Remembering Sergeant Harry Fisher
By Eliezer Cohen
“Sarge,” as we called him, was quite a person. He was a Jew who was born to
parents who had a farm in the East Coast. He only knew two things about being Jewish:
you fast on Yom Kippur and eat matzoh on Passover. When he grew up, he left the farm to
join the US Army some time before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack
he became an instructor getting raw recruits ready for war.
He accompanied those very boys that he trained to the Normandy invasion. He battled
the Germans from Normandy all the way up through France into Germany. He was amongst
those who liberated the Orduf Concentration camp and saw first hand the ghastly cruelty
that the Germans inflicted on the inmates.
He told me personal stories of General Patton, who he greatly admired. Patton knew
what war was and did not forget for a moment what life and death are like. Patton was a
hardened warrior who understood his men and was able to inspire in them the desire to
win. Sarge was like Patton, he never backed down from a challenge, he never knew what
it was to quit, he only knew to “keep on driving” as he would so often tell us.
One day before a big battle, Sarge was fond of recalling, Patton came into their
camp and got on top of his command car and began talking to the troops. “Yesterday,” he
said, “we captured some Germans. As we were loading them into a truck, one of the
bastards pulled out a gun and shot my driver! You know what we did? We opened fire with
our machine guns and killed every last bastard! Don't try to take prisoners! Shoot the
sons-of-bitches before they can surrender!”
Patton was tough, but you had to be tough to win a war. Harry wished that the
Israeli Army could emulate Patton. Harry had the same advice for the Israelis as Patton
had given him. “Don't try to take prisoners! Shoot the sons-of-bitches before they can
surrender!” He felt that the solution to our problems with the Arabs was showing them
who is in charge and what will happen if they even try to start up.
Harry told me that Patton used rough language in addressing the men. “Men, you have
a weapon. It was made to kill the enemy. If you don't use it properly, then it is as
useless as the pr--- on the pope!” It isn't the type of speech that one gives in front
of the television cameras, but Sarge was very impressed with Patton and his style of
He told me stories of how difficult it was fighting against the Germans. He and his
men were freezing in the mud with sniper bullets flying overhead; his men began to
complain of the difficulties and how he would simply reply, “Men, I wouldn't have it
any other way!” and “you gotta be tough!”
He was there when the Allied Forces generals toured the concentration camp and
witnessed first hand with disbelief the human cruelties and atrocities oft the Germans.
He remembers General Eisenhower telling everyone not to touch the many dead bodies of
the the murdered inmates until the photographers take their pictures. He told me that
Eisenhower said that the next generation will never believe heinous barbarity of the
Germans. Then he told me that after Eisenhower viewed it himself, Eisenhower went
behind some building and vomited.
Sarge told me that the Allied Command forced the German citizens of the cities close
to the Orduf Camp to come to see for themselves the sickening atrocities of their
fellow Germans. The local villagers claimed that they did not know of any infringement
on human rights or cruelties but the Allies did not believe them. They forced the local
residents to dig open mass graves and to empty out building of dead bodies.
Sarge became closer to his roots after the army and became an admirer of the
Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was accorded the honor of sitting on the stage behind the Rebbe,
an honor that not many are privileged to receive. He moved to Crown Heights and lived
their for a while, observing the Rebbe first hand. He told me that he spoke to the
Rebbe who had a heavy daily work load. He asked the Rebbe about his work load and the
Rebbe answered him, “I am always happy!” Sarge took that statement and made it part of
Sarge never complained about his own circumstances. He gave most of his wealth away
to charity before he came to live in Israel. In Israel he lived alone in a tiny
apartment – one small bedroom and a tiny kitchen; no oven, no heating.
He started his day by having a cup of coffee and then going to a kollel, that
is a learning group for men. He would learn there for the entire morning, then
afterwards he would take the bus to the Kotel. He had a list of people for whom he
would pray at the Kotel. After this, he would be of assistance to those who came to the
wall to visit. He would aid them in putting on Tephilin.
Sarge felt strongly that the Land of Israel is G-d's gift to the Jews. We should
take it and honor it. If a Jew lives in Israel, he must realize that this is the land
of G-d, therefore he should do what he can to observe G-d's Torah. To this end, Sarge
wanted to send Jewish bibles to all the Jews in Israel.
Sarge felt strongly that the synagogue is a sacred place. It disturbed him to see
people chatting there instead of praying. When ever he caught some one talking he would
give him a piece of his mind, some times it bordered on a physical threat. But despite
the tough talk, the people in his synagogue loved him.
Sarge rarely sat during prayers. He would stand almost the entire service. “You have
to be tough!” he would tell me. He did exercises every day. He would do leg-lifts and
he would scold himself if his feet would come down. “Come on, get your a-- up there!”
he would tell himself.
A few years ago, he needed a tube inserted in through his penis. I took him to the
hospital and stayed with him there. Two doctors put him on a bed and before they began,
Sarge reached behind him and grabbed the bars at the head of the bed and told the
doctors he was ready. There was no drug administered. The doctors began inserting the
tube in through Sarge's penis; I was in pain just sitting there. It took maybe five
minutes and they finished. The two doctors walked to the desk to sign the paper work
and I over heard them talking about Sarge. “Can you believe that guy? He is over 90
years old! Did you see how he took that pain?” Then one doctors said to the other, “I
don't think you could do the same even when you are forty!”
Sarge appeared to be quite a tough person, but when it came to dealing with others he
was kind and considerate towards them. It was his custom to call up his friends on
Friday to wish them a “good Shabbos”. Towards the end, Sarge got cancer of the colon
and needed an operation. I went to visit him after the operation and he looked great
(especially for a person after a difficult operation). But his health began to decline
a few months later when he got a urinary tract infection and was rushed to a hospital
for treatment. After this he became very week. He left this world on April 2, 2010,
during Passover, but he leaves his impression down here with all who knew him. He was
96 years old and even the last days he practiced what he preached, “Keep on driving”
and “you gatta be tough!”
We, his friends and I, miss him. He was a like father guide to us. He pulled us up and
gave us inspiration. He filled in the history that we were fortunately spared. He saw
the reality of war and the realness of man's despotic cruelty to their enemies. His
words live on within us. May his memory be a blessing.
from the June 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine