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Kiki the monkey puppet used by a young US soldier to entertain children in a liberated internment camp

Object | Accession Number: 2009.203.2

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    Kiki the monkey puppet used by a young US soldier to entertain children in a liberated internment camp

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Monkey hand puppet named Kiki used by 23 year old US Army private, Eldon G. Nicholas, to entertain children in September 1944 at the recently liberated Vittel internment camp in France. The Germans established the Vittel camp in 1940 to imprison citizens of neutral or enemy countries for possible exchange with German prisoners. However, over 100 Jewish inmates were deported from the camp and killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The camp was liberated by the 3rd Army on September 9, 1944. Private First Class (Pfc.) Nicholas served as an ambulance driver for the 548th Medical Ambulance Company of the United States Army in Europe during World War II. While at the camp, photographs were taken of Eldon with the puppet. In a V-mail to his father back home in Meadwataka, MI, Eldon wrote: “That’s where I had my picture taken with that little monkey, this woman made.”
    Date
    use:  1944 September 09
    Geography
    use: Vittel (Concentration camp); Vittel (France)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the family of Eldon G. Nicholas
    Contributor
    Subject: Eldon G. Nicholas
    Biography
    Eldon G. Nicholas was born on July 23, 1921. He attended a one-room school in Cadillac, MI, but left school in 1938 to work on his father's small 80 acre farm in Meadwataka Stage, MI. He also worked as an auto mechanic until he enlisted in the US Army on September 8, 1942. Private First Class Eldon Nicholas was assigned as a driver of the ambulance “American Pie” with the 548th Medical Ambulance Company in Europe. He took part in Operation Cobra and on August 1, 1944, 2 months after D-Day, landed on Utah Beach in Normandy with General Patton. Supporting the 2nd French Armored Division, the Company was part of the rapid drive across France. On September 9, 1944, the 3rd Army liberated the Vittel internment camp in France. Pfc. Nicholas would be filmed and photographed entertaining children there with a monkey hand puppet named Kiki. The picture would run in newspapers all over the US.The origin of the puppet, its maker, the initials, and how Nicholas acquired it are unknown. His unit would leave Vittel in 2 weeks and become part of General Patch’s Seventh Army on its fight through Alsace-Lorraine during the Battle of the Bulge. This was the first American army to reach the German Rhine River which they crossed in the spring of 1945. The army would capture areas of the Black Forest and Bavaria, including Hitler’s Alpine residence, the Berghof.

    The 548th Ambulance Company was awarded the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque by the Army Commander. The citation accompanying the award stated, “For superior performance of duty, in the accomplishment of exceptionally difficult tasks from 1 March, 1945 to 8 May, 1945, in France and Germany. This Company evacuated casualties with outstanding success despite extremely hazardous and difficult conditions. When operating personnel were lost on evacuation routes that led on over mined roads, through by-passed pockets of enemy resistance, and through strafing, headquarters personnel replaced them in order that evacuation could be continued. In the superb execution of its tactical mission, the Company acted in the best military tradition of the Armed Forces of the United States.” Nicholas rarely talked about his wartime experiences as an ambulance driver. His duties included administering first aid and driving battlefield casualties to evacuation hospitals. He told his son, Greg, that "after picking up the wounded and transporting them, he'd open up the back door and the blood would just gush out.... that's about the only thing he'd tell us. He didn't want to talk about it."

    Nicholas left the service of the US Army on December 20, 1945. He returned home to Michigan where he would marry, have children, and work most of his life at Constructive Sheet Metal on South Division Avenue in Grand Rapids. Eldon G. Nicholas died, age 80, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on January 1, 2001.

    Physical Details

    Language
    English
    Classification
    Toys
    Category
    Stuffed animals
    Object Type
    Hand puppets (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Brown fur monkey hand puppet in a peach cloth dress. The puppet is worn like a glove. The head is covered with brown fur, with a light brown cloth face and ears. It has a protruding mouth and protruding eyes made from a silk like cloth with glass beads in the center. The eyebrows, mouth, and nose are stitched in dark brown thread. Hands made of small pieces of fur are attached to the upper corners of the dress. There are 4 yellow fabric bows, one on each arm, one at the neck, and one on top of the head.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 11.500 inches (29.21 cm) | Width: 9.000 inches (22.86 cm)
    Materials
    overall : fur, cloth, thread, glass
    Inscription
    front of dress, handwritten in blue ink : KIKI
    back of dress, handwritten in blue ink : U.S.A INT. / CAMP VITTEL / FRANCE / SEPT. 14. 1944. / J.G.H.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The hand puppet was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009 by Donald and Gregory Nicholas, the sons of Eldon G. Nicholas.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:26:13
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn37941

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