Updated: May 15
Making a film about Milt Feldman allowed me to travel through time and space. I learned his life story and felt like I was living every bit of his journey myself. The man and the story got under my skin. His recollections of Brooklyn during the Great Depression were as vivid and fresh as his characterization of Nazi youths marching in the streets on their way home from summer camps in Long Island. I've heard of such stories from elders I spoke to before. Every time I felt as if it was the first. Did that happen here, in the streets of New York? How could that happen? Then, the documentary evidence made it all clear: Thousands of men at Madison Square Garden celebrating the coming of a new world order, giving the Sieg Heil!, right here, in the heart of New York. Milt represented an opportunity to cross that bridge that separates us from the turbulent past. When we started filming for a documentary film about his life, he was 95 had had only recently married Renee, "the love of my life," as he called her.
Milt and I worked on his film for about six months; it was an extraordinary experience in which I was invited to time travel with a camera in tow. While Milt remained home with Renee in California, I looked for clues in Europe. All along the way, he was feeding me references and intel via FaceTime and in daily detailed emails. He directed me from Le Havre in France to Liege on the Western Front. The following day I met with Carl Wouters. Carl is a dedicated historian compiling records and the most comprehensive history of the 106th Infantry Division in which Milt Feldman was private, first class. In his apartment in Terhagen, Carl has a virtual museum dedicated to the soldiers that liberated his home country from the Germans. We reviewed maps and the evidence presented by folks living in the area today. We finally established where Milt was surrendered and captured in December 1944. The following day we left Terhagen and met Doug Mitchell, a former Marine now living near the Ardennes on the German side. Doug has helped many US veterans find the trenches and bunkers where they fought the final assault of the enemy in The Battle of the Bulge. I knew Milt would have liked to be there; perhaps the film could bring him closure.
In the Ardennes, we found Milt's bunker, his last refuge, and the exact spot where he became a prisoner of war. I used FaceTime to share the findings with him. He was speechless, and I could tell he was grateful for the opportunity. During the following days, we reconstructed the long march to Stalag IV-B, one of the largest prisoner-of-war camps in Germany during World War II.
A Jewish GI in World War II
Milt's account of Liberation was one of the most colorful but accurate in every detail. According to Milt, Stalag IV-B was abandoned by the German guards just before the arrival of the Red Army. A Russian general riding a white horse, nothing less, rode into camp yelling to the four winds that everyone was free to go. The epilogue is part of the film Milt, which I called A Soldier's Dream, inspired by the title of the poem Milt wrote about the war. In that poem, the soldier questions his memories and his feelings. You see, Milt was a pacifist; he didn't believe in war but saw now another alternative than being there to fight the horrors of war. -"Can you see the contradiction in terms?" he asked me once. Of course, I did.
Milt died in March 2020. I often think of him, as the soldier, and the time-travel companion. Today is one of those days, and I wish he were here. Our movie will have to do.
Milton Feldman, 95, formerly of New Rochelle, N.Y., was the son of Jacob and Bessie (nee Lucas) Feldman of Brooklyn, New York. Feldman served in the US Army from 1942-1945. He was a Certified Public Accountant. Milton was predeceased by his former wife, Shirley Feldman, in 2006 and his daughter, Leslie Jill Feldman, in 1970. He is survived by his wife, Renee Bauer of Pleasanton, CA, and his son, Robert Allen Feldman.