• The National WWII Museum
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Philip Klass (aka William Tenn) and Chutzpah

Philip Klass, better known as the writer William Tenn, was a short man, maybe about 5'2" or so. But what he failed to have in height, he more than made up for in bravado and chutzpah.

Phil was in the Army for most of World War II. He scored a very high rating on language aptitude. He was sent to the Univesity of Pittsburgh with 24 other soldiers for intensive training in Serbo-Croation. The plan was, they'd be sent to help liberate Yugoslavia.

It turned out, Phil never got to Yugoslavia, despite having learned Serbo-Croation. And most of the rest of his classmates were sent to the Pacific, where no one spoke Serbo-Croation.

But Phil was sent back to Europe. Since he spoke several languages (in addition to English and Serbo-Cration), he was eventually assigned to be a translator. One of his jobs was to translate for the former concentration camp guards.

So, picture this -- a short, Jewish American army soldier from New York City translating for tall, Aryan Nazi guards who'd spent years facilitating the slaughter of Jewish prisoners.

One of the guards finally asked him, "You speak an unusual kind of German. What is it?"

Phil looked the guard in the eye and said, "It's Yiddish."

William Tenn Home Page

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