My Dad’s True War Story

Story written by my father, Max Wollner 1921 - 2001



By Marty Wollner



Scanned images of the original 8 page story are below, followed by reader comments.



My dad didn’t say “I love you”. He didn’t hug us after we were toddlers, didn’t hold our hands or walk down the street with his arm around us …


He didn’t have to.


To me and my 2 brothers, unconditional love from our parents was simply assumed, and just as real in this world as the world itself.



My dad didn’t brag. He didn’t try impressing anyone with his great successes. He didn’t flaunt his wealth. He was a listener, not a talker. His sense of justice and fairness was more virtuous than any judge or priest. His kindness was unmatched. His generosity was supreme. His patience was infinite. His smile contagious. His humility… ultimate!


I can go on and on, or I can just make it easy for anyone reading this to understand:


He had no flaws whatsoever. Quite simply, my dad was the greatest man to ever walk the face of the Earth.


But that’s not just my opinion. Anyone who ever knew my dad will tell you the exact same thing. He had zero enemies and was, in fact, loved by all. (See the reader comments, below). I am so lucky and grateful to have been his son. But this paper is not about me, it’s about my dad, specifically, about a true and thrilling war story that he wrote.




Authoring the Story:


The story speaks for itself, but before you read it, let me tell you just a bit about my dad’s authoring of this exciting tale.


I’m guessing he wrote this story around 1945. At the time he wrote it, my dad had not been officially educated past the 6th grade. His spelling is beyond atrocious, and he obviously spent a long, long time hammering it all out onto typewritten pages without knowing how to use a typewriter.


It’s funny, when you read it, because you’ll see his (sometimes feeble) attempts at writing in English… you’ll  just imagine him sitting there at that old typewriter trying to translate what verbalized words must’ve sounded like to him at the time, into the written word of the English language. For example:


“… bullets ver rikashaying of the iron fence and hitting the ground all arown me”


He spells “…were ricocheting off  … around…” as shown above, because my dad was born in Berlin Germany in 1921 where he grew up speaking German and Yiddish, being discriminated against, hated, mistreated and abused … a Jewish child born in Nazi Germany, right into the thick of it all.



Not so Funny,… Fearless:


This, in and of itself, shows you how fearless he was… he didn’t let little details like not being able to speak English well, or spell much of it, or operate the typewriter or anything else keep him from creating this thrilling story, the exact same way he didn’t let Hitler and Nazi Germany keep him from living out his awesome life.



My dad and everyone else in his family had to wear a yellow star on their sleeve to show everyone that they were Jews. He and his brother Herman and sister Ruth had stones thrown at them daily as they walked to school. But my dad was smart enough to not try finishing primary school. They saw what was in store when his uncle was taken away to a camp, never to be seen again.


This is a photo of my dad’s older generation


Dad’s Uncle Leo was shown in the top row center


At age 15, my dad took his 13 year old little sister Ruth (Rosenfield) with him, and the two of them escaped Nazi Germany all on their own. They first went to Italy, and after a while, figured out a way to get to the USA… they did it by obtaining Polish passport visas, allowing them to indirectly catch a boat to New York City.






Side story about getting the visas:


A little side story here: my 17 year old dad and his 14 year old sister Ruth, by themselves and all alone, went to the Polish consulate to get the passport visas. But by then, Hitler’s plans were well underway. The clerk at the consulate knew what would happen if he didn’t issue these papers; they would surely have been exterminated. At first he refused, because there were new policies in place specifically for retaining Jews, but then he caved in to the puppy-dog looks of the two young siblings, and when his supervisor looked away, he winked, stamped the papers and slipped them to my dad underneath the table.





He and Ruth made it to the USA without a dime in their pockets. My dad worked on farms, attended night school wherever he could, learned English, and fought and clawed his way through American prejudices against Jews AND his thick German accent, to became a US citizen when he married my mom in 1940… just in time to join the US army and be shipped back to Europe to willingly and eagerly fight the Nazis.




US Army translator:


Being able to speak English, German, Italian, and Yiddish fluently, Max served as a translator in the US army. This true story took place in April, 1945 in Italy, on the front lines of the allied push through the Poe valley near Switzerland… a bloody war story filled with heroism, fear, grief, regret, and every other emotion that young soldiers experience in a war.



Editorial by Marty:


When you read this story, you’ll see that the actions of that clerk at the Polish consulate were not the exception… everyone mentioned in this story (other than an evil SS officer) had human emotions and feelings, a good heart and a conscience; Nobody wanted to slaughter anyone else just for the sake of hatred of the enemy. They were just people tangled up in the horrors of war and duty.


WW-1 was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. This story took place over 30 years later in WW-2. The blood that was spilt that my dad writes about… what was it all for? Was it all worth it? Read the story for yourself to get answers to that question.


I’m as anti-war as anyone, as were both my parents, but after reading this story, my personal opinion is that WW2 was not the same as all the wars American has continuously been fighting over the 70 years since this story took place. It was necessary because of the insanity of Hitler’s plans, and it took acts of heroism to win it.



Note about Helen:


My mother liked the story, but she felt it was a bit too bloody for us kids to read, and so she tried to conceal some of the nastier sentences with a marker pen. But if you really look close, you can see my father’s words in the scanned images… time has faded some of the marker, and the original text, hidden from me for all these years, can now be seen.




Zoom and Enjoy:


Please use ZOOM-IN to get a good look. I have a few more comments about my dad following the story, and some reader comments follow. Don’t miss Page 5.


This story is captivating, thrilling, and ALL TRUE… ENJOY !!!



Page 1


Page 2


Page 3


Page 4


Page 5


Page 6


Page 7


Page 8



Was that cool or what? I love the part when they were calling for a firing squad, and all those thoughts went flashing through his mind. What bravery! I can’t even imagine such bravery. And that kind of bravery was common back then. Heck, these days, they’re too afraid to send in a drone!


My parents never told us to read this story. They left it out where it could be found among my dad’s war metals. This story shocked me when I first read it, because my dad just didn’t act like a bad-ass. Not at all. And he never told us that he’d killed anyone. I guess he didn’t want to set any bad examples.


After reading it I immediately asked him about it… “I thought you never killed anyone”, he was like, “well not really, I can’t say that I did for sure.” … “What about those SS guys in the car?” … “Well, maybe THOSE guys…” with a bit of a wink, but I was already 14 years old by then.




A bit more about my cool dad:


Not many people know this, but he was a genius of sort… his pattern-visualizing skill was unmatched. He was considered to be the very best in his field; When it came to creating customized ductwork (for use in the heating and air-conditioning trade) to fit the most bizarre and a-typical installations, they all used to call on my dad to get the job done.


Every other heating man around town knew and respected him for this. For 50 years, through the heat and the bitter cold, he worked on mostly residential jobs all over the city of Detroit. He never discriminated who he would work for or where in the city he’d work, good parts and bad.


I mention cold because, when the furnace went out, that’s when he’d arrive.


As he drove up the street approaching a house he already knew its structure, like where the furnace, chimney, gas line feeds were going to be, before we even got out of the truck. “Wipe off your shoes” he always told me as we’d approach the front door.


If there was a dog in the house my dad spent extra time checking it out… “the dog’s personality tells you exactly what the people are going to be like”. Like I said, genius.


He’d go down into their basement, look at their old furnace and ductwork, and then step back and just stare for minute … visualizing where the new furnace would replace the old, and think about what it took to connect that to the existing ductwork. Then he’d get out his tape measure and draw a set of pictures with a pencil on pages in these little spiral notebooks of the pieces of ductwork needed to get the job done.


Already knowing everything else required, he’d then tell me to sweep up and remind me to wipe my feet, and then he’d hop upstairs to negotiate the total job price... always less than what anyone else in the city would charge! That is, unless the family was poor. In THAT case, my dad would charge WAY, WAY LESS!! He never advertised in his entire 50 years of being the best heating man in Detroit, never had to sue anyone, and was never sued by anyone (can you believe this)?


Then he’d drive back home and bolt straight downstairs into the sheet metal shop we always had in our basement for my entire life, and there, he would simply perform magic;




From those little drawings, he’d visualize how he could take 4 foot x 10 foot sheets of 26-gage galvanized iron, and with his own two bare hands, fabricate this sheet metal into the bizarre, often twisting, swooping, sometimes tapered, sometimes with a notch to get around a support column, whatever was possibly required to be created, ductwork.


He was a true master of the craft. He would take a metal ruler and a scratch-all, and tag out a set of “points”, as if he had studied advanced Euclidian geometry, and then he’d scratch lines between the points.


Then he would use a set of tin snips and with his hands of strength, cut out the pattern he etched in the metal with the points and scratches. He made it look as easy as a scissors cutting through paper.


Next, he’d bend the metal into 3-d shapes and make folds along the edges which allowed it to slip into other folds of other pieces.


He’d snap these component pieces together and thus transcribe his visualization into a real 3-dimensional piece of ductwork, and then, with his tinner’s hammer in hand, he would bang bang bang bang bang bang and bang those folds, sealing the components into a set of inter-connecting masterpieces that had to be accurate down to a fraction of an inch on all sides and angles.


He was so proud of his work, he beamed… he was proud of each and every one of his creations, and rightly so. He was a true master of sheet-metal layout, unmatched in skill, even today.


All night long, every night, 7 nights a week, bang bang bang, he’d sleep a few hours and get up by 6:00 the next morning so he could pick up a furnace and “shving by” around 8:30, back in that same driveway carrying the new furnace down into the basement, and doing the entire installation, usually all by himself. Part of that was tearing out the old, certainly bigger, heavier and always filthy dirty old furnace and carrying IT UPstairs.


For over 50 years straight, my dad worked harder than anyone else on the planet. He worked 7 days a week, usually at least 15 hours a day, non-stop.


AND THEN, when he learned that his life would shortly end, my dad did NOT stop working. He was deathly ill, but still managed to drag himself downstairs and punch, weld, bend, hammer, fold, and pound out more of his creations.


This last outdoor photo of my dad and uncle was taken shortly before his death in front of my balcony pepper garden.



When he knew the end was at certainly at hand, on our last of the many trips to the hospital, we dropped off the last piece of ductwork he ever made at the customer’s house, stopped by Ember’s deli for a corned beef sandwich and a bowl of chicken noodle soup, checked him into the hospital, and he died 2 weeks later from the nasty form of blood cancer that killed him.


So, he never came back home from his last day on the job, and thus, my dad literally worked until the day he died. BUT, and PLEASE, you gotta’ trust me on this, nothing could have made him more proud. He loved his work. He did it all for the unconditional love of his family. He did it all for us, and he did it all the way.


Below are photos of these last days, including my beloved nephew David Wollner and my late mom, Helen Wollner 1923 - 2002.






A Hero Right Through the Bitter End:


He never complained once throughout his entire 1 ½ years of terminal illness. Even through the repetitive harsh treatments, long waits in emergency rooms and labs, during his long and boring blood transfusions, and when getting stuck by 10,000 needles, he never made a peep.


When he was in pain, he acted like it didn’t hurt… he was thinking about how we’d be hurt by it, and that would’ve hurt him more, so he just smiled like it was no big deal, sat there, and took it like the man that he was.



On his final death bed, he reached out for me, and he finally gave me a big long hug, then he sat back, looked up at me and winked. He was too weak to say I love you. But like I said before, …


He didn’t have to.



They just don’t make ‘em like that any more… my dad was one of a kind. Ruth, and me, and everyone else who ever knew him, miss him dearly.




Comments From Readers, Proving Every Word in the Above Story is TRUE:





I read the war story about your dad yesterday. I cried my eyes out. He was everything you said about him and more. I truly loved him and he is very much missed by us all. I remember when I went to see him in the hospital and he was so sick and asked me the first thing: How are the children? He was hot and your mother kept covering him with a blanket! He would be very proud you did this for him.


Nancy Stroster





Your dad was quite a man. He and I spoke about his war experiences on several occasions. He loved America and hated those who spoke against the U.S. He also couldn't stand the ultra-orthodox.

He also hated people who took advantage of others by unfair pricing.

He was a soft-spoken man but certainly knew, and was not afraid to express, his views of right and wrong.

Thanks so much for sending his letters.

He really is missed and the world could use a lot more men like him.


Norty (Stern)

Dear Marty:

That was a great story.  Thanks for sharing with us.  I think it should go into the Detroit  Jewish  Historical files.



Sherrie (Stern)




I never met your dad I am sorry to say, I wish I had!

(David Dullberg)




That was amazing, Marty.  Your dad was one of a kind!


Zizi W (ZiZi Warrren)

Professional Pet Care Consultant
Livonia, MI





This whole thing is wonderful, you’re Dad's story, your comments, the pictures, ALL of it!  It makes me love you Dad too. 

Thank you for sending this to me.

Penny (Dr. Penny Barron)





That was incredible. What a wonderful testimonial to a truly great, great, man. A lot of people have Uncle Max’s, but Max Wollner was one of a kind.

Everything you said about him is true. Especially the humility part. Max was the most humble person I ever met. He just had such a perfect way to look

At the world, and knowing what he went through, that makes it more unbelievable and uplifting.  He had every right to have hatred and Max didn’t have

ONE hate-bone in his body and never had anything bad to say about anyone. He was quiet in a way, but it was so pleasant to talk to him, with his sweet accent, and

his  matter of fact way of looking at things. And Max and Helen were such a great combination. Helen and her stuffed cabbage, and I remember making sheet

Metal with Max.  That was great. He really knew what he was doing.  This will be a family treasure. Thanks for sharing.  


Marc (Gross)




My apologies for not getting back sooner.  I moved apartments over the weekend to a studio in North Baltimore and am finally settling in.


I remember Grandpa telling me this story when I was younger and it was very captivating.  He told it to me clearly as if it had happened yesterday, recalling many of the details and I was completely absorbed by it. He especially wanted to emphasize to me that not all the Germans were bad.....the SS officers were pure evil, however many of the German soldiers were caught up in the events and were actually nice to Grandpa considering the circumstances. When I asked about some of the more gruesome details he said that he preferred not to get into it.  I couldn't understand at the time why he would not share all the details as the story was so interesting to me and his recollection so crisp.  After reading this account for the first time, I can now see why he would not want to relive some of the more terrible events that occurred.  It is great to now read an even more detailed account of the events that occurred. I thought it was a great story when Grandpa told it to me many years ago and I am thankful I got to originally hear it from the source!!  It makes reading this account much more enjoyable and easier to visualize.


Thanks for posting


Also for a really good account of the three children's escape from Nazi Germany, via Italy, and eventual arrival to the US....I scanned this document that Larry Rosenfield put together in 1997 and thought it was completely fascinating. Have you seen this?  You may have given this to me but I forgot.   Unfortunately, I lost the last 3 pages over the years (I think they tore off during one of my moves).  The original hard copy was 11 pages when I got it and first read it.  Enclosed is the scanned copy I have of the first 8 pages.   Do you have this document in its entirety?  If so you should post under the section where you talk about Ruth, Herman and Grandpa's escape from Germany and other family stories from that time.  If not maybe we can reach out to Larry to see if he has it.


DW (David Wollner)






I remember sitting at the kitchen table in your family's home and your dad recounting to me how, a couple weeks prior,  he had experienced a bout of crushing substernal chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath.  I was in my internal medicine residency at the time and we admitted people to the coronary care every day who presented to the hospital with these symptoms. "Dude, you were having a fucking heart attack," I was thinking to myself.   After telling me this he proceeds tear open a packet of white sugar and pour it into his mouth. "And you might want to consider getting checked out for diabetes while you're at it," I mentally added, should he ask my advice.   


"So what did you do?" I asked.


"I went upstairs and took a hot shower".  


Vintage Max.  I miss him too. 


Dan-o (Dr. Dan Hyslop)


(later…)  Just finished the story.  That was awesome. Thanks for sharing it.  I'd love to show it to Jack. At ten I'm not sure he's old enough to handle it but with the way video games are he's already been in a few battles.  He and I play a board game called Memoir 44 and it has a series of actual battles fought during WW2. I seem to remember one of them being about crossing the Po river. I'll have to check.


On Feb 25, 2011, at 5:32 PM, Marty Wollner <> wrote:

maybe you should let Jack read it and let him think about it for a while... let him think about what he's really doing when he plays those games


Yeah, That's what I don't like about those games. They don't show grown men weeping, lying in agony the last minute of their life, their loved ones not knowing...

exactly! we used to have this tv show .. COMBAT! with Vic Morrow, watched it every week, but it showed the other side, same as twilight zone, really.. kids these days are about 5 years ahead of us, so i think it ok for Jack to read if for no other reason than try interpreting what my dad wrote!