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What it means to be Jewish in British Army

“Captain, I would rather you didn’t speak to me like that.”

Choosing to stand up to your commanding officer as a new recruit is never a decision to be taken lightly. Even more so when you’re the only Jewish member of the German Army, working alongside soldiers who fought under the Nazis in World War II.

Although decades have passed since Michael Fürst was on the receiving end of antisemitic comments, the sting is fresh in his memory, he tells BBC World Service’s Heart and Soul programme.

“I had never heard anything like this before, never!” he exclaims.

Now 76, Michael is a lawyer and president of the Association of Jewish Communities of Lower Saxony. His office is lined with books that reflect these twin pillars of his life, along with medals and photographs.

Michael signed up to the German armed forces – the Bundeswehr – in 1966. He believes he was the first Jew to do so after World War Two. At the time, anyone in West Germany whose family had been persecuted by the Nazis was exempt from military service.

Two of Michael’s grandparents perished in the concentration camps, but Michael was brought up with a sense of pride in his identity as both a German and a Jew. Joining the military was something that all his friends were doing on leaving school – and Michael saw no reason why he should not do the same.

“I was 19 years old, I was very sporty, and I didn’t know what to do with my life,” he remembers. “So there was only one decision: I would join the army like all the others.”

Other Jews outside Michael’s immediate circle found his choice hard to accept. “They called me the schmuck from Hanover,” he laughs. “A stupid boy. And friends in the USA for example said: ‘How can you go the army? How can you live in Germany?’

“It was a big thing to decide, whether you were more German or more Jewish. So I decided to be German and Jew.”


Source: BBC

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