You read that right, dear reader, the country that lost the most in its fight against Nazism, by complete accident, memorialized a Nazi on a sculpture in Tobolsk back in 2015. How the hell could that happen? It’s one thing to memorialize maybe someone who you later learn to have held Nazi views, but no! This guy was quite literally the face of Nazi propaganda, appearing in Berlin newspapers with the title ‘The Ideal German Soldier’… And yes, this was a German soldier, not even a Russian. I repeat, how the hell does this happen?
Well, I’m slightly misleading. The monument isn’t even to anyone specific. It’s a monument to ‘Defenders of the Motherland’ as a collective and the image of a Soviet soldier, considered emblematic of the whole, is shown on the front. It so happens that this image is almost exactly identical to the one of the Nazi soldier, albeit with the helmet changed to a Soviet one rather than the infamous German stahlhelm. One can imagine that this was some edit someone made online and got passed around so much that people forgot what the actual origin was. Embarrassment was felt by all, the monument was very quickly updated, story ends there, right?
Well, things get a whole lot more interesting when we look into the history. After all, who even is this German soldier? His name was Werner Goldberg… Now, some of you might notice something’s a bit off here. This is a Nazi soldier, wearing the uniform and everything, being referred to as the ideal German soldier… And his name is Werner Goldberg. Those of you familiar with naming conventions might realise that last name is distinctly Jewish. And those of you who ever ran past the slightly ajar door of a history classroom might know that Nazis didn’t exactly have a fondness for people of the Jewish faith, nevermind calling them the exemplar of the Reich!
So, amazingly, this man managed to essentially trick two governments into hero-worship of their most hated enemies. The Russians thought he was a Soviet when he was a Nazi, and the Nazis thought he was an ‘Aryan’ when he was Jewish. Much laughter was had by all, so long as you try not to think about the terrible implications of everything involved. But what happened to mister Goldberg? I can imagine some Nazi apologists may be chomping at the bit to latch onto this as their latest half-baked idea that the Nazis didn’t hate Jewish people after all, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Calm down buckos, let’s investigate this a bit further. You see, Werner Goldberg may have been born to a Jewish parent, but a key part is that singular. Parent, not parents. His father (hence the name, as children tend to inherit the family name of the father) was Jewish while his mother was Lutheran. Indeed, he was baptized in a Lutheran church, as was his father in order to marry his wife. He was never even informed of his father’s Jewish heritage, though… Lord knows how the last name was explained to him in that case.
The Nuremberg laws of 1935 made it so that ‘full Jews’ were only those with at least three Jewish grandparents. If you only had two Jewish grandparents, not practicing the Jewish faith actively the state would turn a blind eye. And again, neo-Nazis wanting to use this as an argument, the purpose of this was to harshen only gradually. In 1935, the Nazis were in no place to start their extermination campaign outright, so rhetoric was mildly softened to prevent anti-Nazi sentiment from getting too hot too early. This little (temporary) loophole allowed Werner to join the German army on December 1st 1938, later taking part in the invasion of Poland… Alongside a childhood friend, Karl Wolf, who was a high ranking officer in the SS. One can imagine this is how he lasted as long as he did with his background, but it’s also one truly fucked up friendship.
It was at this stage that the iconic photo was taken and distributed, used as recruitment posters for the Nazi war machine with many likely not having any clue of the heritage of the soldier in question. But of course, Werner’s story didn’t end there! Once Germany walked all over France, it was safe to say that there was no force in Europe (for a few years at least) that could stop them from intensifying their campaign of murder. On April 8th of 1940, all people of Jewish heritage were discharged from the military and he returned to his former workplace, still temporarily saved by his relative ‘lack of Jewishness’. …It feels gross to type those words, but that’s pretty much what it was.
The Nazi state finally started to remember about him when his father was admitted to hospital in December of 1942. Recognizing his father’s ancestry, the Gestapo sent him to a ‘Jewish hospital,’ which was really just a temporary prison until the death trains could carry him off to the camps. Werner, in a rather ballsy move, simply guessed that on Christmas eve, the guards wouldn’t bother hanging around so he just strolled on up and busted his father out. Both went into hiding and the Nazis, with a lot more on their plates by 1943, didn’t pursue the matter too seriously. They were the only members of their immediate family to not perish in the carnage of Nazism.
So from there, what happened to our ‘ideal German soldier’? He served as a politician in West Germany for twenty years and eventually retired, passing away in 2004 at the age of 84. So ends the story of the accidental Jewish Nazi and the accidental Nazi-Soviet. Perhaps I’ll have to return to this article in a few year’s time when he becomes a patriotic, apple-pie eating American or a curiously light-skinned model of the Imperial Japanese Army.