Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 movie, Inglorious Basterds, was a box office sensation, his highest-grossing film. Viewers were drawn to a plot in which eight Jewish American soldiers are sent behind enemy lines to kill Nazis.
Truth, however, can sometimes be more compelling than fiction.
Toward the close of World War II, the OSS – the precursor of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency – parachuted three soldiers into Austria’s Alps in a near-suicidal mission to monitor rail traffic and gather intelligence in and around the Brenner Pass, the main supply route from Germany into Italy.
The team consisted of an improbable trio of two Jewish refugees and a German army deserter.
Their story is the subject of Min Sook Lee’s highly interesting documentary, The Real Inglorious Bastards, which will be broadcast on the History Channel on Nov. 8 at 9 p.m.
The soldiers in question were Fred Mayer, a German Jew who had immigrated to the United States; Hans Wijnberg, a Dutch Jew whose parents were murdered during the Holocaust, and Franz Weber, an Austrian Catholic anti-Nazi who deserted from the German army on grounds of conscience.
Lee recreates their mission by means of first-person accounts, re-enactments and interviews with historians.
All three were eager to inflict as much damage as possible on Nazi Germany.
“We were dedicated to killing Nazis,” says Mayer, speaking for his two comrades-in-arms. “That’s what we volunteered for.”
After a year of training in guerrilla warfare and parachute school, Mayer and Wijnberg were dispatched to a base in Italy, where they met Weber.
They knew that their mission, known as Operation Greenup, was dangerous and that their chances of survival were slim.
Mayer and Wijnberg not only liked Weber, they trusted him.
In terrible weather, the three men were flown to the Austrian alpine state of Tyrol, a stronghold of the Nazi movement. From there, they made their way to a remote village, where they stayed with an anti-Nazi family.
They reported on train and troop movements, and engaged in sabotage operations as well.
Mayer was captured after infiltrating a Messerschmitt aircraft factory. Interrogated and beaten, he tried to commit suicide. Thanks to the intervention of a Nazi leader, he survived the incredibly gruelling ordeal.
By all accounts, Operation Greenup was a success, shortening the war on the Austrian front and sparing the town of Innsbruck from destruction.
Two Jews and a German army deserter made a real difference.