Friday, October 13, 2017

Dutch Corps Israelieten - and a historical remark

In 1808, King Louis Bonaparte, ruler of the Kingdom of Holland by the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte himself, made a decision to raise an infantry unit exclusively from the jewish population of 'his' country.

The unit raised up to regimental status, although it suffered from never getting enough recruits. It was dressed in the same uniform as the 2nd light infantry regiment - the only difference was the shako plate, showing the letters 'CI' for 'corps israeliten'.

I wasn't able to find out what the main reason for creating this unit really was - some write it was because of the special jewish nutrition, some write it was all about promoting jewish citizens' rights. Whatever it was, as far as I was able to find out, the Israelites Corps never saw actually any battle and was disbanded in 1810, it's soldiers were put into other regular infantry regiments.

Because of this short lifespan, the regiment remains one of the oddities of the Napoleonic era, although all-jewish regiments had already been in service in Russia and Poland in the late 1780s. Receiving citizen's rights due to the Napoleonic juristictional reforms that took place in many French dominated countries, jews began to join the armies, although it seems that not many of them were actually recorded. Or perhaps it was something that noone ever documented very well.

When Prussia joined the Coalition forces in the liberation wars against Napoleon, jews had been given citizen's rights in Prussia as well. This led to hundreds of young Prussian jews joining the army, although an exclusively jewish unit never had been established.

I find this matter really interesting. In the archives of the 'jewish history' of the city were I grew up, you can find this picture:

These are jewish citizens who fought for the Kaiser during WW1. The man on the left must be a NCO who has been decorated with an Iron Cross. In fact, thousands of jewish men fought on the German side during the first world war. They were as patriotic as their christian comrades were and the merits they earned during the 'Great war' later led many of them to the fatal mistake that even a Nazi government would never commit atrocities to the former brave soldiers.


  1. This reminds me of the dedication in a book by Walter Kaufmann that I recently picked up:

    "To my uncles, both Oberleuntnant, Iron Cross, First Class, 1914-18, one a devout Jew, one a devout convert to Christianity, one killed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942, one shot by the Secret Police in 1944, both for gallantly helping others in obedience to conscience, defiant."

    What a cruel century this has been for so many.

  2. Hi
    Thanks for this from the UK. I am a Jew and my farthers family where from Amsterdam. Jews in 1811 did not have surnames and Nap decreed we must have them and we adopted the surname "Diamant". I shall add to my 4000 20mm Naps a few Jewish troop based on what you have written and do further reseach. Regards and thanks for your work.

  3. Cheers, Ian! Nice to read about that fact from your family history. Pls share a pic with me when you've done your paint work. :-)