Schneidemühl's Jewish patriots

(This is but a brief excerpt from the recently published book
 History of the Jewish Community of Schneidemühl: 1641 to the Holocaust)

In Prussia’s War of 1866, three Jews from Schneidemühl are known to have volunteered. 

During the ten months of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 when Germany’s general mood of war ecstasy peaked, Rabbi Nehemiah Zwi Anton Nobel, brother of Schneidemühl’s future rabbi, spoke of ”the holy soil of the German fatherland,” and declared the war to be “a pious and solemn undertaking.”

Thanks to the newly formed ‘Committee for the defense of anti-Semitic attacks’ and the initiative of Dr. Ludwig Philippsohn, the editor of the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, names of many Jewish soldiers have been preserved for later generations.

His Gedenkbuch an den deutsch-französischen Krieg von 1870–71 für die deutschen Israeliten also listed several men of Schneidemühl’s Jewish community who went into the field...
Abrahamsohn, A.3. Pommersches Inf.-Reg. No. 14
Bukofzer,Marketender des 2. Res.-Ulanen-Reg.
Berliner,3. Pommersches Inf.-Reg. No. 14, Ersatz-Bataillon
Simonstein, Hirsch, — 3. Pommersches Inf.-Reg. No. 14
One of them had volunteered, and several others were reported to have earned promotions later. Although unnamed, one soldier returned with the rank of second lieutenant, two were corporals and one lance corporal; two others were wounded.

But the Jews who had died were merely a minute number of the Jewish soldiers from Posen, a quarter of whom were eventually decorated.  During that war, the above editor saw an unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate to Bismarck’s government the unbridled enthusiasm of the country’s Jews who had flocked so eagerly to serve the king.

Ironically, eighty-three soldiers were awarded the Iron Cross, one of the military’s highest honors.
"Religion and fatherland, both indestructibly rooted in the soul—may they unite in our hearts," Dr. Ludwig Philippsohn's book concludes in a flowery confession by the editor; few casualties and deaths are mentioned.

Two generations later when, on the eve of the First World War, the kaiser proclaimed that all Germans were equal, irrespective of faith or origin—the patriotic enthusiasm of Jewish war volunteers was not surprising.

“We German Jews will demonstrate and prove to be good, trustworthy sons of our fatherland” Rabbi Ludwig Geiger predicted in 1914.  Rabbi Leo Baeck, in his shabbat sermon of 14 August at Berlin’s Fasanenstrasse synagogue, filled to capacity, reiterated how deeply connected the life of the fatherland is to the Jews.

Thus, when German Jews went forth in defense of their German Kultur. Almost forgotten was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s cynical statement of yesteryear when, showing his real colours, he had labeled the Jews in his realm as parasites.

Of Schneidemühl’s Jewish soldiers who went to war with great fervor in 1914, Julius Edel, who belonged to one of the older Jewish families of Schneidemühl, advanced to commissioned officer—but the Jewish community lost fifteen of their best. In the post-war years, a prominent plaque in the synagogue commemorated these victims of the Great War by name. (see chapter Schneidemühl's Jewish patriots, p.117)

Twenty years after the the end of the First World War the terrible irony emerged when many decorated Jewish soldiers would flaunt their war medals and Iron Crosses earned for bravery—on their way to Hitler’s concentration camps and gas chambers...

The Jewish War Memorial
With Hindenburg’s victory at Tannenberg during the First World War the Russian offensive in East Prussia collapsed. As a consequence, Schneidemühl saw the arrival of vast numbers of Russian prisoners who were housed in a rapidly growing camp for the more than 45,000 prisoners of war.

An impressive monument, dedicated to the Russian-Jewish soldiers of the First World War, was erected in the post-war years by the Jewish community of Schneidemühl.

Alas, as early as 1934, in an orgy of anti-Semitic hatred, Schneidemühl’s own Nazis saw to its destruction.

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