An Ashland gentleman who I knew died recently. Al Willstatter, an World War II veteran who helped liberate Jews from concentration camps and later served as an Ashland City Councilor, died on Nov. 3, just more than a week shy of Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11. He was 97.
Alfred “Al” Willstatter “saw combat action in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge” and served in U.S. Army Intelligence during the war, according to “Hidden History of Ashland, Oregon,” a book written by Ashland historian and former Southern Oregon University adjunct faculty Joe Peterson. He helped track down Nazi SS officers who fled from concentration camps and served as a U.S. Army interrogator, helping identify officers who would be tried in Nuremberg.
Willstatter was born Jewish and the oldest of two boys on Oct. 17, 1925, in Landsberg, Germany, to Louis and Luzia Willstatter. The town was also home to the jail where Adolf Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf,” which was published that same year. Both Willstatter and his brother, Herbert, were under the age of 13 when their parents sent them away on a boat to New York in 1937, to keep them far from Hitler’s influence and grasp. The boys eventually went to live with their father’s first cousins in St. Paul, Minnesota.