I was born in the town of Hof, Germany, in northern Bavaria, on July 15, 1918, four months before the end of World War I. My family had lived in this area of Germany for centuries where they ran a retail textile business.
I lived a normal, middle-class, German-Jewish life until 1933 when Hitler came to power. The situation for German Jews started to become threatening. We were progressively made second-class citizens as time went on. My brother Werner and I were no longer permitted to go swimming or to go for walks in public parks. On April 1, 1933, just two months after Hitler came to power, the Nazi Government initiated a boycott against all Jewish businesses and professionals. The public was intimidated by the presence of Storm Troopers (SA) in front of Jewish-owned stores and signs stating, “Don’t buy from the Jew.”
My uncle and aunt, Jacob and Blanch Oppenheimer, who lived in Youngstown, Ohio, heard news of the boycott and sent a telegram to three relatives in Germany, advising them to think about immigrating. Reading the signs of the times, my parents decided to send me to America. I was sixteen years old; I departed Bremerhaven, German by ship on August 17, 1934. From that moment, I shut Germany out of my life. Coming to America was the defining experience of my life; I arrived where I truly belonged. I pay tribute to my uncle and aunt who, in effect, saved my whole family. My brother, Werner, came to the United States in 1937, and my parents escaped Nazi Germany in 1941.
After completing my undergraduate degree in history and chemistry at the College of Wooster in Ohio in 1942, I received my master’s degree in International Relations. I enlisted in the U.S. Army where I became an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Ultimately, I was assigned to work as an interrogation officer because of my language skills and education. This led to an assignment for the dissolution of the Supreme Command of the Luftwaffe, the headquarters of the German air forces. There, I had my encounter with history: I was the interpreting officer at the arrest of German Field Marshall Keitel. At the subsequent war crimes trial in Nuremberg, Germany, Keitel was sentenced to death and hanged. Being personally involved in the capitulation of Nazi Germany was the high point of my military career.
I met my future wife, Inge Pauli, while working at the headquarters of the U.S. Military Government in Berlin. We married in 1948 and had four children together, two of whom are living, Ronald and Steven. I published the book, We Survived, a collection of personal accounts of survival in Nazi Germany, which I wrote before completing my doctoral studies in International Relations at Yale in 1951. My lifelong interest in preserving knowledge resulted in my career in historical bibliography, principally through services provided by ABC-CLIO, a company Inge and I founded in 1960. ABC-CLIO has become an internationally known publishing enterprise whose bibliographic databases and reference books are standard sources for educators and students.
Through my commitment to the International Academy, I further developed my interest in disseminating knowledge more widely. In 2002-2003, the work of the International Academy was concluded and most of its financial resources were distributed to support education in environmental, biographic, and global studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara City College.
Eric Boehm, Noozhawk article, April 24, 2011