After Adolf Hitler seized Austria in 1938, Georg Rauch, who was a quarter Jewish, helped his mother hide Jews in their Viennese home. Though his family wasn’t rounded up or forced to identify their religious beliefs by wearing yellow stars, Georg was ignored at school by teachers and students and treated as a third-class citizen.
When Georg was drafted and forced to join the Nazi regime, he was immediately identified as officer material. When he admitted to his commanding officer that he was a quarter Jewish, he was instead sent to the front lines as a radio operator. Georg taught himself to be a cook, radio builder and harmonica player — all skills that helped him survive as a Jew in Hitler’s army. During his time as a soldier and prisoner of war, for which he earned an Iron Cross, Georg wrote more than 80 letters to his mother. These letters served as the basis for his memoir, The Jew with the Iron Cross: A Record of Survival in WWII Russia.
Though he was fluent in English and Spanish, Georg wrote his memoir in his mother tongue — German. Rauch’s wife, Phyllis, served as the translator and editor of his book’s English edition. In addition to the text, the book is illustrated with original drawings by Georg, portraits of his Jewish ancestors and of himself in uniform.
After the war, Rauch went on to become an accomplished artist in the mediums of oils, watercolors, sculpture, drawings and silk screen prints. Rauch was honored with major museum retrospectives in Guadalajara, the metropolis near his and Phyllis’ Mexican home.
Phyllis describes Georg's work ethic as comparable to that of an architect or engineer; he wasn’t an artist who waited for inspiration to strike. Rauch arose at the same hour daily and after breakfast, was in his studio until the light disappeared.
The writing of his book was the only time Georg abandoned his studio and stopped painting altogether.
Georg Rauch standing with one of his paintings.
Georg Rauch’s home art studio near Jocotepec, Mexico.
"If you have done your very best, and you believe in your book with all your heart, never ever give up." – Phyllis Rauch
The Rauch’s originally self-published The Jew with the Iron Cross with iUniverse in 2006. It was acquired by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a Macmillan Publishers imprint, and released in February 2015 under the new title, Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. Macmillan is marketing to young adults, though the book will also be included in their adult catalog.
“I’m hoping our readers, young and older, will be excited and inspired by a book that relates how a real teen survived multiple near-deaths, thanks to his practical accomplishments and sharp wit, good health, and love of life. I think women will also relate to the strong relationship between Georg and his mother,” said Phyllis.
Though Georg passed away in 2006, Phyllis continues her husband’s legacy by operating a bed-and-breakfast out of their home in Mexico; visitors can tour Georg’s art studio and see a large collection of his work.
Find out more about Georg Rauch's story at thejewwiththeironcross.blogspot.com or connect with Phyllis Rauch on Facebook.
© Farrar, Straus and Giroux
As a teenager, author Georg Rauch helped his mother protect the Jewish couples hidden in their Viennese attic. Officially classified as one-quarter Jewish, Rauch is drafted into Hitler’s army and sent to fight for causes he detests. Rauch finds himself near death many times, but his talents as a shortwave radio operator, chef, and even harmonica player all play a role in his survival. Captured by the Russians in the autumn of 1944, Rauch faces brutality and near-fatal illness as a POW. Recruitment for Russian espionage saves his life this time, but his story isn’t over yet.
Based on eighty letters sent home from the Russian trenches, The Jew with the Iron Cross is a riveting, true account of survival during World War II.
“His story is a profoundly moving memoir of war, imprisonment and survival set against the backdrop of frozen and unforgiving Russia. Written 40 years later with the added perspective of age and wisdom, Rauch skillfully weaves his tale around the raw observations of his younger self told through a series of letters written home.” – Continue reading »
"In its personal, first-hand account of the battles, both inner and outer, confronted by this young man as he struggles to make sense of the multiple contradictions brought on by the war." – Continue reading »
“It is also a story subtly infused with the love and respect for each other of a son and his mother, and of their graceful and indomitable spirits triumphing through horrific times.” – Continue reading »
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