Eric Charles Lee died on January 26, 2020, one month before his 94th birthday, and seven months before he and his wife, Faith, would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Born Erich Charles Lederer in Prague, Czechoslovakia on February 27, 1926, he was the son of Julius and Hilda (Reiser) Lederer, and grandson of Robert and Adela Reiser. As a child, he spoke German in the home, and Czech in the "street", schooled in both languages.
The Reisers, a Jewish-German family, owned the largest malt factory and other businesses, in Czechoslovakia. On March 15, 1939, Hitler and his troops marched into Prague and occupied the country. Eric's mother, in order to save her son and daughter, announced she and the children would flee to France for safety. She would send for the others, when possible. On June 15, 1939 she obtained a Gestapo pass, hoping to stay in Switzerland with relatives. Her request was denied by the Swiss. As a result, they moved on to Paris where she obtained visas for the USA. However, that meant they needed to wait two years, in a country not Nazi occupied. Over a year, Eric and his family moved further south in France, to avoid the advance of the German Army, first to Vichy and then to Cannes. During this year Eric learned his third language-French.
In the Spring of 1941, sponsored by a wealthy childhood friend of his mother, they received their final visas for the US. They sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, on one of the last ships to get safely across the Atlantic. Eric was admitted to the Tilton School in New Hampshire, in order for him to be immersed in the English language (his fourth) and culture. He graduated from Tilton in February of 1944. Not yet a US citizen, he could not be drafted. However, at age 18, he felt a duty to join the Army to "pay back" the US for his safety. He enlisted in the US Army at Laconia, NH.
After basic training in Spartanburg, SC, Eric earned his US Citizenship. It was suggested by American Intelligence that he change his name from "Lederer" to "Lee" to protect himself in the event of capture, bearing a German-Jewish surname. Eric and his fellow GI's were to be replacement troops for those lost in the Battle of the Bulge. One day, during their wait in Alsace, France, an argument arose between the mayor of the town and a young man, who had stolen the mayor's bike. A fellow GI, who knew Eric was multilingual, suggested that Eric could help settle the dispute, which he did. The American Commandant observed his skills and took Eric to interview with the Commanding General, Louis E. Hibbs, who hired him immediately. Eric joined the General's staff as an armed bodyguard, as well as French, English and German interpreter. Eric accompanied the General at all times as his driver, and served as a liaison with POWs, local citizens, high ranking enemy officers and German prisoners, translating their answers to English.
In May of 1945, he did not have enough points to be discharged and would have been sent to the Pacific theater. However, General Hibbs felt Eric's skills would be better served in the American Military Government that was being formed in the city of Mannheim, Germany. Eric was involved in every facet of infrastructure; organizing and running the new German police force and acting as translator with the French Army of Occupation across the Rhine River. Before he returned to the US, in June of 1946, he took a two week visit to his native city of Prague. There he connected with the few friends and relatives that had survived the camps. Eric learned that his father, and both sets of grandparents, had been transported to the Lodz Ghetto in Poland (father), Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camps (grandparents) and murdered.
After discharge, he entered the University of New Hampshire in the fall 0f 1946, fully funded under the G.I. Bill and graduated, with Honors in 1950. Eric later became Eastern Regional Manager for Bell and Howell. He held this position for about 20 years. Eric married Jeannie Fourel. They had two sons, Steven and Christopher and lived in Wellesley, Mass. Eric and Jeannie eventually divorced. In 1970, Eric met and married his second wife Faith. Eventually they had six grandchildren, whom he adored. To quote his oldest grandson Jack, "becoming a grandfather changed him from a stern stepfather to a "PAPA" who loved working in his workshop making things for fun with me and taking all of us tubing and learning to drive the boat at the lake."
In 1992 Faith and Eric moved to Moultonborough, NH, and later to Port Orange, FL. In January of 2013, Eric was decorated as Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, for his Army service in France during World War II, an honor of which he was most proud. In 2019 Eric and Faith moved to RiverMead Retirement Community in Peterborough, NH.
Eric leaves two sons, Christopher Lee of Cambridge, MA and Steven Lee (Kathy) of Denver, CO, as well as granddaughter Elizabeth Lee, Faith's daughter Kathryn Low (Jack) of Rindge, NH and their children, Christina Wheeler (Bill), Marisa Smith (Glenn) and great granddaughter Lily, Jack Low Jr, Faith's two sons, David Twyman (Elise) and Robert Twyman (Sonya) and their two sons, Cristian and Bernave.
On September 21st, a military interment ceremony with full honors was finally held at the NH Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, NH with friends and family attending. A luncheon was held at The Oliver Lodge in Meredith, where Eric and Faith had been married 50 years ago. Gifts in Eric's memory may be made to the Wright Museum of World War II, 77 Center St., Wolfeboro, NH 03894.
Published in Monadnock Ledger-Transcript on Nov. 23, 2020.