lunes, 14 de julio de 2014

‘You put it in a box somewhere, as you wouldn’t be able to carry on’ - Clayhall man talks of escaping the Nazis and returning to Germany to translate Hitler’s will

Herman Rothman, 89, with his wife Shirley

A 14-year-old boy boards a train, his only possessions the clothes on his back and the items he carries inside a small suitcase.

As he steps forward, he leaves behind his family and the only life he has ever known – on the streets of Germany, where the Nazis are preparing for war and intensifying their persecution of the Jewish people.
This memory is still all too fresh for 89-year-old Herman Rothman, who was one of approximately 10,000 Jewish children saved by the Kindertransport rescue mission, which brought them all to Britain.
But this was not to be his last remarkable experience as, when he returned to the country as an adult, he became one of the first people to lay eyes on Fuhrer Adolf Hitler’s will.
Herman, who has lived in Clayhall for 55 years, was born in Berlin on September 2, 1924.
He grew up in the city with his parents Erich and Betty and younger brother Sigbert, unaware that their lives would be changed irreparably in the coming years. Herman said: “My parents looked after me, I went to school – there was nothing I can report about anything I suffered.
“It was my parents who suffered, all the Jews in Germany suffered.”
As a boy, Herman witnessed examples of the brutality which lurked in the country’s streets.
Aged 13, he was sent out on an errand by his mother. He saw an elderly Jewish man being pushed around and told his attacker to stop, which he did.
Herman’s school was also partially destroyed during Kristallnacht on November 9 and 10, 1938, which saw the Nazis target Jewish businesses, homes, and synagogues.
With the climate of fear rising among the Jewish community, Herman’s parents managed to get him onto the Kindertransport in 1939.
He said: “The Kindertransport was a marvellous thing. [But] it must have been really sad for my parents; we didn’t see each other for about 15 years.”
While Herman began his new life in Britain, working in agriculture, his parents were suffering the terror of the Nazi regime.
His father was at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for eight months, before police officer Herr Belgart sprung him out, along with Herman’s best friend Siegfried Mandelkerm.
Erich travelled to join Betty and Sigbert in Palestine, where they had fled. But Siegfried stayed in Germany so he could say goodbye to his parents and he was shot dead.
Herman joined the British Army in 1944 and was later transferred to a counter-intelligence section.
After the war ended, he interrogated Nazi prisoners at a camp in Germany. He also helped to translate Hitler’s will after it was discovered in the shoulder pads of Heinz Lorenz, who had been propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ press secretary.
Upon returning to England, Herman met his wife Shirley, in 1949 at a dance, and became a lawyer.
The couple had two children, Janice and Jonathan, and now have six grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.
Herman has played an active role in Redbridge’s community, having been a founder of a synagogue and a governor at King Solomon High School.
But he will never forget the horrors the Nazis inflicted on millions.
“You put it in a box somewhere, as [otherwise] you wouldn’t be able to carry on. There were so many Jews who didn’t live to tell their story.
“My whole family in Poland was obliterated and part of my mother’s side was too. I still carry it with me. I do not understand why people cannot live in peace.”

viernes, 11 de julio de 2014

Holocaust survivor Adina Sella shares inspiring story

“Hitler would only have won if all the survivors stayed silent, but here we are fighting for a better future.”
Holocaust survivor and retired school psychologist Adina Sella shares her survival story with the community and field trips as a member of the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s Speakers’ Bureau. Earlier this year, the Museum paid tribute to local Holocaust survivors, including Adina, in the special tribute video below.

We had a chance to ask Adina about her background and experience at the museum.
Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I am originally from Hamburg, Germany.

Q: How did life change for your family when the Nazis came to power?

A: My father could no longer pursue his profession as a businessman, my brother was forced to leave school and give up sports and all of our civil rights were deprived, which made every day life very hard.

Q: Was your family split up? Were you able to locate any family members after the war?

A: My immediate family wasn’t split up, we survived the war together, but my distant family was. After the war, we were able to locate a few cousins and other family members, but had to find out that only about 10% of them survived the Holocaust.

Q: What helped you most during the Holocaust?

A: The righteous, ordinary citizens of a town in Italy called Anghiari. Regular people, like teachers, nuns or priests did everything they could to help us, although their own life was at risk. Their courage made it possible for us to survive the Holocaust.

Q: What did you feel during the Holocaust?

A: I remember having a constant fear of being separated from my family.

Q: Have you ever returned to your hometown?

A: Yes, two times actually. I was back in 1958 for the first time and then again around 1985 when the city of Hamburg invited me, my brother and other Holocaust survivors back as their guest.

Q: Why did you want to join the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s Speakers’ Bureau?

A: Because I see it as my duty to family members and everybody else who died during the Holocaust to make sure it will never be forgotten and to educate younger generations about it, so it will never happen again.

Q: What do you hope people take away from your story?

A: In spite of everything that happened to me and all the mistreatment I suffered, I was able to overcome it and heal. I want to tell kids that Hitler would only have won if all the survivors stayed silent, but here we are fighting for a better future. I also want them to learn that no matter where they come from or what happened to them, they can become whoever they want to be if they work hard for it.

Q: What is your favorite space in the Museum and why?

A: Goodman Auditorium, where other survivors and I talk to school groups, because this is where our generations meet and history becomes real for them and I get to see their bright shining faces.

Q: Why should people visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum?

A: To get first-hand factual knowledge, so Holocaust deniers won’t have a chance.

Adina is currently visiting Anghiari, Italy, to attend a ceremony honoring the couple—Gioncando and Annina Marconi—who took her in during the war, and taught her the Italian lifestyle so that she would blend in. Descendants of the couple will receive the award in their name. On Wednesday, August 13, at 2:45 pm the Illinois Holocaust Museum will honor Gioncando and Annina during a special ceremony at the Museum’s Ferro Fountain of the Righteous, a space that pays special tribute to those named by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. The fountain is encircled by plaques that pay tribute to Gentile families who risked their own lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. The Museum continues to celebrate the Righteous Among the Nations by adding new names to the Ferro Fountain throughout the years. Learn more about the ceremony here.
“Two young kids, saved by those noble people, left Italy after the war and twenty-four of their descendants are now returning so many years later to honor them… twenty-four people who would never have lived if it was not for their Righteousness.”

–Adina Sella


martes, 1 de julio de 2014

Hitler: The secret billionaire

HE POSED as a frugal leader but history's most hated man was a tax dodger who hid a vast personal fortune.

In the summer of 1945 a young German in civilian clothes who claimed to be a journalist was sent for interrogation to the former prisoner-of-war camp Stalag XI-B in Lower Saxony, which was being used as an internment camp for suspected Nazis. His British interrogators weren't satisfied with his story and were particularly suspicious of his oddly shaped shoulder-pads.
Eva Braun
Their doubts proved well founded when the pads were found to contain top-secret documents drafted in the last days of the Third Reich. The man was actually Heinz Lorenz, Adolf Hitler's deputy chief press secretary, and among the documents he was carrying was the dictator's last will and testament, signed shortly before dawn in his underground bunker in Berlin on the day he and Eva Braun shot themselves.

"At her own desire she goes as my wife with me into death," Hitler wrote in his will. "It will compensate us for what we both lost through my work in the service of my people. What I possess belongs - in so far as it has any value - to the [Nazi] Party. Should this no longer exist, to the State; should the State also be destroyed, no further decision of mine is necessary."

He asked for provision to ensure the maintenance of a "modest, simple life" for his sister and half-siblings, as well as for his new mother-in-law and his "faithful co-workers". Since he also stressed that the pictures he had bought over several years had never been collected for private purposes but were destined for a new gallery in his Austrian home town of Linz, the document gave the impression of a frugal figure who had never operated for personal gain.

Reality could scarcely have been more different. The man who claimed not even to have a bank account actually had an acute business sense, charging money for his fiery performances as a political speaker, copyrighting his own image so that he eventually received a royalty from every postage stamp sold in Germany and showing a contempt for the taxman that was translated into a formal exemption once he got into power.

At today's prices the supposedly frugal tyrant who worked only in the service of his people was actually a billionaire - and the fate of his cash and assets has continued to fascinate historians. In 1948 an Allied court formally issued a death certificate for Hitler and said his entire personal estate was worth just DM200,000, less than £15,000 at the time and no more than £500,000 at today's prices.

But a will written in 1938, drafted with less of an eye on public view than the bunker version, suggests Hitler knew very well his own estate was more substantial. He named specific heirs and stated exactly how much should go to each. For example his sister Paula was to receive 1,000 Reichmarks a month, the equivalent of £150,000 a year today.

Other relatives and staff were also to receive substantial bequests and had Hitler died in 1938, his estate would have had to pay out nearly £200,000 in the first year alone - £1.2million at today's prices. For annual payments like that to be sustainable, Hitler must have been rich.

"Let's try to talk in today's figures. By 1944 he's definitely in the billions of Reichsmarks, which is not far off billions of euros today," says historian Cris Whetton, who argued in his book Hitler's Fortune that the dictator was probably the richest man in Europe.

From his earliest days in the Nazi Party, Hitler realised that people would pay to hear him speak. He used to say he took no fees for speeches - he brushed off the taxman's queries on official forms by saying it was entirely a matter for the party not him personally - and insisted he had no bank account. But Whetton cites Hitler's own headed notepaper which provided bank details on it.

Imprisoned for nine months in 1923, he wrote the unwieldy manifesto Mein Kampf which would contribute hugely to his fortune. It was published in 1925 and he received a royalty of around 10 per cent from every sale. Initially released in an expensive volume that sold only modestly, it was then reissued in a budget edition that transformed Hitler's fortunes.

Once he rose to power in the 1930s, he decreed every newlywed couple in Germany should be given a copy - with the state footing the bill and the author receiving his royalty.

By 1938 his unpaid tax bill was 400,000 Reichsmarks, equivalent to £1.75million at today's prices. Hitler clearly felt paying tax was beneath him and his government in due course gave him a formal exemption as Chancellor, ruling that his tax papers should all be destroyed. In fact they were locked in a safe, providing a rich seam of information for future historians.

He poured the money into property: a luxury apartment in central Munich, a villa used by Braun and most of all his Alpine home at Berchtesgaden, bought in 1936 for the equivalent of £120,000 at today's prices but steadily enlarged into a sumptuous 30-room mansion. The documentary makers estimate he ploughed the equivalent of £136million into the place at today's prices.
The house was damaged by British bombing, set on fire by retreating SS troops and finally levelled by the post-war German government in 1952.

Hitler also intended to be the world's greatest art collector, amassing works that he genuinely did intend to exhibit in Linz. By the end of the war he had gathered some 8,500 pictures for this purpose. Unlike many Nazis he didn't loot the treasures and does appear to have bought them legitimately, albeit sometimes at knockdown prices.

These paintings were among those recovered by the Allies from underground tunnels in Austria after the war, with a total value of almost £1million.

As for cash, in the post-war period the forerunner of the CIA found that Hitler had access to massive amounts. Agents discovered Swiss bank accounts holding 45million Reichsmarks - equivalent to £210million today.

So what happened to it? When Hitler died he left some 20 living relatives. Paula was his next of kin and the only one to pursue any of her brother's funds. After the Allies had officially valued his estate at £15,000 she went to court in Munich to try to get control of his assets and money.

In 1960 the court ruled that she was entitled to two-thirds of her brother's estate, with the remainder going to their half-sister and half-brother. But it put no value on the estate and Paula died four months later. The court ruled that any benefit from the estate should pass to her heirs and relatives but none has made a claim.

A recent ruling in Switzerland stated that after 62 years the funds from dormant bank accounts can pass to government coffers. That may mean the last of Hitler's missing millions have disappeared.


jueves, 26 de junio de 2014

Belzec: Past and Present

It's not exactly a household name.
But during World War II, Belzec, a small town in southeastern Poland, was one of the main Nazi death camps in the occupied country, along with Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.

As many as 500,000 Jews were murdered there by the Nazis. Astonishingly, the camp operated for no more than 10 months.
By the end of 1942 it was shut down, and an extensive effort was undertaken to hide any trace of it.
The Nazis almost succeeded, helped by the jarring fact that only two people were believed to have survived Belzec. One was killed in a postwar pogrom in Poland, the other took his own life years later.
For decades after the war, the camp, the size of a couple of football fields, was little more than an open area strewn with litter, used as a shortcut in the town, and marked only by a modest plaque.
The communists, who ruled Poland at the time, had little interest in highlighting the Holocaust as a genocide against the Jewish people, though it was the Soviet army that liberated Auschwitz. The Kremlin and its satellites were not eager to generate potential sympathy for the Jews.
But after the remarkable events of 1989-1991, when the USSR, Warsaw Pact, and Berlin Wall all saw their last days, dramatic opportunities emerged to write new pages of history -- and revisit old ones.
Miles Lerman was a Polish-born Jew who had fought with the partisans against the Nazis, while losing most of his family at Belzec. After the war, he came to the U.S., but never forgot what happened from 1939 to 1945. That explained his drive to help create the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and then, he hoped, a memorial to the victims of Belzec.

Knowing of AJC's close ties with Poland after 1989, he approached us and asked if we would undertake a project at Belzec, in partnership with the Polish government.
What had previously been unimaginable became possible.
In an entirely new spirit of Polish-Jewish cooperation, we worked together over the course of several years. It was a massive undertaking, fraught with any number of challenges.
Throughout, there were two driving forces.
For Poland, it was Andrzej Przewoznik, the Secretary-General of the Polish Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom sites. Tragically, he was on the plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage that crashed near Smolensk in 2010.
For AJC, it was Rabbi Andrew Baker, who heroically persevered, through thick and thin, to spearhead the effort.
In June 2004, a thousand invited guests, including the president and prime minister of Poland, the ambassadors of Israel, the United States, and several other countries, a special envoy of Pope John Paul II, Jewish and non-Jewish survivors of the Nazi camps, and 150 officers of the Israel Defense Forces, gathered at Belzec.
More than 60 years after serving as the location of mass murder -- where nearly 2,000 women, men, and children were killed daily -- the site had been demarcated, protected, and memorialized, with a museum added to educate future generations about what had happened there. (See the AJC film about Belzec.)
As several speakers noted at the time, the project was unique, arguably the most ambitious, creative, and fitting effort of its kind anywhere.
This week, we mark the tenth anniversary of the Belzec project, with Polish, Israeli and American guests in attendance.
Somehow, the gathering seems even more timely and necessary than ever.
To be sure, it is an occasion to recall what happened in 1942, lest anyone forget -- or trivialize, rationalize, or deny -- the lives that were extinguished for the sole reason that they were Jews.
It is also a stark lesson that we must never suffer from a failure of imagination about man's capacity for evil.
And it is an opportunity to remember that, had Israel existed prior to the Second World War, many Jews might have found refuge there instead of deportation to the gas chambers of Belzec.
But, alas, there was no Israel. Nor were the ruling British in Mandatory Palestine ready to ease entry for Europe's trapped Jews, nor were other nations lining up to issue visas to Jews, when emigration from Europe was still possible.
The event at Belzec also has lessons about the present. There are clouds on the horizon. However different the times may be, there's reason for concern.
As President Barack Obama noted, we are witnessing a "rising tide of anti-Semitism" today, most notably in Europe (the tide has always been dangerously high in important parts of the Muslim world).
EU surveys document the growing anxiety of Europe's Jews. Anti-Semitic attacks are on the increase, including the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May. The New York Times (June 21) reported that emigration from France to Israel, driven largely by fear for the future, is running well ahead of previous years. Several neo-Nazis and other racists have just been elected to five-year terms in the European Parliament.
Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has chosen this moment -- when vast swaths of the Arab Middle East are experiencing chaos and mayhem, when three Israeli youngsters have been kidnapped by terrorists, and when Israel's putative peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, has entered into a "unity" government with Hamas, a group openly bent on the Jewish state's total destruction -- to single out democratic Israel, of all the world's nations, for divestment.
Moreover, despite the international community's hopes for a credible diplomatic solution, Iran continues to advance its nuclear ambitions and develop its ICBM capability, while calling for the elimination of Israel -- and its eight million citizens -- from the global map.
And, reflecting a troubling moral fog, New York's legendary Metropolitan Opera is planning eight performances of The Death of Klinghoffer. The opera takes the 1985 murder by Palestinian gunmen of a 69-year-old, wheelchair-bound American Jew, on an Italian cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea, and, in the words of his two daughters, "rationalizes terrorism and tries to find moral equivalence between the murderers and the murdered."
In other words, the gathering at Belzec this week is very much about remembering the past -- but also about grappling with the present and preparing for the future.

martes, 24 de junio de 2014

The Man Who Warned The West About The Holocaust, At A Time When No One Would Listen

WARSAW -- Thanks to American film director Steven Spielberg, many people may think of German businessman Oskar Schindler as the man who did the most to save Polish Jews during World War II. 

But in Poland, efforts are under way to bring Schindler-style recognition to a lesser-known figure -- Jan Karski, an eyewitness to the Holocaust whose daring wartime attempts to call attention to the slaughter of Polish Jews were largely ignored by the United States and Britain. 

In a year when World War II anniversaries are focused on Normandy in the West and the end of the Leningrad Siege in Russia, Poland is honoring the centenary of the birth of its own wartime hero with commemorative coins, political lectures, and the reissue, in Polish and English, of Karski's 1944 memoir, "Story of a Secret State." 

"It's an enormously complex task for Karski to get more recognition, because he remained silent for decades," says Wojciech Bialozyt, a young history buff who directs the Jan Karski Educational Foundation from an elegant office in Warsaw's diplomatic quarter. "He started being recognized in the beginning of the 1980s, and from then it was quite a short period while he was still alive. And in Poland, he was 100 percent unknown." 

'This Sin Will Haunt Humanity'

Karski, who died in 2000, spent most of his life in the United States, where he established a distinguished postwar career as a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. But he is better known for his years as a member of Poland's WWII-era Underground State, the network of secret resistance organizations fighting the dual occupation of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which individually invaded Poland from west and east within weeks of each other in September 1939. 

Karski, who was born Jan Kozielewski in 1914, grew up in a large, working-class Catholic family in the city of Lodz. He went on to join Poland's diplomatic corps and served as a cavalry officer in the early days of the war. Following an escape from a Soviet detention camp, Karski changed his name and joined the underground, where he quickly became a high-value courier, carrying memorized strategic information from Poland to Allied leaders and the Polish government-in-exile in France and London. 

A member of the Nazi SS inspects a group of Jewish workers in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943.

In 1942, as hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews were being deported to Nazi extermination camps, Jewish members of the underground asked Karski to carry the news to the West, where the Nazis' anti-Jewish atrocities had received little attention. 

To understand the scope of the killings, Karski adopted a disguise and visited the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Germans were holding captive as many as 400,000 Jews, nearly two-thirds of whom would end up in concentration camps. He also traveled to the Izbica transit camp, where he watched in horror as 46 train cars lined with corrosive quicklime were packed with starving, terrified Jews. 

He later described the experience, in harrowing detail, in "Story of a Secret State:" 

"My informants had minutely described the entire journey. The train would travel about 80 miles and finally come to a halt in an empty barren field. Then nothing at all would happen. The train would stand stock-still, patiently waiting while death penetrated into every corner of its interior. This would take from two to four days." 

Karski traveled west with a plea to make the prevention of the Jewish slaughter an explicit goal of the Allied Powers. He urged both British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to consider military strikes against rail lines used for the Nazi deportations and even, at the worst, against Germany's own cultural institutions. 

It was a strategy the Allies would ultimately adopt later in the war. But neither official was prepared to take such measures in time to prevent the deaths of 3 million Polish Jews. Karski, one of a handful of people to warn Western leaders of the Holocaust, and its earliest eyewitness, was largely ignored. 

Thirty-five years later, the memory still sparked passionate anger in Karski, who used his speech at a 1980 conference of concentration camp liberators to begin a self-described second mission to remind the world of its deadly indifference to the Holocaust. 

"The second original sin had been committed by humanity," Karski said, nearly shouting. "Through commission, or omission, or self-imposed ignorance, or insensitivity, or self-interest, or hypocrisy, or heartless rationalization. This sin will haunt humanity till the end of time. It does haunt me. And I want it to be so."

Modern Lessons

Karski went on to be awarded honorary Israeli citizenship and Poland's highest civilian honor, the Order of the White Eagle, which was presented to him personally 1995 by then-President Lech Walesa. 

In 2012, he was posthumously awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, who said of the Holocaust, "We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen -- because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts; because so many others stood silent." 

Karski's supporters are now working to promote his principles of compassionate engagement as a model for foreign policy worldwide. 

Poland, which has led efforts to defend neighboring Ukraine throughout its crisis with Russia, has emerged from its World War II occupation and forced transition to communism to become one of the European Union's most vocal advocates of its post-Soviet neighbors and a stubborn counterbalance to rising Russian influence. 

Bialozyt says Karski's legacy serves to remind the international community of the responsibility to protect its most vulnerable members.  

"His message was neglected. So this is about indifference," he says. "The world was simply indifferent. You can recall a number of examples after the Second World War when the world remained indifferent -- Bosnia, Rwanda, Syria. So this is the great lesson of the Karski mission for the world of today."


lunes, 23 de junio de 2014

War stories from a Nazi interrogator, now a Mill Valley retiree

Ed Holton was 21 years old when he found himself face-to-face with Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler's second-in-command. It went nothing like what he'd expected.
Holton was a U.S. Army intelligence officer interrogating the imprisoned Nazi in preparation for the postwar Nuremberg trials, but Goering wasn't cracking loose about his slave labor programs or how many Jews he'd ordered gassed.
Goering, speaking only in German, just wanted to complain.
Little did he know he was whining to a Jewish refugee from Nazi-controlled Austria - a refugee who was now a Ritchie Boy, one of the most valuable interrogation units in the Allied forces.
That unit is largely forgotten today, and all save 300 of the 3,500 members have died. But their adventures live on in the memories of survivors such as Holton, 90, who according to the sketchy available records is the only one living in the Bay Area.
And when it comes to memories, he's got whoppers few can match - like interrogating Goering in a military prison in 1946.
"Goering was very upset that day and said, 'I don't want to talk,' and I said, 'Why, Herr Goering, what is wrong?' " Holton recalled. "He said soldiers had plundered his villa in Germany. I translated it to the other officers as 'looted,' and he understood that little bit of what I said.
"The next thing I know, he jumps up and shouts, 'Nein! I said plundered, not looted!' " Holton recalled, chuckling. "And I suppose he was right, since looting is a civilian action and plundering is military.
"So I said, 'Herr Goering, since you are the known expert in both of those fields, I will defer to you.'
"Afterward, one of the other officers said, 'Do you think he knew you are Jewish?' and I said, 'I certainly hope so.' "
Even seven decades later, as he sat in his retirement home in Mill Valley, Holton got a kick out of being able to get stroppy with the high-ranking Nazi. Not many soldiers had that opportunity.
But the Ritchie Boys did.

Fled Europe

The interrogation unit was composed of young German and Austrian Jewish men who fled to America as World War II broke out, got drafted as foreigners and were trained to be intelligence officers. Army brass reckoned they would be good interrogators because they not only hated the Nazis with a personalized fury, but they knew how to wheedle German prisoners of war in their own tongue.
The nickname came from the base where they received their eight weeks of intelligence training, Camp Ritchie in Maryland.
After graduating, the Ritchie Boys fanned out across the European war theater, and their biggest push came right after D-Day. They were embedded with the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy so they could not only interrogate freshly captured Nazi prisoners, but also use loudspeakers to shout at the enemy that all hope was lost.
Holton was a second lieutenant when he came ashore several days after D-Day, and his first assignment was raiding the vacated Gestapo headquarters. His training for spotting improvised explosives paid off right away.
"The only thing the Gestapo left behind as they fled was booby-trapped toilet seats, and I could tell by the elevation of the seat," he said. "We had to do our business on the floor of their headquarters. Interesting way to start out."
He soon found himself at the Battle of the Bulge, interrogating prisoners, civilians and defectors to discern troop movements and other tactical nuggets. The gentler approach worked best.
"We'd ask the newly captured prisoners what they had for dinner," Holton said. "Then we'd say, 'Gee, only sauerkraut for five days? We've got eggs, tuna and Hershey's chocolate - come on in the tent and eat!'
"It almost always worked. We treated them with respect - they were draftees, like us. After they got that chocolate, soon they'd be telling you everything."
By the end of the war, he had made captain, earned a Bronze Star - and was made a U.S. citizen, like the other Ritchie Boys, for his service. Then came Nuremberg.
His next assignment after Goering was SS Brigadefuhrer Walter Schellenberg, who told Holton his main regret in the war was that the portable-trailer gas chambers he ordered up to kill Jews had a design flaw.
"He said the company put the loading door on the right rear, so when gas was pumped in the people rushed to that side and the chamber fell over," Holton recalled. "He was very angry about that. When he made designers redo it, he did not pay them."
That chamber also earned Schellenberg a special medal from Hitler, "and he was very proud of that," Holton added. "I asked him how many people he gassed, and he said 345,245 was his weekly total at one point.
"He was very happy to tell how he did such a wonderful job using his initiative to solve a problem. He was a terrible man."
Holton's interrogation helped send Schellenberg to prison for two years after the war - he was released shortly before dying of cancer in 1952. Goering cheated the hangman by swallowing cyanide.

Glowing report

After the war, the Army ordered up an assessment of the Ritchie Boys by Col. Robert Schow, who concluded in a lengthy report that the unit was "extremely valuable to all commands to which they were attached."
Holton takes great pride in that.
"When you do a job like we did, you determine what your strengths are," he said. "After you learn how to handle Nazis, other people are no problem for the rest of your life."
A German-made documentary in 2005 traced the history of the Ritchie Boys, but other than that there's been little mention of the unit. Among Holton's comrades were writer Klaus Mann, son of Nobel-winning novelist Thomas Mann, and Fred Howard, who invented L'eggs pantyhose.
Holton became an accountant, raised a family, and after retirement did travel consulting in San Francisco until he finally gave that a rest a few years ago.
He spends a lot of time now studying World War II and has 300 books on the subject. But as for the Ritchie Boys? There is no legacy organization, no annual gathering, no steady correspondence.
Holton finds that a little sad.
"Once the war was over, we all just wanted to go home to America and take advantage of the GI Bill," he said. "We didn't contact each other until about a dozen of us had a reunion in Detroit 10 years ago. But nobody keeps in touch.
"It's all dwindled away. It was an amazing thing we did, but in 10 years we will all be gone. We will truly be just history."

The Dina Babbitt Story

Experience the amazing story of Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, an artist who survived two years at Auschwitz by painting for the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.