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Jewish life in the German and Austrian Armed Forces

Postcards, photography and Haggadah

German Jewish soldiers

German Jews were an increasingly assimilated group in German society. Less than 1% of the population, the Jewish communities numbered around 615,000 out of a total German population of 67 million. When war was declared, German and Austrian Jews stepped up to serve, answering the call for duty.

Approximately 100,000 Jewish men served in the German military, a significant proportion of the community. In the region of 12,000 German Jews were killed serving in the forces during the war with over 35,000 awarded honours for bravery. They served in all of the military services.

Antisemitism continued from civilian German life into the forces with accusations of cowardliness. The German authorities ordered a census of German Jewish troops activities in the war which revealed that 80% were serving on the frontline, higher than any other group.

German Jewish doctors were also well represented in the services and in military hospitals.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, laws were introduced to remove all Jews from public office. German President Paul von Hindenburg (a General and former Chief of Staff of the German Army), stated that anyone ‘good enough to fight and to die for Germany’ should be exempted from the law. Hindenburg also insisted that a new war medal introduced in July 19134 should be awarded to all ex-servicemen or their surviving relatives with ‘no racial or religious exceptions’.

President Hindenburg’s death in August 1934 removed the official protection that German Jewish veterans had. Many carried their war medals with them as they arrived at concentration camps and the Death Camps.

During the Second World War German Jews buried in the war cemeteries did have their graves maintained alongside the non-Jewish German troops; a contrast in treatment to non-military Jewish graves across Europe.

Anecdotally

During 1938, and especially around Kristalllnacht, many Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. In Jewish family stories it is reported that some of those carrying their First World War medals were able to get to the gates and, if they found a fellow non-Jewish veteran there, they would be given the nod to go home. However, if those on the gates were only of the new Nazi authorities the wearing of the Iron Cross meant nothing.

HAGGADAH

In the First World War, Jewish soldiers took part and fought in different armies from the two sides of the conflict. There were Jewish institutions and charity committees that looked after them and printed special editions of 'Haggadot' (Passover prayer books) so that they would be able to celebrate the Passover Festival at army bases and at the Front. This was true on the both British and German sides.

The first Haggadah [Passover prayer book] on the German side was printed for Passover 1915. It has the traditional prayers in Hebrew and the German translation. It was printed in Brin, the capital of Moravia, for Jewish soldiers serving in the Austro-Hungarian army. Its is called the War Haggadah ('Kreigs Haggadah').

On the cover, the publisher printed images of the German Kaiser (Wilhelm II) and the Austro-Hungarian Kaiser (Franz Joseph). Their pictures appear also on medals etc. Written next to them is Zur Erinnerung an den Weltkrieg 1914-1915 ('to the memory of the World War 1914-15'). Did this mean the Germans thought the War would only last two years?

In the foreword to the Haggadah there is a prayer for the welfare of the soldiers that were sent to the Front.
 

About the collection

London-based private collector, Adrian Andrusier, has for over 40 years been collecting postcards and postal history of Jewish life especially in the 1890-1940 period. 

Adrian is keen that educational organisations and other not-for-profit bodies freely use the images. Other, unauthorized use and for commercial purposes are not permitted and permission should be obtained in advance from Carla Drahorad at carla.drahorad@btopenworld.com

View the Entire Collection

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London Jews in the First World War - We Were There Too

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