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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Nazi Officer’s Wife

The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer presents an intriguing look at the mindset of  Austrian and German citizens before, during, and after World War II. Although the title implies that Edith’s story began with her marriage, the book actually begins before WWII, when Edith is a student in Austria. The author shares her story of survival in great detail, providing the reader with a feeling of what it must have been like to experience life hiding in plain sight.  Her story will pull you along until the very end, taking twists and turns you never would have predicted. In this book, you’ll meet Upstanders, bystanders, perpetrators, and victims, as well as discover the truth that sometimes people can be cruel and kind all at once.

Children and the Holocaust

As you probably know by now, our current temporary exhibit, Every Child Has a Name, is focused on the children of the Holocaust. Their games, drawings, and toys tell their story in a powerful way that make history come alive–especially to our younger visitors. As children tour the exhibit, they take in the idea that other children, often younger than themselves, lived and died during the Holocaust. While this moment may be difficult for some, it is a moment that we hope will allow the students to make a real connection with the Holocaust and the lessons of tolerance and understanding.

For those students who are interested in learning more about the Holocaust, there are many wonderful books available. Here is a brief selection of these books, selected for their quality and the power of the stories told within their pages.

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

We Are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers who Died in the Holocaust, Jacob Boas

I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree, Laura Hillman

Number the Stars, Lois Lowry

Let us know if you have a favorite that isn’t listed, or if you have read and loved any of our picks.

Book Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

There are undeniably many stories told about the Holocaust, each from a unique perspective. Diane Ackerman’s The Zookeeper’s Wife reveals the story of a Polish family who happen to run the Warsaw zoo when the Nazis invade Poland. As their animals are taken to Germany, killed, or left to fend for themselves, Jan and Antonia Zabinski use their unique position to take in Jewish citizens who have gone into hiding. While Antonia cares for the zoo’s many visitors, as well as her family and the remaining animals, Jan quietly works in the Polish resistance.

This tale is one that will engage your mind and senses, making you feel as though you are watching the events taking place, rather than just reading words on a page. Ackerman writes as though the story she is telling is fiction, although this work is nonfiction. The truth of the story will give you even more reason to care about the characters and their fates, and the masterful storytelling will give you the desire to read until you know how things end.

If you would like to learn more about this book, or would like to purchase a copy to read yourself, check it out here.


Alice Abroad: Neighbors

Day 3 started with a long bus ride to the site of a horrible Pogrom in the small village of Jedwanbe. Only 3200 people lived here in 1941 — half were Jewish and half Christian. All neighbors in a small town. The Christian half rounded up all the Jews one day and forced them into a tiny church and set it on fire. Poles killed Poles. It wasn’t discovered for 40 years because they let the Nazis take the blame. A memorial was on the site for 40 years giving credit to the Nazis until research uncovered the shocking truth.

To read about this terrifying attack, check out the book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jebwadne, Poland.