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Otto Isler

Otto IslerOtto Isler, a Denver resident for more than half a century — a man whose experiences during WW II  included serving in three separate armies — passed away in Denver on April 12, 2009.

Funeral services took place April 14 at Mt. Nebo Cemetery with Rabbi Bruce Dollin and Cantor Martin Goldstein officiating. Feldman Mortuary made the arrangements.

Mr. Isler, born Aug. 21, 1915 in Vienna, spent much of his youth in an Austrian orphanage where his widowed mother was forced to place him. Upon leaving the orphanage at the age of 13, he learned the furrier’s trade, mastering the art of assembling furs into coats. His skills eventually led to employment with a Jewish furrier in Vienna.

At the age of 17, Mr. Isler was drafted into the Austrian army, where he became an artillery officer and the only Jew in his division.

As he related in a lengthy 1994 interview with the Intermountain Jewish News, Mr. Isler soon found himself in a dangerous position. In 1937, the Anschluss brought Austrian sovereignty to an end as Austria was assimilated into Nazi Germany. The former Austrian army was then incorporated into the German Wehrmacht.

Mr. Isler’s superior officer, who was also a friend, promised to keep his Jewishness a secret and advised him to escape Austria, and Europe, as soon as possible.

In a tremendous irony, Mr. Isler — a Jew — was present in Vienna as German Chancellor Adolf Hitler ceremonially formalized the Anschulss, in fact, serving as a member of Hitler’s military guard, just a few feet away from him.

Before Mr. Isler left Europe, he was able to use his status as a Wehrmacht soldier to save his own uncle, an Orthodox Jew, from harassment and probable arrest by Nazis.

Soon thereafter, risking his life as an AWOL soldier and  Jew, Mr. Isler made his way through Germany where he was able to board a ship for America. As he recounted to the IJN, he had several narrow escapes in the course of this journey but finally made it to Detroit.

In subsequent months, he would be able to sponsor his entire family to emigrate to the US, saving them from the Holocaust.

Mr. Isler served in his third army when he was drafted by the US Army, where he would serve in the Second Infantry Division and participated in the Allied landings at Normandy. After extensive combat in France, he was later assigned to serve as a translator, using his fluency in German to interrogate enemy prisoners.

During the war, Mr. Isler returned briefly to Detroit where he married the former Margaret Heksch. The couple moved to Denver in the late 1940s, drawn by Colorado’s similarity to their native Austria.

In Denver, Mr. Isler continued his career as a furrier before going to work for the US Postal Service, with which he would be associated for more than 30 years. In later years, he worked in the travel business before retiring.

Mr. Isler, who was a longtime member of the Hebrew Educational Alliance, was preceded in death by his wife in 1999.

“Following Margaret’s passing, Otto would spend his time walking around Sloan’s Lake and visiting with friends,” his family said in a statement. “Finally, this year, at the age of 93, Otto’s incredible strength started finally started to wane. He walked around Sloan’s Lake for the last time just two months ago.

Remarkably, he had never been in the hospital, nor had been sick, until this year.

“Otto never backed down to anyone or any situation.  He would be a remarkable fighter to the very end. He leaves behind a legacy of heroism, survival and intense determination.”

Mr. Isler is survived by his sons Jerry (Gussie) Isler of Farmington Hills, Mich. and Emanuel Isler of Denver; and his grandsons Aaron and Mark. He was preceded in death by his daughter Eleanor in 1962.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to HEA or Bonfils Blood Center Foundation.

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