From the DJN Foundation Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History
When cruising through the Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, a reader can find the unexpected, something beyond a written record of Jews in Detroit and Michigan, or in America and the world at-large. And, sometimes the report you find will really illustrate the changing tide of history. Case in-point: This week, I found a story from the Aug. 4, 1916, issue of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle that praised the adventures of Paul Koenig, captain of the German submarine Deutschland in World War I.
About now, you might be thinking: “What the heck??” A Jewish publication praising a German submarine captain?” Didn’t we go “over there” to fight the Germans?
We know that the United States was allied with France and Great Britain against Germany in both world wars. And, we think of what the Nazis did to Jews and other Europeans — millions dying in the fight against the Germans, millions of families devastated and displaced and, of course, the Nazi death camps resulting in the Holocaust.
However, in 1916, there were no Nazis, and America had not yet entered the war. There were still many in the U.S. who wished to remain neutral and, strange as it may seem, many Americans were undecided as to whether the U.S. should support Great Britain and France or support Germany and Austria-Hungary. Moreover, there were thousands of loyal German Jews in the Kaiser’s Army and Navy in World War I. This is why in World War II, many German Jewish veterans could not understand why, after fighting in the trenches in the Great War, that the Nazis didn’t care about their sacrifices for Germany.
In the Chronicle in 1916, the story of Koenig was simply a story of a Jewish warrior, someone to be admired for his courage and skill, proof that “Jewish courage and heroism is as alive today as it was in the days of the Maccabees.” It was a different world 100 years ago.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.