Harry Hashagen, longtime of Pleasant Valley and member of Trinity Lutheran, died on September 10, 2019. Harry will particularly be remembered for his service during WWII, and the story of the Jewish women his troop saved.
It was 1945. The Nazi soldiers had marched about 200 women prisoners 22 miles in one night. The women prisoners had to carry the luggage of the women soldiers. They continued to march night after night.
But signs of hope began appearing. Two Nazi soldiers they met told them to run away because the Americans were coming. One small group of 32 young women ran and arrived at a house where, following much pleading, the woman owner let them stay on condition that they tell the Americans that she "treated them fine". But the woman changed her mind and expelled them in the middle of the night. As dawn began, they discovered that there were white flags on all the buildings and there was no sign of the German forces. As the sun rose, American jeeps began to arrive. The young women followed the jeeps to the city square.
Harry Hashagen was one of the soldiers in the troop that liberated this town and these women. He says when they arrived, they were so filthy and starved you couldn't tell if they were male or female. Harry gave one women his hygiene kit - soap and toothpaste - even though soldiers weren't supposed to do that. After the women showered, he and the other soldiers pooled their money to buy the women clothes off the surplus truck. The women particularly said they needed shoes; their feet were badly blistered after walking barefoot so many miles. The best they could do was buy the women army boots; the women loved them.
One of the women Harry's troop cared for was a Jewish woman named Erjie. Here's the rest of the story, as written by one of Erjie's friends:
The soldiers took the young women for tours of the area. Thus, after a year as a prisoner, Erjie began to feel like a human being again. As the American soldiers who cared for them prepared to depart, the young women decided to return the favor and prepare a meal that included a goulash soup and jelly-filled doughnuts. Erjie remembers the farewell as a happy and joyful event. One of the soldiers (Harry) gave her a photograph showing him with a dear friend. On the back of the photo the soldier wrote his name and address. Someone also took photos of Harry and Erjie that day.
For decades, neither Erjie nor Harry spoke about what happened during the war. Then in the late 1980s, a family member asked Erjie about her experiences. Erjie recalled the story and pulled out the photo Harry had given her. Family members in the US were able to track Harry down. After some conversation, Harry found in his photo album the picture of him and Erjie. Erjie and Harry kept in contact, and Erjie was able to come to the US and meet Harry in 2005.
Erjie died a couple months before Harry did, and at Harry's funeral, a eulogy from one of Erjie's family members was read:
Harry served not only his country, but had an impact on saving the lives of some WWII concentration camp prisoners of Nazi Germany right after the allied liberated Europe. My father's wife Elizabeth (Erjie) was one of these desperate and helpless individuals and Harry was one of their saviors. He and his army unit were the difference between them perishing out of starvation and staying alive by giving them shelter, food, kindness, and basic care till they found where to go. Erjie never forgot this angel and his comrades. [...]
To Erjie, you represent the best of humanity and she is eternally grateful. [...] We love you, Harry. You will be in our hearts forever. And a tree will be planted in Israel in your honor.
In an interview with WFMZ, a local TV station, Harry's daughter Diane said: "We were amazed and proud and asked, 'Why didn't you ever talk about it?' He just didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary."
The Bible says: Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8). That's the story of Harry Hashagen.