Somewhat, but I wouldn’t describe this as a favorite topic of conversation, Once or twice he alluded to events that he could not bring himself to speak of fully, however, we all knew the story of R’Boruch Kunstadt z’l and the coat. Rav Kundstadt was the dayan of Fulda, and ultimately went on, together with Rav Schlesinger z’l, to found Yeshiva Kol Torah in Bayit V’gan, where R’ Shlomo Zalmen Aurbach gave his shiurim. Rabbi Kunstadt credited my father with saving his life. He had been brought to Buchenwald at approximately the same time as my father and grandfather and soon developed pneumonia. His coat had been taken from him, so he had no protection at all from the winter weather – day or night. There were no blankets or mattresses. The inmates slept on wooden shelves and kept themselves warm with whatever clothing they had with them. Pneumonia, for a middle-aged man under these circumstances, was a virtual death sentence.
My father gave his rebbe his coat – his only outer garment.
My father had many admirable achievements, outstanding achievements, and who are we to judge, but one could well argue that, at age 16, this was his finest hour.
Some 23 years later in Eretz Yisroel, when they next met, R’ Boruch emotionally proclaimed to all who were there that my father had indeed saved his life, allowing him to move on and establish the world-famous Yeshiva Kol Torah.
How did he react to being released?
From Germany? It was strange. We always asked him this and he said he had no recollection of it. Maybe it was too emotional. He just blocked it out.
Tell us about his stay in England.
As I mentioned, in 1938, he was invited to attend the Yeshiva of Manchester by Rav Segal, the rosh yeshiva. Once there, was able to obtain 28 affidavits for members of his immediate and extended family to come to England as well.
When the Germans began bombing the cities after his family arrived, his siblings were sent to the English countryside. My father and grandfather as enemy aliens (though not hostile, of course) were interned. My father was at Ascot, where he had a ringside view of the Battle of London. My grandfather was sent, I believe to the Isle of Wight where he led a protest of Jewish inmates asking that they be given vegetables and fruit to eat, rather than meat, and that they be permitted to prepare their own food. He was successful in this effort. The British allowed the Jewish camp population to run a kosher kitchen – no small feat since severe rationing was in effect.
My grandfather’s immediate family remained in England from before Pesach 1939 until after Yom Kippur 1940. At that time their quota number for emigration to the US came current and they booked transport on one of the last ships to carry civilians across the Atlantic until the end of the war. The ship traveled in a protected convoy because German U-boats were already patrolling the Atlantic shipping lanes. The trip was both dangerous and unpleasant. They traveled in steerage and experienced overt anti-Semitism during the two-week sailing.
They arrived in New York and traveled directly to Philadelphia where my grandmother’s sister and brother-in-law, the Loewensterns lived. Relatives of the Loewensterns, had vouched for our family so that they could enter the United States and begin the naturalization process.
In the spring of 1943, my father was drafted, and once he reported to the Army Induction Center, he, his parents and siblings were offered the privilege of taking the Oath of Allegiance and became US citizens.
How did your father feel about being conscripted into the military?
He was 21 years old when drafted into the army. He knew it was important and worth the danger to which he might be exposed, since he was going to fight a vicious enemy with whom he had personal experience.
What were his duties?
My father was ultimately assigned to Army Air Force intelligence in 1944 at the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Air Command near London. He translated German and French documents obtained by American spies, interrogated some German POW’s and examined aerial photography of bomb damage inflicted on the European continent by the Allies. He worked under Major Louis Powell (who later went on to become a Justice in the Supreme Court).