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from Bernie Rogoff

for Erwin Isaac Rogoff
July 21, 1926-July 30, 1988
 
My brother was in high school in Englewood, New Jersey in 1943.  He was a senior, played bass violin in the orchestra, loved art and music.  That was 1943.
One day he was notified that he would be given an “honorary diploma” and was drafted, with many others, into the Army.  America was at war with Germany and Japan and millions of American men and women were drafted to fight in the war.  Our family was anxious and fearful,  We are Jewish and  had already experienced the tales of the atrocities coming out of eastern Europe.  Many of our family perished in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Hungary at the hands of the Nazis.  They were good people.  Good Poles; good Germans; good Hungarians and good Czechs.
 
June graduation was only a few months off, but many young students including my brother were given their honorary diplomas at a special patriotic ceremony, taken to Fort Dix for basic training and then sent to many other military bases around America for advanced training in Heavy weapons, tanks, etc.  I recall Fort Joseph T. Robinson,  Fort Bliss and other installations as they advanced toward when they would be carried by troop ship to England.
 
We received a call from my brother in November of 1944 that he was being transferred to Camp Shanks in Nyack, New York for preparation when his unit was to embark for Europe.  In late December of 1944 my mom and dad packed bags of food and stuff my brother and his friends might enjoy, and we were told we would be allowed to visit him at Camp Shanks for a couple of hours.  That plan changed however, when we were told to be at the city hall in Englewood, New Jersey where we lived, on a Saturday morning after Thanksgiving.  It was from that location they would be taken by bus to their point of embarkation and we would have that opportunity only, to say farewell.  Those guys were all seventeen and eighteen years old.  I was thirteen and my brother was my hero who taught me all I knew.  My dad was a Penn State graduate with a degree in electrical engineering, but cold not get a job because he was Jewish and, in those days if you were black, Jewish or Italian the sign on the door said, “ Blacks, Jews and Italians need not apply”.  I only saw my dad on week-ends because he was out trying to sell socks, and clothing, door-to- door, small town to small town, and so it was my brother who taught me the street smarts.
 
At the Englewood, N.J City Hall that clear sunny morning in November, the families of the young men were able to have their last hugs and embraces with their kids.  We exchanged delicacies and home backed goods and for an hour or so we met other families and the friends of my brother who were about to board a yellow school bus and be taken somewhere to begin their journey to an undisclosed embarkation port near Port New York.  I was proud of my brother and loved how he looked in his Olive Drab Army uniform.  He gave me some shell casings and small memorabilia items from his last training camp and I coveted them.  A photograph of my brother in his uniform just before he left, hangs in my office.  I cherish it.
 
When the bus pulled away and turned on to Palisades Avenue. Englewood’s main street, the mothers all wept and the brothers and sisters stood, wondering, what next.  I can not imagine what a dad must have felt seeing his son go off to war.
 
We did not hear a word from my brother for several weeks, but one day we received a note that he was in a hospital where he had contracted poison Ivy and had been separated from his unit.  He said that he missed the troop carrier but would follow shortly.  As kids we were both prone toward getting healthy cases of poison ivy every summer, but this was winter and we were surprised that he had been exposed to it at that time, but believed he probably got it crawling in the underbrush somewhere.
 
The war blazed on and we corresponded by “V” mail to his APO address.  We all know about the Battle of the Bulge when the Germans broke through at Christmas time in Belgium and the terrible toll it took on American and English lives as the Germans spared no one.  We were only given scant details, but of the 23 who left Englewood that Saturday morning, all but two died in that battle.  My brother was spared and so was another of his friends, Danny Elders.
 
Danny was returned to the U S in 1945 and spent the rest of his life in a Veteran’s mental hospital  in Millington, NJ with what they called, “ shell shock”.
 
My brother was transitioned into what they called the “Army of occupation” and was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany after the war ended.  He spent all of his time helping displaced German families.  He helped restore a synagogue the Nazis had fire bombed. Then, because of his musical training, he was placed in the Army band and orchestra.  The band traveled all over Europe entertaining our troops.  They played in the hospitals and at other gatherings.  His band played for Jan Masaryk, the president of Czechoslovakia in Ventaslov square.  The next day it was reported that Masaryk was pushed to his death by “the Russians” from the balcony in the square and the following  day Russian tanks rolled into Prague and the Russians occupied Czechoslovakia from then until around 1981.  His unit was one of the last units to leave Czechoslovakia after which he  toured Europe with Danny Kaye and Bob Hope and other entertainers.
 
My dad had a partner who was German and the partner asked if my brother would bring food items to a family member he discovered was alive in Weisbaden.  Food sent to an APO address got to Germany in less than three weeks.  Food sent to an individual, not military, often never arrived or took months and so my brother started to take packages he received from my dad on behalf of his partner, to a surviving cousin who lived in a concrete bunker in Weisbaden.  The father of the family had been the president of Frankfurt bank and the Nazis, as with all Jews, sent him to Terezenstat concentration camp.
The wife was spared because she was not Jewish, and so was their daughter.  The daughter rode a bike fifteen miles each way to work in a German machine gun factory as forced labor, together with fifteen other young Polish students.  Until my brother met them they lived on potato soup.  We sent flour and spam and salami, chocolate and some canned fruit and vegetables.  The daughter was a little younger than my brother and he began taking walks with her and he had her visit for some of his performances.  Edith came to the United States and they were married here.  That is an entire other story, but during the height of the war those in the  factory where Edith worked in forced labor began sabotaging the machine gun parts by leaving the particles off from the carbon grindings in the mechanisms so the guns would fail.  It was discovered and the polish students were all murdered in the field next to the factory.  Edith was spared and to this day, ( she is 83 ) does not know why they spared her except she believes it was so she could train others to do the work. 
 
We were notified that Edith would arrive by boat at the Port of New York.  My brother contacted us to say he would arrive a week before her but we were not to let anyone know because she believed he would stay in Germany for another year during which time she would live with us.  He wanted to surprise her.  I had begun to drive as things got financially better for the Rogoff family and was on a Saturday night date with my high school girl friend.  For some reason, in the middle of the evening something compelled me to call home.  My mom told me that my brother had surprised them and was home after four years.
 
There is no way I can describe what it was like to race into my brother’s arms.  I was taller than him, and when he left I was a head shorter.  We talked all night long and it was then that we learned that all his friends had perished.  During the war my mom was president of a veterans auxiliary where she began to work to take care of the returning injured.  She was instrumental in helping to get the government to build the Millington Veterans Mental Hospital and it was in that hospital that my brother’s friend Danny spent the rest of his life.
 
My brother went to Cooper Union, a fine school of art in New York City,  and became an architect.  He had a studio on the beach in Mantoloking, New Jersey where he immersed himself in his art and music, both jazz and classical.  He was never the same though.  He and Edith had two children but the marriage failed. His daughter Claudia lives in Ward, Colorado on the Bar Ranch and his son Kim, is an anesthesiologist near McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Claudia is a fire fighter, an RN who teaches EMT and participates by doing great things for her community where she lives.
 
My brother Erwin sprinted on the beach each morning and swam in the ocean.  One day I received a call from the New Jersey State Police asking me to come identify a body they had recovered floating in the ocean. He had drowned in the ocean he loved.  He was an expert boatman and swimmer. He was my best friend.




 
03/25/2009 9:14AM
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