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Nazi letter protected Jewish man who once served with Hitler

July 6, 2012 |  1:09 pm

A Jewish commander who had served over Adolf Hitler during the First World War was spared from Nazi persecution for a time, thanks to a letter saying the Fuhrer wanted him to be protected, a German Jewish newspaper has reported.

The remarkable story was uncovered by the Jewish Voice from Germany, a Berlin journal that interviewed the 86-year-old daughter of Ernst Hess to reveal his story.

Hess served in the same regiment as Hitler during World War I and briefly was the future leader's company commander. Hess formed close relationships some fellow soldiers, though not with Hitler. Among his friends was Fritz Wiedemann, who would become personal adjutant to Hitler, the journal reported.

After unsuccessfully petitioning Hitler to escape the Jewish label entirely because of his Christian upbringing, Hess appears to have been granted protection in a letter from another Nazi leader, which described his military service alongside Hitler. It is unclear what Hitler knew about the 1940 letter, which assures that Hess should not be deported or otherwise harassed.

“I think it's likely that this was all done by Fritz Wiedemann because he did the same in other cases involving Jewish soldiers,” historian Thomas Weber of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland told the Associated Press. “But I can’t exclude that Hitler intervened. We do know that Hitler felt very close to the veterans of his regiment.”

The Jewish Voice from Germany reported that the protection order was revoked years later, sending Hess into forced labor at a concentration camp near Munich. Hess survived the Holocaust; his sister died in Auschwitz, the journal reported.

Although the story has drawn attention because of its suggestion that Hitler himself may have helped a Jewish friend, several stories of Nazis protecting Jews have emerged over time.

German army officer Karl Plagge, who joined and later quit the Nazi Party, has been credited with saving Jews by hiring them as workers. A new book by David M. Cohen reveals that Sigmund Freud owes his life to a Nazi chemist who helped him and his family get exit visas. And Edith Hahn Beer surprised the world with her tale of hiding her Jewish identity and marrying a Nazi officer who knew and kept her secret.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

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