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Culture, Politics and Technology

Discovering the Jews who fought back

The Enemy I Knew
The Enemy I Knew
By Steven Karras

Zenith Press: 2009

To learn more about this book, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

A sort of real-life version of the film "Inglourious Basterds" without the baseball bats, this oral history lets more than two dozen Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria who served in the U.S. and British militaries in Europe during World War II tell their stories. The larger themes may be familiar, but the story of Jews who fought back against their opporessors – who returned home in the conquering army – is uplifting in the face of the horror of the Holocaust.

Tracing more than two dozen Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria who ended up serving in U.S. or British military forces in Europe, Steven Karras' oral history gives us a different narrative from the usual Holocaust history. These men took up arms against the Nazis, many of them engaged in combat operations.

Not surprisingly, many of these men's stories overlap in the board themes of their experiences: Happy childhoods increasingly clouded by the Nazis' rise to power, attempts by their parents to get their families out of Germany or Austria, and then success – or, all too sadly, failure to get the family out, and success only at getting one or more of their children out.

Typical of that generation, these men don't go into a ton of detail on their emotions or feelings – the narratives tend to be matter-of fact. Most of them do admit to a sense of satisfaction at fighting the Nazis, and at helping root out the Nazis during the postwar occupation.

Interstingly, as refugees, many of these men had trouble enlisting in the U.S. armed forces – yet once accepted (or, more often, finally drafted after being turned down for enlistment), their native familiarity with German was put to good use as translators.

The stereotype of the weak Jew, going meekly to his fate in the death camps, is put to rest here. Those Jews who had the ability to fight back surely did – often in the uniform of the United States or Great Britain.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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