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Hyman Fine, at 94; WWII veteran survived ordeal in POW camp

In 2010, Mr. Fine was awarded the World War II Victory Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, which he had never received after being freed.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/file 2010

Flying in a B-24 Liberator through the skies of Germany in September 1944, Hyman Fine had family on his mind. It was his first wedding anniversary, and his first child, a son, had been born the previous month.

A flight navigator and a second lieutenant, Mr. Fine was on his 23d mission. He was flying whenever possible, even when he felt sick, so he could complete enough missions to be sent home, but on that day his plane was shot down. Bailing out with the rest of the crew, he spent the rest of World War II as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 1, in a town along the Baltic Sea.

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As the harsh winter spilled into 1945, conditions deteriorated and rumors spread that the German Army planned to kill all the POWs. Food servings became smaller and little coal was distributed for heat. “Things were pretty rough for a spell here, that is as far as food was concerned,” Mr. Fine wrote in a diary. “From Mar. 7 to the 26, we ate practically nothing.”

His weight dropped from 170 to 115 before Soviet troops liberated the POW camp in May 1945. The German Army “starved us, absolutely starved us,” he told Hal LaCroix for “Journey Out of Darkness,” a 2007 book. “We were so weak we could barely talk to each other.”

Mr. Fine, whose health had been failing in recent months, died July 23 in the VA Medical Center in Bedford. He was 94 and lived in Jamaica Plain.

At Stalag Luft 1, Jewish prisoners were sent to separate barracks, and although Mr. Fine was Jewish, he remained in the main area because he refused to answer a key question. While prisoners were being processed, an interrogator asked about Mr. Fine’s religion, “I just stood there, mute,” he told the Globe in 2010. “With a name like Hyman Fine, well, I think the guy knew I was Jewish.” The Germans also would have known if they had they checked his dog tags, which were stamped H for Hebrew. He tucked his US dog tags under a board in his bunk and wore POW dog tags identifying him as No. 5677.

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Once in the prison camp, Mr. Fine reunited with others from his plane and they took care of each other. Back home, his wife, Eve, received a Western Union telegram saying he was missing in action. Then a second telegram said he was in a prisoner-of-war camp. She wrote him every day and slipped a photo of their infant son, Carl, into one letter. Only three pieces of mail got through. “Out of all the letters I wrote that he never received — 300 letters — he got the one with the picture,” she told the Globe in 2010.

Born in 1920, Mr. Fine grew up in Roxbury, where his parents settled after leaving Russia in the late 1800s to escape anti-Semitic attacks. Their Roxbury neighbors included Irish and Italian immigrants. “We got along; we didn’t ask each other our religions,” Mr. Fine told LaCroix. “We mixed, we mixed, we mixed.”

Mr. Fine’s father owned a small shoe factory and gave him a Buick when he began college as a Boston University freshman. “I was a little wild,” Mr. Fine said in the book interview, recalling college years when he and his friends drove to dances all along the coast up to Maine.

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“My father’s life was going extremely sweet before the war,” said his son Norman of Somerville, “and after the war, it was a hard heavy burden to carry.”

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Mr. Fine was allowed to finish his senior year at BU. One night he was out with friends and met Eve Rose. The daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, she was going steady with someone else. “We met on a blind date,” Mr. Fine told the Globe in 2010, “but she wasn’t my date.”

As she sat in the front seat of a car that evening, he was in the back, reaching forward to twirl her hair. He fell in love, pursued her, and “used to call all the time, and I finally started to go out with him,” she said in the 2010 Globe interview. “We were in love, and then the war was there.”

About a year after they met, he took a train home from flight training in Jackson, Miss., and her father officiated at their marriage. As Mr. Fine’s training took him to Florida, Louisiana, and Idaho, she followed and wanted a baby “in case I never came back,” he told LaCroix.

After Soviet troops liberated Stalag Luft 1, Mr. Fine was sent home and wept with other veterans as the boat they were on came within view of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. His wife and young son met him and, before returning to Boston, they celebrated his return with 10 days in Atlantic City.

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Mr. Fine worked for his father’s shoe factory for 18 years and then was a salesman in the shoe industry, often traveling throughout New England and to New York City. His family, which grew to include another son and a daughter, lived on the Mattapan-Dorchester line until moving to Brookline in the mid-1950s. He and his wife moved to Jamaica Plain about 15 years ago.

“When I was a kid, they had this thing called couples club,” Mr. Fine’s son Norman said. “They had fun; they took dancing lessons.”

For many summers, the Fines spent summers at a house in Nantasket. “We were a loving family,” said their daughter, Nancy Sweet of Melrose, adding that Mr. Fine’s war experiences were never discussed, even after he started meeting with other veterans in the early 1980s to talk about what they had endured, and the years of nightmares. “We were shielded from it,” his daughter said. “He didn’t bring it home to us.”

A service has been held for Mr. Fine, who in addition to his wife, son Norman, and daughter, leaves his son Carl of Costa Mesa, Calif.; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

In a 2010 State House ceremony, Governor Deval Patrick awarded Mr. Fine the World War II Victory Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, which he had never received after being freed.

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“I feel overwhelmed,” Mr. Fine told the Boston Herald at the ceremony, adding that after World War II ended, “All I wanted to do was get home to my wife, my kid. So, medals I didn’t need.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.