LOYAL SONS – Review by Israel Schwierz

One year after the appearance of his first book; “Loyalty Betrayed. Jewish Chaplains in the German Army in the First World War” the physician and microbiologist Professor Dr Peter C Appelbaum has published a second book – also in English for the first time. This book deals specifically with Germany’s loyal Jewish sons who served in the Kaiser’s army during the Great War. In doing so, he has taken an additional step in revealing facts hitherto unknown to the English-speaking public: Despite constant discrimination, even despite their disillusionment as a result of the ‘Jewish Census‘ of 1916 in the middle of the war, Germany’s Jews remained patriotic and loyal. Strictly scientifically and with much passion and personal engagement, Dr Appelbaum uses diaries, memoirs, essays, and poems to help describe their outstanding achievements as frontline soldiers, military physicians, and also as pilots and observers in the nascent Luftwaffe. He thoroughly investigates the ‘Jewish Census‘ carried out in 1916 by the German General Staff, in tacit accordance with right-wing German anti-Semites. This Census was shameful and cruel on the part of those carrying it out as well in its effect of those being counted, and will remain a permanent stain on the honour of German military history.

The book begins with a page of remembrance – AL TISHKACH – dedicated to the 100,000 Jewish soldiers who served, and the 12,500 who gave their lives, for their German Fatherland, and were thanked by faithlessness, persecution, imprisonment and murder. This is followed by extracts of a poem by Emmanuel Saul from 1915 ‚To my Children,‘ a Table of Contents, Legends to Plates, an author’s preface and acknowledgments, and three introductions: by Inge Auerbacher from New York, daughter of a Jewish war veteran; a very personal introduction by Peter Waldmann from Mainz, grandson of Max Waldmann, another Jewish front-line veteran, dedicated to his grandmother Ruth Waldmann; and a historiographical introduction from Professor Jay Winter from Yale University, respectively.

In the first chapter of this 347-paged book, Peter Appelbaum informs the reader about the patriotism, discrimination and endless disappointments of Jews in the army of the German states between 1813 and 1914. The achievements of Jewish soldiers during the wars of liberation against Napoleon are impressively described. The negative attitude of the ‘Iron Chancellor‘ Otto von Bismarck towards the Jews during 1845-1869, as well as the loyalty and patriotism of Germany’s Jews during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, the entire array of broken promises on the side of the authorities, and increase of anti-Semitism between 1871 and 1914, together with development of religious and racial hatred, are also reported.

The second chapter contains much useful information on the beginning of the war and the attitude of the majority of the German-Jewish population. This is followed, in the third chapter, by two opposing, but also sometimes concurring, points of view of the war by Cavalry Officer Julius Marx and the more assimilated Artillery Officer Herbert Sulzbach. These two points of view are masterfully juxtaposed by Peter Appelbaum, particularly with their views on being Jewish and on anti-Semitism.

In the fourth chapter, with the aid of diaries and memoirs, the author makes the reader aware of details of Jewish soldiers and sailors on all fronts, including the German colonies. Representation of Jewish artists of every kind, but especially authors and poets, who fought and died for their Fatherland, is particularly impressive.

The fifth chapter is dedicated to the German medical corps and Jewish orderlies, assistant physicians, and physicians, who played a leading part and distinguished themselves in the war. The sixth chapter, on ‘Jewish Knights of the Air,‘ – deals with the pilots who helped lay the groundwork for the German Luftwaffe, also playing an important role in this new military arm.

The seventh chapter deals with a tragic episode in the history of German-Jewry: the ‘Jewish Census’ of 1916. Both the Kaiser and the civilian and military leadership of the Kaiserreich played a role in this event. Early on in the war, extreme right Jew-haters of all societal levels put the rumour about that Jews were shirkers, refused to serve at the front, and were profiting financially from the war. To confirm or deny this rumour High Command ordered the notorious census be performed in October 1916, and forms were sent out for completion to all units. This was naturally a slap in the face for all Jewish frontline soldiers. In the face of Jewish countermeasures, a second Census, and further anti-Jewish reactions, false statistics were published immediately after the war, which were only corrected several years later. Even when the true numbers came to light, German-Jewish soldiers still felt deeply humiliated and discriminated against. The Census was an event that forever disgraced everyone who planned and carried it out. Despite the fact that data propagated by anti-Semites had convincingly been proven incorrect, they significantly assisted the National Socialists and their willing helpers in their march to power and virulent anti-Semitism. The author explains all these facts very clearly and understandably.

In the eighth and last chapter, Peter Appelbaum summarizes his thorough research by a series of well thought out, easily understandable, very impressive, and profound remarks. A list of German First World War military ranks, an overview of Hebrew and Jewish terms, of place names then and now, an index of German-Jewish organizations, an extensive bibliography, and a comprehensive index harmoniously conclude this unique and extremely valuable work.

Professor Dr Appelbaum has succeeded in making the history of the 100,000 Jews in the First World War German Army, and the 12,500 fatalities, accessible in the English language for the first time. But he has achieved more than just providing information: he has created a permanent memorial in the English-speaking world for all these long-forgotten soldiers. Both he and all who helped him to complete this project deserve the deepest thanks and highest recognition of all those for who an honest assessment of German history, together with the history of German-Jewry, is important – even if (and perhaps especially because) it often causes pain.

It is to be hoped and wished that this excellent documentation soon appears in school, university, and military libraries, as well as in libraries of Jewish communities, and all others interested in the subject, throughout the English-speaking world.

Reviewed by Israel Schwierz for War History Online.

Jews in the German Army in the Great War
By Peter C Appelbaum
Vallentine Mitchell

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.