Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Bert Wolf in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on April 2, 2002. Mr. Wolf, to begin, can you tell us a little bit about your family?
Bert Wolf: I was born in Germany. I'm Jewish. My mother is still living. She's going to be ninety-three in a couple of months and my father was killed in an automobile accident when I was five, in 1935. My mother remarried. I have a half-brother who is fifteen years younger. We're very good friends.
SI: Was your family originally from Germany or did they immigrate to Germany?
BW: My family was in Germany for hundreds of years.
SI: Which part of Germany did your family live in?
BW: The … [south]western part, near the French and Swiss border, in the Black Forrest area.
SI: Where was your father born? What was his occupation?
BW: My father was born in a very small town called Konigsbach, which is a few miles from Pforzheim, where I was born, and my father and my grandfather, actually, both my grandfathers, were cattle dealers. I'm a cowboy.
SI: Where was your mother born?
BW: My mother was born in the middle of the Black Forrest, in a little town called Rexingen, and, as I said, her father was a cattle dealer, and she lives in Bedminster now.
SI: That is pretty amazing.
BW: Well, I grew up in Somerville and she just moved to Bedminster. She lived alone until she was ninety-one, … and lived in our old house, and drove a car and everything, until she had a back problem. She had back surgery, but, now, she's fine again. She works out three days a week at the pool and at the gym.
SI: Do you know anything else about your father's work as a cattle dealer? I have never heard of cattle dealers in Germany. Was that a common trade?
BW: It was a common trade. It was a Jewish trade, in a sense, but, yes, they bought cattle where it was raised and sold it to small farmers, who milked them and so on.
Jonathan Gurstelle: What was the Jewish community like in the town that you grew up in?
BW: Well, I'll answer it, I'll go back farther; my mother came from, as I said, a small town of eight, nine hundred people or so, and about a third of those people were Jewish, and they had a Jewish school, and synagogue, and everything else. Pforzheim is an industrial city about the size of New Brunswick and, there, we had a Jewish community. We had a synagogue and so on. It was a vibrant community.
JG: Was the Jewish community separate from the rest of the town?
BW: No. You mean was it a ghetto-type separation or something?
JG: I meant more like a different neighborhood.
BW: No, not really, no, not at all.
SI: Would you say that your family had assimilated into German society?
BW: They were assimilated and relatively prosperous.
JG: Your father served during World War I.
BW: Yes, on the wrong side.
SI: Do you know anything about his time in the service?
BW: Not details. … I worked for a while with his old first sergeant in the United States, yes.
SI: Do you know his rank?
BW: He was an enlisted man, a corporal or something.
SI: Was he an infantryman?
BW: I really don't know; … he probably was an infantryman.
JG: Did you or your family encounter any anti-Semitism in Germany in the 1930s when you were a child?
BW: The answer is yes, but, personally, it was not the flagrant kind. Actually, in my mother's hometown, the people were basically very nice and, in Pforzheim, our neighbors were very nice. They also told us to get the hell out, that it was the smart thing to do, and my grandmother, on my mother's side, told her children, in 1933, that, "You have to get out, because there's no future here." … Actually, on my mother's side, my grandmother, my two uncles, one with a wife, and my mother and me, and a cousin, we all came over on the same boat.
SI: Did your family have any knowledge about Nazism before Hitler came to power? Did they ever talk about the Nazi Party before 1932-3?
BW: That I don't have any knowledge of, not before Hitler came to power.
SI: Do you know how your family reacted to Hitler's rise to power? Were they shocked that this could happen?
BW: Of course, I was two years old. I can guarantee you, it was not a pleasant experience. I mean, they were smart enough to know that it bode no good for them and, as I said, my grandmother told her children, at that time, "You have to get out," which was before people realized they had to get out.
JG: Can you describe how your family left Germany for Holland?
BW: I was at a party on a weekend night, and, when I came home, someone, … I think my uncle or something, had told my mother that the border might be closed and [that] we were to leave, or I was at a party in the afternoon, and we were to leave we took a [train]. … We had a sleeping compartment in a train that night, and we just left, and my grandparents, my paternal grandparents, packed all our belongings, and they called it a lift, it's like a van, like a box, and I still have my father's desk and a china closet in my house now. In other words, we got all our furniture and stuff like that.
JG: How many members of your family left with you?
BW: From where we lived? It was my mother and myself and we met my mother's side of the family in Holland. I mean, they all left at the same time. My mother's brother, who was living in Berlin at that time, … he left to go into Czechoslovakia, because the Germans were looking for him, then, he flew over Germany and flew to Holland.
SI: Were the Germans looking for him for a specific reason?
BW: Well, it was a crime to take your own money out, and he was taking his money out, I think that was what it was, and he had a unique way of getting it out. He would get on a train, take a seat, and then, go two cars back, and there was the spot in the toilet behind the water closet, and he would stick the bundle in there, go back to his seat, and, when he got across the border, he would go back and pick up his package of money. One package got lost.
JG: Do you remember anything about the train ride to Holland? Were you searched at all?
BW: I don't know if we were searched. They checked your passport and stuff like that. I think it was uneventful.
SI: You attended school in Germany for nearly one-and-a-half years. Can you describe that experience? Did you attend the Jewish school that you mentioned earlier?
BW: I started in Pforzheim; I started in a regular school. … I started when my father died. My mother spent a half a year with her family and I started school there. In that town, it was a Jewish school, and then, I went back to Pforzheim. I went into the first grade in a German school, and then, later, they opened a Jewish school, and I went to that.
SI: Did your family speak German or Yiddish at home?
JG: What was your schooling experience like in Holland?
BW: I learned how to speak Dutch, that I know, and, when we came over here, the boat we traveled on was theNew Amsterdam. It was its second crossing. It's actually different than the New Amsterdam that's here now. That's a new one, but, I spoke Dutch, and so, I had the run of the ship, because the crew was Dutch, and I could talk to them. They let me go any place. I even rang the bell, the clock, and, about three months or four months later, we went to where the boats arrived in Hoboken, that's where it docked, the Holland-America Line. We came to pick up relatives or friends who were coming over, and I saw the same crewmen who were my friends, and I had forgotten every word of Dutch. I didn't remember it anymore. It was easy come and easy go.
SI: Did you arrive in Hoboken before or after the St. Louis tragedy?
BW: Oh, way before.
SI: Was your mother ever concerned about not getting into the United States?
BW: No, no, we had visas, we had visas. The reason we went to Holland and waited six months was to get our visas for the States.
SI: When you left Germany, you knew that the United States was your ultimate destination.
BW: Goal, yes.
SI: Where did you first live in the United States?
BW: In Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.
SI: Did you or your family speak any English before arriving in the United States?
BW: Not very much; I mean, none. I don't know if anybody knew any.
JG: What year was this? How old were you?
BW: 1938 and I was eight years old.
JG: How long did you live in Jackson Heights?
BW: I lived there for two-and-a-half years. My mother remarried and moved to North Plainfield, and I moved to North Plainfield.
SI: Was your stepfather a Jackson Heights local?
BW: He was a German. No, … he was in business in Plainfield at that time.
JG: Did you already have family in America when you arrived?
BW: Yes, yes.
JG: Who were they?
BW: Cousins of my grandmother, mainly cousins on my mother's side.
JG: Did you have any family who remained in Europe, who might not have survived the war?
BW: Not immediate family, not close family. My grandparents on my father's side and my uncle and aunt, in other words, my father's brother and sister, went to Argentina, because the people went wherever they could get a place.
SI: What was your neighborhood in Jackson Heights like?
BW: Two-family houses with some apartment houses on the corners, or vacant lots where you played baseball.
SI: It must have been difficult for your mother to raise you in those years between your father's death and her meeting your stepfather.
BW: Well, we lived with my grandmother and my one uncle, who was single, and we and the other [family] lived in this two-family house. We had the first floor, and we were relatively comfortable, and my uncle was in business. He went into business with cousins who already had a part of the business in Holland and my mother worked. She did hand work, knitted and stuff.
SI: You arrived just at the height of the Great Depression.
BW: No. … The Great Depression was starting to [wane]. … It was the recovery, the beginning of the recovery.
SI: How did the Great Depression affect you?
BW: Everybody worked. If you made twelve to fifteen dollars a week to live, I mean, that was the living wage. You know, the dollar is different than it is today.
JG: Did you find it difficult not knowing English when you first enrolled in school?
BW: No, and our biggest waste of money and our most unproductive efforts are English as a Second Language. This is one of my pet peeves and I'll go on-the-record here. If somebody wants to come to this country, then, become an American and speak English. To teach people how to go to school in a foreign language is the most foolish, unproductive, and stupid thing one can do, because, if you teach the kids English, then, they become Americans and speak English. I don't even have an accent. You're supposed to laugh. [laughter] Inside of two, three months, I spoke English. That's it. I went to third grade, and I remember, one time, reading out loud in school, and I mispronounced the word "huge." I pronounced it "hu-ge," because, in German, that's how you pronounce it, "H-U-G-E," but, I learned. "An Indian was a brave," well, I mispronounced that, too, "brav-ey." That's how you learn.
JG: Did many other immigrants live in your neighborhood?
BW: Not loaded with immigrants. The only ones I knew were relatives.
SI: Was there a significant Jewish population?
BW: There was a congregation two blocks away.
SI: Since we noticed your lapel pin, [miniature American and Israeli flags], did your family have Zionist leanings? Did they follow Zionist rabbis?
BW: They were observing.
SI: Were they aware of the move to immigrate to Israel, then Palestine? Were they supportive of those efforts?
BW: In my mother's hometown, in 1936 or '35, a group of people immigrated together into Israel and started amoshave, a communal moshave. They lived in a little town on the Mediterranean, just below the Lebanese border. The town still exists. I have been there on numerous occasions. Those people have pretty much gone. One time, actually, the first time we were there, walking down the [streets], it was rural, you know, … there was a woman in a rocking chair on her porch who called out in German, "Are you Martin Wolf's son?" Yeah, we were aware of that.
JG: Was religion a major part of your life as a child?
BW: It was an important part.
JG: Which denomination of Judaism did your parents adhere to?
BW: We're Conservatives. Can I go back to the English business again? My grandmother, who came here in her mid-fifties or late fifties, had a little notebook, a little, spiral notebook. I don't know if they were spiral in those days, and, every day, she wrote one new English word in the notebook, and that's how she taught herself English, and she learned, she wrote, could write English letters and stuff. She taught herself English that way.
JG: What were your hobbies and activities as a boy in Jackson Heights?
BW: Played baseball, roller skate. Tell me, what does an eight-year-old kid do?
SI: Were you a Yankees fan or a Dodgers fan?
BW: I was a Yankees fan. There were [the] Giants, too, but, I was a Yankees fan. My uncle took me to see the Yankees and my favorite guy was Charlie Keller. You guys don't even know who he is. He played left field. No, he played right field. [Tommy] Henrich played left field. DiMaggio was in center, him, you know. Dahlgren was on first base, [Joe "Flash"] Gordon was on second, Rizzuto, not Rizzuto, [Frankie] Crosetti was the short stop, and Ralph was the third baseman, and Bill (Dickey?) was the catcher. If you ask me who plays for the Yankees now, I don't know; I mean, I know a few, but, I couldn't give you the lineup.
SI: When did you move to New Jersey?
BW: In the end of 1940.
SI: How did you and your family feel about Franklin Roosevelt?
BW: I guess they thought he was pretty good.
SI: Did your family ever express their views on the New Deal?
BW: Yeah, well, you know, he was the only president we knew. He had been president for six years when we came here and he was elected two more times. … Well, he died in '45, so, for me, personally, you know, I didn't know of another president. The next president, he signed my commission in the Air Force, Harry Truman, and he was a good, tough guy. The smartest thing he ever did was send the Enola Gay out.
JG: How did you or your family feel about the United States not entering the war until 1941?
BW: I don't think that bothered anyone at all. It would have been very difficult to, because the sentiment of the people was not to go into a European war. So, in many ways, the most stupid thing that the Axis did was to bomb us in Pearl Harbor, because, then, everybody was on board, and our wars since then have not had the support that the people had for World War II, because of the Pearl Harbor attack, … until they attacked the World Trade Center a half a year ago.
SI: Did your family keep up-to-date with events in Europe? Did they correspond with any of the family members that remained behind?
BW: Yes, they kept up-to-date.
SI: They knew what was going on.
BW: Oh, yeah.
SI: Were you aware of any Bund activity in the Plainfield area or further north?
BW: I don't think so. There was a restaurant up in Warren, Schwabische Alb, which was reputed to have been aBund place, but, the first time I went out with my wife, we had a fraternity party up there. [laughter]
JG: When you were in high school in Somerville, did you encounter any anti-Semitism?
BW: No. … One time, I had to punch somebody in the nose, but, that guy got into fights with a lot of people.
SI: What were your academic and extracurricular interests in Plainfield?
BW: I was only in school for a year-and-a-half in Plainfield, then, we moved to Somerville. In other words, … fifth grade, half of fifth grade, and sixth grade, I was in Plainfield, and then, I moved to Somerville.
SI: You went to junior high school and high school in …
BW: … In Somerville.
SI: What were your favorite subjects? What were some of your extracurricular activities?
BW: Well, I was a Boy Scout. I was an Eagle Scout. I became an Eagle Scout, probably one of the youngest Eagle Scouts ever in New Jersey. That was a very important part of my life. I played football in Somerville, and that was an important part, and I played a little basketball at the JCC.
SI: What was it like to be a Boy Scout in the 1930s and 1940s?
BW: In '42, you had to be twelve to join. Now, I think they changed it to eleven.
SI: I was also a Boy Scout. From the stories I have heard, it seems as though it was much tougher back then.
BW: I don't know how it is today, but, we worked at it. I remember my fourteen-mile hike, it's either a twelve or fourteen-mile hike, to become a First Class Scout. I can tell you where I went [even] now. From Somerville, I walked up to Pluckemin, and walked across Washington Valley Road to Chimney Rock Road, and down into Bound Brook, and back to Somerville.
SI: How often did you go camping with the Boy Scouts?
BW: We used to go to camp [in] Camp Watchung. I spent a couple of weeks in [the] summers, and I worked there one summer for a few weeks, and we also went on camping trips with the troop. We didn't go every weekend, but, we went.
SI: Is there anything else you want to add about high school or should we move on to Rutgers?
BW: … From being a Boy Scout and stuff, … I worked as an air raid warden, or helped an air raid warden.
SI: Do you remember where you were on December 7, 1941?
BW: Yes, yes.
SI: Please, tell us the story.
BW: One of the things I remember is listening to General Schwarzkopf's father, who was the former head of the New Jersey State Police, also [known as] Colonel Schwarzkopf, H. Norman Schwarzkopf. He used to be the announcer for Gangbusters, which was a radio program, you know, a cops-and-robbers radio program, and I listened to that and I listened to The Shadow, on WOR, on Pearl Harbor day. They were on on Sunday, always.
SI: How did you and your family react to the news?
BW: We knew we were in it now.
SI: Was there any initial panic? We have heard stories about people running to their rooftops with rifles, thinking that airplanes would soon be coming over. Was there anything like that?
BW: No, no.
SI: Were there any young men in your family who were of draft age to be concerned about, any cousins?
BW: No; cousins, yes. I had lots of cousins who were in the military. I had two first cousins who lived in New York. They were both in the military. One of them ended up in Patton's Third Army, and he was, you know, an intelligence guy, because he spoke German and so on, … and I don't know what the other one did. Then, second cousins, I had a whole bunch of them in the war.
JG: Had you been old enough, would you have wanted to fight in the war?
BW: You bet your ass. Will they quote that?
JG: Sure. Why did you feel so strongly? Was it a reaction against what the Nazis had done in Germany?
BW: Background, my background. When it comes down to that, actually, the German people have admitted their guilt and have tried to make amends. Our Japanese friends have never admitted their guilt on anything they have done, whether it was Pearl Harbor, Bataan, or the things they did to us, or the things they did to the Chinese or to the Koreans, and, today, I basically have very little resentment to[ward] the Germans. I go to Germany every couple of years. I go to the cemetery where my father and the one where my grandfather are buried, but, I still have absolutely no respect for the Japanese. Economically, they don't play from a level field. In other words, we cannot export into Japan; they restrict us and they want the world. I have no use for those slant-eyed bastards. You can quote me. You're getting a good interview, huh?
SI: Yes. Do you remember how people reacted to the Japanese threat at the time? As historians, we have studied how the Germans and the Japanese were viewed as enemies. In the German case, Hitler was seen as the enemy, whereas in the Japanese case, the Japanese people were perceived as the enemy.
BW: You mean I'm not alone in that?
SI: Oh, no, no. Do you remember any outward signs of that trend?
BW: No, not at that time. In the mid-'40s, one did not say that, "The Germans are good," but, as I told you earlier, the people in my mother's hometown were basically friendly people, and, you know, we didn't have troubles with them.
SI: Could you tell us about being an air raid warden's assistant?
BW: It wasn't a big deal. Thank God, we never had anything, any work to do. She was a good looking girl.
SI: Where was this?
BW: In Somerville.
SI: Were the Boy Scouts ever called on to conduct scrap drives or the like?
BW: Scrap drives, yeah. We collected scrap metal and stuff like that.
SI: What do you remember about life on the home front, being a student, rationing, the black market, that sort of thing?
BW: That, I remember. I mean, you got one pair of shoes; I think you got two pairs of shoes a year; I think it's, every half a year, you got a coupon. Canned food and meat and stuff was rationed. There were red stamps and green stamps, I think, green or blue. … One was for canned goods, and red was for meat, and so on, but, we never went hungry. There might not have been as much of one thing or another, but, there was always food. You can eat all the bread you wanted.
SI: Comparing World War II and the war on terrorism, for one thing, as we all know, today, we seem to be glued to our TV sets, waiting for the next thing.
BW: Well, we weren't glued to our TV sets.
SI: What about radio?
BW: … Yeah, you listened, but, it was different, and the news was not as instantaneous or immediate. From a tactical standpoint, what we do today is completely wrong, because we telegraph our punches. We tell the enemy exactly what damage they did to us, instantaneously. So, the press bitches because they are not given enough freedom when somebody tries to keep them out of an area and, in our day, they said, "Loose lips sink ships." Stuff was a military secret, and it came out three months later or something, and that was fine, because there were tactical reasons not to publicize these things. I mean, that I speak of from my limited military experience. … Also, you said, "What did you want to do?" I skipped a year at school, so, I graduated college before … I was twenty-one, and I wanted to go to the Naval Academy, and I knew all the requirements and so on, but, you had to be seventeen by March 15th, it was either March or April 15th of the year you entered, to go into the Naval Academy. So, I couldn't get in. I mean, I was ineligible. I was too young to get into the Naval Academy when I graduated high school in 1947. My birthday is in July. So, I went to Rutgers, and then, I was having such a good time, I never followed through. … You know, it would have cost me a year, because it was still going to have been four years, and I was enjoying myself here. So, I stayed at Rutgers and didn't try to go into the Naval Academy, when I got to be old enough.
JG: Did you apply anywhere else besides Rutgers?
BW: I applied to Princeton and I applied, as a safety school, to one of the colleges in New York that they had in Upstate New York. They had started a few schools, post-war schools and so on. I didn't get into Princeton.
JG: Do you remember which New York school that you applied to, Oneonta, Geneseo?
BW: Neither one of those, but, another one up there. I applied to Princeton, I applied to Rutgers, I applied to that school up there.
JG: Did you really want to go to Princeton?
BW: I had two cousins there, one of whom we had dinner with … about a month ago down in Florida, and his younger brother, [Otto], … their last name is Eckstein, and he was an economist and ending up teaching at Harvard, and he was on President Johnson's Council of Economic Advisers. He took me around the campus and so on.
JG: Some of our interviewees have said that anti-Semitism may have been a factor as to why they did not get into Princeton. Do you feel that may have happened in your case?
BW: I think there were quotas in those days. I mean, from everything I've heard, I think there were quotas. My grades weren't astronomical, so, I have no hard feelings. I just wanted to kick the shit out of them on the football field, which we don't do anymore, but, we did in my day. As a matter-of-fact, you asked, you know, "Why didn't I get into Princeton?" My grades weren't that good. About seven, eight years ago, I was at a Rutgers Athletic Hall of Fame dinner, and I went over to a table, another table, where one of my classmates, and the fellow I was on a bank board with, (Abe Sedan?), was sitting to say hello to him, and the woman next to him looked at my name tag, and she said, "Bert Wolf, do you know me?" and I looked at her name tag, and I said, "You're Professor Al Kuebler's wife." It was his widow. He was the head of the Industrial Engineering [Department]. I had him all the time, and this was forty some years later, and she said, "You used to drive my husband crazy. He said you were the smartest kid in the class and the laziest," and she remembered this after forty something years.
SI: You majored in industrial engineering.
BW: Yeah. It was called engineering administration, but, it's industrial engineering.
SI: Why did you choose engineering and, specifically, industrial engineering?
BW: [When] I started out, my freshman year, I was civil, but, freshman year engineering was all the same anyway, and this opened up, and this was [exciting], … because it offered the opportunity to prepare you for industry, where you get a mixture of economics and business and straight engineering; good way to make a living.
SI: When did you first decide that you wanted to be an engineer, in high school?
BW: Yes, I always wanted to be an engineer.
SI: When you entered Rutgers in 1947, the student body was a strange mix of kids, like yourself, coming in from high school and veterans here on the GI Bill. What was it like to be in class with men who were four to five years older than you?
BW: No problem, no problem. We got along. I mean, it was fine. As a matter-of-fact, in some ways, it was educational, because … they had knowledge and experience that we didn't have.
SI: What were your impressions of the veterans as a group?
BW: In many ways, you respected them. They had been there.
SI: From looking at other interviews, I get the sense that the professors and other students did not want to press the veterans too much. Is this accurate?
BW: I don't think we had that problem. You mean that we wanted to protect them or be super nice to them?
SI: No, that they were not put through the same treatment as a regular student.
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SI: We were talking about hazing or not hazing the veterans.
BW: Well, when you had somebody who had life experience, the whole idea of the hazing business is to mature a kid and give him life experience. If a guy spent several years in the military, … chances are, he got that, got the same experience, and they didn't need the hazing.
SI: Do you remember being hazed as a Rutgers freshman? Did you have to wear a beanie?
BW: Beanie, I don't think so. No, I don't think we had to wear one. I'm not sure.
SI: Did you have to light cigarettes for the upperclassmen?
BW: No; only at the Naval Academy, you had to do that. There, you had to sit on the first two inches of your chair when you ate, as a plebe. See, I learned all that.
JG: Were you friends with any of the people who were here on the GI Bill?
BW: Sure. We were classmates and we were fraternity brothers, yeah.
SI: Did you live on campus?
BW: My freshman year, I commuted. My sophomore year, I lived on campus. My junior year, I got a car, and I commuted, and my senior year, I lived on campus.
SI: Where did you live for those two years that you lived on campus?
BW: At the Sammy house, the fraternity house.
SI: Which year did you join Sigma Alpha Mu?
BW: When I was a freshman, I joined.
SI: At the time, SAM was an all-Jewish fraternity. That manner of segregation still existed at Rutgers at the time.
BW: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SI: Were you rushed?
BW: I was rushed. You know, I went to the rushing events and so on and I pledged.
SI: Did the fire at the house occur before you joined or during your time as a brother?
BW: Before. They were back on campus. So, you know about the fire at the Sammy house.
SI: I know of it through Bart Klion's interview.
BW: I read Buddy Klion's thing on the Internet and … the last time I saw him was on Pearl Harbor Day, at the chapel, [Kirkpatrick Chapel].
JG: Did you belong to any other clubs or organizations at Rutgers?
BW: I played lacrosse, … and you won't believe this, but, I played on the 150s, 150-pound football, and I was active in engineering stuff, you know, a little. What else? not much else.
SI: What was it like to play lacrosse? How long were you on the lacrosse team?
BW: Two years. It was fun.
SI: Was it still a relatively new sport at Rutgers?
BW: No, no. (Al Twitchel?) was the coach, who later became the athletic director, and Dick Voliva was the coach of the 150s.
JG: Where did you play your games?
BW: Up in Piscataway, both of them. The football was up there and the lacrosse was up there.
SI: Did you have any away games? Did you get to travel with the team?
BW: Yeah. I went to Cornell, the Navy, with the 150s, went all over.
SI: Do you remember any of the university administrators, like President Clothier or Dean Metzger?
BW: Larry Pitt.
SI: Was Dean Silvers here at the time?
BW: That name is very familiar. Larry Pitt just died, didn't he?
SI: I believe so. There was an article in the Rutgers Magazine.
BW: Bobby Clothier, as he was known, affectionately.
SI: He left in 1955.
BW: Yes, he was there all the time.
SI: As a fraternity man, did you have any run-ins with Dean Metzger? Did your house ever get into trouble?
BW: Now, when I was in school, we never got in trouble, no. That was about the only time, maybe, they didn't. I kept them straight. [laughter]
JG: Did you have to go to chapel?
BW: Freshman year, you had to go, I think, once a week or once a month.
SI: Once a week, I believe.
BW: Once a week, yeah, at lunchtime.
SI: Was there a service or did you simply listen to announcements?
BW: I don't know.
SI: You did not have to go on Sundays?
BW: No. That was fifty-five years ago.
JG: Did you continue to practice Judaism while on campus?
BW: Yeah. I belonged to Hillel.
SI: Was the Hillel just starting up?
BW: I don't think so. They had been around a while.
SI: I do not know of anyone who joined Hillel before the war, but, then, all of sudden, people were joining in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
BW: Well, I don't know. They used to be on Church Street, on the second floor. … You know, that's where it was. It was quite active and the girls from the Coop [NJC] went there, too. You know what the Coop is?
BW: They don't call it that anymore?
BW: But, being historians, you know.
SI: Yes. How much interaction did you have with the Coopies?
BW: The Coopies, right. It's a great place to meet them. Aren't we men? I mean, you know, or whatever, growing boys at that time. It was a social thing, as much as anything else. I met my wife at the Coop.
SI: How did you meet?
BW: She went out with one of my fraternity brothers, who was her classmate from high school, and she was Class of '53. I shot him out of the saddle. I didn't shoot him out of the saddle, but, you've heard that expression before?
SI: Yes. Do you recall attending any of the social events, such as the Military Ball?
BW: I went to the Military Ball, or the Sop Hop, and so on, and so forth.
SI: I know that, during the war, those events were put on hiatus. Were they still rebuilding the social calendar when you arrived?
BW: They were going. They were going when I was here. I didn't know that they had not been going on.
SI: During your freshman year, was the ASTP still on campus?
BW: No. There was no ASTP, but, in those days, everybody went to ROTC for two years.
SI: Did you?
BW: I went to Advanced ROTC. I joined the Advanced Air Force ROTC.
JG: Why did you choose the Air Force ROTC?
BW: I wanted to be an aircraft maintenance officer, which is what the engineers who were in Air Force ROTC were trained to be here. I felt that was a good way to use my technical ability.
SI: Could you tell us a little bit about the Air Force ROTC? The Class of 1951 was one of the earliest classes to have the option of taking Air Force ROTC.
BW: Yes, we were the second class, I think, to graduate, to get commissioned.
SI: Could you tell us about the routine, what you learned in your classes, how your training differed from the regular ROTC, and who was your commanding officer?
BW: The head of Air Force ROTC was a major and I think his name is Round. I am not one hundred percent certain. The Army had a colonel, and our commander was a command pilot, and he was somebody we well-respected, and I think we got good training, and we had fun.
SI: Did you have any flight training?
SI: Was that an option?
BW: That was not an option, that was not an option, and, for six weeks between our junior and senior year, we went to ROTC summer camp, which was part of the plan.
JG: Where was the camp?
BW: The engineers, the guys who were aircraft maintenance officers, went to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois, which is right down the road from the University of Illinois. That was in Rantoul or Champaign. Yeah, that's where we were and we played at the University of Illinois.
SI: Did you take Air Force ROTC for all four years?
BW: The first two years were, to the best of my knowledge, … all the same. I don't think there was a differential made. I may be wrong, but, … I'm almost certain there was no differential, because, otherwise, how could you have switched branches? I'm almost certain. At least for us, at that time, there was no differential. There might have been later on, but, because the first two years were compulsory, … everybody was the same.
SI: After your sophomore year, you would decide whether you wanted to go for advanced Army or Air Force ROTC.
BW: Right, or nothing.
JG: When you graduated, you went into the Air Force.
JG: Can you tell us about your basic training?
BW: What basic training?
SI: You were already commissioned, correct?
BW: Yeah. Well, let me tell you something else, or did I mention this? You had to be twenty-one to be commissioned at that time, the regulations were, and I wasn't twenty-one until July 18th. We were graduated in the beginning of June or something, and we had orders, and we were going on active duty right away. So, I went to the Adjutant, and I told him, I said, "You know, you can't commission me until July 18th," and he was too lazy to cut separate orders, and he said, "If I think you're old enough to be commissioned, I'll commission you." So, I got commissioned with everybody else. So, I was on active duty before I was twenty-one, and, at Lackland Air Force Base, there's a big sign in the officer's club bar, "No minors under twenty-one will be served," but, nobody carded me. Thursday night used to be two-for-one night at the officer's club, so, you'd get two drinks for the price of one, which was very cheap, and the place was packed, and I'm coming away from the bar with two drinks in my hand, and I was in shape in those days, and I turned around, and I hit some guy, and I see a little silver thing on his collar. At first, I thought it was a lieutenant colonel, and then, I looked again, and I saw it was a star. It was the base commander, and I said, "Excuse me, sir," and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "That's all right, son." His name was General Steele; that name, I remember.
SI: When you joined the Air Force, the Air Force had recently become an independent branch on the service.
BW: No, before that. It was the Air Force then. We were wearing blue, and, when I went overseas a year later, I happened to be in a stateroom for twelve, with twelve army captains, and the first night, when we got undressed to go to bed, … I was a second lieutenant, and they were captains, and then, they looked, "Hey, Luftwaffe, where's your blue underwear?" Some guy said that to me; that, I remember.
JG: The war in Korea was still going on at this point.
BW: Korea started when I was at summer camp, or right before summer camp, the summer of 1950, yes.
JG: Did you think you would be sent to Korea?
BW: Yes. I ended up as a ground powered equipment maintenance officer. … I went to school at Cheyenne, at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, and, from there, I was assigned to a tactical reconnaissance wing at Shaw Field in Sumter, South Carolina, and I reported to the squadron commander, a major, and he told me, … he says, "Wolf, you don't know nothing. I'm going to teach you something and, after you learn something, in three months, they're going to ship your ass overseas." "Yes, sir." It was like three months to the day. I was going on lunch and a fellow by the name of Jack Reed, who was in wing personnel, a lieutenant in wing personnel, who I'd known and we were friends, he says, "Hey, Bert, we got a TWIX today from Ninth Air Force to send you to 20th Air Force," which was Korea, "as an aircraft maintenance officer." They thought my MOS was that, and they wanted to keep me, and he said, "He's a ground powered equipment maintenance officer." … TWIX-es are like what faxes are now and they TWIX-ed back and said, "We've been looking for one for two weeks. Cut orders on him to join a Georgia Guard outfit that had been federalized that was going to Africa, to Morocco." … That was an aircraft patrol warning unit, the radar unit that went to Africa. It's not World War II history, it's Korean War history I'm giving you.
SI: Where in Africa were you sent?
BW: We landed in Casablanca. We were at (Nouasseur?) Air Base for about a few months, then, we went up to Rabat, the group. … A group, in the Air Force, was halfway between a battalion and a regiment and we went to Rabat-Saley, which is in a cork forest right outside of Rabat, which was the capital of Morocco, which was our headquarters.
SI: Can you describe your station, briefly?
BW: We were in a cork forest, living in tents. We were the headquarters for this aircraft control and warning unit. Our radars were mounted on trucks. You'd call them vans today. In other words, there were guys sitting inside the back of the van, operating, and the radar stuff was up on top. They were mobile, and then, we also had a couple of squadrons. Our squadrons were stationed throughout Morocco, and we were group headquarters, but, they were looking for Russian planes coming. I mean, that was our enemy.
SI: Were the squadrons comprised of piston-engine planes or jet planes?
BW: We were a control unit. We were not a shooting outfit.
SI: Okay. There were no planes.
BW: We didn't have any planes. The outfit was a Georgia Guard outfit and the controllers were pilots, World War II pilots, who were now controllers. They were grounded, but, a lot of them were Delta Airline commercial pilots who were, you know, in the Reserves. They were in the Guard and got called back in.
JG: How long were you stationed in Morocco?
BW: A year, almost a year.
JG: Did you interact with the locals at all?
BW: A certain amount.
JG: Did you enjoy your stay in Morocco? Did you despise it?
BW: No, we enjoyed it. Yeah, it was fun and we also had privileges at the French officer's club and stuff like that.
BW: Yeah. You could go there for dinner and, for the equivalent of fifty cents, you can have a good meal and drink as much cognac as you could handle.
JG: Did you interact with the French often?
BW: Not really, I mean, not that much, but, we had some [interaction], but, … we could go to their officer's club.
SI: What were your everyday duties at the base? What was a typical day like for you?
BW: …We generated our own power and ground powered equipment was gasoline or diesel engine generators. … The biggest thing was to make sure that there is power, because the radars operated from this power. … In other words, that was what kept us going and, also, the vehicle maintenance and stuff. That was my responsibility, to keep the ground powered equipment running.
SI: Do you know if there was a specific Russian threat that your unit was looking for, long-range bombers, etc.?
BW: I had no tactical knowledge of anything specific, but, we never had anything even come close, to the best of my knowledge. … We had units on the southern borders of Morocco and on the eastern borders, you know, next to Tunisia, or Libya, and so on. We had people stationed throughout Morocco.
SI: Your base was basically just a radar station. Were there any planes, theoretically, that you could call on?
BW: There was an air base in (Nouasseur?). There was an American air base at Sidi Slimane. … Nouasseur, I think, just had transport planes. They might have had some operational [aircraft]. Sidi Slimane had an operational aircraft, you know, military combat aircraft.
JG: Were you stationed anywhere else before you were discharged?
BW: No. I went to Europe on leave.
SI: Which countries did you visit?
BW: We flew into (Rhine Mein?) in Germany, and I had a month's leave before I … came home, and I went skiing in Davos, Switzerland, for a week. I met a cousin, but, this was a cousin of another generation, who became my boss when I left, who was there with his wife. I went to London for a week. I went to Paris for a week. I went to Germany for a week. I went skiing in Switzerland for a week. It was a very tough life. [laughter]
SI: What was it like to go back to Europe, particularly Germany, after World War II?
BW: Things were different. I had a letter from my mother. We had a bank account in a bank in Germany that had been frozen, you know, before and stuff. … My mother wrote me a letter saying [that] I could take out whatever it was, I don't know, a thousand dollars, in those days, it was a lot of money, to pay for my vacation. … I called the bank and, of course, they were already closed. I mean, they close at one o'clock or something. When I got there, … they told me, "Just come," they'll open the door, and, a little Jewish boy, with a blue uniform and gold bars on the shoulder, … they took care of me, and the red carpet was out. They met my every need, after normal banking hours, you know, and they are sticklers for details. It was different. Things had changed.
JG: Was there still a lot of destruction from the war, that you could see, even in 1951-1952?
BW: Not where I was. In the middle of Pforzheim, there were still some [ruins], but, it had been pretty much taken care of, and, as a matter-of-fact, this is an interesting story, we still owned property in Germany. … Pforzheim was bombed once with a big raid. In other words, they tore the town up at one time with whatever number of planes it was and it was on a certain date. In other words, the damage was done on a certain date, all of it, and our property was damaged to some point. … We had somebody taking care of our affairs; it was a cousin of my father's. When I became a citizen, and I became a citizen on such-and-such a day, whatever it was, but, I was a US citizen the day our property was bombed by the US Air Force, and guess who paid me for the damage. I owned a quarter of the property. Do you know who paid me for it? Uncle Sam. It paid for one year's tuition at Rutgers, which was only 500 bucks in those days, but, it was when I was going to school. It paid for one year of my tuition, the damage the US Air Force did to our property in Germany, because I was an American citizen. It's a great country.
JG: Did you have a chance to meet any old friends or family in Germany during your leave?
BW: Yes. … There was a neighbor who lived where we did and they had their business in back of where our business was. They were beer distributors and she lost a son on the Russian front. Nobody ever died on the American front that you talked to. I mean, this kid really did get killed on the Russian front, but, when you talk to the Germans, they all fought against the Russians. Nobody fought against the Americans. I never met one. They all fought on the Russian front.
JG: Did you encounter the "Me no Nazi" types, either?
BW: But, these people weren't Nazis, I mean, because we knew them, but, they were all on the Russian front.
SI: While you were at Rutgers, the State of Israel was declared. Were you aware of that? How did you feel about Israel gaining its independence?
BW: Oh, yeah. No, … it was before I was at Rutgers. I was in high school. It was 1946.
SI: I thought it was 1948.
BW: I don't know, maybe. I'm fully aware of that. Well, are you a Christian?
BW: Are you? You Jewish? You're nothing? Well, anyway, I told my Christian friends, I started this about three years ago, and then, of course, after September 11th, I said it again, I said, "When you Christians go on the next crusade, come around and ask us Jews and we'll help you," because, a thousand years ago, the Christians did the same thing, had the same problems that we have now.
JG: Did any members of your family move to Israel?
SI: How many?
SI: You mentioned them earlier.
BW: Yes, both on my mother's side and my father's side, the people from Argentina. I have an aunt, my uncle's widow, and first cousin and her kids, she had twin daughters, they moved there fifteen, twenty years ago, individually, and then, my cousin, who is a few years younger than me, and her husband and my aunt, who is a woman in her nineties, moved, about three, four years ago, from Argentina to Israel. I visited them two years ago.
JG: Going back to Rutgers for a moment, you wrote on your survey that Sam Owen and someone else were your favorite professors.
BW: Kuebler, that was Kuebler.
JG: Which subjects did they teach?
BW: Sam Owen taught freshman and elementary engineering courses. He taught a course called "Engineering Problems," which taught you how to think properly and so on, and he also taught a drawing course, I think. Kuebler taught an industrial engineering course every semester. I had him for one course for like two-and-a-half, three years.
JG: Also on the survey, you wrote that you were a Republican while you were at Rutgers, which. surprised me …
BW: While I was at Rutgers? Okay.
JG: Yes. I was surprised, because you spoke very fondly of FDR and Truman earlier.
BW: Well, but, I voted for Eisenhower. I think that was the first election I could vote in, in '51. He ran in 1952. So, I've never voted for a Democrat for president.
SI: Not even Kennedy?
BW: I'm not sure. I don't remember. I don't think so. I don't know. I voted for young Bush, but, I was skeptical, but, he was better than the alternative, and he has proven himself. He's doing a good job, but, my favorite political person is his mother, Barbara. She's all right.
JG: Who was your favorite president?
BW: In hindsight and everything? Harry S. Truman.
JG: I thought you would say that.
BW: He was a guy who had no respect when he got the job, I mean, when Roosevelt died. He was a machine politician from Missouri, and so on, and so forth, and he had the intestinal fortitude to run the country the right way, and a lot of these people today could take lessons from him. Well, they may not be able to run it that way today, but, Harry Truman did a good job, but, he's a Democrat, so, it shows I'm fair.
SI: I would like to ask you a few more questions about World War II. Do you remember how you reacted to news of the D-Day landings?
BW: … I'm speaking now from looking back, but, that was the normal consequence in a series of actions. In other words, we had come into Africa, we had come up to Sicily and so on, and, [in] those, we were coming from the south, particularly. We had to come in from the north and that was it. I mean, that had to be done. It was a question of exactly where or when, but, the where was not a question of where. It had to be, "Which twelve miles?" not, … "Which thousand miles?" that it was going to be.
SI: During the Battle of the Bulge, were there any fears at home of a reverse?
BW: Like, of losing?
BW: Not really. I mean, you didn't like to hear that stuff, but, you know, it's not [too bad]. … When, today, we hear news of things in Afghanistan, one guy was killed or we missed [the target], … friendly fire, that's combat, baby. That's the way the ball bounces. I mean, you don't do everything. Not every action … ends up exactly like it's written in the textbook. I mean, that's not the way it works. Nobody is perfect. I mean, Eisenhower, if he was an infantry platoon commander, would make a mistake here [and there]. That's the way it is and that was the Battle of the Bulge. That was Hitler's last gasp. After that, it was over. General McAuliffe was the guy who got them; see, that name, I remember.
SI: Do you remember learning about the atomic bomb? Did you realize what that meant at the time?
BW: I think I realized what that meant; I mean, … you know, shortly thereafter. Listen, Harry Truman saved a million American lives and he also saved, probably, a million or two million Japanese lives by doing it that way, [rather] than having our troops invade, you know, in a ground invasion of Japan. It would have cost them more than it would have cost us, and it would have cost us an awful lot. It would have been a tough [battle]. … We would have lost a lot of people, a lot of casualties.
SI: Do you remember V-E Day and V-J Day?
BW: Yeah, that was fun.
SI: Were there any parades or people dancing in the streets?
BW: Parades. You got to kiss girls.
SI: Did you go into New York for either of those days?
BW: No, I was too young. I mean, I was fifteen. You know, I was a kid. I don't remember.
SI: Do you remember if there was any black market activity in the Somerville area?
BW: Not to my knowledge. You know, you said, "Black market;" as far as rationing food, you know, … Somerville was an agricultural town in those days, so, you could always go out to the farm and get some food.
JG: After you were discharged from the Air Force, did you have any difficulty returning to civilian life? What was your first job after you were discharged?
BW: I went to work in my uncle's company, the uncle that had died, … that I came over with on the boat, and [my] cousins. It was a family business and I was with them for almost about seventeen, eighteen years.
SI: What did you do?
BW: It was a tanning business. I started out … doing industrial engineering and plant engineering and stuff, and, also, in sales, and then, … I spent five years running an operation, a complete business, both in manufacturing and sales, in Puerto Rico. In other words, we manufactured in Puerto Rico and shipped it up here. Then, in the early '70s, I left, and fiddled around a little, and went backwards, and then, in '75, I bought a lumber/building yard in New Brunswick. I ran that for about seventeen, eighteen years. Since then, I've been retired.
SI: You stayed in the Reserves.
BW: I stayed in the Reserves for a while, and then, … I went to meetings and did stuff, and took correspondence courses. I went on two-week short tours, and then, when I went to Puerto Rico, … I was out of it, and then, I was discharged, because I had not been active. I was a captain when I was discharged.
SI: You would not have been recalled for service in Vietnam.
BW: I was too old by then, but, not really. They separated me. It happened to be during Vietnam.
SI: Were you put on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
JG: How did you feel about Vietnam?
BW: I had no respect for you students who were marching around, bitching, because, you know, if your country calls you, right or wrong, it's your country. On principle, I had no problem with what was going on. Tactically, we made a lot of mistakes. I mean, it was the first war we didn't win. We should have won it. I mean, if you're in it, if you're gonna go in it and get people killed and everything, then, do it to win and not to finish second, or else don't go in. You know, if you're gonna go in, do it to win; if you're not, don't go in.
SI: Was your brother of age to go to Vietnam? Was he too old?
BW: No. My brother was in law school, think, at the time. My brother was separated as a major in the … Army Reserve, but, he was never really on active duty, other than maybe six months. He was clerking for a judge, … and then, he got called up, and then, … whatever, they didn't need him. It was over, pretty much. I mean, he served for a relatively short time, probably less than a full year, but, he stayed active in the Reserve until he made major. Then, … he merged his small law firm with the first or second largest firm in the state, and he got so busy that he couldn't take weekends off for the Reserve corps, but, he was a major by then. … When he got commissioned, I gave him my gold bars, and then, when he got promoted, I gave him my silver bars, and then, I gave him the captain's bars, and, when he made major, I went out and bought him a set of oak leaves. …
JG: Your wife went to Douglass.
SI: Was it a conscious decision to wait to get married until after you were out of the service or did it just happen that way?
BW: It just happened that way. We were not engaged right away. She was still a student and we were not engaged.
JG: Do you want to tell us about your children?
BW: We have two daughters. My oldest daughter is forty-seven, or almost forty-seven, no, she was born in '55, she's forty-six now, and she's not married. She spent almost twenty-five years, … I mean, this year, it will be twenty-five years, with Unilever. She's in charge, or was in charge, of the development of liquid detergents. She has a degree in chemistry from Lehigh and my younger daughter is two years younger. She's a gynecologist who has a specialty of reproductive endocrinology and fertility. She's married and we have a three-and-a-half-year-old grandson, who's great.
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO-------------------------------------
SI: This continues an interview with Mr. Bert Wolf on April 2, 2002, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth and …
JG: Jonathan Gurstelle.
BW: Hi, this is Bert Wolf.
SI: Would you like to tell us more about your family?
BW: I used to be a male chauvinist, but, since I have two daughters, who are both very successful women, I'm no longer a male chauvinist.
SI: Please tell us a little bit about your life as a Rutgers alumnus. Have you remained active with the University?
BW: Yes. I'm active with the Alumni Association and with my class. I was president of the class for five years, between our fortieth and forty-fifth reunion, or was it between the thirty-fifth and fortieth, I don't know, it could be, and I was reunion chairman, and this and that. I'm active with my class, and I'm a Loyal Son, and I'm a season ticket holder to football games. I suffer. [laughter]
JG: We all do. [laughter]
SI: Do think we should go back to playing Princeton in the Patriot League?
BW: The biggest mistake we made was not taking the offer to go into the Ivy League when we had the chance, because that's both … more fun, football-wise, and then, more prestigious, in an academic way. That was Sonny Werblin's fault, I think, and my good friend, I'm getting old, I can't remember names, Freddy Gruninger.
JG: What do you think of how Rutgers has changed since your day, becoming the state university and all?
BW: Well, we were the state university while I was there, but, Rutgers was a college of four thousand people here. You knew almost everybody, and it was a small school, and it was friendly. I don't know how it is now, but, with 50,000 people, it's gotta be an awful lot different, but, that's a question of, you know, time, and things grow and advance. Whether it makes life simpler and happier, that's another question, but, as the state university for a state, it's got to grow. I mean, I don't object to it. It was probably more pleasant in our days.
JG: Did you encounter any anti-Semitism when you were in the Air Force?
BW: No, not to my knowledge.
SI: Since we have interviewed only a handful of people since September 11th, would you mind sharing your reactions to that day and the events since? Do you think it really was a second Pearl Harbor?
BW: Well, it was a very devastating shock. Was it the second Pearl Harbor? I don't know. Are we doing the right thing, right now? I mean, in some ways, I am prejudiced, but, it's a very, very difficult problem. I mean, I say, "Nuke the bastards," but, we need their goddamned oil, and I'm quite certain [that] the fact that we need the oil affects a lot of our tactical and strategic decisions. We have to befriend some of the Arab people in order to do this and they are very difficult to do business with. It's impossible to trust them and, if I had the solution, I'd go to Washington tomorrow.
SI: Is there anything we forgot to ask?
BW: I don't think so.
SI: Is there anything else you would like to add to the tape for posterity?
BW: Keep the flag flying.
JG: Thank you very much for participating in the project.
SI: Thank you very much.
BW: My pleasure.
--------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW---------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Tracey Pall 12/13/02
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 1/16/03
Reviewed by Bert Wolf 6/04