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Helmut Isenberg

PVT in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : HQ & Service Co

Military occupational specialty: 521 (basic, administration)


Born 1919 in Germany, Died 1992

County of residence at enlistment: Queens County, NY
Other residence(s): Vaduz, Liechtenstein; Paris, France; Queens, NY; Wiesbaden, Germany
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: photographer
Source: Fort Meade clipping from Harold Dahl; 603rd roster from Seymour Nussenbaum's scrapbook, June 1943;  Photograph 91-14 GALP archive; Unit Shipment 10143-B, 23d HQ, from le Havre 23 June 1945;; photo courtesy Mark Isenberg

Helmut Isenberg was born on June 15, 1919 in Saarbrücken, Germany, the middle of three sons. His father was a banker. Helmut was active in Boy Scouting, achieving the Eagle Scout rank. This appears to have gotten him an invite to travel with Prince Emanuel of Liechtenstein, who had just been named the Chief Scout of the Princely Liechtenstein Scout Corps. In a 1943 interview, Helmut recollected: "We saw most of Europe, stayed at many of the Prince's castles (he has 21 of them) and met many notables, men like Schussnig and Otto Von Hapsburg." (This likely refers to Kurt von Schuschnigg, who was Chancellor of Austria at the time, and Otto von Habsburg, former Crown Prince of Austria and later one of the leaders of the Austrian resistance.)

Isenberg in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 1936;
courtesy US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In 1935, Helmut's father took the family on "vacation" to Switzerland to escape Nazi Germany. Through the intervention of Prince Emanuel, they were admitted to residency in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. (Their home in Saarbrücken was taken over as an SS headquarters. After the war, when Saarland became a French protectorate, the French installed their Sureté in the Isenbergs’ former home until the territory was returned to Germany in 1957.)

Meanwhile, Helmut found work as a photographer for several Paris newspapers, and met many more political figures there. The family spent three years in Liechtenstein, but Helmut's father Sally (Salomon) was subject to increasing anti-Semitism in the press. Helmut's older brother, Artur, had been admitted to Harvard, and the two brothers sailed to the US on the Ile de France in September 1938. Family lore says that Artur's classmate John F. Kennedy (they were both 1940 graduates) helped the rest of the family gain admission to the US.

The family was living in Queens in the 1940 census, where Salomon was working as an antique dealer, and Helmut as a photographer. Around this time, he met Ellen Martha Pollack Kaufman who had also emigrated from Germany in 1938. She was working as a sculptor, designing heads, busts, and hands for department store display windows. Ellen got a divorce from her husband, and the two married sometime in the early 1940s.

Helmut registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and enlisted in the US Army on February 1, 1943. His two brothers also were involved in the war effort—Norbert enlisted in the Army and was stationed in the Philippines, and Artur (armed with a cum laude degree in psychology from Harvard and fluency in a number of languages) went to work for the Office of War Information.

Helmut was assigned to the Headquarters and Service Company of the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, and stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland. It was from there that he applied for US citizenship on June 28, 1943; SGT Myron Teaney of the 603rd was a witness to his petition. In a 1943 interview, he stated that "my chief concern in life is getting my citizenship papers."

Helmut went to Europe with the Ghost Army in July, 1944. Sometime after his arrival there, his wife Ellen sculpted a plaster "pinup" figurine of herself and sent it to him. Helmut's battalion mates were enchanted with the doll, and they all wanted one. "They'll pay whatever it costs." He encouraged her to start a business making the dolls and it wasn't long before she had 20 full-time workers in a walk-up factory on Sixth Avenue. A 1945 Collier's Magazine article reported that she had produced more than 150,000 dolls.

Several years after his discharge from the Army, Helmut found work as a salesman for Paper Mate Pens, a company founded in 1949 with global aspirations. Helmut set out to sell the pens all over the world. Ship and airline records from the early 1950s show him traveling to London, Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt, Rio de Janeiro, Maracaibo, Panama, Bogota, and Havana, sometimes staying for weeks or months at a time.

Helmut and Ellen divorced in Reno in November 1950. That same month his first child, Helmut George Isenberg, was born. The child's mother was Irene Grosse, a 17-year-old German beauty queen. (She eventually married and emigrated to Brazil, where Helmut George Isenberg became George Spreen.)

Helmut's second wife was German-born Josephine Johanna Woelfl. They married around 1953, and their son Robert was born in New York in 1954. In 1956/57 Helmut left Paper Mate and moved to Paris, and young Robert went to live with his grandmother in Munich.

Even prior to moving to Europe, Helmut had become active in the American Legion in Paris. By 1954, he was Vice Commander and PR chairman, and in that capacity delivered a Paper Mate pen to Prime Minister Winston Churchill that October as an early 80th birthday present. Churchill wrote him a prompt thank you note: "It is with pleasure that I received the ball-bearing pen which you brought to London for my birthday."

Isenberg (left) with German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1963

During the 1960s, Helmut served several times as Vice-Commander and Commander of the American Legion Department of France (which includes most of Europe). As the designated representative of the organization he presented the Legion's Gold Peace Medal to German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak in 1963, and to

Isenberg (right) with American president Richard Nixon in Paris, 1970

German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard in 1965. He was also photographed with Richard Nixon in Paris in 1970. For a young man who had reveled in meeting political leaders in the 1930s, these must have been significant experiences.

After he left Paper Mate, Helmut owned a variety of businesses. In the 1960s he sold gourmet products (caviar, pâté, etc.) to Lufthansa for their first-class passengers. He owned a Baden-Baden art gallery, Merkur, during the 1970s. While he lived in Germany, he also became the father of a daughter, Eva. In addition, he obtained several patents during those years, including a 1968 patent for an artificial sweetener and a 1982 patent for a stereoscopic television.

Helmut Isenberg's grave in Wiesbaden; photo courtesy American Legion, Dept. of France

He moved to Wiesbaden, Germany around 1990, and died there on May 17, 1992. He is buried at the Jewish Cemetery at the Nordfriedhof in Wiesbaden. In 2021, the American Legion Department of France Commander laid a wreath on the former Commander's grave.


1936 photo in Liechtenstein (from Holocaust Museum collection)


1935-1944 Index of Jews Whose Nationality was Annulled by Nazi Regime

1938 shipboard manifest - emigration

1938 first wife's immigration record (Ellen Martha Kaufman)

1940 census

1940 draft card

1943 petition for citizenship

1943 article in the Fort Meade newspaper about him and his life before the war (taken from Seymour Nussenbaum scrapbook)

1945 article in The Detroit News (MI) re his wife's doll business

1950 divorce listing in Nevada State Journal (Reno NV)

1954 article in the Evening Vanguard (Venice CA) re his trip to Paris

1954 temporary visa for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (contains photo)

1954 letter from Winston Churchill

1957 immigration record of his son to Brazil with the boy's mother

1963 article in the Salina Journal (KS) re his awarding medal to the Belgian foreign minister

1965 article in the Boston Globe re his awarding medal to West German Chancellor

1968 patent for artificial sweetener

1982 patent for stereoscopic TV

1992 Social Security death index

2014 First wife Ellen's obituary

2021 article in the Legion News (Paris American Legion) re the Commander laying a wreath on Isenberg's grave

Biographical information on

Biographical info from Holocaust Museum at several locations

Emails from Robert Isenberg (his son) to Catherine Hurst, June 2021

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