The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II

By Mullen, Thomas | America in WWII, April 2010 | Go to article overview

The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II


Mullen, Thomas, America in WWII


The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II, by Steven Karras, Zenith Press, 320 pages, $28.

TEN YEARS AGO, filmmaker Steven Karras was interviewing vets for About Face, a documentary about the experiences of German and Austrian Jews fighting for the United States in Europe. He discovered an absolute embarrassment of riches, far too much for one film to accommodate. As a result, he revisited this trove of material and created The Enemy I Knew, a book of 27 interviewees who fled their homelands, came to the States or Britain, and eventually served in the WWII military in Europe.

A major impetus for film and book seems to have been an effort to counter the impression that Jews were simply passive victims of the Nazis, an impression easy to get from popular media like Anne Frank's diary. As we know from the Warsaw uprising, however, Jews did struggle against the Nazis. This book reminds us that real life tells the best story of resistance.

The Enemy I Knew is best in small doses. That's partly due to the brevity of the sections, which seldom exceed 10 or 12 pages, but also to the repetitive nature of many of the stories. Most start with early 1930s Nazi mischief, followed by the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, and efforts to emigrate from Germany or Austria. Then comes the effort to start a new life in the States or Britain, entry into the military, training, and return to the Continent. First encounters with the enemy are recounted, the war ends, and the narrators return to America to start new lives. Though the roles vary from infantryman to aviator, nurse to staffer, the pattern is consistent.

Amid the assortment of similar accounts, I found myself looking for the details that made one story stand out from the next. For instance, Peter Terry's D-Day landing and patrols are harrowing and as well told in their way as Saving Private Ryan. Ralph Baer gives a fascinating account of work in intelligence and a seemingly endless quest for German hardware. I frankly was envious when reading of the machine guns, mines, rockets, ammo, and small arms he collected. Edmund Schloss's story of emigration, resettlement, and military service is well told, with memorable incidents during the winter of 1944-1945. …

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