Michael Geheran, “Comrades Betrayed: Jewish World War I Veterans under Hitler”
At the end of 1941, six weeks after the mass deportations of Jews from Nazi Germany had begun, Gestapo offices across the Reich received an urgent telex from Adolf Eichmann, decreeing that all war-wounded and decorated Jewish veterans of World War I be exempted from upcoming “evacuations”. Why this was so, and how Jewish veterans were able to avoid the fate of ordinary Jews under the Nazis – at least, initially – is the subject of Comrades Betrayed.
Michael Geheran deftly illuminates how the same values that compelled Jewish soldiers to demonstrate bravery in the front lines in World War I made it impossible for them to accept passively, let alone comprehend, persecution under Hitler. After all, they upheld the ideal of the German fighting man, embraced the Fatherland, and cherished the bonds that had developed in military service. Through their diaries and private letters, as well as interviews with eyewitnesses and surviving family members, and police, Gestapo, and military records, Michael Geheran presents a major challenge to the prevailing view that Jewish vets were left isolated, neighborless, and had suffered a social death by 1938.
Tracing the path from the trenches of the Great War to the extermination camps of the Third Reich, Geheran exposes the painful dichotomy that, while many Jewish former combatants believed that Germany would never betray them, the Holocaust was nonetheless a horrific reality. In chronicling Jewish veterans’ appeal to older, traditional notions of comradeship and national belonging, Comrades Betrayed forces reflection on how this group made use of scant opportunities to defy Nazi persecution and, for some, to evade becoming victims of the Final Solution.
“Geheran brings us the fascinating story of the collision of Nazi antisemitism with the courage of Jewish Great War veterans. There are surprises here, and a tale of honor in the face of impossible odds. This is an important book.”
Geoffrey P. Megargee, author of Inside Hitler’s High Command
“Geheran brilliantly explicates the contradictions cleaving the savage world of National Socialism, as exceptions made for decorated Jewish veterans workers petitioning to rescue a Jewish boss from Buchenwald, officers exempting former comrades from deportation to Chelmno—end up affirming the rationale of the larger genocidal project. A unique, remarkable, powerful book.”
Dagmar Herzog, author of Unlearning Eugenics
“This is a remarkable account of the faith, devotion, and sacrifice of German Jewish World War I veterans, and of their utter betrayal not only by the Nazi regime, but also eventually by many of their former comrades. Geheran’s well written and deeply researched book is a must read for all students of Germany, Jewish history, and anyone who believes that sacrifice for and love of nation will always trump xenophobia, racism, and bigotry. An important reminder in our own era of rising authoritarianism and conformism.”
Omer Bartov, Brown University, author of Anatomy of a Genocide
“This is a terrific book—extremely well-researched, tautly conceptualized, and engaging. Geheran brilliantly weaves individual life stories into his larger narrative, driving the story forward at a good pace, with crystal clear prose.”
Benjamin Ziemann, author of Violence and the German Soldier in the Great War
“Comrades Betrayed is breathtaking in both depth and scope. No book up to now has been able to establish the limits of racial anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany so precisely.”
Andrew Donson, author of Youth in the Fatherless Land
Michael Geheran is Assistant Professor of History and Deputy Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Cornell University Press
Publication date: 10/15/2020