Every year, more Jewish veterans of World War II pass on. The families remember them, but not the general population.
George Bader was one of those who fought – leaving behind the US, his wife, Ruthie and their very young daughter Shirley. In one of his more than 300 letters to his wife and daughter, he wrote, “Ruthie, I’m glad that you are saving my letters, because some day, when our children (and we hope to have more with God’s blessing) grow older, we will have them read them. It will also be interesting to look them over.”
Barbara Feinberg, George’s daughter, lives here in Jerusalem, having made aliyah several years ago with her husband, Kal Feinberg. She took her father’s “hope” seriously and last year she published these letters in a book with her son Dovid, who has his own publishing firm.
Some 70 years after they were written, George’s grandson typed them from the original handwritten letters, word by word. George inserted the description of his experiences because he felt that the information would become a significant part of his wife’s daily life. For Dovid Feinberg, the grandson, these letters made quite an impact.
In his foreword to the book, Dovid wrote, “George was very good about keeping regular correspondence by writing frequently.” He sometimes received as many as 20 letters in one day and tried to answer every one. He couldn’t keep his wife’s letters due to their bulk. George felt that only his letters would keep his wife calm. He even offered instructions for daily living both for his wife and also for taking care of Shirley, even though he was thousands of miles away.
“Be very careful,” he wrote, “that the baby doesn’t handle anything that she can get hurt with. Make sure that she stays away from the gas range.” Then his advice was a bit more dramatic. “Don’t let her walk into the hall alone.”
His deep faith expresses itself.
“Don’t forget we have a good God in heaven who is taking care of us. It may be a little tough on you for a while, but everything will turn out right.”
He also has a deep romantic feeling for his wife.
“It didn’t take you long before you told me that you love me. Do you remember those days?” From Germany in 1945, he reminds her how beautiful those days were. He hoped that when they reunited, their affection for each other would be as strong as when it first began.
GEORGE WAS born in 1916 on the Lower East Side of New York, where thousands of Jews lived. He went to public school, afternoon Hebrew school and attended services at the local Young Israel of Manhattan, which became the hub of Jewish life as he was growing up.
Unlike many of his contemporaries in that area, George remained an observant Jew. When he and Ruthie married, they set a fine example for their children.
In his initial assignment in New Jersey, he met a Jewish chaplain and attended services as often as he could. Then he was sent to Camp Sibert, Alabama, a training center for chemical warfare.
“Don’t let the name scare you, Ruthie, because it doesn’t mean a thing.”
“I am listed as a skilled man so I think that I will be able to get into the clothing school.”
There in that Alabama camp, George emphasizes to his wife that he has a place to daven.
“In about half an hour I am going to shul. It will be a pleasure to sing Jewish songs and listen to kiddush. Please send me the baby’s pictures and one of your own.”
George never seemed to have any trouble from his fellow soldiers and he never shirked any training assignment, as evidenced in his rifle range success and his stamina in long exhausting hikes. Plus, he never tried to skip out on KP duty.
Along with his devotion to duty, he was still praying with his tefillin, when he could. Christian soldiers then, had no idea what type of religion Jews practiced. They were impressed with George. He openly observed his faith, not hiding what he was doing.
Before George went overseas in June 1944, he was given a 10-day furlough, which he spent with his wife and daughter in Brooklyn, who were living with Ruth’s parents. A beautiful photograph was taken then of George in uniform, Ruthie, and their daughter. That picture was chosen for the cover of the book.
It makes quite an impact.
George does not want those furlough days to be forgotten, so on arrival in England he writes, “I certainly am happy that I had the opportunity to see you and the baby before I left. Now all I can say is that God Almighty should bless you, the baby and the family, so that when I come home I will find all of you in the best of health. Ruthie, please don’t worry about me – I am getting along fine.”
He kept his wife informed of his whereabouts in Europe through the use of a special code.
While some US Jewish soldiers wrote about the terrible skeletons of people found in the concentration camps, George limited himself in what he wrote. Since she was alone and had her little girl to take care of, why plant these horrors in her mind? In addition, his letters were censored. As the days past, the censorship was relaxed and the horrors became known to the whole world, George began to be freer in what he wrote.
Most of us today want to hear how Jewish soldiers related to the concentration camps. Some of us hang on their every word because they were there. We have seen pictures of the wasted bodies of our fellow Jews, starved to oblivion on earth, stacked in the mass graves, but we still want to read or hear the words of the soldiers.
ON MAY 20, 1945, George reacted to a letter that his wife received. She saw a movie “of the tragic scenes of the concentration camp in Germany.” Then he explained, “I guess when the people back home see the pictures (I assume in movies) they will have an idea what these skunks have done to our prisoners. I’ve been at two concentration camps and refused to go to a third.”
When he came to Austria, he came across a concentration camp that had been liberated the day before. George emphasizes, “The road was terribly crowded with these people and all they were doing was yelling ‘God bless the Americans,’ etc. These survivors were just a mass of skeletons, barely able to walk and they were begging for food.”
George continued to watch the parade of decimated, starved bodies. He was approached by a young man with a request. Using his Yiddish, George spoke with him and discovered he was Jewish.”I gave him some food and cigarettes and I assured him that he would be taken care of, so he would be able to start living like a human being.”
George’s was motivated to “feed the hungry.”
“I noticed a restaurant on the corner and I went in and saw that they had plenty of food, so I stood on the corner with my friend. I must have sent in about 200 people and I saw them eating.” George was careful that they didn’t eat too much at one time because they would get sick after being starved.”
That was not enough.
“I told the owner, that he must feed these people until he runs out of food.”
In a letter dated May 31, 1945 from Branow Austria, George reacted to a copy of The New York Post that Ruthie had sent him.
“I often wondered how they write up articles about Nazi brutality and I can see that as much as they write about Nazi brutality, they won’t be exaggerating because it is all true.”
Then he described one of the most inhuman acts.
“For example, at the Buchenwald concentration camp, a guard’s wife had a hobby of making lamp shades of human skin taken from the prisoners that had nice tatoos on their bodies.”
“Ruthie, you ask me if I ever come across any Jewish refugees. Throughout Germany I didn’t, but when we came to Austria we ran across a great number of Jewish refugees that had been liberated the day before. They looked as though they were dying and told us pitiful stories. They told us that the Germans had to retreat so fast that they had no time to kill them. Is it true that a prayer of vidui is said upon escaping death? Well one fellow told me that he said that prayer and also Tehillim.”
What is quite striking in these letters is the fact that George was able to receive letters from his wife and other members of his family regularly. Packages were sent to him overseas. He regularly wrote to his wife Ruthie that they had arrived. After the war was over, the military postal service for overseas was working full time.
AFTER SPEAKING to a fellow who had been overseas, having trouble describing what it was like, we hear George’s hope for the future.
“Imagine after spending several days on the ocean, and every minute is like a day, you finally see land and everybody in one chorus yells out, “Land!” and it is not a foreign land. Although to us it will be foreign land, but it is the land of our country, the USA, God bless it.”
George understood that time was near when he could hold his family with great love and embrace his country, too. “That is the feeling I want to go through and may God help me it should be in the very near future. Do not worry,” he emphasized,” with God’s help I will come home.”
Barbara added, “My father’s positive demeanor fueled by his faith in the Almighty helped him through the war.”
After the war, George returned to his wife, Ruthie, and daughter, Shirley, in Brooklyn. They had two more children, Barbara and Jeffrey. George lived to see seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He died peacefully in 1998 at the age of 82.
Because George signed each letter “Your Loving Husband and Father,” Barbara chose that as the title of the book.
I salute Barbara and her son Dovid for putting these letters in print. My hope is that this book will inspire others to do the same. From experience, I know that there are many American Jewish soldiers’ letters waiting to be read.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>