‘Luckiest Guy in the World’
When The Commons in Lincoln asked residents to share photos and other materials for a Veterans Day display, Harry Goodman passed on the offer at first.
“That’s ancient history,” said the 94-year-old. He explained that fighting in World War II was among one in a long string of adventures – as well as hardships – that began for him when he was a boy in pre-war Germany.
In 1938, as the persecution of Jews in Germany intensified, 12-year-old Heinz Gutmann was told he had to leave his family and native Munich for the United States.
He was put on a boat and traveled to New York where he was to be met by a woman from an agency who would help him.
Alone in America
“There were thousands of people in a hangar-like building,” he recalled. He didn’t know what to do, so he sat on a bench. “Slowly the place emptied out.” Finally, the woman arrived and brought Heinz to a hotel to spend the night.
“It was very scary,” Harry said of the trip. “I was alone.”
During the night, he had to go to the bathroom, so he left his room looking for the facilities. The door locked behind him and he wandered to the front desk in his pajamas. A staff member brought him back to his room, opened the door and showed him where the bathroom was.
“That was my beginning in America,” he said.
The next day, he was on a train to meet a family in Nashville. A conductor helped him by getting him food, although all Harry could say was “bread and butter.”
The youngster didn’t realize that when the train stopped in Chattanooga he had to switch to another line. “If it wasn’t for the conductor, I’d be living in Chattanooga,” Harry said.
Back in Germany, his family would write to him in Nashville, but when a letter he sent home was never answered, he realized the truth. “I knew they had to be gone,” he said.
It wasn’t until much later in his life when he returned to Germany that he learned that his family was taken by train from Munich on Nov. 20, 1941 to Kaunas, Lithuania. They were shot and killed with approximately 1,000 other Jews from Munich on Nov. 25, 1941. He said he will never forget the date, as it was his mother’s 50th birthday on Nov. 20.
Joins the military
At 16, Harry ran away from the family in Nashville, but finished high school. He tried to enlist in the service, but his German heritage made him “an enemy alien.” He tried to get work, but nobody would hire a healthy, 18-year old who would likely be drafted.
“It was absurd,” he recalled. A few months later, he was informed that his status was changed, and he could now reapply. The draft board gave him a hearing and said he was no longer listed as an enemy alien.
Harry signed up as a sheet metal apprentice and was scheduled to go to Pearl Harbor in 1944. But he was inducted into the Army as a machine gunner and to be stationed in Northern France during the Battle of Bulge. His division’s mission was to close the pocket and force Nazi soldiers back into Germany.
His division was heading to the Battle of the Bulge, but on the way a ship in their fleet hit a mine and sunk.
Most of the crew was saved and Harry ended up in Marseille setting up a camp for soldiers heading to the Pacific. “The bad luck of the sinking of the ship was good luck for the rest of us,” he said.
After that, he ended up in Salzburg, Austria.
“It was like being sent to heaven. It was beautiful,” he said, adding that while there he learned to play bridge and travelled around the country as part of the Army ping pong team.
Successful in business and life
After serving his two years, he went to college but said he “wasn’t prepared” by his technical high school education. Harry took a job in St. Louis but later moved to New York. After several years of working at jobs with “quite a bit of responsibility but little money,” he joined an electronics company and became one of the owners.
Along the way, he met his wife, Dorothy. They have been married for 68 years and have four daughters and four grandchildren. Two of their daughters live in the Boston area, which made The Commons a convenient place to live an active life. They’ve been in the community for 10 years.
When Harry reflects on his life, he focuses on the good times with his wife and their children, as well as his wife’s brother’s three daughters and four granddaughters. He’s quick to point out a giant photobook on his coffee table. The book documents, among other things, a family reunion that brought relatives from each coast to Colorado.
“It was wonderful,” he said, recalling what he said in an earlier interview. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”