I met Hyman Lipsky in an abandoned chicken coop outside a chateau near Marche-en-Famenne, Belgium on December 24, l944. Hyman and I had been part of an OPL, an outpost line before a MLR, a main line of resistance. Some tanks from the 116th Panzer Grenadier Division had overrun the two of us. The Germans came out of their vehicles and began cooking. We should have pulled out when we heard the rumbling, but they came too fast. Lipsky was first to hide in the chicken coop and I followed.
Lipsky and I held a short theological conference.
Here was the military problem: we could sit in the chicken coop until dark, about two hours away, and then scramble out. Or we could panic now and flee.
Here was the theological problem: both Hy and I wore dog tags with our name, serial numbers and our religion punched into them. According to the military, our faith was H for Hebrew. I never was observant but for me, only scholars and the anti-Semites used the word Hebrew. Jews called each other Jews; maybe “hebes” once in a while. But only in Temple had I heard Hebrew. Nobody minded yid provided another yid said it. I wished I could speak Yiddish, my mother’s second language, but my born-in-America father wanted us to be Yankees. “Bess, no Yiddish in front of the boys,” he’d say.
Dog tags, two metal badges hung from the neck on a chain, were not only for identity, but also for funeral services. P was for Protestantism, C was for Catholicism, but everybody knew there was no Hebrew-ism. Why H? Why couldn’t the Armed forces of the United States give us a J? The military must have heard of Judaism.
A Gentile told me that if one Christian called another a Jew, he meant it as an insult. Hebrew was more respectful. That’s why I didn’t want to be captured by the Germans. I knew exactly how they felt about H’s. To the Nazis all H’s were J’s.
“I’m leaving,” I told Hymen.
“They’ll see you,” he answered. “I’ll wait until dark.”
They didn’t see me. The ground was frozen and covered with snow. I slid on my belly, remembering the first rule of the enlisted infantry: “Move forward and keep a tight asshole.” No one shot at me and I returned to our lines and my sleeping quarters in a holding area inside a jail in Marche-en-Famenne. When I returned I reported the tanks; they seemed to know about them.
As far as I can remember, that’s where I saw Private Henry Kissinger. A lot of books acknowledge Dr. Kissinger as a member of the 84th Infantry Division, but as a private he had become the top aide to the officers of Military Intelligence.
The Army had sent Kissinger and me to specialized training colleges in Pennsylvania. Later we had both been assigned to the same infantry division. I met him on the train that brought us to Camp Claiborne before shipping out to Europe.
Here in the Bulge were pudgy private Perry and pudgy private Henry looking at some newly captured Germans. It was Henry who brilliantly questioned a captured German prisoner in that Belgian jail. I heard his German accent when he spoke English.
The interrogator usually had a cigar box which held various insignia ranks. Had a German Hauptman (Captain) been captured, the cigar box held the eagles of an American Colonel to put on his collar. “Always outrank the enemy by two grades,” was taught at Camp Ritchie Intelligence Training Camp. Kissinger, who wore no rank, pinned the double bars of a captain on his shirt because on that Christmas Day, the German prisoner was a private. When the soldier was brought to him, at first the interrogator paid no attention. Henry shuffled papers on his desk for perhaps fifteen seconds, and then, without looking up said in German, “Is that the way a German soldier stands in front of a SUPERIOR OFFICER!”
Thunk of heels. Chin in, stomach in, chest out.
“What is the War Machine coming to? Are you just the People’s Storm, or are you a genuine soldier? Where is your emergency food packet?”
A slap at a pocket.
“I don’t suppose you can read a map. We’re here; this is Marche, our unit headquarters. Where is your company?”
The soldier pointed to the enemy position I had fled. They took him away. The interrogator put his captain’s bars in the cigar box and became a private once more. Somebody telephoned the nearby British artillery.
Two very cold days passed. Headquarters wanted to know if the tanks were still near the chicken coop. We went into the valley again and up the hill toward the chateau and the chicken coop. A German fighting force was not there. We drew no fire.
Our artillery had fired large shells. Some had burst in the tree branches and rained shattered steel. I found a few dead German tankers. Their corpses were cold, and they died clutching themselves, their bodies in rolls like tight beaded commas. I found Lipsky. too.
In military films featuring artillery or mortar bursts, the special effects people often light a fireball and a body leaps out of it and falls to the ground. If there’s a close-up, you may see the victim with blood around him.
What they don’t show is that shrapnel can cut through a soldier and split him in two or more parts. The frozen human body looks like cut sides of beeves hanging in a slaughterhouse. Hanging on a bush I saw what must have been a loop of human intestines.
Hyman had been sliced straight down through the neck to his crotch—two iced bloody sides of him with his insides showing. I couldn’t find his right arm. What was left of his face was yellow white. Allied artillery had killed him; artillery confirmed by the interrogator.
My co-religionist dog tags were on the ground. I found one and put it in his clenched mouth. The Graves Registration Detail would be sure to see the “H”, and he’d have an “H” service.
A few years later in New York I rode in a taxi driven by an old man named Nathan Lipsky. I didn’t ask if he knew Hyman. I never again saw Kissinger as a soldier.
Henry Kissinger 1945, stadtrand-nachrichten.de