In Their Own Words

My interest in the Ritchie Boys goes well beyond my uncle’s story. Luckily, there is a growing selection of memoirs and nonfiction accounts of the experiences of Ritchie Boys available to interested readers. Each man’s story adds to the literature of the Holocaust, World War II, and the “Greatest Generation.” I have selected five that I think will be of interest to those of you who want to know more about the Ritchie Boys. They are all available in bookstores or on Amazon.

Trains of Thought, From Paris to Omaha Beach, Memories of a Wartime Youth by Victor Brombert

The author, David Brombert, a renowned literary scholar, presents an honest and evocative memoir of his youth in Paris, the “collective panic” as the German army overruns the Low Countries and France in 1940, and the times of uncertainty and hardship until he lands in New York with his parents. Late in the summer of 1942, Brombert is inducted into the US army and soon finds himself at Camp Ritchie. A scant 10 pages deal with his training as a Ritchie Boy, and the final 65 pages of the book tell of his wartime experiences. However the entire coming-of-age memoir is a fascinating read. Trains of Thought has received high praise from book reviewers: “A literary masterpiece.” — Wall Street Journal. “A permanent addition to the literature of expatriation.” —The New York Times Book Review


Someday You Will Understand, My Father’s Private World War II by Nina Wolff Feld

Written by a devoted daughter, Someday You Will Understand uses excerpts from countless letters and the author’s powerful writing to create a book that is infused with love, humor, and honesty. The compelling story of Walter Wolff begins in Koblenz, Germany in the late 1920s. Among the many who were smart enough to leave when the Nazi’s first came to power, his parents settled first in France, which turned out to be not far enough, and arrived in New York in September 1941 when Walter was 13. After a year and a half in the army, being sent from one base to another, Walter Wolff finally arrived at Camp Ritchie in July 1944. In the winter of 1945, he was still there, frustrated and impatient to be shipped to Europe. Among the last graduates to leave Camp Ritchie, he was in Italy, recently arrived, on VE Day, May 7, 1945. But there was still much for intelligence officers to do in war-torn Germany. The last half of the book chronicles Wolff’s work interrogating war criminals and trying to help displaced persons.


Freedom Is Not Free, My Journey by Ralph M. Hockley

Hockley takes us directly to his personal story. “I was born Rudolf Martin Hockenheimer (nickname Rudi or Rudy) in 1925 in Karlsruhe, Germany, the son of middle-class Jewish parents.” The date and place of his birth and his lineage make it obvious that all will not go well for young Rudy. Yet his memoir is a modestly told tale of amazing success and triumph. Unlike the others in this selection, Freedom is Not Free, extends far beyond the days of World War II. Hockley (a shortening of Hockenheimer) takes his early experiences as a Ritchie Boy and expands them into a long career in the US army, in military intelligence, and later as a civilian intelligence officer.  His experience extends from the Korean War through the Cold War in Berlin. Hockley shares his life with the reader, combining an honest view of the military and the intelligence service with personal glimpses of the pleasure and sadness of his family life


The Boy Who Wore White Stockings, From Hitler’s Austria to Patton’s Third Army by David Hutt

This is the story of Peter Skala, as told to and recorded by his friend of 30 years. Hutt’s writing style is engaging and reveals his affection for Skala. This slim volume, which ends in 1945 at the close of the war, spends the first few chapters on family background. The years of Peter’s privileged boyhood follow, then the months of stress, separation, and insecurity as the family flees Vienna and travels to England, and finally, New York. The chapters that cover Peter’s training at Camp Ritchie, where he arrives toward the end of 1942 (starting on page 131 of the book), and his time in France and Germany during the war are the most interesting. Assigned to Patton’s Third Army, Skala managed to wrangle himself a break from the interrogation of prisoners of war during the Metz offensive. His time spent with front-line combat troops, an adventure that earned him a Silver Star for gallantry in action, provides exciting reading.


Camp Sharpe’s “Psycho Boys,”   by Beverly Driver Eddy

The author draws from taped interviews, written reports, memoires, and extensive research to create a book about the Ritchie Boys who specialized in “Psych-Ops.”   Most of the men sent to Camp Sharpe in Pennsylvania had already taken the course at Camp Ritchie.  After specialized technical and field training, these men   were sent to Europe, the first group arriving just in time to land on the Normandy beaches soon after D-Day.   Eddy offers photos and many direct quotes from the men about their work writing pamphlets and broadcasting propaganda that lowered the Germans’ morale and encouraged them to surrender.  The process of delivering their message to the enemy was often dangerous and their stories make interesting reading.


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