Dear Mr. Fox,
May I ask that you please indulge me? I have a story I think you may be interested in which both indirectly and directly involves you and my family on several levels.
For background, I have recently begun to piece together a memoir of my mother, Millie Diamant Silverstein, who passed away at age 98 a little over three years ago. She was born in the east end of London on December 7, 1916, during the German bombings of WWI. Her family immigrated to New York in 1923, first to the Bronx and then to 669 E. 5th St. in Brooklyn, where she would graduate in 1934 from Lincoln High School.
Millie’s 25th birthday in 1941 would come to be known as “the date which will live in infamy.” She immediately after the attack volunteered on the home front, first as an American Red Cross first aid instructor, then as a nurse’s aide (trained at Brooklyn’s Israel-Zion Hospital) in the Volunteer Nurses’ Aide Corps, and also as a Civil Defense Air Warden. Her brothers served in the US Army and Army Air Corps. Her older brother, Alexander--my Uncle Alec--was drafted into the 106th Infantry. I was already aware that he was a POW and that--through my son’s interview of his great Uncle Alec for an elementary school history project many years ago--he had escaped with another soldier and was recaptured, and with an “H” on his dog tags ended up in the horrors of the Berga slave labor camp via Stalag IX-B; surviving that ordeal and the subsequent forced march with his fellow POWs as human shields of their Nazi captors in late April 1945, where he and the remaining others were liberated near Hannover.
However, in looking through my mother’s effects, I found a yellowed scrap of a newspaper clipping from an article she saved, possibly from the Brooklyn Eagle, regarding some controversy over the performance of 106th that I, until then, new nothing about. I discovered while Googling that there are many articles online about the 106th, such as The Desperate Hours – The Demise of the 106th Infantry Division during the opening, desperate hours of the Battle of the Bulge (see http://usdefensewatch.com/2018/03/the-desperate-hours-the-demise-of-the-106th-infantry-division-during-the-opening-desperate-hours-of-the-battle-of-the-bulge/), and Lions In Winter: The Fighting 106th Infantry Division (see https://owlcation.com/humanities/Ardennes106th); and that Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five was, in part, based on his experiences as a 106th POW who survived the 1945 firebombing of Dresden.
In the process of my research, I also came upon your 106th story, Mr. Fox--learning that you were sent to Stalag IX-A--and that of the heroism of Master Sergeant Roddy Edmonds and of his Yad Vashem honors, and of his son, Chris Edmonds, carrying his father’s torch. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.
But, there is more of a connection other than the fact that you and my Uncle Alec were from Brooklyn, were Jews having served in the 106th Infantry, were captured in Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge, and survived as POWs. And that connection stems from the fact that I and my three siblings were all born in the 1950s, and grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx raised on such things as watching Wonderama and Just for Fun; being entertained every weekend by none other than Sonny Fox. “His real name is Irwin,” my mother would say.
Well, in 1961, my older brother, Richard—also Alec’s nephew—was selected as a nine-year-old to be a contestant on a short-lived kids game show called On Your Mark?! He went up against two girls, and the topic of the show was about animals, since each contestant was hoping to become a veterinarian when they grew up. And, Richard won! His prizes included a gift certificate to a pet store, an airplane trip to and tour of Cornell University, and an Emmenee Electric Organ (Jumpin Jiminy!); the latter of which became a prominent fixture in my mother’s home in Apt. 7E of 3636 Greystone Avenue for the next four decades. That organ entertained us kids and later amused my mother’s grandchildren (our kids), as it did various other youngsters when they visited. Richard eventually took the organ with him to North Carolina, where he now lives as a retired vet technician. For all I know, although he’s retired, the organ still works.
As a follow-up, Alec came home to Brooklyn after a long recuperation in London (the city of his birth) to his wife, Lillian, and their toddler son, Phillip. He lived to the age of 93 still married to Lillian, having been blessed with being able to enjoy his three grandchildren. My mother said he was nervous ever since he came home. I just knew him as Uncle Alec. He never spoke of the war that I knew of until my son asked him about it for his school project.
One last follow-up. My two brothers and I all were in the boy scouts (Troop 240, The Bronx). My mother mentioned to me a few years before she passed that she credited Alec’s survival with his the boy scout training he received in his youth. So, she made sure her three sons would have those same experiences.
I hope you found this story and series of connected events of some interest.
Thank you for your service, for all the wonderful and fun Wonderama and Just for Fun mornings of my early years, and for the good works you have done and inspiration you have been since. And for your show gifting Richard that Emmenee organ.
Thank you for your wonderfully detailed stories how your family’s experiences wove in and out of my life.
You may not be aware that Charles Guggenheim produced an excellent documentary on the separation of the Jews in in Stalag 9. and his film follows those deported to the salt mines of Berga. I believe the title is” Solders of a Different War.
Roger Cohen has written a book—as I recall, Berga is in the title. If you have a problem with that, I can give you Roger’s contact information. It covers pretty much the same ground as Charlie Guggenheim's documentary.
Then to find out the On Your Mark was in your life also was startling. That show, which I produce for the people who were presented Emmenee, only lasted on ABC 13 weeks. That means are only 39 kids as contestants. I am so pleased that the Emmenee organ provided so much entertainment for such a long period of time.
Reading your reflections and memories, some of which I shared the 28th division, the bring back happy – and not such happy – memories.
If you go to my website, SonnyFox.tv, you'll find lots of letters, videos, and even, the evening at the Israeli Embassy, when Roddy Edmonds son received the Yad Vashem award Israeli government for his heroism at 9B. Pres. Obama was there that evening to make some remarks, his portion of which are in the archives page along with other things that happened that night at the embassy.
Recently started a “chatting with Sonny" page, checking some of the conversations I've had to email with my “kids”. I think it would be interesting to include this exchange and any that might follow on that page. Would that be all right with you?
You might find my autobiography, But You Made the Front Page, of interest. I do write extensively of my experiences in the prison camp, On Your Mark, Wonderama, and so many things I would be familiar to you.
Again, thank you so very much, taking the time to spell out the intertwining of our lives.
Just quick follow-up.
I was in the 28th Division, the 106 had jus arrived on the front a few days before the bulge and had never been in battle before. If there was any failures in the 106, it would certainly be understandable. Our battle hardened division suffered just as grievously as the106, and probably took more casualties and coughed up probably as many POWs as the 106. The thrust of those 23 armored divisions with their panzer tanks on the narrow front through the Ardennes was the last Nazi shot before its collapse—and totally unexpected by our high command.
Thank you for clearing that up about your 28th Infantry division and the 106th Infantry. Googling, I found the following website, which I excerpted describing your account: http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-bulge-us-army-28th-infantry-divisions-110th-regimental-combat-team-upset-the-german-timetable.htm
Battle of the Bulge: U.S. Army 28th Infantry Division’s 110th Regimental Combat Team Upset the German Timetable.
Through stinginess and stealth, during the fall of ’44, the Führer was able to assemble a strike force whose size and strength had not been seen by German soldiers for years. As a final gesture to convince the Allies that the Germans had no plan for an offensive, Hitler’s last gamble was dubbed Operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine).
The Führer‘s plan called for two panzer armies, the Fifth and Sixth–consisting of seven armored, one parachute and eight Volksgrenadier divisions–to punch through three American infantry divisions, the 99th, 106th and 28th, which were spread along the Ardennes’ border with Germany.
After its bloodletting in the Hürtgen, the 28th Division was sent to the Ardennes, which Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower considered to be a quiet area where new divisions could receive experience and battle-weary units could rest. There, what was left of the division began to take in thousands of new recruits to replace the casualties lost during the summer and fall campaigns. But although the Ardennes was considered a quiet sector, the men still held positions on the front line.
BTW, I’ve contacted my brother and he is fine with posting our email thread on your chat page. However, I want to get hold of my Cousin Phillip, Alec’s son, to make sure he is ok with it, as well.
Attached is the photo of the organ in storage at my brother’s in NC. He confirms that it still works!
This is so cool to be interacting with you on all of this. Life is a Wonderama…
Happy last day of Passover.
Sorry it took so long to respond.
First, see the newspaper clipping (possibly from the Brooklyn Eagle) from among my mother’s effects that caused me to investigate the controversy surrounding 106th Infantry in the first place—which eventually led me to finding about Stalags 9A and 9B and your connection to my uncle with respect to them. BTW, coincidentally (maybe?) PBS just ran a 90-minute documentary, GI JEWS: Jewish Americans in World War II, http://www.gijewsfilm.com/ which was broadcasted on April 11, 2018, just after my initial April 5th email contact with you. In it is mentioned these stalags, the Berga slave labor camp, and the bravery (and a photo) of Roddy Edmonds. BTW2, I do own one of the CDs documenting the atrocity that was the Berga “camp.”
Next, as I mentioned in the previous email, I spoke to my brother, Richard, who was the On Your Mark contestant. He remembers it vividly—including that you rode out onto the stage on a horse and that there was a cow and a trained dog on the set, as well. As I mentioned before, he still is in possession of that Emenee organ he received among his prize winnings, and he sending me a picture of it in storage where he now lives in rural North Carolina—and, again, he confirms that it still works!
And, while he doesn’t specifically remember this part of his On Your Mark experience, he believes our mother, Millie Diamant Silverstein, certainly must have taken him to the taping of the show; he being nine years old at the time. So, it follows that she most certainly must have met you in person, as well—thus completing this little loop in your and my family’s collective histories.
BTW, Richard was wondering if there may be a video of his episode in some archive that he could get a copy of? There is one clip I found online, but not of the show he was on.
I have copied him on this email and he sends his best.
Feel free to post this and the other email thread on your Chatting with Sonny webpage.
Lastly, in clicking around your website as you suggested, I was saddened to read--between the time I first contacted you and this email now--the posting of the passing, just this April 8th, of Chuck McCann, another beloved favorite of the “Wonderama generation” to which I and my siblings and old friends from back in The Bronx belong. Condolences to those who mourn his passing.
Continued good health and success in your many endeavors.