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Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

Archive for the tag “Jewish Identity”

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

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