Holocaust survivor and Cincinnati veteran celebrates 100th birthday
CINCINNATI — Al Miller left Germany in 1937 as persecution of Jews grew under the Nazi regime. He was 14 years old at the time and had to temporarily leave his parents behind after his grandparents were able to secure his escape into Switzerland.
“My brother managed to get to London, but my parents were stuck in Berlin,” Miller said.
Miller said his parents survived Kristallnacht, in which SA paramilitary forces and German civilians launched attacks against Germany’s Jewish population.
Eventually, Miller and his family would land in the United States in 1940. He recalls going by the Statue of Liberty with his family.
“I saw my father cry for the one and only time in my life,” Miller said.
The road to freedom in the United States was rough for the German Jewish community who suddenly found themselves without a country and looking for acceptance.
“I’d lived in these five countries before and I wasn’t welcome in any of them none at all,” Miller said. “In Belgium, we were told by the police if war breaks out, we will expel you back to Germany and no one had to tell us what that meant.”
He motioned with his finger drawing a line across his neck inferring execution if the family had to return to Germany at that time.
While working at a factory, Miller wondered if he would be able to join the U.S. Army’s efforts in the war. He went down to the recruiters and spoke with them. Miller said they advised him that while they typically only take U.S. citizens, there are sometimes exceptions. Miller said he accepted the answer and went on about his day.
Then the phone call came.
“Sometime later they called me and said non-citizen or not, you’re in it,” he recalled.
Miller said he was first trained as a combat medic and then found himself serving as a driver in an Army Jeep for an officer. It’s the drive that would change his trajectory in the Army and would directly help the war effort.
“I turned on the motor, the motor didn’t start,” he said. “I’m the jeep driver I’m supposed to know what to do. I had no idea. I have no idea now what I would do so I couldn’t tell him that.”
Miller relied on some quick thinking and a little ingenuity with a little prayer mixed in.
“I did know how to open the hood, bang things against each other to make him think I’m doing something, and eventually I went back to my driver’s seat praying please motor start and it did start,” he said.
He said the officer for the first time spoke to him, congratulating him for a job well done. Having broken the ice, Miller mustered up the courage as an enlisted soldier to ask the officer a question and speak out about his role.
“I told him anybody can be a Jeep driver, but I knew perfect German and French, and perhaps the Army could use me in a different capacity,” he said.
Several days later, Miller had orders to Camp Ritchie to train as an interrogator.
“They gave us a number of interrogation methods — what to do, what not to do,” Miller described. “How to fake stuff, how to pretend stuff.”
Miller didn’t know it at the time, but he had just become a Ritchie Boy, a group of German-speaking immigrants trained in the techniques of interrogation and counter-intelligence and serving on the frontlines helping allied forces.
As far as shining a light on what he did in the service of the U.S. Army, humility is what Miller is all about.
“I did my part and if that helped bringing the war, the situation to a successful conclusion, I did my job,” Miller said.
Miller’s actual Army uniform is on temporary loan to the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center at Union Terminal.
“There were only maybe a little over 1,000 of these, what we know as Ritchie Boys. So, the fact that we have this story in our Cincinnati community, and somebody who is still speaking at 100 years old about their experiences before the war in Germany and escaping, and ultimately then serving in the United States Army, it’s really, it’s, it’s a gift, a treasure for our community,” said Sarah Weiss, with the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center.
There is much more to learn about Al Miller’s service — moments he can recall to the most minute detail to this day.
A special event at the Holocaust & Humanity Center will take place Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m. to honor Miller for his service and sacrifice in addition to celebrating his 100th birthday.
There are a limited number of tickets still available and details can be found at the center’s website.
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