When I was inducted into the army, I was asked what my religion was. And I said, quite honestly, and perhaps provocatively, I haven’t any. And the guy who was doing the interview, he looked up at me, and he said very carefully, “What is your father’s religion?” So, I said well, he’s Jewish.1 And so, he wrote down that my religion was Jewish.
Now, I don’t know whether you know this, but on the dog tags, your religion was stamped in on the medal, so that if you’re, for example, killed, then the right service is assigned to you. But the letter that is used on the dog tag for Jewish, Jewish religion — and you won’t believe this, it’s H — for Hebrew, which is really sick.
But I made it clear. I said, you know — I don’t know whether I said it on that occasion or later — it’s a little bit garbled. Why would I want to be in the theater of war with the Nazis if I identify myself as a Jew? On the other hand, I was aware that if I didn’t put down that I was in fact Jewish, then the assumption would probably be, if I were captured, that I was. So, I really couldn’t win either way.
But the point is that this consideration didn’t even make sense to the people I was dealing with at that time. I was very well treated in my outfit, because I was a paratrooper. Paratrooper status was voluntary, you had to meet the tests. You could volunteer for it, but you — if you were accepted, that meant that you passed the tests, which had to do with jumping out of an airplane a number of times, which I did. After that, I was treated, because there were very few paratroopers in my outfit. They were all glider troopers, which was compulsory.
And then among those, who were glider troopers, there were some who volunteered for parachuting and I was one, and then I discovered that they, in a racial interpretation had said, “I don’t know how he did it, but he’s okay because he jumped” whereas the other people of Jewish origin in that outfit were treated as beneath contempt.2