In September, the Hillary Clinton campaign released an arresting ad. In it, Joel Sollender, a decorated American Jewish soldier who had been taken captive by the Nazis in World War II, emotionally warned America against electing Donald Trump. Yesterday, Sollender’s family announced that he had passed away on Tuesday, at the age of 92.
“He had a great patriotic feeling about this country and the war affected him in many profound ways,” his widow, Dorothy Sollender, told a local paper. “Here was this smart-ass Jewish intellectual from New York City who became friends in the Army with a Missouri farmer, an Indian bootlegger. He just got along with everyone because he was a person for every man and he truly loved America.”
Among other decorations for his service, Sollender was awarded a Bronze Star for valor, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Alarmed at Trump’s rise, Sollender began publicly speaking out against his candidacy for months, which ultimately brought him to the attention of the Clinton campaign. When I spoke to him about the ad, he related one part of his story that didn’t make it into the final cut:
Something that didn’t make it into the short clip, Sollender said, was his fear at the time that the Germans would discover that he was Jewish. “As a prisoner of war, and being Jewish, I had some concerns about my dog tags, which were obviously marked ‘H’ for Hebrew,” he recounted. “But they never looked at them. I had blond hair and blue eyes and spoke a little German, so it helped me along.”
“I was a pretty lucky guy to do what I did and get away with it,” he continued, “and come home safely and have a more or less charmed life ever since.”
At the time, in explaining his outspokenness, Sollender referred me to Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, which imagines the rise of a fascist demagogue to the United States presidency. “There are indications that it could happen here,” he told me.
Sollender is survived by his wife Dorothy, his son Jonathan, and six grandchildren, two of whom currently serve in the U.S. military.