unattainable.
German Jewish writer Arnold Zweig, who had volunteered for the army and seen action in the rank of private in France, Hungary and Serbia, was stationed at the Western Front when the Judenzählung census was undertaken. Zweig wrote in a letter to Martin Buber, dated February 15:
"The Judenzählung was a reflection of unheard sadness for Germany's sin and our agony... If there was no antisemitism in the Army, the unbearable call to duty would be almost easy."
Shaken by the experience, Zweig began to revise his views on the war and to realize that it pitted Jews against Jews. Later he described his experiences in the short story Judenzählung vor Verdun and became an active pacifist.
- "Deutsche Jüdische Soldaten” Bavarian National Exhibition
- Antisemitism in Germany Post World War 1 Archived 2008-10-03 at the Wayback Machine. The Florida Holocaust Museum
- S. Friedlaender, Redemptive Anti-Semitism Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine Source: S. Friedlaender, Chapter 3 in: Nazi Germany and the Jews, Vol. I - The Years of Persecution 1933-1939, (New York 1997), pp. 73-112. (Yad Vashem History of the Holocaust, a collaboration between the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem and Drew University, Madison New Jersey.
- Elon, Amos (2002): The Pity of It All. Metropolitan Books. p.338. The author cites the following sources for his numbers:
- R. Vogel: Ein Stück von uns: Deutsche Juden in deutschen Armeen, 1813-1976, Mainz, 1977, p.149
- Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 19 (1974): p.143.
- Die Zeit, http://www.zeit.de/1996/42/Dazu_haelt_man_fuer_sein_Land_den_Schaedel
- Amos Elon (2002) The Pity Of It All. A History of Jews in Germany 1743-1933, pp. 340. ISBN 0-8050-5964-4
- Die Judischen Gefallenen A Roll of Honor Commemorating the 12,000 German Jews Who Died for their Fatherland in World War I.
- "About 10,000 volunteered for duty, and over 100,000 out of a total German-Jewish population of 550,000 served during World War One. Some 78% saw front-line duty, 12,000 died in battle, over 30,000 received decorations, and 19,000 were promoted. Approximately 2,000 Jews became military officers and 1,200 became medical officers". (Rigg, Bryan: Hitler's Jewish Soldiers, p.72)
- See Fritz Stern
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- Noah William Isenberg: Between Redemption and Doom. The Strains of German-Jewish Modernism p.59-60 
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- Iron Cross and Star of David: Jewish Soldiers in German Armies (Inhaltsangabe zu Michael Bergers Buch, englisch) Von „de:Judenzählung“
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- Chickering, Rodger, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914-1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004
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- (in German) Feldman, Gerald D., "Die Massenbewegungen der Arbeiterschaft in Deutschland am Ende des Ersten Weltkrieges 1917-1920" in: Politische Vierteljahrschrift; 1972
- (in German) Ullrich, Volker Die Zeit. "Dazu hält man für sein Land den Schädel hin!" - Mitten im Ersten Weltkrieg, am 11. Oktober 1916, wurde im deutschen Heer eine Judenzählung angeordnet. Zehntausende treuer Frontsoldaten fühlten sich in ihrer Ehre verletzt. Der Traum von deutsch-jüdischer Symbiose war zerstört.
- (in German) Franz Rosenzweig über die am 16. Oktober 1916 vom Kriegsministerium angeordnete "Judenzählung" an seine Mutter, 16. Februar 1917