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edwin israel by matt rozell

edwin israel by matt rozell

I’m working on my second and third books simultaneously, the trilogy of World War II and Holocaust stories that have shaped my life though the narratives of those who lived through it. One of the most gratifying things is recalling the conversations I recorded over the course of nearly two decades. Most of the subjects are now deceased.

Edwin Israel participated in the invasion of Normandy, Sicily and North Africa. He received 2 Bronze Stars. One time he captured three soldiers who were trying to kill him, marching them back to his lines at gunpoint, with an empty rifle pointed at them. Another time he evaded capture by pretending he was dead and lying down on top of a German soldier he had just mortally wounded. When the enemy patrol passed, the dying German, in perfect English, told him to take his stuff.

I got up and [this German I shot] starts talking to me in English, he says he’s from Coney Island, in Brooklyn, he went to visit his mother in Germany and they put him in the army. And he was dying, and he says to me, ‘you can take my cigarettes; you can take my schnapps’. Then he died right underneath me. And I imagine he knew I had shot him…

He was a first scout who navigated his way back to his lines at night by following the stars. One time he crossed through a minefield and back without knowing it.

Before the invasion of Normandy, he rolled craps all night before going in on Omaha Beach. He had all the money at the end, and loaned out money to the guys who wanted to keep playing. Not one of them survived.

His beloved captain, who had been his CO all through the war, warned him about the mines on the beach before disembarking. The first thing that he did after that was step on a mine and get killed.

 

Everything was very lucky for me.  I just happened to do this, or happened to do that.  When they counterattacked that time on the hill, I just figured I’ll lay down on top of that soldier and make believe I’m dead. I used to go scouting at night by the stars—I used to look up and see where certain stars were, so that I could find my way back. That was how I found my way back when the fellas and I went to the mountain—by stars—through the minefield. We were so lucky. But you know, I never worried about getting wounded; it never bothered me.  I was only worried about getting captured, never worried about getting shot.  I said, ‘They’re not going to shoot me.’  That was my attitude. I volunteered for everything. I only worried that I was going to get captured.  With my name, I figured, oh, they’re going to kill me. That’s the only thing I worried about.

 

I interviewed him four months before he died, twelve years ago. The tape was then buried but has since been rediscovered. Lately I have been working on and editing his transcript for days. There is a noble feeling akin to resurrecting these men that makes the time so worthwhile.

Look for the next book this summer. We’re bringing Ed back.

TOFS Book Presentation

 

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