Archive | Historical Perspective by Jerry Kasten

Dallas’ Jewish business pioneers — both big and small

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Time marches on. I read recently that a number of the major Jewish businesses had, over time, mostly been sold to others.
These high-profile businesses include Neiman-Marcus, E.M.Kahn, Titche and Goettinger, Volk, Sterling Wholesale, Sanger-Harris, and Zales.
These were the “upscale” stores of the day and were generally located on Main, Elm, and Pacific streets in what was referred to as “the courthouse area” of downtown Dallas.
A number of excellent articles about Jewish leadership in Dallas by David Ritz appeared in D Magazine (November and December 1975, and more recently in November 2008). They featured interviews with the Jewish business leaders of Dallas, as well as with the highly respected religious leader, Rabbi Levi Olan, who was the Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El for many years.
While these businessmen may rightfully deserve credit for building a strong Jewish power base in Dallas, there were others, perhaps considered “smaller and less powerful,” who deserve credit for their contributions as small business pioneers both to the Jewish community and to the city in general.
European Jewish immigrants, escaping the pogroms of Czarist Russia, entering from Galveston were settling in Houston and Dallas seeking opportunities for a livelihood.
In the 1870s, Dallas, ex-slaves and recent immigrants were both attracted to the east Elm Street area, where a new railroad depot and the Houston and Central Texas Railroad tracks came through town.
Storefronts were rapidly being built along this industrial area where jobs could be had, deals made and partnerships forged.
Because of the growing pedestrian traffic, Elm Street was one of the first streets to be paved.
Many of the earliest Jewish merchants pioneered a strong bond with the African-American freedmen, many of whom worked for them and who also lived in that early Deep Ellum area.
Among the earliest Jewish shop owners on Elm were Meyer Goldstein (fruit seller), Abraham Cohn (saloon owner), Jacob Susman (shoemaker), Max Friedman (tailor), Abraham Smith (men’s clothing store) Samuel Singer (dry goods), Nathan Yonack (dry goods) and Daniel Rabinowitz (real estate).
By 1873, Jewish merchants owned 12 of the 29 dry goods stores. But by 1900 Jewish merchants owned 10 grocery stores, 25 clothing stores, eight saloons, six tobacco shops, nine tailor shops and 14 dry goods stores.
Perhaps one of the most important types of businesses expanding in the Deep Ellum area and elsewhere as the city grew were the pawnshops.
Jewish immigrants saw the need by low-income people to secure loans without having to establish credit with banks.
One of the most well-known pawnshops of the many found in Deep Ellum was Honest Joe’s, which opened in the early 1930s and did not finally close until 1984.
“Honest Joe” was, in reality, Rubin Goldstein, a New York Jew who started a pawn business, which he ran until his death in 1972. (Editor’s note: The TJP will have a feature on Honest Joe’s in the next few weeks.)
He was so well-known that he was referred to as “the mayor of Elm Street.” When the Ku Klux Klan began to threaten blacks who worked and lived in the Deep Ellum area, the Jewish shopkeepers, who also felt threatened at times, stood up to the Klan.
It is too bad that a permanent Deep Ellum historical display has not yet been established because Deep Ellum was such an important part of our city’s history.
I highly recommend Rose Biderman’s (of blessed memory) outstanding story of Dallas Jews, 1870-1997, They Came to Stay.


5 reasons to make a family tree in 2018

5 reasons to make a family tree in 2018

Posted on 04 January 2018 by admin

Wikimedia Commons illustration A family tree can be as simple as a two- or three-generation tree, or as complicated as European royal family successions.

Wikimedia Commons illustration
A family tree can be as simple as a two- or three-generation tree, or as complicated as European royal family successions.

Here it is … The start of a new year! As to be expected, there have been lists both in newsprint and on the air of “The Top News Stories of 2017.”
What we tend to forget in considering the history around us is the history of our own family. It’s not exactly the same as it was a year before, is it?
Perhaps there’s a new child or two, a marriage, a graduation, a divorce, a bar mitzvah, a death, other changes?
Whatever your age, you are probably part of a family. If someone in your family has not already made the effort to draw up a family tree or has not updated an old one, you have an opportunity to do some good.
There are a number of advantages to making a family tree, beyond just satisfying your curiosity.

  • 1. You will feel wiser as you research and learn more about your family.
  • 2. Interacting with older members will make you feel closer.
  • 3. You will feel good, as you’re performing a service for others.
  • 4. You will be helping family members connect with one another.
  • 5. When you do a good job of collecting and sending the completed chart to each member of your family, you will have done a wonderful mitzvah.

The basic family tree lists all the members as far back as possible, up to the present. Dates of birth, marriage, and death are usually shown. Last known location (state) could be included.
The search itself can be very exciting. The Dallas Public Library is a good source for tracing American genealogy. Jewish family history, unfortunately, is not easy to trace as records in Europe either have been burned or are often sketchy.
My wife and one of her nieces in California, however, have been able to gather enough information to put their family history online, available to all their relatives.
There is an even more advanced type of family tree, usually referred to as a genogram. In addition to the names of family members, it describes how members interact with each other and provides medical history as well. Such detailed information could be helpful to medical and mental health practitioners attempting to diagnose a physical illness or a mental disorder of a family member.
“Has anyone in your family had this or that?” the doctor would ask. I usually didn’t know when asked. A family genogram requires members to be more open and willing to share with other family members mental and medical health information they normally would not reveal to strangers. A genogram is also used in family counseling to pinpoint psychological issues and interrelationships of family members.
Those TJP readers with children still at home can use this first week of the new year to talk with them about the start of their own family, going back to where their parents met, perhaps roughly drawing and explaining a family chart.
Such family stories supposedly have been shown to improve children’s self-esteem, helping them to better understand their place in the world, while also increasing their interest in history.
There are a number of websites online dealing with tracing ancestry, including Jewish genealogy. Seeking family information from relatives, near and far is often the best source of all. Children may not be interested at the time, but may seek out their history when grown. Genealogy can be a worthwhile and an enlightening family project.


Lesson from history could help solve tensions

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

All the recent complaining by Palestinians and others in response to President Trump’s selection of Jerusalem as America’s future embassy location is due to the Palestinians’ historic rejection of Israel in general, including the location of its capital, Jerusalem.
During America’s war for independence (170 years before Israel’s), there were also issues concerning location of our nation’s capital. This is an aspect of America’s history your teacher may have skipped.
One can imagine the uncertainty of the times, a rebellion for independence, various self-interests seeking a break with what many considered as a tyrannical master far from our shores.
Between 1774 and 1790, our nation’s capital changed locations eight times. At the war’s end and with a peace treaty finally signed, our nation’s capital was one of the first major issues facing the new United States of America.
The primary reason there were a number of different capitals at various locations was that colonial delegates were fearful of being captured and were quick to relocate at the first hint of British troop movements in their area.
Technically, each building where the Continental Congress met and carried out governmental business was considered “the capital.” There were eight of them by war’s end.
The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774 when delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met to plan a unified response to England’s “Intolerable Acts.”
Successive Congresses during the next 16 years met in Baltimore, Maryland; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; York, Pennsylvania; Princeton, New Jersey; Annapolis, Maryland; Trenton, New Jersey; and New York City before the final move to a permanent national capital.
The final choice of permanent location of America’s national capital was left to George Washington, but a much greater problem was facing the new nation.
Once independence was achieved, numerous creditors were demanding to be paid back the loans made by the lenders. You might think of this as one of our nation’s first kvetches.
When Alexander Hamilton suggested that the new national government should assume all the debt of the states, the states with the least debt felt that it would be unfair for them to be taxed equally with states that owed more.
The key to solving this inequity was the creation of a compromise devised by Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson and Washington. They used their influence to gain the votes necessary to pass both bills, the Funding Act, allowing the national government to collect state taxes to pay off the nation’s debt, and the Residence Act, setting the site of the nation’s capital in the South, along the Potomac River.
The Southern location was said to have increased the Southern states’ political power as opposed to the North’s growing economic power, a fair compromise.
If only some of the same basic bargaining concepts used by our founding fathers were applied by Israel and Palestine today, there might be more solutions.
But the complexity of the Middle East leaves little room for compromise.


Let’s remember Pearl Harbor, not forget those un-American detention camps

Posted on 07 December 2017 by admin

On one hand, the Japanese navy’s sneak attack on the United States’ naval fleet at Pearl Harbor 76 years ago today taught us a lesson we must never forget. Never let your guard (defenses) down … “Always be prepared!”
The second lesson we should have learned is not to be willing to surrender our basic belief in human rights as we did when herding Japanese-Americans, German-Americans and Italian-Americans (all legal aliens or citizens) into internment camps.
Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were suddenly deemed potential security risks, as were Italian-Americans and German-Americans throughout the nation.
I wondered as a child growing up in The Bronx during World War II why our neighbors, named Schmidt, changed their name to Smith. Their two sons were serving overseas, but they still must have felt the stigma of having a German name.
The Fox Movie Tone newsreels show the forced removal of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans from their businesses and homes along America’s West Coast.
They were resettled further east, into guarded internment camps in rural areas, often surrounded by barbed wire, watchtowers and armed patrols. It was an orderly process, meeting little resistance.
Most Americans, shocked by the surprise and success of the Japanese Navy’s attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, were concerned with the possibility of a Pacific coast invasion more than they were with the rights of Japanese-Americans.
When U.S. Army General John L. DeWitt, in charge of the Army’s Western Defense Command, in his report to the president, surmised that all Japanese-Americans, being loyal to their emperor above all, could not be trusted, the president felt justified in implementing a nationwide Alien Control Program, also known as the WRA (War Relocation Program).
“After all, what was to prevent Japanese sympathizers from assisting in a Japanese invasion by spying on military installations and committing acts of sabotage?”
Further quoting General De Witt, “A Jap’s a Jap. There’s no way to determine their loyalty.” Also, “The Japanese race is an enemy race…” Such was the thinking behind the internment camp orders in Final Report: Japanese Evacuation From the West Coast 1942.
In addition to the larger internment camps housing primarily Japanese-Americans, there were a number of special smaller camps operated by the Department of Justice.
One such camp was located 35 miles north of Mexico near Crystal City, Texas. Only complete families of Japanese, Italian, and Germans who had been captured in Central America, South America and Mexico, were held in Crystal City. They were to be traded for American prisoners caught in foreign territory.
The South American roundup even included some Jews who had previously escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing to Columbia.
This little known unique aspect of World War II history is described in Jan Russell’s The Trail to Crystal City. It is a story of family perseverance during the effort to return civilians to their native lands through prisoner exchanges.
Elsewhere in Texas, there were internment camps of various sizes at Fort Bliss, Kenedy, Seagoville and Fort Sam Houston. Some detainees were held until 1948, almost three years after World War II had ended.
While a small number of the “enemy aliens” received some monetary compensation for loss of property, nothing could make up for the disruption of so many lives.
In 1980, in response to the pressure brought by Japanese-Americans, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine if the decision to force Japanese-Americans into camps during the war was justified.
The appointed commission’s report found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty and concluded that the entire process was based on racism, recommending that the survivors be paid reparations for their losses.
In 1988, President Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which formally apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II.
So, remembering Pearl Harbor, we always need to be prepared and — remembering those camps — we also need to protect civil rights.


Ethics as important as microscopes in science

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

On this Thanksgiving Day (and every day), let us be thankful for those at all levels of scientific research in their laboratories, be they at drug companies, at universities, in the field, in forests, in deserts, on or under oceans, or in the mountains, who work to attack the scourges of mankind through scientific research.
Their work has helped save millions of lives from the ravages of tuberculosis, polio, and other life-threatening diseases and afflictions.
I especially wish to dedicate this article to my brother of blessed memory, biochemist Dr. Frederick H. Kasten, a combination teacher and research scientist who always set a high standard of professionalism, both in his classroom and in his laboratory.
I thought of Fred as I recently read a magazine article in my doctor’s waiting room similar to one he had written in 1987, in Gambit, a New Orleans publication. In both cases, the complaint was opposition to the common practice of the lab director’s insistence that the director’s name be listed as a contributor to whatever results emerged from his lab, taking credit for others’ work.
The writer of the current article, a laboratory research scientist, was also complaining about the fact that during a recent brief discussion with another researcher he had suggested a solution to a lab problem he was having.
After a few months, he noticed, in a science publication, his “associate” taking sole credit for “his idea.”
Irritating at the very least, in the field of scientific research, such “thievery” or “borrowing of ideas without giving proper credit” can be very costly.
One prime example was the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to Selman Waksman, a Rutgers University professor, for his discovery of antibiotics, including streptomycin, which saved many lives from the ravages of tuberculosis.
He was later accused by one of his lab assistants, Albert Schatz, of failing to give Schatz proper recognition and credit for doing the actual lab procedures of isolating and producing streptomycin.
While Waksman was given sole credit in the 1952 Nobel Prize for the discovery of streptomycin and other antibiotics, legal proceedings by Schatz forced Rutgers University, where the research took place, to take a closer look at the degree of assistance that Schatz and others gave to Waksman.
While legal proceedings by Schatz resulted in a cash award and recognition as a co-discoverer of streptomycin, the Nobel Committee still awarded sole recognition to Waksman, ignoring the research assistant.
In addition to a resulting cash settlement, Rutgers University eventually reviewed the facts, including interviews with Schatz, recognized his truly significant role in the development of antibiotics, and in 1994 awarded Albert Schatz the University’s highest award, The Rutgers University Medal, as co-discoverer of streptomycin.
The first patients treated with streptomycin were soldiers at a U.S. Army hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. The first one treated did not survive, the second patient survived but became blind, and the third patient experienced a healthy recovery, eventually becoming well enough to become Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole.
I am surprised that Hollywood has not yet seen fit to capture the drama, the excitement of discovery and intrigue one can find in this true account of personal ambition, scientific competition and discovery.
For those who wish to read more about this true tale of two Jewish scientists with conflicting ethics, I recommend Peter Pringle’s Experiment Eleven, Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug.


Honoring veterans with interview

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

Happy Veterans Day (Nov. 10) to TJP readers who are veterans.
It makes no difference whether you served in peacetime or wartime. We all took the same oath requiring us to follow the orders of our officers and commander in chief.
We are all vets who have served our nation and this is our day to be thanked for that service. But it also is an opportunity to help children of non-veterans learn about service to one’s country, “patriotism.”
If you are a veteran, be prepared to be interviewed by non-veterans about your experience, especially children who are always curious.
If you have a child or grandchild whom you are planning to take to Friday’s parade, why not work with your child to create a few questions to ask a veteran? Or you may want to refer to the list of suggested questions below.
This is their opportunity to learn what a historian does, “asking questions to seek the truth.” They could share their interview experience with their teacher and classmates when they return to school Monday.
One place you will find veterans to interview will be in front of Dallas City Hall, before the parade starts Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Often there are veterans who choose to watch the parade along Commerce Street. Some of them may be among the homeless as well.
Another opportunity to interview a veteran or a veteran’s wife will be this coming Sunday morning when members of the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) and the Ladies Auxiliary, will be in front of Cindi’s and other popular eateries.
They will be collecting cash donations that will benefit patients at the Dallas Veterans Medical Center. The JWV’s last donation helped pay for a new acupuncture treatment room.
Since there are so many possible questions you can ask a veteran and just a small amount of “answer time” available, why not have just a few which you and/or your child believes are most important, then ask additional questions, if time permits?

Possible interview questions for veterans

  • 1. Which branch of service were you in?
  • 2. What was your job in the military? (Like/dislike?)
  • 3. Where did you serve?
  • 4. Any unusual or memorable experiences?
  • 5. What did you like and dislike about your experience?
  • 6. Did you make any close friendships with anyone you met?
  • 7. What type of work did you do after leaving the military?
  • 8. How did your military service and experiences affect your life?
  • 9. Did you join a veterans’ organization? Why? Why not?
  • 10. Is there something that you want to tell about your military experience that I have not asked you?

Move over, swabbies: US Army has own navy

Posted on 26 October 2017 by admin

It’s no secret, but many people are unaware of the fact that our Army does indeed have its own navy.
Having a strong, efficient, modern army does not mean just manpower and weaponry. It also involves having the means to carry and deliver whatever the soldiers need, where they need it and when they need it.
That’s the job of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps (USATC). Their history includes the use of mules, horses and, for a brief time, even camels.
That’s right, camels! Brought to the United States in 1855 as an experiment by the U.S. Army to test their worthiness for use as a pack animal in America’s hot and arid Southwest.
But, you know, the Army’s camels are another story, perhaps worth telling at another time.
Sometimes you can find Army boats plying the rivers and lakes of our nation delivering supplies to nearby bases, but most of the Army’s larger vessels have their home base on either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, or are overseas on assignment.
The men and women of the Army Transportation Corps (ATC) serving on ships and boats, refer to themselves as Army Mariners.
Since the ATC carries the supplies and materials the troops need, many of these supply and repair vessels can be found at various times at overseas ports, such as Hawaii, South Korea, Japan, Spain and Israel, among others.
Just in case you are wondering what the difference is between a “boat” and a “ship” … most people guess correctly that it is size.
A boat too large and heavy to be lifted onto the deck or into the hold of a ship, is itself a ship.
The ATC operates hospital ships, various types of repair ships, coastal freighters, over 4,000 tugboats, mine vessels, plus many barges and assault boats.
As the number of American overseas military bases and installations greatly increased after World War II, the need for expansion of the Army’s Transport Command increased as well. It is estimated that the Army now has approximately 130,000 vessels; most are small, unnamed and simply have an assigned number.
The latest watercraft developed for the ATC is the Maneuver Support Vessel (MSV), which comes in various sizes, the largest allowing up to 24 huge Abrams Tanks, and having aft and stern (front and rear) ramps for loading and/or unloading.
Many people are unaware of the scope of the Army’s “navy” and young people seeking the possibility of learning a lifelong job skill or needing funds for college might do well to look into the MOS (Military Occupation Skills) available in the Transportation Corps from which a new recruit can choose before basic training.
On the other hand, for those families envisioning future doctors or lawyers, there’s the Medical Corps and the Judge Advocate Corps as well as the educational benefits that follow after discharge.
The military route is not for everyone, but be it the Army’s Transportation Corps or some other job specialty, these are choices open to young men and women who might otherwise be blocked by limited funds or not-so-perfect grades.
Admittedly, I’m probably influenced by my own life experience. The GI Bill allowed me to attend college after military discharge, providing career opportunities I would not otherwise have.
If it seems that I may have strayed somewhat from the original subject, keep in mind that the “Army’s navy” is a prime example of the great variety of occupational learning and work experiences available to young people seeking to improve their lives.


Columbus Day not what it used to be

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

In case you may have forgotten, the reason we didn’t get our mail this past Monday was that it was Columbus Day, a national holiday since 1937. It doesn’t seem to be as popular as it used to.
I remember being a young teenage-member of the New York Naval Cadets proudly marching in the Columbus Day Parade. We were taught back then that Columbus was a hero.
Hearing the crowd’s applause, I felt proud honoring the man who “discovered America, proved the Earth was round, not flat, and brought advanced European civilization to the primitive people of the new world.”
That is what our history book said, what I was taught in school in the 1940s, what I believed to be true, and what I still read in textbooks issued by the Dallas I.S.D when I began teaching in 1961.
By the 1970s, however, scholarly research was revealing Christopher Columbus as a mariner whose primary ambition was personal wealth and power, and the willingness to use unspeakable cruelties against the native peoples in order to achieve those goals.
While Columbus’ voyages did contribute toward a more accurate view of the then known world (larger than most thought), he was not the first to discover it. Leif Erickson beat him by 500 years, but Columbus did a better job of informing Europe of his findings.
Columbus did not prove the world was round. Enough voyages by various explorers and mariners occurring many years before 1492 had already shown that to be true. Only a few ignorant people may have believed the earth was flat when Columbus sailed.
Finally, the only advanced items of European civilization he brought were armor and weaponry with which he used to conquer, intimidate, punish, torture, decimate and enslave the native peoples.
Some recent articles present the possibility that Columbus may have been a Marrano (a Jew pretending to be Catholic), but his inhumane treatment of native peoples would indicate otherwise.
If my Italian-American friends need a national Italian hero, there are so many to choose from (Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caesar, writers, artists, etc.) In fact, I just read in The New York Times that over 100 Italian-American authors marched as a group in Monday’s Columbus Day parade, celebrating their heritage.
The discussion about replacing Columbus Day began in 1977 during an International Conference of Indigenous People. More evidence from scholarly research revealed the true nature of Christopher Columbus and his horrific mistreatment of Native Peoples.
While it is unlikely that Columbus Day will ever be entirely eliminated, its popularity is on the decline. On the other hand, local Indigenous People’s Day observances now number almost 50 across the country and are on the increase.


Don’t forget stories of Evian Conference, Sosua

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

A historic event known as the Evian Conference of 1938 is rarely if ever mentioned in American history textbooks, nor is its anniversary imprinted on calendars … for good reason.
It was originally publicized as an attempt by the United States President Franklin Roosevelt to save displaced German and Austrian Jews who were seeking refuge from the Nazis. An international conference of 32 nations was held July 6-15 at the resort town of Evian-les-Bains, France.
Months before, Nazi Germany had marched into Austria, extending its policy of confiscation of Jewish money and property. These penniless Jews were still allowed to leave Nazi control if they could find a nation that would accept them.
America’s immigration quota system, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Semitism and the increasing cost of fighting the Depression, all worked to prevent allowing penniless refugees into the United States.
Many humanitarian organizations, mostly Jewish, were present as observers at the conference, including Golda Meir, but were not allowed to participate.
German Nazis were present as well, even though they had not been invited. No doubt the anti-immigrant comments made by the British who were blocking European Jews from entering Palestine, as well as the general lack of immigration support by the conference, pleased Hitler.
The failure of the Evian Conference, the unwillingness of nations to save the Jews, was probably Hitler’s “green light” to advance his plans for the Holocaust.
Only one small nation, the Dominican Republic, represented by President Rafael Trujillo, offered to allow up to 100,000 Jewish men and/or married couples to settle in his country, under certain conditions.
Why Trujillo, well-known as a ruthless dictator, would make such an offer, is explained by historians this way: It was well-known that Trujillo was obsessed with favoring white-skinned people. He was known to powder and lighten his own dark skin daily.
By opening his country to 100,000 Jewish refugees, he would be countering previous bad publicity about his cruelty to his black-skinned Haitian neighbors.
The land in the north central Sosua area needed to be cultivated and what better way than to have white-skinned Europeans farm the land, marry Dominican women, and thereby expand the white population.
Because of the expanding war and bureaucratic red tape, it was becoming more difficult after the conference to fulfill the original promise of 100,000.
Of 5,000 visas originally issued by the Dominican Republic, only 600 European Jews had taken advantage of the offer. An additional 100 Jews arrived in Sosua by war’s end from Shanghai, China.
The American Joint Distribution Committee assisted in working out an agreement between the new Jewish settlers and the government of the Dominican Republic.
Many former city dwellers who had never been on a farm, found themselves behind a plow and building new homes.
A collective at first, much like an Israeli kibbutz, the land was worked by little more than half the Jewish population, with the remainder instead choosing commercial and financial enterprises.
As the (Jewish) village of Sosua evolved, enterprising residents developed commercial ventures and public services such as a school, a library, water works, a medical clinic and, of course, a synagogue.
The original farming venture eventually developed into a more successful dairy, meat and cheese production company, known today as Productos Sosua, well-known for its meat and cheese products, including ham.
Jewish life has diminished greatly in Sosua over the years as children are often sent off to the United States for higher education, Jewish men have intermarried with Dominican women, and others have left for business and job opportunities in larger cities.
Like most island bays, Sosua has become a resort community, a favorite with many European tourists.
Only six or seven of the original settlers have family members still remaining in their haven of Sosua. There is a small Jewish museum and a synagogue which is maintained, whose presence memorializes the original founders who escaped the Holocaust, a relative few survivors when there could have been so many more.
We must never forget the Evian Conference of 1938 and the relatively few Jews who escaped the Holocaust.


US Military’s secret language warriors

Posted on 14 September 2017 by admin

A recently published book, Sons and Soldiers, tells the little-known story of an unusual World War II American army intelligence unit which successfully convinced many German soldiers to surrender and to reveal significant intelligence as well.
There have been a few earlier books on the subject of the “Ritchie Boys” but none as complete as this.
They came to be called The Ritchie Boys because their specialized training took place at Camp Ritchie, Maryland.
What set them apart from the usual army warrior was that instead of firearms, they would be using their knowledge and language skills as weapons.
They all spoke German and most were young German Jewish men who had escaped from the growing Nazi terror in the 1930s as well as the Holocaust which eventually, for many, consumed the family they had left behind.
Sadly, such was the case of my friend and fellow Jewish War Veteran, Rudy Baum (of blessed memory), who eventually settled in Dallas after the war.
Rudy’s older sister fled to Palestine before Rudy left for America. Both would be reunited at war’s end when Rudy visited Palestine, previous to returning to the states.
Brother and sister strongly believed in the importance of their children and everyone in general learning what the Nazis did, the horror of the Holocaust, so in 1996, they self-published the story of their family in both German and English in a paperback titled Children of a Respectable Family.
As a benefactor at the Dallas Holocaust Center (now the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance), Rudy donated his book sales to the center. Additionally, after retirement, as a volunteer, he shared his personal story with visitors.
The Rudy Baum I knew was a quiet, contemplative, highly intelligent, quick-witted, caring person. He never spoke much about his military experiences.
His book, Children of a Respectable Family, includes information I never heard him discuss. I learned that he received the Bronze Star for meritorious service, operating a sound system from the back of a Jeep while under fire, successfully enticing German soldiers to surrender.
Each surrender saved at least one or more American soldier’s life and the information (intelligence) gathered from that prisoner probably helped save other lives as well.
In addition, Rudy helped produce propaganda leaflets, interrogated Nazi prisoners, and upon promotion to First Lieutenant, supervised and managed groups of intelligence teams.
Upon reaching Buchenwald and viewing the deplorable conditions, General George Patton ordered the military police to take trucks into the nearest town, Weimar, to round up all the adults to return to Buchenwald.
Rudy and the other interpreters formed the civilians into lines to view the dead and dying. They were required to view — and the more able ones — to help clean up and bury the dead. The civilians’ denial of awareness of what was going on in the camp infuriated Rudy. “These denials fueled the hatred I had felt for all Germans.”
Rudy’s comment at war’s end was, “War was hell, but the Holocaust was horror!” With the war over and Rudy having accumulated enough points, he was ready to return home, but the military had other plans.
After first being promoted to captain, Rudy was appointed Media Control Officer of Marburg, a university town outside of Frankfurt. His assignment was to help restart the cultural life of the city by hiring a staff and producing a city newspaper.
By screening so many applicants with follow-up interviews, Rudy’s attitude toward German civilians began to change. He found many individuals who were decent people, who were active in the anti-Nazi movement.
Thinking of what happened to his parents and other members of his family, and the poor souls of Buchenwald, Rudy finally came to the conclusion that “not every German can be held responsible for the heinous crimes of the Nazis.”
Like other Ritchie Boy members, Rudy Baum was one of a kind, a member of the only group of its kind in the United States military.
From the viewpoint of fellow Ritchie Boy Gunther Stern, “We were fighting an American war, and we were also fighting an intensely personal war. We were in it with every fiber of our being. We worked harder than anyone could have driven us. We were crusaders. This was our war!”


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