In the Wolf's Mouth

SMU's Bryan Mark Rigg uncovers the story of Hitler's Jewish soldiers

One night in January 1996, Stelzer's roommate said she was meeting the legendary Rigg about conducting a women's self-defense class and asked if she knew what he looked like. "Just look for Aahh-nold," Stelzer joked.

That evening, when her roommate brought "Aahh-nold" back to their room, Stelzer and Rigg ended up talking for two hours. She'd spent six months in Germany studying language and was fascinated by his research. They had their first big date February 2; by March they were engaged.

Bulldog TV, a campus show on cable, aired a 20-minute story about the legend of Bryan Rigg that spring. It had started with the burglar.

Clockwise, from top left: At 32, Bryan Mark Rigg has already earned his doctorate from Cambridge and conducted groundbreaking research into the lives of the Jewish soldiers who served in Hitler's armed forces; blond-haired, blue-eyed Werner Goldberg, who kept his Jewish heritage a secret, was presented in Nazi propaganda as "The Ideal German Soldier"; Luftwaffe General Helmut Wilberg, declared Aryan by Hitler in 1935 even though he was partly Jewish; General Gotthard Heinrici, far left, meeting Hitler, who awarded Heinrici's children and wife, who had Jewish ancestors, the "German blood certificate"; soldiers taking an oath instituted in 1934 swearing allegiance to Hitler. Mischlinge who refused to repeat the oath because they had Jewish relatives ended up in jail.
Top left: Mark Graham
Clockwise, from top left: At 32, Bryan Mark Rigg has already earned his doctorate from Cambridge and conducted groundbreaking research into the lives of the Jewish soldiers who served in Hitler's armed forces; blond-haired, blue-eyed Werner Goldberg, who kept his Jewish heritage a secret, was presented in Nazi propaganda as "The Ideal German Soldier"; Luftwaffe General Helmut Wilberg, declared Aryan by Hitler in 1935 even though he was partly Jewish; General Gotthard Heinrici, far left, meeting Hitler, who awarded Heinrici's children and wife, who had Jewish ancestors, the "German blood certificate"; soldiers taking an oath instituted in 1934 swearing allegiance to Hitler. Mischlinge who refused to repeat the oath because they had Jewish relatives ended up in jail.
Rigg, left, bicycled all over Germany, surviving on peanut butter and searching for surviving Mischlinge. He ultimately interviewed 430 men of Jewish descent who'd served in the Wehrmacht. Right, Rigg in a German military cemetery with a "full Jew," Paul-Ludwig Hirschfeld, who falsified his papers and severed all contact with his family, except his Jewish fiancee, in order to survive the Nazi era. Hirschfeld claims he secretly used his position to help fellow Jews. But his brother, sister and the rest of his family died in the Holocaust.
Rigg, left, bicycled all over Germany, surviving on peanut butter and searching for surviving Mischlinge. He ultimately interviewed 430 men of Jewish descent who'd served in the Wehrmacht. Right, Rigg in a German military cemetery with a "full Jew," Paul-Ludwig Hirschfeld, who falsified his papers and severed all contact with his family, except his Jewish fiancee, in order to survive the Nazi era. Hirschfeld claims he secretly used his position to help fellow Jews. But his brother, sister and the rest of his family died in the Holocaust.

In his sophomore year, Rigg's estranged father cut him off financially, and he had to move off campus. The dean of Silliman let Rigg store his belongings in a basement storage room. He'd come to campus, do his recycling job, shower, dress and go to class. But someone was stealing his clothes and other belongings from the storage room. Rigg and the dean had the only keys. Campus police said they could do nothing unless Rigg brought them evidence.

Rigg rigged a booby trap--a heavy weight on a string--to hit the thief if he opened the door during the day. At night, Rigg deactivated the trap and slept in the room, waiting for his prey.

One dawn, Rigg heard the door opening and saw a man with a box cutter enter. Rigg jumped him and, using his self-defense techniques, "incapacitated him." Rigg dragged the bloodied and luckless perp--a custodian with 13 unauthorized keys--to the dean's house.

On Bulldog TV, students would describe Rigg as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Meanwhile, Rigg was struggling to finish his senior essay on the Mischlinge. "It was very original and went far beyond the usual expectations for an undergraduate paper," Professor Turner says. "It was very unusual for someone to gather fresh evidence like that." Rigg's poor writing skills, however, caused both of them frustration. "I don't think I've ever spent as much time working with a student, helping him to get it into the English language," Turner says. "But he always went away and did what I told him to do. He was a worker."

Despite Rigg's efforts, Turner refused to recommend him for graduate study. "I'm very fond of Bryan," he says. "He knows this one thing better than anyone else on earth, but he's not really an intellectual or a historian. This goes back to his undergraduate career. He dropped out of my German history course because he was too busy. He was fixated on this one issue and the cases he interviewed."

In May 1996, Rigg graduated from Yale with more than 150 credits, far more than required, and received degrees in both English and history. Rigg also received the coveted Henry Fellowship, awarding him one year of graduate study in European history at either Cambridge or Oxford. His quest could continue.


"So, zeze are your Nazis!"said Dr. Arnold Paucker in his thick German accent, surveying documents Rigg had brought for his scrutiny. Paucker, director of the Leo Baeck Institute in London, was unimpressed. To him, the Mischlinge who'd served in the Wehrmacht were not Jews but persecutors of Jews. Rigg's efforts to enlist Paucker's help had failed, and the scholar would eventually become his harshest critic.

Rigg had moved to England and Cambridge in the fall of 1996, where he was supervised by Dr. Jonathon Steinberg, a prolific author and now chair of the history department at the University of Pennsylvania. "Bryan Rigg was like no other student I've had before or since," Steinberg says. "He was a man on a mission. It was something to do with his own deepest needs and desires. Meeting these people was the obsession. Cambridge is very flexible, so I set him loose."

Visiting Rigg's apartment, Steinberg was horrified to see Nazi-era documents stored in an upside-down twin bed frame partitioned with twine. Concerned that the documents be protected from fire, Steinberg arranged for them to be temporarily housed in the Churchill Archives.

Steinberg also encouraged Rigg to seek press coverage to stake out his area of research and to find Mischlinge veterans before they died. Steinberg contacted a reporter at the London Daily Telegraph, who wrote a front-page story. It was picked up by The Associated Press and followed by a story in the Los Angeles Times. While the stories yielded many Mischlinge sources, they had an unwanted side effect: Some historians began tagging him as a publicity hound, and others attacked the premise of his research. "I got the feeling that Paucker wished it had never come to light," Rigg says. "He just does not like that this is a chapter of history."

When Rigg began speaking to Jewish audiences, he encountered skepticism and at times hostility. But Rigg's charisma and good will usually won people over. "People learned my research was about Jewish identity," Rigg says, "about the Third Reich's approach to who is a Jew and who isn't."

His master's thesis focused on a dramatic story he'd discovered in his research: the rescue of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe Joseph Yitzak Schneersohn from Nazi-controlled Poland by an unlikely alliance of the American State Department, the Abwehr (Hitler's intelligence service) and a high-ranking Mischling officer named Ernst Bloch. Then Rigg decided to pursue a doctoral degree at Cambridge, living in Germany while he continued his research. Steinberg arranged for the transfer of his documents to the federal military archive in Freiburg, which gave him an office. Stephanie got a job with a company that had branches in the states.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...