The Penguins honored World War II veteran Fritz Ottenheimer during the first period of their game against the New York Rangers at CONSOL Energy Center on Saturday night for Military Appreciation Night.
Born in Germany in 1925, Ottenheimer was caught in the middle of the Nazi’s rise to power early in life. With the Holocaust taking place in central-Europe during his youth, his family was responsible for smuggling hundreds of Austrian and German Jews into Switzerland.
At age 14, Ottenheimer and his family immigrated to the United States after the Gestapo released his father in 1939. However, he would soon return to his homeland after he graduated high school. As a member of the U.S. Army, he was a part of their military police unit that was responsible for “de-Nazifying” captured areas.
In the years after the war, Ottenheimer finished his education and became a mechanical engineer for Westinghouse before retiring in 1987. In 1991 he wrote down and published he experiences from World War Two in his memoir Escape and Return: Memories of Nazi Germany. At 89, he still speaks about the Holocaust at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh as well as back in Germany.
“I’ve seen a lot and it’s nice to see what I’ve done to help get recognized,” Ottenheimer said. “I’ve served in Germany and just wanted to right the wrongs that took place over there. I’ve tried my best to do what was right and being here with my family is a nice treat.”
Alicia Ottenheimer, Fritz’ granddaughter, came from Virginia with the rest of Ottenheimer’s family to honor him as well as take in a Penguins game.
“We all came here out from Virginia to come see him and the game,” she said. “His other grandson came all the way from Yale too. It’s been an awesome time so far!”
Even after retiring, Ottenheimer continued to give back by donating his time to children with autism. “Uncle Fritz”, as the children call him, has routinely volunteered at the Pace School and the Children’s Institute.
At the time of Ottenheimer’s interview, the Penguins found themselves down 2-1 against the New York Rangers. He joked that if the Penguins were to really honor him, then they would have to make an effort to get back in the game.
“This is my first hockey game,” he said. “You know they could make feel more appreciated if they turn it around right here!”
And they did.