Book Review – George Raugh, Unlikely Warrior A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army (New York: Macmillan, 2015)

George Raugh served as a telegraphist in the communications section of the 2nd Battalion,158th Infantry Regiment, 282nd Division of the Wehrmacht.[1] He saw service in western Ukraine and Romania from December 1943 until his capture by the Russians in August 1944.

His story is remarkable as he was one-quarter Jewish and under German race laws forbidden from service in the Army and what is more amazing is that he admits his heritage to his officers.[2] However, the only consequence is that he is released from being an officer cadet but still gets drafted to the Eastern Front. This may have been a ruse to get himself kicked out of the army as he had ‘done long hours thinking of where I could hide myself so I would not have to be a German soldier. I knew it was hopeless…’[3]


The account is a combination of memoir interspersed with letters he wrote to his parents from the front. Rauch is a reluctant soldier and found himself in the frontline ‘in a war I never wanted, understood or was able to justify. From now on I was expected to shoot at people I didn’t know and for whom I hadn’t the slightest feeling of enmity’.[4] He learnt very quickly that there was little chance of surrender to the enemy as they ‘just want one thing: to squash us into a pulp, because we have occupied their country’.[5] Added to this, he could be shot for not following orders and in some battles, German military policemen would shoot men who retreated.[6]


German signals equipment

He builds strong links with his colleagues in the battalion communications squad. He writes to his parents that he likes the team ‘tremendously. There are twelve of us…living together in one hut, all very nice guys. The atmosphere is so friendly here, a relief from up front, where there is only yelling and complaining’.[7] He forms a relationship with veteran Private First Class Haas because ‘impressed me with one familiar with all the tricks of making war and, more important, of survival’.[8] Haas was an ‘excellent teacher’ and taught Rauch all the places civilians used to hid and store foodstuffs and other valuables when they left their home. Haas said that such activity was ‘plundering’ but ‘perfectly official at the front’.[9]


The war that the 282nd Division fought was dirty. When clearing a village, Rauch was ordered to shoot a young lad who was labelled by his officer as a ‘partisan’. Rauch did not know what to do and turned to Haas who shot the boy on Rauch’s behalf. Rauch reasoned that whether he carried out the order or refused the order, the ‘young man would be shot either way. On that point nothing could be changed’. He noted that ‘Haas was certainly not a bad person, but thanks to his years at the front he was hardened, rational.’ Interestingly, Rauch says very little about this just that ‘there was never again a shot more painful for me than the one…I will hear it for the rest of my life’.[10] He does not reflect on the incident again.


Wehrmacht radio operator

Rauch clearly becomes accustomed to the brutal ways of the frontline. He wrote that ‘immense physical strength was necessary for survival and this required decent rations. It wasn’t long before I began to dedicate more and more of my off duty time to organising something to eat’.[11] On the 7 December 1943, he was ordered to join the battalion communications section and in less than three weeks later he wrote to his mother that he was actively plundering Russians peasant houses for food. On 23 December 1943, he wrote to his mother that he had been ‘organising here in the village. That is to say that one goes hut to hut, pushing open the door, gun in hand. Then you rummage through the whole house without even tossing a glance at the inhabitants…and take whatever is worth taking. At first, I didn’t have the heart for this, but in time you learn that too…I’m doing great’.[12] He wrote to his mother that ‘one becomes pretty hard in every respect here and there are only a few things that really go all the way to the heart. A protecting wall absorbs most things before they get that far’.[13]


The whole communications team begin to be focused on preparing joint meals. His sergeant always gave permission ‘to repair non-existent broken phone lines so that I could plunder the houses of the area for our gourmet meals’.[14] In August 1944, Rauch and his sergeant decided to desert as they are trapped in a pocket and have been ordered to fight to the last man. Both are captured by the Russians in the attempt.[15]


This is a remarkable story. Remarkable in the fact that Rauch served and did so with distinction, being decorated despite spending ‘months in the cold and the filth, in a lost war staged by people who first classed me as a member of an inferior race and then forced me to fight on their side’ he quickly adapted to army life, bonded with his mates and fought in such a manner he was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class.[16]



[1] George Raugh, Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army (New York: Macmillan, 2015), pp.40-41.

[2] Ibid., pp.4-5.

[3] Ibid., p.6.

[4] Ibid., p.47.

[5] Ibid., pp.30-31.

[6] Ibid., pp.70-71, 76.

[7] Ibid., p.58.

[8] Ibid., p.27.

[9] Ibid., pp.94-95.

[10] Ibid., pp.70-71.

[11] Ibid., p.93.

[12] Ibid., p.62.

[13] Ibid., p.112.

[14] Ibid., pp.102-103.

[15] Ibid., p.190.

[16] Ibid., pp.177, 180-194.