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‘BBC’ radio documentary researches 300 Jews who enlisted in German army 

One Jewish soldier said classmates were “frozen in shock” when she planned to enlist • German army hired military rabbis in recent years.

Recruitment store of Bundeswehr, the German volunteer defense army, near Friedrichstrasse train station in central Berlin. Credit: Michael Jay/Shutterstock.
Recruitment store of Bundeswehr, the German volunteer defense army, near Friedrichstrasse train station in central Berlin. Credit: Michael Jay/Shutterstock.

Fewer than 80 years after the Holocaust, some 300 Jews serve in the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces.

A new, 27-minute BBC World Service radio documentary titled “German, Soldier, Jew” delves into the world of Jews who enlist in the German army.

“After the horrific role played by the German military in the Holocaust, arguably the last place you would expect to find a Jew would be in the German Armed Forces,” per the BBC. “And yet it is estimated that today, there are around 300 practicing Jewish military personnel, and since 2021, they have had their own chaplain, the first chief rabbi—and the first non-Christian—in nearly 90 years.”

Not only would one not expect to find Jews in the German army but with an estimated Jewish population of 118,000—the world’s eighth-largest Jewish community—it appears that a larger percentage of German Jews rather than non-Jewish Germans might serve in Germany’s army.

When West Germany enforced national service starting in 1966, it allowed exemptions for groups against which the Third Reich discriminated. Today, the German army is a voluntary service.

The documentary shares the moving tale of Michael Fürst, the first Jew to join the German army after World War II and now president of the Association of Jewish Communities of Lower Saxony.

Fürst opted to enlist when non-Jewish classmates were conscripted. He discovered that the senior officers overseeing him and his peers had served during World War II, and many even wore Nazi eagle emblems on their uniforms, Fürst told the BBC.

One officer said publicly that Jews caused issues for his family but told Fürst that he had no beef with him. (Three years ago, a cell of far-right operatives was found in the Bundeswehr ranks.)

A Jewish soldier, identified only as “Anna,” converted to Judaism as a teenager. She told the BBC that she wanted to protect the human rights and free democratic order that the Nazis had violated.

Still, there is a stigma in the German Jewish community against serving in the army, she said. She reported that her Jewish classmates were “frozen in shock” when she announced plans to enlist.

In recent years, the German army has increased religious support for Jewish soldiers, including establishing a Jewish chaplaincy and hiring military rabbis.

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