Today is May 29, 2024 ()

Bernard Whitman

Bernard Whitman, by Larry Holtzman
Bernie Whitman was born in Poland on March 5, 1920. He immigrated to America with his parents when he was 6 months old. As a teenager, he worked for his uncle in a successful New York City hat manufacturing company. They made knockoffs of elegant women’s hats that they spied watching wealthy people getting off the ocean liners from Europe.
He met Mildred Sommer from Brownsville, Texas. Her parents, Oscar and Laura Sommer sent her by train to New York City to ‘find a husband’ – which was sort of a tradition in the Sommer family. Bernard Whitman and Mildred Sommer got married on August 28, 1942. After one cold winter in NY, Mildred announced, “I’m going back to Texas, you can come with
me if you want…”
The couple came to live in Brownsville. Bernie worked for his father-in-law Oscar Sommer when WWII intervened. Bernie joined the army as an infantryman in 1943. In April
1944, Mildred received a telegram from the Army telling the sad news that Bernard Whitman was missing in action. Mildred was pregnant with their first child.
In the morning of September 27, 1944, the Brownsville Jewish community was in Temple Beth-El for the morning service of Yom Kipper, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Mildred Whitman, eight-months pregnant, sat between her parents, Oscar and Laura Sommer.
There was a knock at the Synagogue’s wooden door. When it was opened, a young man said, “Telegram for Mildred Whitman.” Was this the telegram she feared would come? Her dad
opened the telegram and said, “He is alive.”
The telegram reported that Bernard Whitman was being held as a prisoner by the Germans. The congregation joined in prayer for him to survive his ordeal, especially as a Jewish
POW of the Nazis.
When captured, Bernie had the foresight to toss away his dog-tags which showed his name, serial number, and his religion. “Jewish” was embossed on the tags. The POW camp was Stalag 7A. In the camp he took up his lifelong interest in art by doing charcoal sketches.
On April 29, 1945, US Army troops and tanks approached Stalag 7A. Bernie Whitman watched through the barbed-wire as the Nazi guards of the POW camp surrendered and opened
the gates. Bernie spent some time in the hospital. In 1946, he came home to his wife, Mildred, and finally met his two-year-old daughter, Marcy, the first of four children.
Soon after returning to Brownsville, Bernie Whitman went into the army surplus business with $300.00 he had saved. Whitman’s Army Surplus store was downtown. He would travel to
ranches around the valley peddling canvas, blankets, machetes, and other dry goods. He worked hard but always made time for the Friday evening family meal and services at Temple Beth-El.
Bernie was president of the Temple Beth-El Board of Directors in 1948.
Sundays were a family day for the Whitman household with trips to Boca Chica or Padre Island for fishing and swimming or to the market in Matamoros.
Bernie Whitman had a broad range of interests. He was an artist and did metal sculptures. He was consulted by politicians and was involved in the beginnings of the Camille
Playhouse. He was a lifelong member of the Masonic Lodge.
On August 12, 1984, Bernie Whitman died at age sixty-four of cancer. He and Mildred are buried in the Hebrew Cemetery.
Details of this report were provided by the four children, Marcy, Richard, Miriam and Alan.