On the murderous road to "racial purity" Hitler encountered unexpected detours, largely due to his own crazed views and inconsistent policies regarding Jewish identity. After centuries of Jewish assimilation and intermarriage in German society, he discovered that eliminating Jews from the rest of the population was more difficult than he'd anticipated. As Bryan Mark Rigg shows in this provocative new study, nowhere was that heinous process more fraught with contradiction and confusion than in the German military. Contrary to conventional views, Rigg reveals that a startlingly large number of German military men were classified by the Nazis as Jews or "partial-Jews" (Mischlinge
), in the wake of racial laws first enacted in the mid-1930s. Rigg demonstrates that the actual number was much higher than previously thought--perhaps as many as 150,000 men, including decorated veterans and high-ranking officers, even generals and admirals.
As Rigg fully documents for the first time, a great many of these men did not even consider themselves Jewish and had embraced the military as a way of life and as devoted patriots eager to serve a revived German nation. In turn, they had been embraced by the Wehrmacht, which prior to Hitler had given little thought to the "race" of these men but which was now forced to look deeply into the ancestry of its soldiers.
The process of investigation and removal, however, was marred by a highly inconsistent application of Nazi law. Numerous "exemptions" were made in order to allow a soldier to stay within the ranks or to spare a soldier's parent, spouse, or other relative from incarceration or far worse. (Hitler's own signature can be found on many of these "exemption" orders.) But as the war dragged on, Nazi politics came to trump military logic, even in the face of the Wehrmacht's growing manpower needs, closing legal loopholes and making it virtually impossible for these soldiers to escape the fate of millions of other victims of the Third Reich.
Based on a deep and wide-ranging research in archival and secondary sources, as well as extensive interviews with more than four hundred Mischlinge and their relatives, Rigg's study breaks truly new ground in a crowded field and shows from yet another angle the extremely flawed, dishonest, demeaning, and tragic essence of Hitler's rule.