Michel Thomas (February 3, 1914 – January 8, 2005) served in the 307th CIC. His story is so amaizing that I decided to post it here.For what I know he served with my father, or at least the periods coincide. I’m proud to know one of dad’s Brother in Arms.
Michel Thomas at the WWII Memorial
CIC Agents Michel Thomas (left) and Ted Kraus (right)
Michel Thomas was born Moniek Kroskof, the only son of a Jewish family who owned a textile factory in Lodz, Poland. Michel is currently a citizen of the United States and a resident of New York. When still a child, Michel left Poland to live with his aunt in Breslau, Germany. The only Jew in his class, he was proud of his identity. While classmates drew swastikas on the front of their schoolbooks, Michel drew the Star of David.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Michel left Germany and went to live in France. He graduated from the Department of Philology at the University of Bordeaux. In 1937, Michel returned briefly to Poland to visit his mother, and, en route, stopped in Breslau to see his aunt. He would never see them again after this visit. After the war, he learned that his entire family had been slaughtered at Auschwitz.
In early 1938, Michel went to Austria to study psychology at the University of Vienna. Shortly afterwards, the Anschluss occurred and Austria too was occupied by the Nazis. Michel’s passport was confiscated and in October 1938, he fled Austria, a stateless Jew. Together with his young girlfriend, Michel smuggled his way across the Siegfried-Maginot line and arrived in France.
In September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, Michel volunteered for the French Army and served in the intelligence corps in Nice. When France fell, Michel stayed in Nice and worked as an entrepreneur, organizing shows in the big hotels of the Cote d’Azur. The Vichy regime was established in July 1940 and life soon became precarious for an alien Jew. Narrowly avoiding capture and imprisonment, Michel began to help local Jewish refugees and clung on in Nice until September 1940, when he was arrested by the police for “influence peddling”. He spent four months in solitary confinement. After he was miraculously freed, he left for Monte Carlo, beyond the jurisdiction of the French police.
During an overnight trip to Nice, he was once again arrested and sent to Le Vernet, a brutal Vichy concentration camp near Foix in the Pyrenèes, where the inmates starved. After he developed black lung, he was sent to a slave labor camp in the Alps. He was then transferred to Les Milles, a concentration camp for Jews awaiting deportation on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence. Locally it was known as “l’abbatoir” – the slaughterhouse. Michel avoided the increasingly frequent deportations to Auschwitz until August 1942, when he managed to escape from the camp and make his way to Lyon.
In September 1942, he joined the French Resistance. He was tasked with recruiting fighters among the Jewish refugees in the area. In February 1943, Michel went to the offices of the Union Gènèrale des Israelites de France (UGIF) in Lyon. Unbeknownst to Michel, Klaus Barbie (the “Butcher of Lyon” and head of the Gestapo there) had set a trap for German-speaking Jewish refugees at that location. Michel was stopped and interrogated by Barbie. He managed to escape and survive the interrogation by pretending that he did not speak German (which he did) and pretending that he was a French painter. (Michel later testified for the prosecution at the trial of Klaus Barbie in France.)
A month later, Michel was arrested, this time by the French Milice. He was tortured for
six hours by the Gestapo and the French police, but did not break down. Aided by the Resistance, he escaped and became part of a commando group on Grenoble – the Third and Half Brigade of the First Alpine Division – whose tasks included blowing up bridges and destroying communications.
In June 1944, as a lieutenant of the French Forces of the Interior, Michel commanded a group that destroyed telephone lines in coordination with the landing of the Allies in Normandy. The Allies arrived in Grenoble in August that year, and Michel was attached to the 1st Battalion of the 180th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division, 7th US Army. Thomas acted as a liaison between the American forces and the French resistance. His duties included running patrols into enemy territory to gather combat intelligence and coordinate with members of the resistance.
In recognition of his service in the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry Regiment, Michel was recommended for the Silver Star, one of the military’s highest medals for valor.
The recommendation described at great length Michel’s extraordinary courage and effectiveness in combat near Autrey, France (misspelled “Aubray” in the recommendation letter). As the Allies approached the German border in the fall of 1944, the French government dissolved the French resistance in order to incorporate its members into the French army. It was at this time that Lieutenant Henry F. Teichmann of the 180th Infantry Regiment wrote an order detaching Lt. Thomas from the 180th Inf. Reg. of the 45th Div. Michel then began training with the French army to parachute into Germany.
In March 1945, Michel became an agent in the 45th Division US Counter Intelligence Corps. (CIC). Michel operated as an official Agent of the United States Army CIC and wore the U.S. Army collar tags worn by CIC Agents. He spoke English and seven other languages fluently at that time, and went with the American troops into Germany.
In his capacity as a CIC agent, Michel was present at the liberation of Dachau [concentration camp] on April 29, 1945. He took a number of photographs at the time of liberation that document the horrors that occurred there. Michel still has many of those photographs and the negatives as well. He also has other documents in his possession, including crematorium workers’ statements. While at Dachau, Michel gathered information about Emil Mahl (the Hangman of Dachau). On the first of May 1945, based on the information he obtained in Dachau just days before, Michel arrested Emil Mahl and obtained a signed confession. Michel still has the original signed document of Mahl’s confession.
Also in early May 1945, Michel discovered a huge cache of Nazi government documents and Nazi Party membership cards at a paper mill in Freimann, Germany, outside of Munich. After the war, the documents Michel found became the heart of the collection of the Berlin Document Center, which was handed over to the German government in 1994. Michel still possesses a number of documents and other items taken from the mill in May 1945. In September 1945, Michel was transferred to the Ulm subsection of the 307th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment.
Michel was given sole authority to organize the search for and apprehension of S.S. Major Gustav Knittel, who had been implicated in the Malmedy-Stavelot massacre of more than 130 American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. On January 5, 1946, Michel and his CIC colleague Ted Kraus captured Knittel at an isolated home near Ulm, and interrogated him. In July 1946, Knittel was sentenced to life in prison by the American military tribunal at Dachau; later his sentence was commuted. While incarcerated, both Knittel and Emil Mahl wrote Michel to complain of their treatment when Michel arrested them.
During his service in CIC, Michel was involved in a sting operation in which he posed as a “Dr. Frundsberg”, commander of a phony SS “Grossorganization” He persuaded a number of former SS officers that this organization was to function as a centralized command of the underground SS terrorist organization (Werewolves) in occupied Germany. His CIC colleagues secretly taped meetings that Michel staged and conducted with former SS officers; these meetings eventually led to his becoming the commander of the Werewolf organization. Eventually, a number of former SS officers were tried and sent to prison based on the evidence gathered by Michel’s operation.
In October 1946, Michel was recommended for US citizenship by the commanding officer of 45th CIC Detachment. In July 1947, Michel left Europe and moved to the United States.
In September 1947, after he arrived in America to build a new life, Michel founded the
Polyglot Institute on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, which was the precursor of the
Michel Thomas Language Centers. Today, Michel’s language centers operate in New York, NY and Beverly Hills, CA.
Michel’s language teaching method is unique and extraordinarily effective. His method does not involve taking notes or memorizing grammar and vocabulary, and anyone, including so-called “hopeless cases,” can learn a language with him or one of his trained instructors. Michel’s skill lies in the way in which he strips the language to its essential components, builds the student’s confidence in what they may already know of the language, and guides them through the learning process rapidly and intensively. The result is that after just eight hours of instruction a beginner has a practical and functional use of the spoken language.
Michel himself believes that his learning process is not only effortless but also fun. He has successfully taught ghetto children and, in 1997, a group of sixteen-year-olds in north London who had been told they could never learn a language. His celebrity clients have included, to name just a few, Grace Kelly, Anne Bancroft, Mel Gibson, Donald Sutherland, Emma Thompson, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Barbra Streisand, and a host of senior American business leaders, diplomats, dignitaries and academics.
Today, Michel Thomas’ 8-hour language teaching courses are available on tape and CD to everyone and can be found in bookstores in several countries. They are also sold on the Internet on such web sites as Amazon.com. In The United Kingdom they are now the best-selling language courses. Michel Thomas has become the most famous master language teacher in the world.
In 2000, after more than two years of research, Christopher Robbins, an investigative journalist and author, published a biography of Thomas entitled “Test of Courage – The Michel Thomas Story” (Free Press, 1999). While “Test of Courage” was an authorized biography of Thomas, Robbins was given complete editorial independence.
Since its initial publication, “Test of Courage” has sold approximately 10,000 copies in hardback. The book was not published in paperback format, and was sparsely, although favorably, reviewed. The Los Angeles Times reviewed the book on December 10, 1999.
The book has now been published in hardback and paperback in the United Kingdom.
For a full account of his fascinating life, read “Test of Courage: The Michel Thomas Story by Christopher Robbins, published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster