I am embarrassed to admit that the first time I visited West Point was on the day that our son, Elliot, began his training there as a cadet in the year two thousand. I was so moved by the history and significance of the place that it left me with the strong feeling that every American citizen should be required to visit at least once. This sensation intensified when I stepped into the Jewish Chapel at West Point, built in 1984 through private funds, a treasure that remains virtually unknown to American Jewry. Every Jewish Day School in the country, and certainly in the region, should be taking their children and parents on a tour of West Point topped off with a visit to the Chapel. One is struck upon entering the Chapel’s vestibule by a Torah scroll, housed in a showcase with a plaque that briefly tells its story.
I had a flashback to this sensation last week, unearthing another well-kept secret involving Jewish connections to WWII while browsing the new arrival stacks in Barnes & Noble. Initially attracted to its Van Gogh Starry Night-like cover, I wanted to learn more about the contents of Bruce Henderson’s Sons and Soldiers: the untold story of the Jews who escaped the Nazis and returned with the U.S. Army to fight Hitler.
This is how I discovered the story of The Ritchie Boys, a cadre of young Jewish immigrants from Nazi Germany – sent overseas by their parents deeming them the family’s best chance for a toehold to the future – who became naturalized U.S. Citizens and enlisted in the American Army to fight an end-stage battle that became personal. Their military intelligence training in psychological warfare at Camp Ritchie, Maryland would not only play a pivotal role in liberating the living and dying among the Nazi concentration camps, but would save the lives of thousands of fellow Allied soldiers of all denominations by effectively interrogating Nazi POWs on German army movements and plans.
Here are snippets from the dramatis personae of The Ritchie Boys in Sons and Soldiers, and their experiences after WWII:
Werner Angress, 82nd Airborne Division, graduated Wesleyan University and earned a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. Werner taught modern European history at Wesleyan, Berkeley, and SUNY Stony Brook, and was one of the few Ritchie Boys to return to live in Germany, making it his mission to teach school children in Berlin about what it was like to grow up as Jewish child under the Third Reich, and lessons learned from fighting fascism. He died in Berlin in 2010 at the age of 90.
Victor Bromberg, 2nd Armored Division and 28th Infantry Division, earned his Ph.D. in Romantic languages and literature at Yale University where he was appointed to the faculty, rising to Chair of the Department. In 1975 he accepted an appointment at Princeton University as profession of comparative and romantic literatures. He retired in 1999 after 50 years of teaching, but continues to publish and lecture in the United States and Europe.
Stephan Lewy, 6th Armored Division, earned his business degree from Northeastern University. He became a CPA and worked in finance for two large hotel chains. He retired in 1991 and only began talking about his experiences under the Nazis after viewing Schindler’s List in 1994. A widower since his wife’s death in 2010, he lives in Williamville, New York.
Martin Selling, 35th Infantry Division, studied engineering under the GI Bill at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, receiving his Master’s in Industrial Management in 1952, and spending most of his career with AT&T Bell Laboratories. He stayed active in the U.S. Army Reserves, retiring in 1978 as a lieutenant colonel. In his memoir he wrote: “We immigrant newcomers were proud of the contribution we provided in the war effort, although it was not known or greatly appreciated by many Americans. He died in 2004 at the age of 86.
Emanuel “Manny” Steinfeld, 82nd Airborne Division, raised a family in Chicago, where he became a successful furniture manufacturer before retiring to Florida. He remarked: “Sometimes I wonder if I should have been a Nazi hunter instead of furniture manufacturer. I still have a difficult time whenever I think about how many people died. The Nazis tried to wipe out my family. I am the sole survivor. But I have thirteen descendants, and that’s not too bad.”
Gunther “Guy” Stern, First Army Headquarters, received his B.A. at Hofstra University and Master’s and Ph.D. at Columbia University where he became a professor of German studies, intent on separating the gold of German culture from the dirt and toxicity of the Nazi years. For the next 50 years he taught at Columbia, Denison University, the University of Cincinnati, and Wayne State University where he remains a distinguished professor emeritus living in West Bloomfield, Michigan. In 2017, Buy was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor for his role in the liberation of France during WWII. Please watch this riveting one hour video of Guy’s appearance at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in 2014, commemorating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Elsewhere, Guy provides a humorous insight into the role he played as “Commnder Krukov in impersonating Russian officer during the war together with Fred Howard, another of The Ritchie Boys. Fred’s obituary in 2008 notes: “After the war he founded what became the largest merchandising and point-of-sale display company in the world and was responsible for many famous merchandising icons, from Timex watch displays to the Leggs egg. Fred’s devotion to improving Arab-Israeli relations spanned his entire adult life. Based on principles of tolerance and fairness, he devoted much of his energy, resources and passion to fostering a just peace in the Middle East for Jews and for Arabs.”