Gedenken an jüdische Soldaten in der Wehrmacht, gefallen im Ersten Weltkrieg im Namen Deutschlands


German soldiers participated in a ceremony Sunday in Frankfurt at a memorial for Jewish soldiers who died in World War I. Credit Fredrik Von Erichsen/Deutsche Presse-Agentur, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

FRANKFURT — German soldiers, including one wearing a skullcap with his uniform, filed silently through a leaf-covered cemetery in Frankfurt on Sunday to lay wreaths at a memorial for 467 Jewish soldiers killed fighting for the kaiser during World War I.

The memorial, the first public service at the site for as long as anyone can remember, was organized by the Association of Jewish Soldiers, a small but growing group in the German military whose existence testifies to the feeling by at least some Jews that it is possible for them to be patriots again in the nation that once tried to wipe them out.

“More and more young Jews are placing their trust in the Bundeswehr,” Gideon Römer-Hillebrecht, a general staff officer in the German Defense Ministry and deputy chairman of the Jewish soldiers association, told representatives of several national armies and numerous dignitaries at the memorial ceremony.

Michael Berger, chairman of the group and a German Army captain, said there was no exact count of the number of Jewish soldiers now in the Bundeswehr, as the force has been known since being reconstituted after World War II. But it is no more than about 200, he said. While all young German men are subject to conscription, they can easily opt to perform civilian public service instead.

Mr. Hillebrecht said that in 2008 a few soldiers and a rabbi held a memorial at the site in Frankfurt, a semicircular stone marker erected in 1925. But there was no official event with wide participation before Sunday.

“For an increasing number of young Jewish men and women, the Bundeswehr is not only an attractive employer; they can also identify with its values and help shape them,” Christian Schmidt, an undersecretary in the German Defense Ministry, told the 100 or so people who attended.

Abraham Ben, the son of a concentration camp survivor who has helped organize similar events in Munich, said that he saw no problem with Jews serving in the modern German army.


Members of the Jewish community took part in a ceremony at a memorial for fallen Jewish soldiers who served with the Germans during World War I, in Frankfurt. Credit Fredrik Von Erichsen/DPA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Ten years ago I would have given you a different answer,” he said.

But, he said, “Jews in Germany are no longer sitting around with their bags packed. This is home.”

Some 12,000 Jewish soldiers died fighting on the German side in World War I. Jews hoped that military service would promote their acceptance into German society, according to speakers at the memorial and a panel discussion afterward. Instead, after the war, Nazi “stab in the back” myths blamed Jewish treachery for Germany’s defeat.

Salomon Korn, vice chairman of the Central Committee of Jews in Germany, read from the diary of a Jewish soldier in World War I who was recommended for the Iron Cross by one commander but had to listen to another refer to Jews as “cowardly dogs.”

As part of the ceremony Sunday, unarmed soldiers in long gray wool coats walked two abreast in a light drizzle through the otherwise-deserted cemetery, which has effectively been closed to burials since the late 1920s and appears to be rarely visited. Gravestones are covered in moss and many are askew, while pathways are choked with leaves.

After the soldiers laid wreaths at the memorial, a military bugler blew a mournful tune. An officer and a civilian read the names of 50 soldiers buried nearby, and a rabbi said a prayer.

The memorial, with lettering in both Hebrew and German, was partially restored after large pieces were found two months ago embedded in the surrounding earth, said Majer Szanckower, the cemetery director. But the memorial is still missing large chunks, and Sunday also marked the beginning of an effort to fully restore it.

Mr. Szanckower said it was not clear whether the memorial was the victim of Nazi vandalism or simply age and weather.

Hellmut Königshaus, defense commissioner in the German Parliament, said during the panel discussion that there had been recent cases of harassment against Jewish soldiers in the army. But perpetrators face severe punishment and are usually expelled from the force, he said.

As a citizen’s army, he said, “the Bundeswehr is a mirror of society.”

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