Book Review: Loyalty Betrayed: Jewish Chaplains in the German Army During the First World War


by Peter C Appelbaum

London: Vallentine Mitchell / Portland, Or.: International Specialized Book Services, 2014. Pp. xxiv, 358. Illus., appends., notes, biblio. index. $79.95. ISBN: 0853038473

The Surprising Story of Jewish Chaplains in the Kaiser’s Army

Subsequent history obscures the fact that early in the twentieth century, despite considerable anti-Semitism, Germany was a nation that was among the least hostile to Jews.  As a result, Jews rallied to the colors on the outbreak of World War I in commendable numbers, which led to calls for chaplains of the Jewish faith. 

Loyalty Betrayed gives us an interesting, often very insightful look at the experiences of the nearly three dozen men – not all of them rabbis – who sought to meet the needs of the nearly 100,000 Jewish men in the German Army.  The author, a retired university professor, uses both historical narrative and the chaplains’ own words to tell their story.  The personal accounts, letters, diaries, even sermons, are often very revealing. 

Loyalty Betrayed offers quite a few surprises.  Appelbaum gives us examples of camaraderie and professional interaction among Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic chaplains, and notes instances in which senior German officers (even the arch-reactionary Imperial Crown Prince), took part in Jewish religious services, both suggestive of a greater tolerance that might have followed.  In addition to addressing the delivery religious services to German soldiers, Appelbaum discusses how these chaplains often reached out to assist Jewish refugees, particularly in Eastern Europe, held conferences among themselves to share ideas, and more, including the difficulties of obtaining religious articles for particular occasion. 

Nor does Appelbaum overlook anti-Semitism, which sometimes did intrude on the lives of Jewish men in the Imperial Army.  The most notable case was that of the Army’s “Jew Count.”  Suspicion in some circles that Jews were evading service, prompted the Army to undertake a census intended to prove precisely that.  But the results so discredited the charge that they were never published.  Appelbaum carries the story of these men into the post war years, and then the Nazi era, when all of them was either killed, exiled, or imprisoned, despite their service, hence the book’s title, Loyalty Betrayed

Loyalty Betrayed is an excellent work for anyone interested in the German Army in the Great War, the chaplaincy, Jewish History, or the Holocaust.

 Note: Loyalty Betrayed is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-0-85303-837-5.
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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