What would you do if you had escaped your oppressor, if you were offered a new life free of the perils of old? It’s probably not a hard question to answer; you’d get on with that new life, you’d try to forget the past and build something secure, something safe and removed from that former life of persecution. But then what if someone offered you the opportunity to avenge that same oppressor. You’d have to relinquish that new life you’d only just begun to build, but if all went well you could play a part in the defeat of your former foes.
It’s a difficult decision, but one that was easily answered for the three men at the center of Min Sook Lee’s new documentary, The Real Inglorious Bastards, which is to air on Canada’s History channel in November.
The story centers around Hans Wijnberg, a Jew, who fled Holland as a teenager for America with his twin brother, leaving behind a family that would eventually perish at the hands of the Nazis. There’s also Fred Mayer, a German Jew who fled to America ahead of the start of the war. Both joined the American army as soon as they could. Because of their backgrounds they were identified as being exceptionally valuable to the Army’s overseas operations and signed on to the OSS, the Office of Strategic Service, an intelligence agency set up during World War II. After an intense period of training they were sent to Europe.
“These were young guys, they were Jewish refugees. Their families had been destroyed and they were living in immigrant communities in America. Hans came over here at 16, so you can imagine the weight or the burden in terms of what they had to fight for,” Ms. Lee told The Algemeiner.
“When I spoke to Hans I asked him if his being Jewish was the reason he felt the need to do what he did. At first he waved away my question, but eventually I got him to admit that it played a large role.”
Their mission was to penetrate behind enemy lines into Tyrol, a region of Austria. But they needed help and so they recruited Franz Weber, a POW and Tyrol native, who was a former officer and conscientious deserter from the Austrian Wehrmacht. Eventually they achieved their goals, contributing greatly to the erosion of power of that region’s Nazi Party Chief, Franz Hofer.
Ms. Lee was originally asked to make a film by Canada’s history channel on the OSS. After extensive research she found her story, that of project Green up, the codename for Franz, Fred, and Hans’s mission. She had not seen the 2009 film by American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, which depicts a group of officers rampaging through the European countryside enacting revenge on Nazis. “I immediately went to watch it when I was asked to make this film. It was a cartoon,” said Ms. Lee.
“What I was looking for was a story of camaraderie, a story of individuals to band together to fight a known evil and working against the odds.”
Eventually, she was drawn to this remarkable tale of an Austrian Catholic and two Jews who, through sheer determination and an unwillingness to surrender to fate, were able to enact revenge, and more importantly, ensure defeat.
“I did my job, but it was my war,” Fred Mayer says during the film. Mayer ultimately secured the surrender of Hofer through a remarkable series of events.“I hated the Nazis and I loved America. It was as simple as that. It was a good feeling that we won.”
Ms. Lee told the Algemeiner that the film is in contention for a Jewish film festival in Toronto and her hope is that, if it is selected, it will expose the story to a larger segment of the Jewish community. As of now it’s only scheduled to appear in Canada, but distribution to America and Europe is in the works.