Jews in World War 2

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As the title suggests, this blog is about Jews in WWII. However it is not about Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. This is about the Jews who fought on both sides, for the allied troops but also for the Axis powers.

This may sound crazy but some Jews even got awarded an Iron Cross.

Major Leo Skurnik was a Jewish soldier/medical officer in the Finnish army.

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In September 1941 he organized an evacuation of a German field hospital when it came under Soviet attack. In excess of  600 patients, including SS soldiers, were evacuated.For this action he was awarded the Iron Cross.

Skurnik was one of  three Finnish Jews who were bestowed the Iron Cross class 2 . All refused to accept the award.

More then 300 Finnish Jewish soldiers found themselves ‘allied’ to  the Nazis when Finland, who had a mutual enemy in the Soviet Union, joined the war in June 1941.

Despite Germany demanding that Finland introduce anti-Semitic laws like in the rest of Nazi-controlled Europe, the Finns refused, treating their Jewish soldiers with respect. They even allowed the Jewish soldiers to practice their religion.

There was even a field synagogue for these soldiers,  some German soldiers  sometimes even visited the synagogue and showed respect for the Jews who prayed there, despite the propaganda they had subjected to for years.

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It was not so much the case that these Finnish Jewish soldiers subscribed to the Nazi philosophy ,but more of a case of fighting an enemy which was feared more in Finland, the Soviet Union.

On the other hand there were Jews fighting for the allies. About 500,000 American Jews served in the various branches of the United States armed services. approximately 52,000 of these received U.S. military awards/ They fought in Europe and the Pacific.

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One of the American Jewish soldiers was private Leo Lichten. He was killed in action just outside the village of Prummern,in Germany near the Dutch border.

On November 20,1944.Leo’s company, Company A, received the  order, 1944, to attack pillboxes (small bunkers).The weather conditions were severe , and the ground was muddy, making the battle even more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Leo stormed one of the pillboxes, and was killed by machine gun fire. His body was laid to rest in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. Last year I visited his grave and paid my respects.

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The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group,also  known as the Jewish Brigade Group or Jewish Brigade, was a military division of the British Army during  World War II. It was formed in late 1944 and consisted of  recruits  of  Jews from the then Mandatory Palestine and was  commanded by Anglo-Jewish officers. It served in the latter stages of the Italian Campaign.

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In October 1944, led by Brigadier Ernest F. Benjamin, the brigade group was sent to Italy where it  joined British 8th Army in November 1944, which was engaged in the Italian Campaign under 15th Army Group.

The brigade group did partake in the Spring Offensive of 1945.  On March 19–20, 1945, it initiated two attacks. It moved to the Senio River sector, where it fought against the German 4th Parachute Division commanded by General lieutenant Heinrich Trettner. On April 9, the brigade crossed the river and established a bridgehead, widening it the following day. At the duration  of the  operations in Italy the Jewish Brigade suffered 30 casualties and 70 wounded.

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Sources

The Telegraph

Haaretz

Wikipedia

 

The Slovak invasion of Poland

Slovak

You don’t have to be a History biff to know that September 1,1939 was the date when the Germans invaded their neighbours, Poland.

What often is forgotten is that it wasn’t only the Germans who invaded Poland on that day. The Germans got a  helping hand from the newly formed republic of Slovakia.

More Slovaks

And it was quite a substantial helping hand, approximately 50,000 Slovak soldiers took part in the invasion of Poland.

No one had envisaged  the attack from the independent Slovak state. Reason being there had not been a Slovak republic prior to 1939. The First Slovak Republic was only established on March 14th 1939, after Germany’s occupation of Bohemia and Moravia.

Adolf Hitler decided to create a puppet Slovak state, headed by Jozef Tiso, a Roman Catholic priest and leader of the Slovak People’s Party, the SPL.

Tiso

During secret discussions with the Germans on July 20–21, 1939, the Slovak government agreed to partake in Germany’s planned attack and invasion of Poland. They also agreed to let Germany  use Slovak’s territory as the staging area for its troops. On August 26, the Slovak Republic mobilized its army and created a new field army, named “Bernolák”, which comprised of 51,306 soldiers.

Army

The attack started on September 1, 1939, at 5:00 a.m.

At the start, Poland had a problem with the idea of treating Slovaks as their enemies, they even dropped leaflets requesting them to halt the invasion.

Even though the fighting between the Slovaks and the Poles was not really all that fierce and there were no real major battles, there were still casualties.

During the whole  campaign in September, the losses of the Slovaks amounted to 18 killed, 46 wounded and 11 missing. Approximately 1,350 Polish soldiers were taken prisoner. In January 1940, about 1,200 of them were transferred to the Germans and the Ref Army,  the rest were imprisoned in the camp in Lešť.

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Roosevelt directives June 1941

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Although the US stayed initially neutral during WWII,it had been making preparations for an eventual war with the Axis powers.

Worsening relations with the Axis powers prompted President Roosevelt to order all German assets in the U.S. frozen on June 14, 1941. On June 16 he ordered the withdrawal of German and Italian consular staffs by July 10.

 

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The executive order was signed for  freezing all German and Italian assets.
The order was also  coupled with new regulations giving the Government complete
authority over European assets in the United States.

The executive order read in part: “It has come to the knowledge of this Government that agencies of the German Reich in this country, including German consular establishments, have been engaged in activities wholly outside the scope of their legitimate duties. These activities have been of an improper and unwarranted character. They render the continued presence in the United States of those agencies and consular establishments inimical to the welfare of this country.”

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In December that year the US entered the war after the Pearl Harbor attack.

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Sources

New York Times

New York Herald Tribune

The Axis laws

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The Nuremberg Laws (German: Nürnberger Gesetze) were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany. They were introduced on 15 September 1935 by the Reichstag at a special meeting convened at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party (NSDAP).

Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, Grundstein Kongreßhalle

The two laws were the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, which forbade marriages and extramarital intercourse between Jews and Germans and the employment of German females under 45 in Jewish households, and the Reich Citizenship Law, which declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens; the remainder were classed as state subjects, without citizenship rights.

However the Nuremberg laws were not the only laws imposed. Most of Germany’s allies had their antisemitic laws.

Italy

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Le Leggi razziali: were a set of laws promulgated by Fascist Italy from 1938 to 1943 to enforce racial discrimination in Italy, directed mainly against the Italian Jews and the native inhabitants of the colonies.

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The first and most important of the leggi razziali was the Regio Decreto 17 Novembre 1938 Nr. 1728. It restricted civil rights of Jews, banned their books and excluded Jews from public office and higher education. Additional laws stripped Jews of their assets, restricted travel and finally provided for their internship in internal exile, as was done for political prisoners.

The promulgation of the racial laws was preceded by a long press campaign and by publication of the “Manifesto of Race” earlier in 1938, a purportedly-scientific report by fascist scientists and supporters that asserted racial principles, including the superiority of Europeans over other races. The final decision about the law was made during the meeting of the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo, which took place on the night between 6 and 7 October 1938 in Rome, Palazzo Venezia.

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Not all Fascists supported discrimination: while the pro-German, anti-Jewish Roberto Farinacci and Giovanni Preziosi strongly pushed for them, Italo Balbo strongly opposed the laws.The Italian Racial Laws were unpopular with most ordinary Italians; the Jews were a small minority in the country and had integrated deeply into Italian society and culture

After the fall of Benito Mussolini on July 25, 1943, the Badoglio government suppressed the laws. They remained in force in the territories ruled by the Italian Social Republic until the end of the war (and were made more severe).

Bulgaria

Law for Protection of the Nation

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The Law for protection of the nation was a Bulgarian law, effective from 23 January 1941 to 27 November 1944, which directed measures against Jews and others. This law was passed along the example of the Nuremberg Laws.

The law ordered measures for:

  • Changes in the names of Jews
  • Rules about their place of residence
  • Confiscation of their possessions
  • Their exclusion from the public service
  • Prohibition of economic and professional activity

Citizens of Jewish origin were also banned from certain public areas, restricted economically, and marriages between Jews and Bulgarians were prohibited. Jews were forced to pay a one-time tax of 20 percent of their net worth The legislation also established quotas that limited the number of Jews in Bulgarian universities.Jewish leaders protested against the law, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, some professional organizations, and twenty-one writers also opposed it.

This law suppressed all Freemasonry lodges and all other secret organizations.

The Law for protection of the nation, was passed under direct influence from Nazi Germany, but did not lead to the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews to Nazi extermination camps, except for the Jewish people from former Greek and Yugoslavian territories occupied by Bulgaria.

France

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Anti-Jewish laws were enacted by the Vichy France government in 1940 and 1941 affecting metropolitan France and its overseas territories during World War II. These laws were, in fact, decrees of head of state Marshal Philippe Pétain, since Parliament was no longer in office as of 11 July 1940.

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The motivation for the legislation was spontaneous and was not mandated by Germany. These laws were declared null and void on 9 August 1944 after liberation and on the restoration of republican legality.

The statutes were aimed at depriving Jews of the right to hold public office, designating them as a lower class, and depriving them of citizenship. Jews were subsequently rounded up at Drancy internment camp before being deported for extermination in Nazi concentration camps.

The denaturalization law was enacted on 16 July 1940, barely a month after the announcement of the Vichy regime of Petain. On 22 July 1940, the Deputy Secretary of State Raphaël Alibert created a committee to review 500,000 naturalisations given since 1927.

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This resulted in 15,000 people having their French nationality revoked, of whom 40% were Jews. Alibert was the signatory of the Statutes on Jews.

Romania

In August 1940, the Romanian government passed legislation that Jews who converted to Christianity would be regarded as Jews for legal purposes, and barred from marriage with ethnic Christians; by defining Jews not based on religion this was the first step, and a large one at that, to further racial legislation.

Nuncio to Bucharest Andrea Cassulo’s “early efforts on behalf of Jews concerned almost exclusively those who had been baptized Catholic”

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He passed on to the Vatican in 1939, but did not pursue, a project to emigrate the 150,000 converted Jews of Romania to Spain.From 1940 to 1941, his primary diplomatic responsibility was to protest various pieces of legislation insofar as they infringed on the rights of baptized Jews, particularly with respect to intermarriage and attendance of baptized Jews to Catholic schools, which were protected by the Romanian concordat.

Cassulo made three protests to Ion Antonescu: on November 20, 1940, December 2, 1940, and February 14, 1941.

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Five days after the last protest, Antonescu informed the nuncio of his signing a decree allowing students of any ethnic origin to attend their own religious schools.

However, “much more worrisome to the Vatican” was a March 18, 1941, decree forbidding the conversion of Jews to Christianity, with severe penalties for Jews attempting to convert and cooperating priests. Again, Cassulo protested that this violated the concordat, but the Romanian government replied that the decree did not because it would only affect the “civil status” of baptized Jews.Bypassing the “blatant racism” of this reply, Maglione’s “sole interest” was that the rights of the concordat be extended to baptized Jews. The Vatican considered the matter settled after a July 21, 1941, note from the minister of foreign affairs granted the enumerated demands of Maglione: “free profession of the Catholic faith, admission to Catholic schools, religious instruction, and spiritual assistance in various areas of society.

Most of the other Axis countries adopted laws based on the Nuremberg laws.

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