Fought Prussia in the First World War

First World WarWhen Jewish soldiers fought for Germany

With pithy words, Kaiser Wilhelm II swore the Germans to the patriotic struggle for the fatherland in a speech from the throne before the Reichstag on August 4, 1914:

"I don't know any political parties anymore, I only know Germans!"

... so his words. The proclaimed truce was intended to unite the nation across all social and political rifts. It also addressed the Jews of the empire. Almost 100,000 Jewish soldiers took part in the war on the German side. A good 10,000 even as volunteers. Julius Schoeps from the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam:

"The majority of Jews were undoubtedly left of center. But of course there were many who were conservative, and that was evident when the war broke out: you stood up for the flags and were proud to be able to do military service. That was your commitment Germany, the commitment to Prussia, the commitment to the Kaiser; and we can actually speak of something like Jewish patriotism. You went to war because you believed you had to do your duty. "

The Jewish soldier - a slacker?

But not everything was patriotic exuberance, as was to be found everywhere in the heated atmosphere of the summer of 1914. Many Jews linked the impending armed conflict with the hope of finally being recognized as citizens with equal rights through their commitment to the fatherland. The imperial constitution of 1871 granted them all civil rights. In reality, however, there were still many barriers. They were denied higher judicial posts, blocked university careers, and almost ruled out officer careers. But at the beginning of the war it looked as if these barriers would fall. So Jews could now also become officers. In addition, anti-Semitic agitation was countered with censorship. Would the peace keep what it promised? Werner Bergmann from the Center for Research on Antisemitism in Berlin:

"Hope was now placed in him from the Jewish side, but they were warned because the image of the Jews or the image of the Jewish soldier wasn't attacked until World War I, but there has been a long tradition since the early 19th century, that Jews as soldiers were always seen as slackers, as unreliable, as weak, as bad soldiers. "

While the fighting on the fronts dragged on and rapid war successes failed to materialize, right-wing circles intensified their anti-Jewish campaigns. They now asked: Didn't Jews rather seek their salvation in warm writing rooms behind the front, instead of trying to prove themselves with their comrades in the trenches? With petitions and memoranda to the War Ministry, anti-Semites took a stand against the alleged "slackers". Until the ministry decided on a controversial measure: In autumn 1916 it ordered a "census of Jews" in the German army. Julius Schoeps:

"When the Jewish census came and they wanted to prove that Jews were cowardly and would avoid the service with a gun, this was a debate that had an anti-Semitic background, no question at all. Of course, there were field rabbis, there was undoubtedly one Jewish engagement, that can't be denied. But the anti-Semites didn't like it. They didn't want Jews to be seen as equal in the German army. For the Jewish side, it was definitely a disappointment, because you realized that you didn't accept became, regardless of whether one went to war for the fatherland or not. "

An estimated 12,000 Jews fell for Germany

At the beginning of the 1920s, the statistician Franz Oppenheimer showed that Jews just like their non-Jewish comrades stood and fell in the trenches. Their share in the army corresponded to their percentage of the population. An estimated 12,000 Jews died in the fighting. However, factual evidence was of little use against the agitation of the anti-Semites. The longer the war lasted, the more a failure became apparent, the stronger the suspicion grew. If you saw slackers in the Jews on the one hand, Jewish entrepreneurs such as Alfred Ballin or Walter Rathenau, who organized armaments, supplies and supplies in so-called war societies, were considered war profiteers. Economic hardship on the home front, the distant victory, a dangerous sediment, says Werner Bergmann:

"These old anti-Jewish ideas are now being reactivated very strongly. Hence the general mood in Germany, so to speak, is beginning to take on an anti-Semitic color. The argument in the Reichstag about the question of a peace treaty, that is, a victory peace against a peace of agreement, that was the alternative and Jews became because always counted to this peace party. "

The stab in the back and the first progrom-like excesses

After the defeat in 1918, Jews were often confronted with accusations of treason. Not only did they hide from the trenches and enriched themselves with the war, rather, in association with liberals and social democrats, they stabbed the undefeated army in the back. Such was the legend of the stab in the back that was quickly circulated at the time. Accompanied by the horror scenario of a "Jewish-Bolshevik" coup as in Russia. The First World War acted like a fire accelerator for anti-Semitism.

"Before 1918 the anti-Semites were loyal to the system. They had nothing against the Empire, they had something against the position of the Jews in the Empire. It was similar in Austria or Hungary. Now we have a new situation: Now the fight is against the republic is also a struggle against the Jews. That connects. So before that people mainly wrote tracts, wrote brochures, gave speeches. But there is relatively little anti-Jewish violence. And that will change after 1918. We are experiencing everywhere in the Reich Assaults against Jews, there are minor pogrom-like riots. So this is a completely new situation. That means, now we actually act and not just write. "

In the end, the hope that many Jews had gone to war in 1914 turned into bitter disappointment. The ancien regime fell, and with it the last barrier on the path to emancipation. But the social atmosphere was already permanently poisoned at the beginning of the republic.
"You can see how the political climate against the Jews has changed. And that's already the case on the Jewish side, in 1917/18 there are voices who say there will be a Jewish war after the war. We have to be prepared for it make that if the war is lost, they will attack us. And to a certain extent that is what happened. "

100 years of the First World War - topic page of Deutschlandfunk