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Judenzählung (German for "Jewish census") was a measure instituted by the German Military High Command in October 1916, during the upheaval of World War I. Designed to confirm accusations of the lack of patriotism among German Jews, the census disproved the charges but its results were not made public.[1] However, its figures were leaked out, being published in an antisemitic brochure.[2] The Jewish authorities, who themselves had compiled statistics which considerably exceeded the figures in the brochure, were not only denied access to the government archives, but also informed by the Republican Minister of Defense that the contents of the antisemitic brochure were correct.[2] In the atmosphere of growing antisemitism,[3] many German Jews saw "the Great War" as an opportunity to prove their commitment to the German homeland.[4]



As the tide of war began to turn against Germany, many in the military were eager to find a scapegoat. As had long been the case, Jews provided an easy target and the myth of "stab-in-the-back" (German: Dolchstoßlegende) became popular. The census was seen as a way to prove that Jews were betraying the Fatherland by shirking military service. According to Amos Elon,

"In October 1916, when almost three thousand Jews had already died on the battlefield and more than seven thousand had been decorated, War Minister Wild von Hohenborn saw fit to sanction the growing prejudices. He ordered a "Jew census" in the army to determine the actual number of Jews on the front lines as opposed to those serving in the rear. Ignoring protests in the Reichstag and the press, he proceeded with his head count. The results were not made public, ostensibly to "spare Jewish feelings." The truth was that the census disproved the accusations: 80 percent served on the front lines."[5]

Results and reactions

Ultimately the military found that not only were German Jews enthusiastically serving in the armed forces, they were also volunteering in disproportionate numbers for front line duty.[3]

"12,000 Jewish soldiers died on the field of honor for the fatherland." A leaflet published in 1920 by German Jewish veterans in response to accusations of the lack of patriotism

The episode marked a shocking moment for the Jewish community, which had passionately backed the War effort and displayed patriotism; many Jews saw it as an opportunity to prove their commitment to the German homeland. Over 100,000 had served in the Army; 12,000 perished in battle, while another 35,000 were decorated for bravery.[6][7]

That their fellow countrymen could so quickly and openly turn on them was a source of major dismay for most German Jews, and the moment marked a point of rapid decline in what some historians[8] called "Jewish-German symbiosis." Judenzählung, denounced by German Jews as a "statistical monstrosity", was a catalyst to intensified antisemitism.[9] The episode also led increasing numbers of young German Jews to accept Zionism, as they realized that full assimilation into German society was unattainable.[10]

German Jewish writer Arnold Zweig, who had volunteered for the army and seen action as a Private in France, Hungary and Serbia, was stationed at the Western Front when the Judenzählung census was undertaken. Zweig wrote in a letter to Martin Buber, dated February 15:

"The Judenzählung was a reflection of unheard sadness for Germany's sin and our agony... If there was no antisemitism in the Army, the unbearable call to duty would be almost easy."

Shaken by the experience, Zweig began to revise his views on the war and to realize that it pitted Jews against Jews. Later he described his experiences in the short story Judenzählung vor Verdun[11] and became an active pacifist.


  1. ^ "Deutsche Jüdische Soldaten” Bavarian National Exhibition
  2. ^ a b [1]
  3. ^ a b Antisemitism in Germany Post World War 1. The Florida Holocaust Museum
  4. ^ S. Friedlaender, Redemptive Anti-Semitism Source: S. Friedlaender, Chapter 3 in: Nazi Germany and the Jews, Vol. I - The Years of Persecution 1933-1939, (New York 1997), pp. 73-112. (Yad Vashem History of the Holocaust, a collaboration between the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem and Drew University, Madison New Jersey.
  5. ^ Elon, Amos (2002): The Pity of It All. Metropolitan Books. p.338. The author cites the following sources for his numbers:
    • R. Vogel: Ein Stück von uns: Deutsche Juden in deutschen Armeen, 1813-1976, Mainz, 1977, p.149
    • Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 19 (1974): p.143.
  6. ^ Die Judischen Gefallenen A Roll of Honor Commemorating the 12,000 German Jews Who Died for their Fatherland in World War I.
  7. ^ "About 10,000 volunteered for duty, and over 100,000 out of a total German-Jewish population of 550,000 served during World War One. Some 78% saw frontline duty, 12,000 died in battle, over 30,000 received decorations, and 19,000 were promoted. Approximately 2,000 Jews became military officers and 1,200 became medical officers". (Rigg, Bryan: Hitler's Jewish Soldiers, p.72)
  8. ^ See Fritz Stern
  9. ^ Frank Bajohr: The "Folk Community" and the Persecution of the Jews: German Society under National Socialist Dictatorship, 1933–1945. Holocaust Genocide Studies, Fall 2006; 20: 183 - 206.
  10. ^ (German) Jüdische Intellektuelle im Ersten Weltkrieg. Zwischen Verteidigung des Vaterlandes als unstrittiger Pflicht und Antisemitismus als Frontalltag - PD Dr. Ulrich Sieg. Fachgebiet. Neuere und Neueste Geschichte
  11. ^ Noah William Isenberg: Between Redemption and Doom. The Strains of German-Jewish Modernism p.59-60 [2]

See also

Further reading



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