April 23, 2021

The Ritchie Boys: returned to hell to fight the Nazis | Culture

The Ritchie Boys: returned to hell to fight the Nazis | Culture


You have to have the courage to go back to the hell from which you narrowly escaped. This is what the German Jews who were refugees in the USA who enlisted in the army of that country did and during the Second World War in Europe were part of the interrogator units of prisoners deployed in the front line of combat (so that the information outside fresh). They risked their lives more than the other soldiers: for them, falling into the hands of Hitler's army was a certain death and some were executed on the ground by traitors and Jews (it is a sad consolation that they can only kill you once). It was also dangerous to wear the American uniform when you had a strong German accent: that meant they were often treated with distrust in their own ranks.

The history of those soldiers, that little Band of Brothers, that they wanted to pass accounts with the Nazis and to find out what had happened to their missing relatives, now explains it in a documented and very exciting way Children and soldiers (Criticism, 2019), by Bruce Henderson. The group of Jewish soldiers emigrated from Germany and assigned to the elite special body of interrogators were baptized as the Ritchie Boys, the boys of Ritchie, for the place where they were trained, Camp Ritchie, a secret base of the US intelligence service. in Maryland. One of them, Guy Stern, summed up what motivated them by saying that if Eisenhower spoke of a crusade in Europe, for them it was also a private sacred cause: "We had to defeat the Nazis, we had to defeat the Evil".

Henderson, a well-known American writer and journalist, author of several success story books (among them Hero found, the story of the flight of the US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler prisoner of war in Laos, with whom he served on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger during the Vietnam War), he recounts in detail the stories of a handful of these Jewish soldiers, some of whom he had the privilege of interviewing. Through the book, which will become a television series, we follow them since they escape as children and teenagers from Nazi Germany, often with great effort and risk from their parents. We see them arrive in the US and try to integrate into their new life, join volunteers in the army, arrive in occupied Europe, always incorporated into frontline combat units. Especially moving is the story of his discovery of the Nazi concentration camps and the terrible fate of most of his relatives.

Victor Brombert, with his jeep, in Germany with the US troops.
Victor Brombert, with his jeep, in Germany with the US troops.

"The Ritchie Boys were few and operated in small teams, of four to six men, assigned to each unit that fought in Europe," explains Henderson when asked about what they represented in the Allied war effort. "But when it came to understanding the language and psychology of the enemy, they were in the foreground," a report from the US military said, "About 60% of the most valuable information collected during the war came from these teams. that was his contribution to winning the war. "

To a large extent, the work of the Ritchie Boys meant the beginning of the interrogation of prisoners using scientific methods. "One of the contributions they made was to show that torture is not the most effective way to get information out. When you torture, they tell you whatever it is to stop. Unfortunately that lesson has been lost sometimes in later wars. "Surprising that the Ritchie Boys acted so cleanly and, given their own personal experience, they did not lose their temper with, for example, the arrogant SS fighters who had to interrogate "They knew first-hand how the Nazis behaved and were determined not to become like them."

To Kurt Jacobs and Murray Zappler, they were taken prisoners in the Ardennes and upon discovering their identity a Wehrmacht captain had them shot on the spot after spitting: "The Jews have no right to live in Germany."

As much as one has read good books about World War II, the history of the Ritchie Boys and more like the Henderson account is exciting and moving. The author focuses on six soldiers (four are still alive), Werner Angress, Victor Brombert, Stephan Lewy, Martin Selling, Manny Steinfeld and the aforementioned Guy Stern. What adventures they all lived! Brombert found himself facing a Tiger tank near Bastogne. Stern escorted Marlene Dietrich … That Selling returned to Europe has special merit, since he had escaped from Dachau. On one occasion when he had to question an SS, I can not help but say that he had been a prisoner in the camp: frightened at the thought that his captor was going to take revenge, the Nazi lost control of the sphincters.

The adventure of Angress in Normandy looks like a movie: assigned as an interrogator in the famous 82nd Airborne Division, he managed to be allowed to be part of the first wave and jump by parachute, although he had never done so before. The first one was launched, without hesitation, bringing along with his team a Kipling booklet that included Gunga Din. Probably some of the leathery paratroopers of his group, having known the verses, would have identified the young German Jew with the valiant Indian water carrier: "You are a better man than me, Gunga Din."

Angress landed alone on the Cotentin peninsula, received a bullet in the hull, met with missing paratroopers of the 101 who were suspicious of him for the accent and because he made the foolishness of carrying a Luger, he was wounded in a thigh by the Germans, and he was taken prisoner. Fortunately, on his ID badge, his controls had changed the H from Hebrew to the P for the Protestant.

Gunther (Guy) Stern, at age 15, when his parents sent him to the US in 1938 to save him.
Gunther (Guy) Stern, at age 15, when his parents sent him to the US in 1938 to save him.

That luck was not had by two of his fellow Ritchie field. To Kurt Jacobs and Murray Zappler, they were taken prisoners in the Ardennes and upon discovering their identity a Wehrmacht captain had them shot on the spot after spitting: "The Jews have no right to live in Germany." In the same battle, Angress, who had been released and had returned to the front, was in a hurry to be also shot, but by the US troops, his, in full paranoia for the presence of the colonel's units. SS Otto Skorzeny infiltrated behind his lines in an American uniform.

How were the Ritchie Boys that Henderson met in person? What kind of people? "Four of the six of Children and soldiers they are still alive, "he replies," they have all already turned ninety. They are passionate, intelligent, and still willing to do the right things for the right reasons. Along with that, they are really lovely and fun. I enjoy being with them. "

They were all brave men, do you think that justice has been done with them? "They have been honored, in part after the publication of my book, that it is being adapted as a six or eight episode television series.My biggest surprise was (and is) that their story would not have been fully told before. I did it. "

Hitler mime and the Soviet commissioner of lies

The part of the book that explains the instruction at Camp Ritchie is not wasted. Inaugurated in June 1942, it was the first intelligence training facility in the history of the armed forces of the United States. The objective was to train interrogative experts and the German Jews provided invaluable innate understanding of the enemy, their way of thinking and their habits. Classes were given on the structure of the German army, its armament, uniforms and chain of command. Also eminently practical things, like the way to strangle a sentinel. The base included among its facilities a German town of glue and a theater in which mock Nazi rallies were mounted with Hitler's double included: it was incarnated by a German Jewish immigrant who after the war became a professional mime. The Ritchie boys sometimes wandered off the field with German uniforms and captured vehicles creating the natural alarm in Maryland.

Among the techniques used to interrogate prisoners, one of the most notable is the one that occurred to Guy Stern and his friend Fred Howard: when the second saw that he could no longer get more than one German soldier, who closed in band, appeared the first characterized by a Russian officer who had been invented, the terrible commissar Krukov, which made the prisoner to start talking by the elbows so they would not hand over to the Soviets.

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