I’ve had a lifelong fascination with books and films about World War II and the Holocaust because I am a first generation American whose parents uniquely escaped the fate of millions (my father, the inspiration for A Ritchie Boy, escaped Vienna in 1938). Along with historical documents published by the Holocaust Museum, and many other Internet sources, the resources below helped me better understand the world of the Ritchie Boys as well as details around the life of the Jewish immigrant. I read numerous novels and memoirs about this period before even contemplating A Ritchie Boy. Those references are listed down below.
While this photo shows passengers leaving a docked ship likely during the war era, the people don’t have luggage and they are dressed too well to have made the two-week trip across the Atlantic. Typically, immigrants who travelled to American on steamships filled the deck upon approaching Ellis Island, luggage in hand, duffels slung over their shoulders, fairly worn from their long journey at sea. They would exit the steamship onto a ferryboat that would transport them and moor at Ellis Island. This was described in my story, “The Suitcase."
This photo shows the upper east side of Manhattan in the 1930s, a more residential rather than commercial area. In “The Suitcase,” Eli took his mother on a tour of New York skyscrapers in midtown during this time period, where they passed Rockefeller Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, the Chrysler Building at the corner of Forty-Second and Lexington and, finally, the Empire State Building. Later in the novel, in the story “Meeting John Brandeis,” Eli returned to New York but, again, was mostly in the Times Square area, lunching with Brandeis at Sardi’s.
This old movie projector was likely one used at The Main Street Theatre where Hershel Goldstein worked to earn extra spending money. In “When The Lights Dimmed,” Hershel and Eli, at sixteen, had a Sunday ritual. They’d stop at the 571 Shop for a slice of Sachertorte and a glass of milk, then head over to The Main Street Theatre for the featured film. Together, they saw films like The Crowd Roars, Boys Town, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Eli learned much more than language at the movies—he learned American customs and nuances as well.
The Military Ball was a popular social event for students at Ohio State. In “Enlistment,” Eli is a junior and he attends such a ball with Hershel and their dates. For just three dollars, they got to hear Tommy Tucker and his orchestra, and the theme of the evening was “Dance Your Way to Victory."
While at Ohio State during the war, as Eli walked across the grassy Oval to meet Hershel, he found himself among a gathering of people in trench coats, umbrellas in hand. The onlookers were watching a slow-moving float with the sign “Weld Your Way to Victory” stretched across the tractor bed and held up by students tottering with each small bump in the pavement. The Engineer’s Day Parade also focused on the war theme.
In early 1944, around the time this shot of the famous Ohio State 15th and High Street entrance was taken, Eli was drafted into the US Army and left the university, returning to complete his degree after the war, thanks to the GI Bill.
I wish to acknowledge OSU Libraries Reference Archivist Michelle Drobik. Her helpful assistance led me to a trove of historic photographs like the three above, along with other documents, that immeasurably added to my rich understanding of campus life at Ohio State from 1940 to 1948.
This heartwarming "American Story" by Bob Dotson appeared on NBC’s Today Show recently. It features the Ritchie Boys, the valiant immigrant soldiers who fought for America in the US Army and helped the Allies win World War II. An exhibit opening at a Farmington Hills, Michigan Holocaust Museum was the catalyst for a number of remaining Ritchie Boys, now in their nineties, to gather. Dotson interviewed them for this brief documentary.
The Ritchie Boys (docudrama)
a film by Christian Bauer
2004 Tangram Christian Bauer Film Produktion/Camp Ritchie Productions, Inc.
Swing Kids (drama set in 1939)
screenplay by Jonathan Marc Feldman, directed by Thomas Carter
Hollywood Pictures in association with Touchstone Pacific Partners, 1993
GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation
by Deborah Dash Moore
by the President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2004
Harvard University Press, paperback edition, 2006
THE WAR, An Intimate History 1941-1945
by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns
The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II
by Steven Karras
Zenith Press, 2009
Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler
by Bruce Henderson
William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017
Jews and Judaism in a Midwestern Community: Columbus, Ohio, 1840-1975
by Marc Lee Raphael
Ohio Historical Society, 1979
The Third Man
by Graham Greene
Ragtime: A Novel
by E.L. Doctorow
Random House, 1975
Ten Green Bottles: The True Story of One Family’s Journey from War-Torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai
by Vivian Jeannette Kaplan
St. Martin’s Press, 2004