December 30, 2004
The ‘Boys’ at the Front
Werner Angress was attached to a U.S. paratroop platoon winging behind German lines on D-Day, when the sergeant told him he'd be the first to jump.
"But I've never jumped before in my life," Angress protested.
"That's OK," the sergeant said, "the newest guy always goes first."
Angress was one of "The Ritchie Boys," a special Army unit made up mainly of young Jewish refugees from Germany, whose World War II exploits have been recorded for the first time in a documentary by German filmmaker Christian Bauer.
The German-Canadian co-production is one of 12 documentaries still in competition for Academy Award honors.
The Ritchie Boys got their names from Camp Ritchie in Maryland, where the ex-refugees reported for duty at the Military Intelligence Training Camp.
From the beaches of Normandy until the end of the war, the men served on and behind the front lines as interrogators, psychological warriors, authors of anti-Nazi leaflets and broadcasts, experts on the inner workings of the German war machine and liberators of concentration camps.
Urging German soldiers to surrender from trucks equipped with loudspeakers, they became a favorite target of enemy artillery, but they encountered their greatest danger in the Battle of the Bulge.
During a last desperate push, the Wehrmacht infiltrated English-speaking German soldiers in GI uniforms into the U.S. lines. The infiltrators often spoke English with the same German accent as the boys.
In the heat of the battle, the Ritchie boys were likely to be shot by their fellow GIs or, worse, by the Germans.
Ten of the Ritchie veterans, now mostly in their 80s, recall their experiences in the 90-minute film,
Not all the recollections are grim. With the fall of Berlin, some of the boys concocted a story that they had captured Hitler's personal toilet and latrine orderly, which made headlines across the world.
"The Ritchie Boys" documentary adds a little known chapter to the story of Jewish service in the fight against Nazi tyranny.
For more information, visit www.ritchieboys.com.