Information and backstory about characters in Immigrant Soldier.

Books, Writing, History, and Me

In “Books, Writing, History, and Me” I share my thoughts on travel, cooking, van-life, books, the process of writing, the experiences of an indie-publisher, WWII, the Holocaust, and anything else I feel might be of interest to readers of my books. Please send me comments and let me know what you like and what you want to know more about. Everything in this blog reflects my personal ideas and feelings–a memoir of sorts, it is my perspective and any errors or omissions are mine.

Hitler’s Adjutant – The SS Officer, Richard Schulze-Kossens

         One of the more complicated and controversial minor characters in Immigrant Soldier is SS-Obersturmbannführer Richard Schulze.  I have had several readers comment about the friendship between the novel’s hero, Herman, and this German SS officer.         Most notably I received an email from a second cousin I’d never met who expressed his distaste for Herman’s friendly attitude toward Schulze.   “How could Herman have felt such kinship with Schulze-Kossens?” he wrote.  My cousin took issue with Schulze’s posting as the adjutant of the notorious Theodor Eicke and then added, “For him [Schulze] to be put in charge of the SS Officer’s School (to train officers to be leaders of the most hardcore Nazi units), wouldn’t he have had to have been a full-fledged and hardcore Nazi himself?”         Unfortunately, I no longer am able to ask Herman to explain his relationship with [...]

2020-03-01T00:29:21+00:00October 15th, 2016|0 Comments

The Real Clara Lang: Holocaust Survivor

      When I speak with book groups, they almost always ask me questions about the real people behind the novel’s characters. Women readers especially want to know more about Herman’s mother, Clara. “Did she ever see Albert again?” is one of their most frequently asked questions.        Telling readers more about Clara fills my heart with the memories of this diminutive woman who was, in fact, my beloved grandmother. She was a typical woman of her times – dependent on the men in her life, gentle, and often passive. However, she was also well educated, musically talented, and had a backbone of steel.        When Clara arrived in California in 1943, she came to stay with my family in Laguna Beach. For the rest of her life, she lived either with us or in the same neighborhood.  I imagine my baby warmth and milky [...]

2020-03-01T00:41:33+00:00October 15th, 2016|2 Comments

The Real Hugo

In Immigrant Soldier, Herman recalls his childhood days as he sits in a deck chair during the stormy passage to America. He remembers the tension in the sunny, well-furnished home on Bernard Strasse and his mother’s unhappiness. When I first wrote this section of the book, much of the information I knew about Hugo had to be left out. Now, perhaps, some readers will be interested in the kind of man who ruled the Lang family home. I never met my paternal grandfather Hugo, but stories of him loom large in my childhood. I have a photo of him, taken in his World War I uniform. In it he looks handsome and trim—it is an attractive vision of a young man. But the father Herman remembered from his childhood was a stout man, florid and strutting—an autocrat who loved rich food, fine wine and liqueur, the theater, and his cigars. By [...]

2019-12-01T07:11:04+00:00January 10th, 2016|0 Comments

A Very Big Man – Man Mountain Dean

One common memory that almost all the Ritchie Boys share is of the oversized instructor of hand-to-hand combat, Man Mountain Dean. He obviously made an impression commensurate with his size. Dean, who stood over six feet tall and weighed in excess of 300 pounds, must have seemed, to the young soldiers he instructed, a literal giant straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I have no statistics on the average height of the Ritchie Boys, but my personal observations conclude that most are somewhere between 5’1” and 5’10”. Standing at attention on the parade ground, anticipating an order from the towering Master Sergeant to demonstrate a throat-hold on him, must have been a frightening experience. Yet all the men I have talked to remember Man Mountain Dean with fondness. A Ritchie Boy, Max Horlick, remembers that the instructor was too large of stature to fit into a public telephone booth, so he [...]

2020-01-13T00:41:58+00:00January 7th, 2015|0 Comments

Chicago and the Spiegels

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and ‘60s will probably be familiar with the Spiegel name. Along with Sears and Roebuck, the Spiegel Company of Chicago was one of the best known catalog retailers in the United States. Beloved by their customers since 1912 for offering free credit and installment payment, in 1938 they began to target higher income clientele by introducing better quality apparel and other merchandise. In those days and on through the mid-twentieth century, every family had a Sears and Roebuck catalog, but it was the Spiegel Catalog that gave your coffee table class. Are you wondering why I am talking about the Spiegels? The explanation involves complicated family lineage. In short, it was a connection with the Spiegels and their relatives the Oberfelders that allowed my father and my uncle Herman, the hero of Immigrant Soldier, to come to America. Early versions of the [...]

2020-01-13T00:19:48+00:00November 8th, 2014|0 Comments

Born in the USA – A Ritchie Boy

Not all the Ritchie Boys were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Many were second generation German, Italian, Russian, or Polish, even Japanese. Others where highly ranked language students pulled from advanced college classes. The common thread was fluency in a language spoken by the enemy. A self-described troglodyte, Burton Hastings is one of these American-born Ritchie Boys. His troglodyte status meant I had to use telephone and snail mail to communicate with him. When I called and introduced myself, Burton, who is ninety years old, was eager to share his memories with me. He had been attached to Third Army headquarters, and I was excited to learn he remembered my uncle. In fact, he had been Herman’s driver on an excursion to an air base in liberated France. Like many Ritchie Boys, Burton Hastings is Jewish. He remembers helping to organize a High Holy Days service for Jewish soldiers while [...]

2020-01-13T00:09:32+00:00October 11th, 2014|4 Comments

An Honest Man

Ernest Wachtel is a man who sees the importance of sharing his experiences. However, when I first spoke to him on the telephone in 2009, I noticed a certain reticence to open up. As I explained my project to him, there was silence on the other end of the line. Finally he said, “I’ll tell you what I can about Camp Ritchie, but I don’t want to talk about your uncle. I really didn’t like him much.” Here, I thought, is an honest man. Ernest’s memories of World War II are lucid and delivered with punch. He is a stickler for details. At the Detroit reunion, he was troubled by what he felt was an inaccuracy in the list of Ritchie Boys and their assignments during the war. Though the list showed Herman assigned to a different team, Ernest insisted that they were both part of interrogation team #62 attached [...]

2020-01-12T23:36:54+00:00August 2nd, 2014|0 Comments

Secret Heroes

I arrived at the Detroit airport on a hot and humid afternoon in July 2011, but I wasn’t there to sightsee or to wander the asphalt streets of a city in the throes of financial decline and economic desperation. I was on my way to meet Ritchie Boys. I would be part of a reunion to celebrate the opening of a special exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center near Detroit, Michigan. Earlier in the spring, one of the Ritchie Boys I knew through the German documentary website had contacted me to let me know about the event. I was able to get an invitation to the gathering and would represent my uncle. I gathered together my resources, prepared an album about my uncle to share with the men I hoped to meet, bought airline tickets, and packed my bags. Bob, an important man in my personal life, agreed to travel [...]

2020-01-12T23:34:07+00:00July 22nd, 2014|0 Comments
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