Danny Jacobson was a 26-year-old Army sergeant, thousands of miles away from his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma, when he penned a four-page letter to his wife back in the states. World War II was winding down, Hitler had committed suicide six days earlier, and half a dozen administrative clerks from the 179th Infantry had set up shop in a Munich apartment.
But this wasn’t just any apartment. It was one of Adolf Hitler’s many German residences, where he had lived with his longtime companion Eva Braun. And the off-white stationery Jacobson used for his letter? Hilter’s very own. It included the Führer’s name and the Nazi swastika printed on the top left corner.
“Dearest Julia,” wrote Jacobson in a tidy script on May 6, 1945. “And so, Hitler’s treasured stationery has come to this. Imagine how many times he would turn in his grave if he knew a Jew was writing on his precious personal stationery.”
The almost seven-decades-old letter is now a part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. How it got there, after being kept in obscurity until last year, is the tale of a committed son and a doting family who peresuaded a 95- year-old man that this missive was worth attention.
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Still, the retired jeweler can’t understand what the fuss is about. “I don’t get it,” says Jacobson, sitting in the tidy living room of the Sunrise apartment he shares with his third wife, Joy. “It’s just a letter. I must’ve sent 20 others on that stationery.”
This one, however, survived. His son Joe Jacobson, a thoracic cancer physician and chief quality officer at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, donated the letter and an early 20th century Rosenthal statuette, both souvenirs Jacobson took from Hitler’s living quarters, to the Holocaust Museum last fall.
“I had held onto the letter for the past 20 years, pretty much out of sight all that time,” the younger Jacobson said. “But I realized the letter was an artifact and I was afraid it would get lost somehow. I was nervous about holding on to it.”
The letter is rich with the telling details of a soldier’s daily life. Written to a woman he had married a month before shipping out, it has a light tone and a hopeful message as he describes Hitler’s personal quarters as relatively untouched in a city that had been bombed “beyond repair.”
In the first page, he calls the Nazis “the Supermen of the world … a very defeated and broken people.” He characterizes the weather as “warm enough to get along without a heavy jacket” and gushes about a stack of five letters he had received from her.
He also writes about the mundane: “Uncle Sam gave us another Typhus shot yesterday morning; he’s certainly taking care of his boys.”
And he closes in the loving fashion of a young newlywed: “Loving you forever sweetie.”
Teresa Pollin, a curator at the Holocaust Museum, says history comes alive with these personal mementoes. The letter is now being treated by museum conservators, but no decision has yet been made about where or when it will be displayed. The staff is working on an exhibition of Americans in the Holocaust, “and this seems like it would fit in very well with that.”
She says the first line of the letter says it all. “It’s quite unusual and ironic that he, being a Jewish solder, is using Hitler’s stationery.”
Jacobson, who was drafted in the fall of 1940, worked mostly as an administrative clerk during the war, following his division through seven major campaigns from Africa to Italy to France to Germany. When he and his fellow soldiers were given the order to go to the apartment building in bombed-out Munich, he had no idea they would be walking around Hitler’s living quarters.
“When you’re in the Army, no matter what your position, you do whatever they tell you to do,” he says. “And wherever we went we took our rifles with us.”
Once in the apartment, which had been obviously abandoned in haste, Jacobson realized where he was but didn’t consider it a big deal. “At that particular time it didn’t hit me that I was in this special moment in history,” Jacobson adds. “We were just doing our job.”
The wife he had written to was living in her hometown of Baltimore with her mother, a sister and two cousins. The couple had met because their fathers were good friends. “It was somewhat of an arranged marriage,” Joe Jacobson says.
That marriage lasted more than 30 years, until Julia died of cancer. Together they would raise two children — Joe and his older sister, Joyce Fox of Sarasota — and build a successful jewelry business in Baltimore.
Jacobson retired shortly after Julia’s death. He remarried, and the daughter of his second wife was the first to discover the letter among other war mementos. She had it framed in the 1970s, but Jacobson paid little attention to it. Finally in the early 1990s, he gave his son the letter.
Jacobson’s second wife died, and he married his current wife, Joy, in 1978. He attributes his longevity to her care, but she jokes that he doesn’t listen to her about the importance of the letter.
“We’ve been telling him what a big deal this is forever,” Joy says. “It’s part of history.”
Joy’s daughter’s fiancée, Joey Terranova, tries to get him to tell a few war stories. As a history buff, Terranova worries that these memories will be lost to future generations. “You can’t forget what happened,” Terranova urges him one morning as they sip black coffee together. Jacobson shrugs it off.
At the museum in Washington, curator Pollin believes the letter holds special significance in these times, when European Jews are again facing rising anti-Semitism. “A letter like this,” she says, “shows that justice prevailed. One has to hope that it will again.”