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Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

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Jews Who Fought for Hitler Stir Emotion, Controversy and a Journey of Self-Discovery for Dallas Author Who Wrote Book About Them

At age 19, while in Germany on a college research trip to study German and sift
through records from World War II, Bryan Mark Rigg—a devout Baptist while
growing up in Fort Worth—made two startling discoveries.

Both revelations would change his life.

The first surprise: the surprisingly large number of Jews who fought for Hitler’ Nazis
during World War II.

The second: That Rigg himself was born to a Jewish mother, which made him a Jew
by birth.

“Welcome to the tribe,” an Ultra Orthodox Jew told him, recalled Rigg, who spoke to
about 75 people at a special Dallas Holocaust Museum lecture on April 25 about his
book, Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers (University Press of Kansas, 2002).

His work has been featured in The New York Times and on programs including NBC
Dateline and Fox News.

The book, which tells of the surprisingly large number of Jews who served in
the Nazi army, had its genesis in Rigg’s visit to a Berlin movie theater during
the summer between his freshman and sophomore year while a student at Yale
University.

Rigg went to a showing of the film Europa, Europa, which is based on the true story
of Schlomo Perel, a Jewish man who served in the Nazi army and attended a Hitler
Youth school.

At the theater, Rigg made the acquaintance of an elderly man named Peter Millies,
who offered to translate the dialogue in the film. After the showing, Millies told Rigg
that he himself was a “Mischling” (a person of mixed, partially Jewish ancestry) who
had served in the Wehrmacht, the German army.

Intrigued by this story, Rigg decided to try to find other Jews who, like Millies and
Perel, had fought on the side of the Nazis.

Returning to Yale for his sophomore year, he suggested the idea to his professors,
who discouraged him from pursuing what they considered dead-end research. “That
only propelled me more to pursue it,” Rigg said.

Rigg estimates that there were 60,000 half-Jews in the Nazi army and 90,000
quarter-Jews.

After graduating from Yale in 1996, Rigg went to Cambridge University on a Henry
Fellowship and continued his research. He received his M.A. in 1997 and a Ph.D. in
2002.

The thousands of documents and video-taped testimonies he amassed in the course
of his study have been collected as the Bryan Mark Rigg Collection in archives
housed in Freiburg, Germany.

Almost as remarkable as his historical findings, said Rigg, was a personal discovery
he made while going through old town archives: His own ancestors were Jewish.

He returned to his family in Texas, where he had grown up as a devout Baptist, with
the startling revelation. He now identifies himself as Jewish and has served as a
volunteer in the Israeli army.

“Identity became a key question for me,” said Rigg. “Who am I? Ultimately, the way
we identify ourselves determines how we view others. Therein lies the wisdom.”

–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

In The Presence of Heroes

Last Wednesday, the Museum and the Daughters of WWII hosted an event for Victory in Europe Day. The original V-E Day, May 8, 1945, marked the end of WWII in Europe, as the Nazi regime officially surrendered. Fittingly, our program focused on the WWII veterans who assisted in liberating concentration camps and the Holocaust Survivors who were freed as a result of Allied victory.

We began the event with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and an inspirational rendition of the National Anthem. To hear these American soldiers who were part of such an important event in our history singing alongside Holocaust Survivors from across Europe who are now proud to live in America was moving. Being able to sing with them was truly an honor for those of us in the audience who were there to hear their stories and honor their legacies.

As the event progressed, we heard from several men who each played a different role in liberating the camps. Some were medical personell, others spotted the camps and reported their location to their commanding officers, a few shared their stories of being among the first to see the prisoners, to notice the dead, to experience the horrors of these places the Nazis abandoned and later, denied.

No matter the role they played, each of the liberators had a unique story to tell. It was fascinating, yet chilling, to hear about the first impressions of these men. Many of them described the horrible smell that made them want to run away as soon as they neared the camps. They described living skeletons, zombie-like men and women, and the bones of the dead, laying out in the open for all to see.

These heartbreaking stories were matched with tales from Holocaust Survivors, focusing not on their time in the camps, but instead on how the sight of the American soldiers was at first a little frightening, but soon, filled them with hope. The Survivors all thanked the veterans for what they did as they shared their memories. They told the audience that they were grateful for these men and others like them, without whom they never would  have survived. Angels, heroes, saviors. As the accolades were heaped upon the soldiers, one man summed up what many of them were feeling when he said, “I don’t know why I’m up here; I’m not a hero.”

More than once, the audience was in tears, or gasped collectively at the true stories of what it was like in the camps. We all felt shock at the cruelty humanity is capable of, as the soldiers did many years ago, seeing it in person. That feeling of shock is one reason events like these are so important. The raw, fresh feelings at the injustice of it all, the pure evil enacted on one man by another, the resolve these feelings bring to never stand by and let this happen again.

Liberators and Survivors together

Holocaust Remembrance Candle Vigil

Join us at the DHM/CET Garden of Remembrance and Tolerance on January 26 for a candlelight vigil in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day and those who lost their lives in the Holocaust.

The Garden of Remembrance is located at the corner of Houston & Pacific Streets in the West End, opposite the Sixth Floor Museum. Arrive and park on this site by 7 p.m. In the event of rain, we will gather in the DHM/CET Memorial Room inside the museum at 211 N. Record Street, located one block east of the garden. Candles, seating and light refreshments provided.

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