This article was last modified on April 7, 2008.


On Jewish Blood Transfusions

Solomon Goodman tells a story about what I would call a “Jewish blood transfusion”. He says in World War II, a German soldier was taken in to a POW camp and needed a blood transfusion. He was jokingly told that the blood came from a Jew, and the German soldier refused to accept the blood. He was assured that they were only joking, but still he refused the blood and he died days later.

(During World War II, American blood was separated between “black” and “white” blood, but no distinction was made between “Jew” and “Gentile” blood, so there would actually be no way to know if the blood transfused was Jewish or not, simply that it did not come from a colored man.)

The story struck my interest, and I hoped to be able to verify it. Something like this seems plausible but also has the hint of “urban legend” attached, as though it is something American soldiers would tell each other and their families but never actually experience first-hand. What follows is my search for a documentation of such an event really happening.

First-Hand Accounts?

Scouring the known literature, I was able to find two potential first-hand accounts. One story I found (second-hand) was said to be from Stephen Ambrose’s book Citizen Soldiers… but upon combing through the book, I was not able to find any such mention of the event in question.

The other instance was more promising. Rev. Jim Wisewell responded to written questions in 1999. Wisewell was a Nursing Orderly First Class, 223rd Field Ambulance, 185 Brigade, British 3rd Division. He landed on D-Day and served throughout the campaign in North West Europe. Wisewell makes the following comment in response to an unknown question:

“A young Nazi of the 12th Panzer Division was badly wounded and we began to rig up a a blood transfusion for him but he refused it. ‘It may have Jewish blood,’ he said. Our ambulance orderly said he died on the way back to the CCS.”

Wisewell’s account is probably reliable, as he has no reason to tell the story unnecessarily. However, he fails to mention the soldier’s name or even give a place or date for the event. So even if the situation did happen (and this seems plausible), we have no way to independently confirm it.

Second-Hand Accounts

Numerous second-hand accounts exist, most with dubious sources.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his Unpopular Essays, writes that “the Aryan soldier who needed blood transfusion was carefully protected from the contamination of Jewish blood.” [Russell: 99] No source cited.

In MacGregor Knox’s Common Destiny (p. 238) and Richard Bessel’s Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (p. 132) (which cites Knox) we learn that “the unit that gave the Allies the greatest difficulty in the Normandy campaign was the 12th SS Panzerdivision ‘Hitler Jugend,’ formed from young enthusiasts under the leadership of eastern front veterans. So powerful was the force of belief that wounded ‘Hitler Jugend’ prisoners refused medical care, preferring to ‘Die for the Fuhrer’ until quelled by the threat of transfusions with Jewish blood.” The two sources cited for this assertion are diplomat Sir John Colville’s The Fringes of Power (1985) and Max Hastings’ Overlord (1984).

Knox relies on fairly recent sources (1980s) which should raise some flags about historical revisionism. Knox does have one thing supporting him — he correctly mentions the 12th SS Panzer Division, the same unit Wisewell cites, making the story more believable. Luckily, I was able to track down his sources to verify their claims.

The Hastings book doesn’t address the transfusion issue, but merely discusses the Hitler Youth in general, calling the Hitler Youth division “the most determined and fanatical opponents facing the Allied armies.” [Hastings: 66]

The Colville account is much more in-depth. He bases his memoir (presumably, if the title means anything) on actual diary entries from the war period. One story concerning a conversation he had with a nurse while dancing circa June or July 1944 is as follows:

“My temporary partner — I did not even ask her her name, nor she mine — had been ministering that day to wounded young fanatics of an S.S. Hitler Youth brigade which had been at the forefront of the battle. She told me that one boy of about sixteen had torn off the bandage with which she had dressed his serious wound, shouting that he only wanted to die for the Fuhrer. Another had flung in her face the tray of food she brought him. She had quelled a third by threatening, on sudden inspiration, to arrange for him to have a blood transfusion of Jewish blood. ‘Rather awful of me,’ she said, ‘but he at once became a whimpering child and begged pitiably for mercy.'” [Colville: 497-498]

This story suffers from more of the same problems: no name for the nurse, no name for the soldier and the exact date is vague. Moreover, while the unit seems to be the same as the one Wisewell encountered and both accounts are from British angles, the stories here are not the same — this soldier did not refuse a transfusion or die. Is the account plausible? Perhaps. But again, it is unverifiable.

Nazis and Blood Outside the War

I found the following citation online that claims to have “Yad Vashem Archive JM 11748” as its source:

“The Basel National Zeitung reports in its edition no. 92 of 24 February 1935 on a peculiar court decision in a South German town. A member of the SA was hit by a car in the vicinity of the Jewish hospital. He was brought to that hospital severely wounded. As he required an emergency blood transfusion, he received blood from a Jewish donor. A disciplinary court had to determine whether the SA Man who had now received a transfusion of Jewish blood, could remain a member of the organisation. The court decided that an expulsion from the SA was out of the question, as the blood donor at the Jewish Hospital had been a veteran of the World War and therefore this case was not in contradiction of the instructions of the Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service. The mixing of blood was not a reason to expel him.”

I do not have access to the original newspaper account of this story. However, presuming that it is true, this does lend credibility to the general conception of Nazi Germany’s fear of Jewish blood and also supports Bertrand Russell’s claim of protection from the blood of Jews. What measures the Nazis went to in order to protect its citizens from “tainted” blood is still uncertain, however.

There was, of course a legal history on Jewish blood in Germany. Hitler’s biographer Ian Kershaw singles out Gerhard Wagner, for example, whom he credits as being “instrumental in the drive to introduce an anti-Jewish ‘Blood Law'”. [Kershaw: 256] But there’s a great divide between being against Jews for their racial ancestry and being against their blood for medical purposes.

Conclusion

At this time, we can say with some questionable certainty that Nazi Germany did have an aversion to Jewish blood and that it was not preferable to receive transfusions from Jewish donors. Whether or not such a law existed on the books still remains unclear.

And while there seems to be plenty of secondary sourcing of individual events (and at least one first-hand account), we cannot say with absolute certainty that the event in question (a German soldier refusing a transfusion) happened until we can narrow down the place, date or name of the soldier. Or at the very least find a second witness to Wisewell’s claim. The line between fact and embellishment is thin and blurry — we must never mistake truth with legend.

Sources

Bessel, Richard. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: Comparisons and Contrasts Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Colville, John. The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955. Hodder and Stoughton, 1985.

Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day, June 6, 1944. Simon and Schuster, 1984.

“Jewish Blood Transfusion to an SA man”, Yad Vashem Archive JM 11748. Found online at http://www.icons-multimedia.com/ClientsArea/HoH/LIBARC/ARCHIVE/Chapters/InitMeas/Antisemi/BloodTra.html on March 16, 2008.

Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis. W. W. Norton and Company, 2000.

Knox, MacGregor. Common Destiny: Dictatorship, Foreign Policy, and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Russell, Bertrand. Unpopular Essays. Routledge, 1995.

Wisewell, Jim. “Wisewell Narrative WWII”, 1999. Retrieved online at http://warchronicle.com/british_3rd_div/soldierstories_wwii/wisewell_letter.htm March 16, 2008.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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