CAPE MAY — Inside the Mad Batter Restaurant & Bar is the legacy of Harry Kulkowitz, who fled the Nazis, only to return as a U.S. soldier storming the beach at Normady, determined to rid the world of Adolf Hitler.
Harry Kulkowitz’s determination served as inspiration to President Barack Obama, who mentioned him in a 2014 speech marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
“Think of Harry Kulkowitz, the Jewish son of Russian immigrants, who fudged his age at enlistment so he could join his friends in the fight,” Obama said. “Don’t worry, Harry, the statute of limitations has expired.”
Kulkowitz, former owner of the Mad Batter, died Tuesday at age 92.
He had fled Eastern Europe before World War II to come to America. Once he arrived here, he lied about his age, enlisted in the U.S. Army and went back to Europe.
“He felt that this was the good war for him,” said Mark Kulkowitz, Harry’s son. “It was a very personal thing.”
Kulkowitz was part of the invasion at Normandy, landing at Utah Beach on D-Day. A radio intercept operator under Gen. George Patton, Kulkowtiz intercepted a German message that tipped the Allies to a coming offensive that led to the Battle of the Bulge.
At the end of the war, he returned to France, savoring the hugs and kisses from the French women thanking him for his service.
He was also awarded the French Legion of Honor and has a park dedicated to him in Houseville, France, according to his son. Black drapes were put around the Kulkowitz sign at the park and the church bells rang for 14 minutes the day he died, Mark Kulkowitz said on Friday, wiping tears away from his eyes.
Kulkowitz worked as a picture framer in Philadelphia, going on to create the Kenmore Art Gallery before moving to Cape May in 1975.
While playing poker at the historic Carroll Villa Hotel, Kulkowitz told his friends that if he could just get an awning for the porch, he could create a great restaurant, community meeting center and art gallery.
He bought the hotel in 1978, but it took more than just an awning to bring the hotel up to speed. When he bought it, the Carroll Villa had 31 rooms and eight bathrooms, but much of it had been worn out and was in need of major renovations.
In 1985, those renovations began with refurbishing antique furniture, installing a heater and air conditioner, and adding a private bathroom to every room. The name “The Mad Batter” came from children’s story Alice in Wonderland, but his family said the nickname “Mad Batter” fit his personality very well.
He would dance around when he was happy or when he was thinking. One of his favorite meals was pasta and meatballs covered in ketchup.
With his family and friends, Kulkowitz turned the Mad Batter Restaurant & Bar into a staple of the Cape May community and helped lead a restaurant renaissance from a then-sleepy Cape May in the 1980s.
Jewish tradition calls for the body of the deceased to be buried within a day or two of their death. On short notice, over 100 people showed up for Kulkowitz’s memorial service at his grave site that included Cape May officials, police officers, business people, and state Senator Jeff Van Drew.
“I thought that it would just be the immediate family and we would have a celebration down the road,” Mark Kulkowitz said. “My family and I were all really touched by the support.”