Secret Soldiers Emerge From Shadows

Richard Schifter might be considered one of the luckiest men of his generation. His parents sent him to the United States just before they were sent to a Nazi death camp, where they perished. He was free. He was safe. But rather than live comfortably, Richard enlisted in the U.S. Army, and returned to his war-torn homeland to help American forces interrogate enemy combatants in front-line units.

“It was a matter of recognizing that the United States had saved our lives,” he said. “We had a debt to repay.”

Richard and several other American soldiers who had escaped the Nazis only to volunteer to return and fight them served in some of the most dangerous locations in Europe. They were trained at a top-secret base in Maryland, and their missions were so secret, they didn’t even know each other.

It took 70 years before their sacrifices and service were publicly recognized during the opening of a new exhibit honoring their service, at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Si Lewen, who is among those that has become known as the Ritchie Boys, said he and fellow Germans serving with U.S. forces had an intimate knowledge of Germany and the German people. Si was tasked with driving from battle to battle, urging enemy soldiers to surrender. Others who did the same job died because German forces shot at the loudspeaker to silence it, as well as the soldier operating it. Si moved the speakers away from his truck and lived. He also persuaded so many enemy soldiers to surrender that the French entered him into the Legion of Honor.

Si was also one of the first American soldiers to enter Buchenwald, a concentration camp near Weimar. He had hoped to find friends there and free them. But the people, he said, didn’t look human. The weight of that reality really wore on him. He couldn’t tell anyone about his secret missions. So, instead, he painted.

Now, the 92-year-old sketches, in black and white, the horrors of war. He has sketched the events of D-Day, when he landed in Normandy and came across a casualty. He has sketched the horrors he saw in Buchenwald.

Si said he fought alongside the Americans, despite the bad experiences he had in the United States after escaping Germany. He said he was robbed in New York City’s Central Park by a policeman. While Si screamed for help, people nearby scurried away. Still, Si enlisted and fought with the Americans. “It is still a beautiful country, full of possibility,” he said.