Last night, on the CBS show 60 Minutes, they ran a story about the “Ritchie Boys,” a secret US Intelligence group. This group of German-speaking Jews was responsible for uncovering more than half the combat intelligence on the Western Front during World War II. As reported in the story, their mission was to use their knowledge of the German language and culture to return to Europe and fight Naziism.
I knew that my uncle, Emile Speeger (He changed his last name from Spiegel on June 24, 1936) had served in the United States Army in some capacity. We have fascinating photos he brought back of the interior of Eva Braun’s home while working alongside the American Red Cross in Germany. I had a vague recollection that he had worked in intellegience.
I took out the binder that I am (slowly) organizing with my uncle’s documents. Pictures. Lots of pictures. Letters. A couple of passports. Several plastic sleeves each containing an unorganized bunch of ephemera. Eureka! Found it! Proof my uncle was, without a doubt, a “Ritchie Boy.” There, in his “Last Will and Testament” was the evidence: “I, Emile G. Speeger, now serving in the United States Army, stationed at Camp Ritchie, Maryland…” The will was dated August 4, 1943.
I could have stopped there. I had the evidence I needed. But, no, I went down the “rabbit hole” examining the rest of the documents in the plastic sleeve. His “Enlisted Record and Report of Separation”, an “Army Separation and Qualification Record”, and his “Honorable Discharge” certificate were mixed in among numerous letters of recommendation. One notable letter was written by fellow “Ritchie Boy,” David Rockefeller, the future Chairman and CEO of the Chase Manhattan Bank and heir to the Rockefeller fortune.
I’ve written a bit about Emile before. Born July 7, 1905, he was the younger brother of my maternal grandmother, Rose Spiegel. My mother loved him! She often told a story about how he, as a young boy, would tease little children with feathers until they would cry, forcing their nannies to flee the park. She described him as “a very naughty boy,” so troublesome that his mother couldn’t handle him as he grew older so she sent him to Holland to live with family friends when he was 13. Mom must have heard these stories from her mother, or more likely from her beloved grandmother Sophie, Emile’s mother. Emile emigrated to the United States on September 27, 1924 at age 19. He attended business classes at Columbia University in New York and then began working in real estate.
Emile became a naturalized citizen on September 27, 1938, just nine days after his sister Rose and niece Doris arrived in New York, having fled the bleak situation in Vienna, Austria. His mother would follow on February 7, 1939. Brother-in-law Paul Lichtenthal arrived a month later on March 13, 1939, following his release from the Dachau concentration camp.
At that time, Emile was the manager of an apartment house at 30 Eastchester Road in New Rochelle, New York. As manager, he lived rent free in an apartment on the 5th floor. Emile offered the apartment as a refuge for his mother, sister, and her family. Rose lived in that apartment for the rest of her life, until her death in 1972.
Perhaps it was his brother-in-law Paul’s experience and the losses sustained by his family that prompted Emile to enlist in the United States Army on December 14, 1942. Following basic training in Camp Upton, New York, Emile eventually ended up working in Intellegience, training at Camp Ritchie. It is amazing to realize that Emile was fluent in German, French, Dutch, and English. His skills must have been invaluable! Emile was stationed in France and Africa as well as spending some time in Germany with the American Red Cross. (See snips of his enlistment and separation records below. You can click on them to enlarge.)
Now that I have learned a bit more about my uncle’s life, I can’t wait to delve more deeply into my archives. I always knew he was a fascinating fellow, but now I realize what a great sacrifice he made. Had his religion (Jewish) been discovered during his work with the “Ritchie Boys,” it could have meant the end of his life. In fact, some “Ritichie Boys” did sadly lose their lives after their heritage became known to the Germans.
Emile was honorable discharged on August 23, 1945. He married later in life and had one child who now lives overseas.
Click HERE to view the 60 Minutes episode.