Jews served on all sides as citizens of the countries in which they lived. German Jews were drafted to the Kaiser's Army in August 1914, generally with the same enthusiasm as their non-Jewish neighbors.
Some 100,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the ranks of the German army, approximately 12,000 of whom died on the battlefield. In 1916, anti-Semitic officers, who believed that most of the Jews would attempt to secure safe jobs behind the front lines, demanded a "Jewish census" in order to prove their claim. The results were not published until the end of the war, leaving room for speculation regarding the reasons for such secrecy.
After the war ended, discussion of the topic continued as the reputation of Germany's Jewish population continued to be slandered. As a result of the anti-Semitic accusations and due to the fact that Jews were not approved to become members in "The Steel Helmet" (Stahlhelm) veterans' organization, Jewish veterans established their own organization, "The Reich Federation of Jewish Front Soldiers" (Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten). The "Jewish census" affair made it painfully clear to Jewish soldiers to what extent anti-Semitic sentiment was still deeply rooted among broad segments of the German population. The trend continued in full force and anti-Semitism grew steadily, if somewhat surprisingly, during the years of the democratic Weimar Republic (see Part II of the exhibition).
At the outbreak of the "Great War", Germany was considered a political, economic, scientific and cultural superpower. The German language was regarded as "the language of culture", mainly in Northern and Eastern Europe, and German universities were considered the best in the world. To a great extent, German scholars and thinkers determined the agenda for scientific, cultural and philosophical discourse. Yet ultimately, the actions of German soldiers on the battlefield, the tremendous destruction witnessed by the German populace and the country's overwhelming defeat robbed Germany of much of its radiance, and damaged its standing on many fronts.