Before his capture, Rader asked his friend George Boyd to bury his dog tags in the ground. The tags were stamped with a capital “H” for Hebrew, identifying him as a Jew. He knew that he would likely be tortured or killed if the Germans discovered that he was Jewish.
Uninjured prisoners were shipped to Isle de Groix, an island off the French coast, where they were held in a prison camp, which later became a school.
As Rader lay in a German hospital bed in the coastal city of Lorient, wasting away for lack of food, he dreamed of home and his mother’s cooking. He scratched out a long list of the foods that he most desired –– bacon sandwiches, banana splits, even sauerkraut juice. The list grew to 145 foods. Above his bed, he kept a calendar with an image of Jesus Christ, hoping that the Germans would not discover that he was a Jew.
A month and a half later, Rader was freed in a prisoner exchange, which was arranged by Andrew Gerow Hodges, a 22-year-old International Red Cross field director. The exchange, in which 79 Americans were returned for 79 Germans, took place at a bar during a six-hour ceasefire.
Rader’s wife, June, whom he married in 1952, and his sister, Gloria Katz of East Meadow, joined in his presentation at Kennedy, offering their perspective on the war from the home front.
Katz, who was 12 when her brother shipped off to war, said that she admired Bernard’s bravery. “Gloria, always the fun of the crowd, of her soldier brother, she’s very proud,” her sixth-grade yearbook read.
June Rader spoke of the war effort in Brooklyn. Apartment dwellers were required to keep their shades down at night so as not to emit light, in case German submarines were patrolling offshore. When victory in Europe was declared on May 8, 1945, June said, people celebrated in the streets.
“We all had block parties,” she said.
Life after war