As Elias “Hy” Eliasof recalled his 300 days of almost-continual combat in Germany during World War II, he pointed to each location on a map he had created and attached to his refrigerator.
Almost 70 years after he served as an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon sergeant with the 28th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division, Eliasof clearly remembered those days of “almost continuous combat,” on some days advancing only a few yards, he said in the living room of his apartment in Fox Hill Retirement Home in Bethesda.
During the war, Eliasof, now 97, patrolled, took prisoners, and maintained observation posts, earning two Bronze Stars for his efforts.
He particularly recalled some of his fiercest fighting in the Huertgen Forest in Germany. While advancing, he came upon a barn filled with German soldiers, who outnumbered the Americans he was with, Eliasof said.
Until seeing the barn, “we were making good progress,” about 10 to 15 miles in a day, he said. Suddenly, the Germans started firing, and Elaisof realized, “I had to keep them inside.”
He grabbed a white handkerchief, stuffed it into his rifle, and called for someone who could speak English. A German soldier came out, and Elaisof “told him behind me are 200 to 300 soldiers” and in the other direction, the Russians were advancing. He painted a very bleak picture of what could happen to the Germans, he said.
With the war almost over, Elaisof convinced the Germans their best option was to surrender to him, rather than be killed or taken prisoner by the Russians.
A short time later, 40 Germans walked out of the barn with their hands up, and surrendered to him, he said.
Elaisof, who grew up in New York City, also recalled entering a German labor camp as the war drew to a close. He had heard of these camps, but until that moment, had thought they were work camps only.
Reality set in when he saw the skeletal bodies of Russian and Polish soldiers that had been thrown into a huge hole for burial.
“They were starved to death,” or died of disease, he said, before declaring with emphasis that he never mistreated any soldier he took prisoner, even offering them cigarettes and water.
Eliasof is one of five brothers and two sisters. All five brothers served their country, he said proudly. Four were in the infantry, and one was a navigation bomber.
After the war, Eliasof married, had two daughters, and worked in the garment industry, starting out by purchasing five sewing machines and setting up in a store in the Bronx. Within a dozen years, he had 125 employees, he said of the business he had established – Elias Brothers – which made children’s sportswear.
“We lived the American dream,” Eliasof said.
He moved to Closter, New Jersey, where he served as mayor, conducting more than 100 weddings and helping bring a few nonprofits to the town, including one for battered women.
Soon after his wife, Marion, passed away in 2006, Eliasof moved into the newly opened Fox Hill, to be close to his daughter, who lives in Potomac. His other daughter had died when she was 34 years old, from breast cancer.
Though three years less than a century old, Elaisof is full of energy, is a good walker, and keeps himself busy. He sometimes plays golf with his son-in-law, he said, proclaiming, “I can still play 18 holes.”
His eyesight is not good, but he still reads with a magnifying glass, and enjoys biographies in particular.
When asked to what he attributes his longevity and good health, Eliasof replied, “Dumb luck.”
“I stay very active,” Eliasof said, referring to his participation in committees and attending lectures and concerts. He also enjoys spending time with his two grandsons and three great-grandsons. “I am a very, very happy person and grateful. I am a very grateful person.”
Despite the intense combat he encountered, Eliasof believes young people should enlist. “Everybody should
serve in the army. This is the greatest country the world has ever known.”