With a strong sense of loyalty, a staggering 100,000 German Jews proudly fought alongside their fellow countrymen during the First World War and were rewarded with the highest accolades. Some 12,000 made the ultimate sacrifice and died on the battlefront.
But just two decades later, that patriotism and commitment was swept aside as the Nazis rose to power, forcing many to flee their beloved country – or face deportation to the death camps.
Coinciding with 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War, a new exhibition highlighting the contribution of German-Jewish soldiers has launched at The Wiener Library.
The Kaiser’s Jewish Soldiers: Loyalty, Identity, Betrayal, runs until October and explores the lives and legacies of these soldiers through a selection of striking photographs, postcards, prints and books.
Among the stories featured is that of Ludwig Jacoby, who worked with trained dogs to search for wounded soldiers in the Ardennes. Jacoby was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class for bravery. Following the war, he moved with his family from Prenzlau to Berlin.
By 1938, he had lost his job working for a fabric company and although he was able to help his elder son Henry escape to Britain, he, his wife Dorothea and younger son Hans-Bernd were deported to Auschwitz in March 1943.
Likewise, established fur dealer Phillip Manes was nearly 40-years-old when the First World War broke out. He was drafted into the army and served on the Russian front as a sergeant.
In addition to military assignments, Manes was given the responsibility of running a number of bookshops behind the front, supplying reading material to soldiers. Once a war hero and committed German soldier, Manes and his wife were later imprisoned at Theresienstadt.
Despite the appalling conditions, Manes organised evening lectures and cultural activities to offer a sense of dignity to others sharing his plight. He was deported with his wife to Auschwitz in October 1944.
There were some however who managed to escape Nazi deportation and death. Distinguished gynaecologist Alfred Loeser, who performed emergency treatments on the battlefield and was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class, later felt a deep sense of betrayal after he was forced to emigrate to Britain in 1939.
Dr Toby Simpson, exhibition curator, said: “The commitment of German Jews topatriotic ideals during and after the First World War is particularly striking as we look back on this moment in history at a distance of 100 years.
“The later attempts of the Nazis to distort, and even obliterate the contribution of Jewish soldiers to the First World War make the survival and richness of these collections all the more poignant.”
The Kaiser’s Jewish Soldiers: Loyalty, Identity, Betrayal runs at The Wiener Library, Russell Square, until 8 October. Details: 020 7636 7247 or www.wienerlibrary.co.uk