Sidney Gritz – Brigadier General, United States Army

Sidney Gritz, 87, brigadier general
Military career spanned 3 wars, ended in Iran

Sidney Gritz reached out to the need of a man he found as a member of one of the first U.S. Army units to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Gritz, then a second lieutenant who spoke German, suspected all too well what he would find when he saw the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the gates — roughly translated as “work will set you free.”

“He went up to one and held his hand,” Brigadier General Gritz's widow, Shirley, recounted. “We are Jewish, and he wanted to say something to this guy. My husband said it sounded like this man was saying … a very deep prayer. He died in his arms.”

Whether is was inside a German concentration camp, on the waterways of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam or teaching grade school students in Colorado Springs, Colorado, about the Holocaust, Brigadier General Sidney Gritz looked people in the eye with compassion.

“He spoke directly to people and never batted his eye,” Shirley Gritz said. “You were the only one that he was focusing on.”

Brigadier General Gritz died Tuesday at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton, Florida,  from lung and other ailments. He was 87.

The funeral for a man who began his military career as a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, conscript and later rose to become one of the highest-ranking Jewish officers in the U.S. Army is scheduled for January 5, 2006, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

His decorated military career spanned World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. After retirement, it brought him face-to-face with the Iranian Revolution before he caught what his wife described as the last flight from Tehran after Islamic students seized the U.S. embassy there in 1979, triggering a 444-day hostage crisis.

Sidney Gritz was conscripted into the army before the U.S. entered World War II, his wife said. He extended his service just as his one-year term was expiring and signed up for officer training, his wife said.

When the United States entered the war, Gritz was an officer in an engineering unit assigned to clear mines for Gen. George Patton's advancing troops. It was one of the few, if not only, units at the time composed of black soldiers and white and black officers, Shirley Gritz said.

When the troops were ordered to bury the Buchenwald victims in mass graves, many of the men balked, she said. Sidney Gritz climbed aboard a bulldozer with tears in his eyes and began the workhimself.

“My husband showed them that they had to show courage,” Shirley Gritz said. “I don't know to this day how he managed to get through that camp, especially to have to get up on those machines.”

Her voice trailed off in tears.

“As he was doing it, he was saying maybe these are some of my ancestors and my people here,” Shirley Gritz said. “It really was something for him.”

During their marriage, they moved 23 times and made stops in such places as Virginia, Japan, Colorado and Germany.

“He was wonderful. He was always there for me,” said the Gritzs' daughter, Sharon Yowell.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Brigadier General Grist is survived by a son, Stanford, and two grandchildren.

Sidney Gritz, 87, WWII liberator of Jews

Dianna Smith
Courtesy of the Cox News Service
December 31, 2005

Sidney Gritz, a retired Army brigadier general, died Tuesday in suburban Boca Raton, leaving a trail of staggering military accomplishments. He was 87.

Gritz served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. But one of his most life-changing moments came during World War II, when Gritz, a devout Jew, helped liberate Jews from Nazi concentration camps.

When Gritz began to tell a story about those times, listeners rarely looked away. “When he looked at you, he stared straight through you,” said Shirley, his wife of 59 years. “He captivated people.”

Gritz spoke often about the Holocaust, especially to schoolchildren who otherwise might not have known about it, she said.

“Every time he did it, he was going through it all again,” she said. “It was not easy for him, but he knew it was something he just had to do. It should not be forgotten. He would tell them he was there and how hard it was to have a handle on all those bodies. His career was definitely not a little thing.”

A pencil sketch of Gritz decorates his wife's den. It was drawn during World War II by a German prisoner, who died soon after he handed the sketch to Gritz.

Gritz began his Army career as a private. He was drafted during World War II and figured he'd be out in a year. Instead, he fought in the Battle of Normandy, worked his way up to captain and earned the brigadier general title in 1970 while living in Heidelberg, Germany. He earned as many as 20 medals, including a Bronze Star and the Distinguished Service Medal for his work in Europe, says his daughter, Sharon Yowell.

Soon after his retirement in 1975, Gritz accepted a job working with the Iranian Imperial Army. The couple moved to Iran but returned to the United States in 1979. Gritz will be buried next week in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

“He had a lifetime and a half,” Shirley said. “He was everywhere. That's why we decided he would go to Arlington.”


  • BG   US ARMY
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 01/31/1918
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/27/2005

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