I’ve just been reading a very interesting article on the BBC’s online Magazine about German citizens who fought for Britain against Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
Its not the first time I have come across this story. In my research into the Battle of Arnhem, it transpires that a number of exiled German and Austrian Jews took part in the battle. Having fled Germany and settled in Britain, on the outbreak of war they were interned as enemy aliens – even Jews.
Gradually though, the assumption that all enemy nationals were hostile was re-evaluated. Many of those of Military service age were allowed to join the Pioneer Corps – the part of the Army that performs hard physical labour – easily the least glamorous Corps in the entire British Army.
Remarkably, many of the German and Austrian Pioneers were champing at the bit to get back at Hitler, and they soon realised that digging trenches and building roads was not enough. Some of them not only volunteered for the Parachute Regiment, but for the 21st Independent Company – the elite unit that landed first and marked out the Drop Zones for the rest of the Division.
According to Mark Hickman’s Pegasus Archive, around 25 Germans and Austrians joined the Company. They were thought to be particularly useful due to their bilingual abilities and tenacious fighting skills. All of them fought under assumed names, to try and avoid the dire consequences if their true identities were discovered by the Germans.
Two of them died at Arnhem. Corporal Hans Rosenfeld, 29, was killed on 23 September. Rosenfeld fought under the assumed name of John Rodley, and is buried in Oosterbeek War Cemetery. Private Timothy Bleichroeder, 22, was killed on 25 September, the last day. He fought under the name of Bleach. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Groesbeek Memorial.
These men were incredibly brave. Whilst it is often said that the average soldier is fighting for himself and his comrades, the German and Austrian anti-Nazis had an added motivation for wanting to see the end of the Nazi regime – most of them had suffered under their persecution. And for each of them, the consquences of being captured were acute. Not only would they have been shot out of hand as traitors, given their nationality, their status as Jews would have led them on a one-way journey to the concentration camps.
They more than anyone must have known why the Allies were fighting.