A German soldier in Nazi uniform strolls in the park hand-in-hand with his Jewish grandmother, the yellow "Jude" star on her coat. A Nazi officer is dispatched by the German high command to rescue the Lubavitch rebbe. These are two of the surrealistic examples Larry Price cites to illustrate the complex reality in Nazi Germany for Mischlinge - the Nazi term (literally, "mongrels") for Germans of partial Jewish ancestry.
Price, a Jerusalem-based filmmaker, is the director and producer of "Hitler's Jewish Soldiers," a documentary film featuring interviews with five Mischlinge who served in the German armed forces during World War II. The film will premiere on April 24 as part of Israel TV Channel 1's special programming for Holocaust Day.
Born in Chicago in 1944, Price first came to Israel in the early 1970s as a journalist and "fell in love with the story." Convinced that print journalism had a limited future, he began making films, learning the business with Herbert Krosney at United Press International Television News in Jerusalem. He has since produced hundreds of industrial and documentary films, and also helped pioneer English language broadcasts for Channel 1, serving as its first news anchor.
"Hitler's Jewish Soldiers" is Price's first Holocaust-related work. The idea for the film was triggered by a book published in 2002 by a young historian, Bryan Mark Rigg: "Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military." After reading a book review in The New York Times, Price's friend Ilan Seidner told him, "We should do a film about it."
Most of the Mischlinge who appear in the documentary had one Jewish parent but were not raised as Jews. Werner Goldberg, for example, was not even aware of his Jewish roots until he was suddenly ostracized in school. Nonetheless, a picture of Goldberg in uniform appeared in a Nazi recruitment advertisement in 1939 depicting "The Ideal German Soldier."
Arno Spitz, a German paratroop officer who was awarded three Iron Crosses for bravery, was also raised as a Christian. When captured by American troops at the end of the war, however, he quickly informed them that his Jewish father had fled to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles. "You can't take me prisoner, my father is an American Jew," he argued. "This is the first time my Jewish ancestry came into play," he says in the film.
Except for a three-year period (1940-43), Germans with a Jewish parent or grandparent were required to serve in the Nazi army. Hans-Geert Falkenberg, whose mother was Jewish, emphasizes in the film: "I did not want to join the army - I had to join the army." This military obligation did not apply to Ephraim Glazer, a yeshiva graduate born to Jewish parents in Poland. Yet Glazer, who now lives in Haifa, managed to hide his Jewish identity and joined the German army to avoid starvation.
At least 150,000 Jews served Hitler
Rigg, who spent seven years researching his book, estimates that at least 150,000 men of Jewish origin served in the German army during World War II. One of these men was Major Ernst Bloch, the focus of Rigg's second book - "Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler's Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe." Price is also working on a film version of this sensational story.
Price says he did not set out to convey a particular message in "Hitler's Jewish Soldiers" and quotes the Hollywood adage: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." He also insists he is not a historian. "I was just telling the story the way it came out. I just hope people will appreciate the story that's being told and see another face of the war."
Despite these disclaimers, Price notes some insights that arose from making this film: "Hollywood has made hundreds of films about the Nazis and the Americans. It's clear-cut, good and evil. But what I found in doing this film, and what catches people's attention, is that it was mixed. I learned there was a difference between the German Army and the Nazi Army ... And we have this idea that the Nazis were so organized and knew exactly what they were doing every minute, but it wasn't like that."
It turns out, for example, that the definition of "Aryan" and "Jew" was not so rigid. The film notes that some well-placed Mischlinge received "German blood certificates" declaring them to be "Aryan." The mufti of Jerusalem at the time, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, also received a certificate of German genealogy: Hitler explained that the Arab leader's blue eyes indicated that he was a descendant of the Crusaders.
"Look," says Price with a sigh, "if we try to apply the Mischlinge experience in today's world, there's the application to mixed marriages - how people feel they are ingrained in a society and how tenuous the grasp on society actually is." He says that at one point, he considered calling the film, "Caught in the Middle," because the Mischlinge "didn't really belong to either culture, and I think it left psychological scars."
"It's not an unusual tale for Jews to intermarry," Price notes. (This dates back at least to Moses, he suggests, who was "a prince whose life changes when he finds out he's Jewish, and who marries a gentile woman.")
The interesting thing, he says, "is what influence the Jews have on the societies they live in and what happens when those societies go off the rails."