“Ritchie Boy” driven from Nazi Germany to discuss his experience working with U.S. Military Intelligence during WWII
Dr. Al Miller was forced to leave Germany as a Jewish teenager in the 1930s as the Nazis rose to power. When he returned years later, it was as a member of a special American military intelligence unit known as “The Ritchie Boys.” Miller spoke with WAMC about his experience interrogating Nazi prisoners for the United States. Miller is making a speaking appearance for the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires tonight.
Miller, now 99, has given hundreds of speeches about his experiences in Nazi Germany to thousands of people over the years. He says the basic takeaway remains The Golden Rule – do onto others as you would have them do onto you.
“If I talk to 14-, 15-year-old kids, I tell them about bullying," said Miller. "It's not nice to be bullied, and it can degenerate into very serious stuff.”
Miller learned that lesson the hard way.
After years of operating in the margins of Germany society, the Nazis ascended to power in 1933 when Adolf Hitler was named chancellor. By the end of the year, the Nazis had solidified their total grasp on the German government.
Miller, a 10-year-old, began to see the world around him transform.
“The first thing that changed was the greeting between the teacher and the class," he said. "The teacher would no longer say ‘Good morning class,’ nothing like that. He would raise his arm in the Hitler salute and yell out ‘Heil Hitler,’ hail to Hitler, and the entire class standing at attention, 10 years old, would repeat that, ‘Heil Hitler.’ At the end of the class period, the same ceremony would repeat- The teacher, ‘Heil Hitler,’ and the class, ‘Heil Hitler.’ Gradually, little by little things changed in this class. Other things changed in that class. The kids I had been playing with would more or less avoid me, give no answer, sometimes it got a whole lot worse than that. They would run into me, sometimes spit at me.”
Miller left Germany in 1937, spending time in Switzerland before making his way to the states by 1940. Eager to join the war effort when America entered World War II, Miller – a polyglot with English, German, and French from his time in Switzerland – was assigned to a military intelligence training program at Camp Ritchie in Maryland. Over 15,000 “Ritchie Boys” were prepared for deployment to Europe where they would help interrogate German prisoners.
When Miller finally made it back to Berlin, it was unrecognizable.
“The RAF, the Royal Air Force, they came in, at night, and the American Air Force came during the day," he told WAMC. "There was, I think, a couple of months where Berlin was bombed day and night, day and night without interruption. Berlin was pretty much destroyed. When I arrived in Berlin with the army, I recognized nothing until I came to a certain area in Berlin where we had lived. I recognized certain things. A few houses were still standing. I was white with fury as to what has been done, and for no reason at all.”
Miller, wearing a uniform with no rank and a loaded .45, would sit with captured prominent German citizens and interrogate them about their involvement with the Nazi party.
“Many of them, actually, were not Nazis at all," said Miller. "They were forced into it. Very, very few admitted, yes, I was a Nazi and I believed in all that and I still believe in all that. Most of them were really quite harmless. They had certain positions that they were forced into. You probably have no idea Nazified the entire country was. If you were a truck driver, you had- By law, you had to belong to the Nazi truck organization.”
While Miller made no decision about the fate of those he questioned, he knew the recommendation he would file afterward held weight.
“Germany was divided into four zones, American, French, British, and Russian," Miller told WAMC. "And all those people who I interrogated, they were deathly afraid of being sent to the Russian zone. They knew what the Russians would do to them- send them to Siberia for years until they would be allowed to come back, and many would not be able to come back. Many of them died there or were deliberately killed. So they were afraid of the Russian zone.”
Miller says despite his experiences, he no longer bears a grudge against his native Germany.
“All that has changed," he said. "It's several generations by now who have passed, and Germany is a different country. So I feel about Germany a little bit of a suspicion. But I've been back to Germany, I think, four times since then. Now my feelings about it are pretty much like about any other country. There's anti-Semitism all over the world, including United States of America, very much so anymore. So my feelings about Germany are no different, really- Basically no different than above any other country.”
After the war, Miller became an optometrist in Ohio.
He’ll give a virtual talk on his experience as a “Ritchie Boy” during World War II to the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires tonight at 6:45 p.m.