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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. In turn, they had been embraced by the Wehrmacht, which under Hitler was forced to look deeply into the 'racial' ancestry of its soldiers. The process of investigation and removal, however, was marred by a highly inconsistent application of Nazi law that produced numerous 'exemption' orders, many bearing Hitler's own signature. Inevitably, Nazi politics trumped military logic, making it virtually impossible for these soldiers to escape the fate of millions of other victims of the Third Reich. Rigg's groundbreaking study exposes from yet another angle the extremely flawed, dishonest, demeaning, and tragic essence of Hitler's regime.
Working in newly opened archives and reexamining old evidence, historian Bryan Mark Rigg turns up a surprising wrinkle in the history of Nazi Germany: the presence of part-Jewish soldiers not only in the ranks but also in the upper echelons of the German military. One such soldier recalled, "I served because I wanted to prove Hitler's racial nonsense wrong. I wanted to prove that people of Jewish descent were indeed brave and courageous soldiers." By Rigg's estimate, as many as 150,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen of partial Jewish descent (Mischlinge, in Nazi terminology) served in Adolf Hitler's forces--some, such as field marshal and war criminal Erhard Milch, placed in high positions by Hitler himself even as he tightened the noose on the Jews of Europe. Rigg considers the role of these men as they negotiated the confusion of the monolithic, racist state in dealing with Germans of partial Jewish descent. "[Their] experience clearly demonstrates the complexity of life in the Third Reich," writes Rigg. His book sheds light on a difficult subject in the face of certain controversy, and it merits discussion. --Gregory McNamee