Was Josef Jakobs Jewish?

A few weeks ago, I had a question from one of the readers of this blog. The reader wanted to know why I never talk about Josef Jakobs being Jewish. That is actually a very good question! And one that I hope to answer in this blog.

Court Martial Statements
The idea that Josef was Jewish originated during his statement at his court martial on August 4th and 5th. Before Josef even reached the stand, his attorney, White was cross-examining Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke.

White asked Hinchley-Cooke if he knew that Josef was of Jewish origin, Hinchley-Cooke said “No.” White then said that the name “Jakobs” was, of course, Jewish, but Hinchley-Cooke said “Not necessarily.” He said that while some Jakobs’ were Jews, he had met others who were Christians. White said that the accused’s grandfather was a Jew and that his grandmother was a Christian, and his parents were Christian, but that he did have a Jewish strand.

White asked if the fact that the accused’s grandfather was a Jew would make him non-Aryan in the eyes of the Nazis, but Hinchley-Cooke said not necessarily, otherwise, the accused would not have been promoted to a commissioned officer in the Great War. If he was Jewish, and if the Germans knew that he was of Jewish descent, then he would not have been given the commission in the 4th Foot Guards. When pressed, Hinchley-Cooke acknowledged that it might have happened, but it would have been unusual, as even during the Great War, the Germans were very strict with Jews.

When Josef was brought before the court to be questioned, he stated that he was not a member of the Nazi Party and, according to the Nuremberg Law, would be considered a non-Aryan because his grandfather was a Jew. His grandmother was a Christian, as was his mother, and he himself was Roman Catholic. He also referenced the fact that his father-in-law was Jewish.

The prosecuting attorney, A.A.H. Marlowe cross-examined Josef about his family. Josef acknowledged that he was married with three children and that his wife was not a Nazi, and that she had a Jewish step-father.

Note that in one instance, Josef says his "father-in-law" was Jewish and in another instance he has a "Jewish step-father". Given that there was a translator and a transcriptionist involved, this is likely a miscommunication. In actual fact, Josef's step-father-in-law (his wife's step-father) was Jewish.

On the second day of the court martial, during his summing up, White has this to say:

Perhaps the most important thing of all is that he is a Roman Catholic. I submit this detail has a ring of truth. He said that one of his objections to the Nazis was that he could not take his children to Church on Sunday mornings and that they had to go shooting. We all know the importance which the Roman Catholic attaches to the upbringing of his children. Does not that bear a ring of truth? Why invent that of all things ‘I cannot take my children to Church’. He is a non-Aryan. The whole story is full of Jews. His wife’s father-in-law, his own father [The transcript says “his wife’s father-in-law, his own father” but this could be a mistake by White or a mistake by the transcriptionist. In actual fact, it was his wife’s step-father which would have been Josef’s step-father-in-law who was Jewish. Josef never claimed that his "father" was Jewish.], his business associates, and the man with whom he was landed in prison in Switzerland. It is a Jewish circle. It does not require any evidence placed before this Court to tell you that the Jews hate the Nazis. It does not require any stretch of imagination to imagine a man of Jewish origin should have every reason to detest the members of that party.

 Marlowe, during his summing up notes:

He [has] apparently Jewish blood in him somewhere, to have a wife who is in some way connected with a Jewish relation...

As White noted earlier... Josef's story has a lot of Jewish threads running through it. In the early 1930s, he worked for a Jewish publishing house and later invested money with a Jewish stockbroker. In the mid-1930s, he and a Jewish man ran a gold counterfeiting operation in Switzerland... and spent time in prison there after being caught. In the late 1930s, Josef became involved in a black market venture that sold foreign passports to desperate Jews in Berlin... and he spent time in a concentration camp after being caught. Apparently, it was even a Jewish friend who suggested that Josef join the Abwehr. His wife's step-father was Jewish. Finally, he claimed that his grand-father was Jewish. This was an intriguing claim given that in all his previous statements to MI5, he never once played the "I'm Jewish" or "I'm not an Aryan" card. He always stated that he was a Roman Catholic. He was carrying a Catholic badge when he was first captured. In the days before his court martial, he requested that he be visited by a Catholic priest. He was ultimately buried in a Catholic cemetery. The court martial was the first time where Josef indicated that he might have Jewish blood in him. Was this the claim of a desperate man seeking to win the sympathy of the court martial tribunal? Possibly. Before we look at the validity of his claim, we need to take a look at the Nuremberg Laws that determined who was considered Jewish and who was considered Aryan in Nazi Germany.

Nuremberg Laws & Racial Classification
On September 15, 1935, the Nazi party passed two laws that would alter the face of Germany: Law for the Protection of German Blood & Honour and Reich Citizenship Law. According to the ideology of the Nazi party, racial purity was of critical importance for the future of the German nation. The Jewish race was seen as inferior to the Aryan race and needed to be expunged. The problem was... how did one determine who was Jewish and who was Aryan?

Over the centuries, Jews had integrated into German society. Some no longer practiced Judaism, others had married Christians or even converted to Christianity. To complicate matters, the Nazi party rejected the traditional idea that Jews were defined as members of a religious or cultural community. According to the Nazis, Jews were a race of people defined by birth and blood, even though there was no scientific basis for such a definition. So how to define a Jew?

The legislators of the Nazi party decided to use family genealogy to define race. They would look at the grandparents of an individual. Some hard-core Nazis wanted to go even farther back, up to the great-grandparents or great-great grandparents, but more moderate Nazis prevailed. Individuals with three or more grandparents born into the Jewish religious community were considered to be Jews by law. Their grandparents, born into a Jewish religious community, were considered to be "racially" Jewish. Their "racial" status was passed on to their children and grandchildren. This despite the fact that the Nazis ostensibly claimed to reject a racial definition based on religion. But they had to start somewhere... so it started with the grandparents.

Under the Reich Citizenship Law, Jews (those individuals with 3 or 4 Jewish grandparents) were not citizens but simply "subjects of the state". This law impacted tens of thousands of people who did not consider themselves Jewish and who might have no religious or cultural connections to the Jewish community. Even those people whose grandparents or parents converted from Judaism to Christianity could be considered Jewish. From one day to the next, these people were stripped of their citizenship and deprived of basic rights.

These laws naturally created a fair bit of confusion and several follow-up decrees were required to bring some clarity to the issue. On November 14, 1935, a supplement to the Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935 was issued. This supplement created the racial categories of:
  • Jew (3 or 4 Jewish grandparents)
  • Mischling - 1st Degree (half Jew - 2 Jewish grandparents)
  • Mischling - 2nd Degree (quarter Jew - 1 Jewish grandparent)
  • German (no Jewish grandparents)
According to Hitler, when someone was more than 50 percent Jewish, they were beyond the point of saving and were evil. While Mischlings (half-breeds) were not considered full-Jews, they still had certain rights curtailed, primarily whom they could marry. They could also be tipped into the "Jewish" category if they belonged to the Jewish religion or were married to a Jew. Even a Mischling of the 2nd Degree, if they looked or behaved Jewish, could be treated like a Jew and deported to a concentration camp.

After the laws were put into force:
  • Jews could only marry Jews or half-Jews
  • Half Jews could only marry Jews or other half-Jews
  • Quarter Jews could only marry Aryans

Interestingly enough, Hitler made sure that the legal definition of "Jewishness" excluded Jesus Christ and himself. While there was no concrete proof that Hitler was Jewish, his father was illegitimate and Hitler wanted to cover all of his bases.

Nuremberg Laws - racial classification chart
Nuremberg Laws - racial classification chart

If a Jewish person had married an Aryan person prior to September 15, 1935, they were afforded some protection and many were able to escape being sent to the concentration camps.

An excerpt from the November 14, 1935 supplement clearly states that "a grandparent is offhandedly considered fully Jewish if he has membership with the Jewish religious body": 

Cf. §5 (1) "Jude ist, wer von mindestens drei der Rasse nach volljüdischen Großeltern abstammt. § 2 Abs.[atz] 2 Satz 2 findet Anwendung." (translated: A Jew is defined as one who descends from at least three (racially) fully Jewish grandparents. § 2 section 2 sentence 2 is applying.), whereas §2 (2) says: "Jüdischer Mischling ist, wer von einem oder zwei der Rasse nach volljüdischen Großelternteilen abstammt, sofern er nicht nach § 5 Abs.[atz] 2 als Jude gilt. Als volljüdisch gilt ein Großelternteil ohne weiteres, wenn er der jüdischen Religionsgemeinschaft angehört hat." (translated: A Jewish Mischling is defined as one who descends from one or two (racially) fully Jewish grandparents, unless he is considered a Jew in accordance with § 5 (2). A grandparent is offhandedly considered fully Jewish if he has membership with the Jewish religious body.), see: Erste Verordnung zum Reichsbürgergesetz vom 14. November 1935 (First ordinance on the Reich's Citizen Act of 14 November 1935)

These laws generated a huge upsurge in genealogical research in Germany. All of a sudden, one needed to be able to prove one's non-Jewish ancestry, at least up to the grandparent level. Church offices and courthouses saw a huge upsurge in people requesting their ancestral birth, baptismal, marriage, death and burial records. One can only imagine the anxiety with which people awaited the results of their ancestral lineage. It literally could mean the difference between life and death.

Josef Jakobs' Ancestral Lineage
If we return to Josef and his claim that one of his grandparents was Jewish, we now see that he would have been classified as a Mischling (half-breed) 2nd Degree. He was also a staunch Roman Catholic and it is unlikely that he would have been considered to "look" or "behave" like a Jew. Although... given his continuous brushes with the law, one could wonder if he would have been labelled "undesirable" from that perspective.

Ultimately, the real question is... was one of his grandparents Jewish? Detailed genealogical research by the author has uncovered an unbroken series of Catholic baptisms/marriages/burials in Josef's ancestral lineage, well into the 1600s. Josef's claim that one of his grandparents was Jewish is false. In all likelihood, he was playing the Jewish card in a bid to garner some sympathy at the court martial.

The claim that Josef Jakobs was Jewish is not accurate. This claim does not appear often in the literature and I am only aware of the 1999 article by the Jerusalem Post which claimed that Josef was Jewish. It is interesting that some articles will claim that Josef was Jewish while others will claim that he was an agent for the Gestapo. From one extreme to the other. Josef was neither Jewish nor a member of the Nazi Party's Secret State Police (Gestapo - Geheime Staatspolizei). He was an unlucky family man caught in the cogs of war.

Josef Jakobs Court-Martial File – August 4, 1941.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - Nuremberg Laws
Jewish Virtual Library - The Nuremberg Laws - Background & Overview
Jewish Virtual Library - Was Hitler Jewish?
Encyclopedia Britannica - Nürnberg Laws
Wikipedia - Mischling


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