ALBANY, N.Y. – Richard Marowitz was just a day removed from witnessing the horrors of Dachau when he found a top hat on a shelf in a closet in Adolf Hitler’s Munich apartment.
Still furious over the gruesome sights he had seen at the nearby Nazi concentration camp, the 19-year-old self-described “skinny Jewish kid” from New York threw the black silk hat on the floor, jumped off the chair he had used to reach the item and stomped Hitler’s formal headwear until it was flat.
“I swear to this day I could see his face in it,” Marowitz told The Associated Press in a 2001 interview, recalling how he “smashed the hell out of it.”
Marowitz, who brought the souvenir back to New York after World War II ended, died this week at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Albany. His son, Larry Marowitz, told The Associated Press on Friday that his father died Wednesday after battling cancer and dementia. His death was first reported by The Times Union of Albany.
Marowitz, born in Middletown, New York, and raised in Brooklyn, was playing trumpet in a swing band when he was drafted into the Army. He served as a reconnaissance scout in the 42nd Infantry Division as it fought its way across Europe in 1945. On April 29, his unit was ordered to push ahead to a place called Dachau to beat other American divisions headed there.
In a 2003 interview he gave to an upstate New York high school’s WWII oral history project, Marowitz told how he and his comrades sped their Jeeps through German convoys and enemy positions, firing their guns all the way.
“As we got closer to Dachau, we got this awful smell,” Marowitz recalled. They were among the first American soldiers to enter the concentration camp, where the GIs found bodies stacked inside rail cars and emaciated inmates who were barely alive.
“The prisoners were just walking skeletons, and they just dropped where they were and died,” Marowitz said.
The next day, the 19-year-old scout was among a group sent to search Hitler’s Munich apartment. While looking in a closet, Marowitz found a top hat with the initials “A.H.” on the lining. He jumped up and down on the hat a few times in anger. It was April 30, the day Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin.
“When he heard some skinny Jewish kid stomped all over his favorite hat, he committed suicide,” Marowitz joked to the AP in 2001.
Marowitz kept the hat and brought it home. Decades later, he started bringing it along when he gave talks about the war and the Holocaust at Albany-area schools. Despite the horrors of combat and genocide he witnessed, the showman-turned-clothing manufacturer always sprinkled some humor into his stories, his son said.
“He loved people, he loved to joke around,” Larry Marowitz said.
Marowitz’s story was told in a 2003 documentary film, “Hitler’s Hat.” At the veteran’s request, the family will donate the hat to a museum, the son said.
A service was scheduled for Friday morning at an Albany synagogue. He was to be buried at the Gerald B. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.
In addition to his son, Marowitz is survived by his wife of 65 years, Ruth, and their daughters, Linda and Roberta Marowitz.