Blogs > Cliopatria > Review of Bryan Mark Rigg's Rescued From The Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Yale University Press, 2004)

Mar 4, 2005 7:16 pm

Review of Bryan Mark Rigg's Rescued From The Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Yale University Press, 2004)

Gaby Wenig, in the Jewish Journal (3-4-05):

When a German army officer trawled the streets of Warsaw in 1940 looking for Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, people either pleaded ignorance or ran away in fear.

But maybe they should not have been so afraid of Ernst Bloch, the German officer whose many contradictions defined a life that was, ultimately, lived in service to both the hunter and the hunted. Despite his handsome, Germanic profile — if one overlooked the disfiguring scar on his bottom lip — and the many military awards he sported on his Wermacht army uniform, Bloch was a Jew. And despite his proud devotion to the Fatherland, when Bloch eventually found the rebbe, he lied to other SS guards, concealing the rebbe from them, and then escorted Schneersohn to Latvia (instead of a concentration camp), where the rebbe and his entourage awaited safe passage to the United States.

Historian Bryan Mark Rigg tells the unlikely story of how a Jewish Nazi risked his life and career to save the Lubavitcher rebbe in the fascinating book, “Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”

Rigg is a Cambridge University graduate and former marine who now teaches history at the American Military University and Southern Methodist University. He came to prominence a few years ago with the publication of “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military” (University Press of Kansas, 1997), a book which documented the fate of partial Jews, or “mischlinges.”

Bloch was one such mischlinge. He had a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. He joined the German army in 1914 when he was 16 years old and by the end of World War I, his devotion to Germany was rewarded with both a Second- and First-Class Iron Cross and a Wound Badge. After the war, Bloch stayed with the army, and so capable and loyal to the cause was Bloch that in 1939 Hitler himself removed the undesirable circumstances of his birth by signing a document that bestowed “German Blood” on him.

In “Rescued From the Reich” the paradoxical nature of Bloch’s career, which culminates in his spectacular rescue of the rebbe, echoes the also contradictory larger story of the German-American cooperation needed to facilitate the rescue, and raises many questions about just how much could have been done to save more Jews in Europe.

The rescue was a result of an international lobbying effort, spurred by the fledgling Lubavitch community in the United States, which was not only anxious for the safety of the rebbe on a personal level, but concerned about the future of the Chabad movement, which it saw as dependent on the rebbe’s safe egress to the United States.

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