February 24, 2003

Jewish German Patriots and Jewish Soldiers

Reviled, Disregarded, Rejected

The Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (Reich Union of Jewish Frontline Soldiers; RJF), Jewish war veterans' union was founded February 1919 by forty Jewish ex-frontline soldiers led by Capt. Leo Löwenstein. The RJF's founders' goal was to thwart the rigid prejudice that Jews shunned military service or held only posts behind the lines in the army. It practised political neutrality in internal Jewish political and religious affairs, but saw Zionism and its Jewish national goals as an opponent. The RJF made it clear that its goal was full integration of the Jews into German society, breaking down the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans and emphasizing that Jews had fully shared the war experience. It stated that, since twelve thousand Jewish soldiers had given their lives in the war, the Jews had fulfilled their duty to Germany and made the same, if not greater, sacrifices as their gentile comrades.

Feldrabbiner Dr. Siegfried Klein
(born 1882, murdered in
Auschwitz 1944)

Jewish contributions to German war efforts were not new. By actively participating in the wars, the patriotic Jewish soldiers, who as early as during the wars of liberation against Napoleon, volunteered to serve "fatherland and monarch", tried to emancipate and improve the overall situation of the Jews. To not much avail, as it turned out. Soon after the end of every war, strong anti-Semitic reactions occured, at first religiously motivated, but by the end of the 19th century more and more with racist motivation.

Despite these many bitter and frustrating experiences, most German Jews remained passionate patriots. At the outbreak of World War I they saw a good opportunity to prove their patriotism, loyalty, military efficiency and courage.
When the war began, many patriot Jews from all over Germany joined the military. The adequacy of the Jewish soldiers can be proven statistically: Out of 84,352 Jewish soldiers, 29,874 (=35.42 percent) were decorated. 19,545 (=23.17 percent) were promoted, out of these 2,022 (=2.4 percent) became officers, all that in a time when there were still rigid anti-Semitic prejudices prevailing in the military. 

1921 the RJF launched a journal, Der Schild ("The Shield"). Political in orientation but non-partisan, it sought to fend off anti-Semitic attacks and to represent the position of Jewish veterans of World War I. Der Schild promoted conservative values, patriotism, military distinction, discipline and physical fitness.

Even after the Nazis' rise to power in 1933, Jewish Groups continued to pledge themselves to a fatherland bent on destroying them. On December 8, 1934 already, the patriotic Jewish youth group Schwarzes Fähnlein was disbanded and this at a time when the Third Reich still had a public policy of allowing separate Jewish cultural units to exist. On November 23rd, 1935, the Deutscher Vortrupp, another patriotic group, was also banned. Both organisations were Jewish and passionately German nationalist.

When the Reichsbund was disbanded in 1938, the majority of its members had already left Germany.

The Central Verein (C.V.), the major German Jewish representative body, was also a target of harassment and eventually closed down. Again, the C.V., representing the majority of Germany Jews, was fiercely patriotic and refused to accept a position of separateness in a nation they loved and had served.

Nazism turned on those specifically because it could not tolerate German patriotism and a soldierly attitude amongst Jews, as it went against the anti-Semitic myths.

"It is... a duty imposed by God and no less holy than all the others, in whatever land they shall dwell in, not only to fulfil all the duties which the laws of that land explicitly lay down, but over and above that, to do with thoughts, word an deed everything that can contribute to the weal of the nation.... to give honestly and  joyously all that the community demands for the common good from the individual in the way of treasure, energy and wisdom" (Horeb, PP. 460-462).

It is one of the most cruel ironies of history that in the country where Jews tried the hardest to be patriots the most evil persecution of Jews happened.
The relationship between the German army and the Jewish-German soldiers of World War I is one of the most shameful chapters of German military history. The Jewish-German soldiers not only were abandoned by their former "comrades", but they were humiliated, abused and killed in concentration camps by former soldiers of World War I.

It is patently obvious that those who hide behind "anti-Zionism" to deny - in effect - Israel her right of existence act, deliberately or subconsciously, in the same spirit like those who answered with an anti-Semitic backlash to any Jewish patriotic or military effort throughout history, because the contemptible image of Jewish help- and homelessness was and is deeply ingrained in the gentile mind and part of the Anti-Semitic formulae that are handed down between us from generation to generation.

I have often asked myself why Ariel Sharon attracts so much personal spite and enmity, even down to his personal, admittedly overweight, appearance, and that when his direct opponent Arafat is not exactly an Adonis but rather looks like a vile "Stürmer"-cartoon. There is a lot that can be said against his politics, from both sides of the political spectrum, but that is not the reason.

The reason is, I think, that even the chunky old man still echoes the image of the dashing young war god because he, in spite of some additional 30 years and 50 kilos, still looks as if he weren't scared of anybody or anything in the world and could and would, if they'd only let him, STILL sent the Arabs flying, like he did in 1973, when only US and USSR intervention saved the Third Egyptian Army from certain destruction in the Yom Kippur War.

His "Sharon Maneuvre", through which he achieved that, is still taught at Military Academies around the world.

Jews are not supposed to be like that!

The Journalist Uri Dan, Israel corespondent for The New York Post wrote about Sharon, remembering the Yom Kippur War: 'I told him [in March 2001, when Sharon took office as prime minister]: "When I arrived in your APC at the western bank of the Suez Canal, at the rear of the Egyptian enemy on October 17, 1973, after you had been wounded on that same day, I made a vow to help you all my life; because only you were capable, in those impossible conditions, of crossing the canal and turning the initial Israeli defeat into victory."

For a moment there was silence. Then the prime minister, clearly moved, replied: "That's right."

"Now, as prime minister," I continued, "you will have to cross an ocean of Palestinian hatred in order to defeat their terror offensive."

"Also true," Sharon replied.

Just like 30 years ago, as a major-general commanding the 143 Reserve Armored Division on the Suez Canal, Prime Minister Sharon is a lone decision maker. He listens to everyone but makes the decisive sometime surprising decisions himself. […]

I see him there, just as I saw him at the Suez Canal 30 years ago, making the toughest decisions fortunately for Israel.

Yesterday's thunder of guns at Suez, and the repudiation of Sharon by the Supreme Command, were far more dangerous than today's poisonous attacks by his political opponents.

Note: Sharon almost never raises his voice. He didn't raise it when he spoke over the IDF communications net from the armored corps that crossed the Suez Canal in 1973. Nor does he today, 30 years on.'

I'd like to add a little postface for my American readers. It's about David Rubitsky, no general, not even an officer, who served America in the Army and Navy in World War II. His story is little known yet remarkable.

On New Guinea he was ordered to string communications wire to a bunker in a swamp that had been built by the Japanese and fell into American hands. His comrades saw four columns of Japanese troops approaching their position. They decided to retreat to their main force position. David Rubitsky refused to retreat. He asked them to leave their weapons with him. He told them he intended to try to defend the bunker by himself.

With his ration of machine-gun ammunition, M-1 rifle bullets and hand grenades, Rubitsky opened fire. The battle lasted 21 hours, during which the Japanese shelled the bunker with artillery and mortars. But when the fire ceased and the other Americans came back there were a badly wounded Rubitsky and between 500 and 600 dead Japanese.

His officers put him in for the Medal of Honor. They were told by a senior officer "We don't give the Medal of Honor to Jews!"

What did David Rubitsky reply when he was asked why he did such a thing as stay behind all alone in a jungle bunker under attack by four columns of Japanese infantry?
"I got tired," said Rubitsky, "of hearing Jews don't fight."



Berthold Guthmann with his brother and sister

On October 21, 2003, I got an e-mail from Charlotte Guthmann-Opfermann from Texas, daughter of
WWI Fliegerleutnant Berthold Guthmann as a reaction to the above article.

Berthold Guthmann was born in 1893 and volunteered for military service in WWI, as did his two brothers (one of whom was killed at Verdun). He became observer and gunner on military aircrafts and was awarded the Iron Cross, the Tapferkeits­medaille (Medal for Bravery), and the Verwundetenabzeichen (equivalent to the Purple Heart). In his citation, the  commanding officer wrote: "Lieutenant Guthmann is a valiant man, although Jewish."

After the war he became a successful attorney in Wiesbaden. He was the secular leader of the Wiesbaden Jewish community during its darkest years (1938-1942) and second in charge of the Frankfurt Jewish congregation during its final months (1942-1943). He was murdered in the Holocaust.