I recently acquired a small pocket-sized (abridged) siddur for German-Jewish soldiers published by the German Army in 1915.
Over 100,000 Jews are estimated to have served in Germany’s Imperial Army during World War I. Approximately 12,000 of them died in battle and 18,000 of them received the Iron Cross award.
By publishing this siddur, the government wished to demonstrate its egalitarian values. Some elements in the government, though, accused German Jews of being disloyal and avoiding the draft. In 1916, War Minister Wild von Hohenborn, in an attempt to paint the Jews as cowards, called for a census of the number of Jews serving on the front lines (as opposed to the rear).
The census – known as the Judenzählung – found that the vast majority of Jews in the army – 80 percent – served on the front lines. When the results turned out to be different than what the War Minister anticipated they would be, they weren’t publicized.
This census was a shocking moment for many in the Jewish community. Some historians point to it and related anti-Semitic actions as a turning point in the history of German Jewry, who until then generally believed that it had been accepted and embraced by the German people.