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Michel Thomas Dies; Linguist, WWII Adventurer

Meanwhile, war veterans began petitioning sympathetic members of Congress about granting Mr. Thomas the Silver Star for which he had been nominated in 1944. Last May at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, former senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) presented the medal to a beaming Mr. Thomas.

The citation read: "His fluent knowledge of various languages was beneficial in interrogating enemy prisoners and capturing slave laborers and French civilians."

Michel Thomas is applauded at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in May during a ceremony honoring World War II veterans who liberated concentration camps in Europe. He also received a Silver Star in May. (Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)

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He was born Moniek Kroskof in Lodz, Poland, on Feb. 3, 1914, to clothing and textile merchants. As a child, he went to live with an aunt in Breslau, Germany, because of anti-Semitic threats to his parents.

He attended the University of Bordeaux and the Sorbonne, and soon after he felt the force of the Nazi advance. Much of his family perished at Auschwitz, he said. Mr. Thomas worked in Nice and organized shows in the grand hotels of the Cote d'Azur. He was arrested frequently, once, he said, for "influence peddling."

He relied on his charisma and sexual charm to find women willing to hide him from the Nazis. "As we were making love," he is quoted as saying in his biography about one dalliance, "an American artillery position opened fire right above us in the hills. The ground moved."

He worked with the French resistance and, in June 1944, began doing counterintelligence work for the U.S. Army. His superiors nominated him for the Silver Star.

Within a few years, he began his language school. He initially called it the Polyglot Institute but changed the name because "nobody seemed to know what polyglot meant."

He led a charmed life, with charmed friends. The week of his death, he traveled to Charleston, S.C., to speak at the Renaissance Weekend and then to Beverly Hills to attend a birthday party for former mayor Leonard Horwin.

He married late in life to Los Angeles schoolteacher Alice Burns. Before their divorce, they had two children, who survive.

His ex-wife remained supportive of his work, telling the Los Angeles Times that he was "brilliant, idealistic and very energetic."

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