They were young, the world’s most unlikely soldiers. As teenagers they had escaped the Nazis. They trained in intelligence work and psychological warfare, and returned to Europe as US soldiers – with the greatest motivation to fight this war: They were Jewish. They called themselves “The Ritchie Boys”.
Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, in collaboration with Temple Sinai and Skidmore Office of Jewish Student Life, presents The Ritchie Boys by German film maker Christian Bauer. Speaking to an NPR interviewer, Bauer, who grew up during the Cold War, said that through the film he wanted, “to reconnect with those who had to leave Germany during the war,” because he felt that “an invaluable part of Germany had been killed or driven out of the country.”
In his award-winning film, The Ritchie Boys, Bauer tells a story that has never been told before. It begins in Camp Ritchie, Maryland, the birthplace of modern psychological warfare, and it ends with the defeat of Germany in May of 1945. After D-Day, the Ritchie Boys became a decisive force in the war. Nobody knew the enemy – his culture and his language better than they. Their mission: ascertain and break the enemy’s morale.
As men in their 80s and 90s now, they tell about a war quite different from the one we have known so far – a war of words. On the front lines from the beaches of Normandy onwards, the Ritchie Boys interrogated German prisoners, defectors, and civilians. They also collected information of tactical and strategic importance about troop size and movements, about the psychological situation of the enemy, and the inner workings of the Nazi regime. They drafted leaflets, produced radio broadcasts, and even published a German newspaper dropped behind enemy lines. In trucks equipped with amplifiers and loudspeakers, they went to the front lines and under heavy fire, tried to persuade their German opponents to surrender.
The Ritchie Boys were in Paris even before its liberation. They fought in the Battle of the Bulge – in danger of being shot as spies by the Americans because of their accents, and by the Germans who might find out about their backgrounds. They were among those who liberated the concentration camps. They worked for the Nuremberg Trials and determined the policy for the de-Nazification of Germany.
When the war was over, they never met for reunions; they did not join veteran associations. Their German accents and unusual histories did not make them welcome in the usual veterans circles. In the end, the Ritchie Boys quietly left the war behind them and went on to enjoy quite remarkable careers – in arts and politics, in business, and academia. They never forgot the war. They just never spoke about it.
“Their stories are as much incredible as they are funny and moving,” says Saratoga Jewish Community Arts Coordinator Phyllis Wang. “Their sense of humor kept them stable while they faced a war they felt was theirs.” Their effort shortened the war and saved many lives on both sides. However, the story of their heroism, their achievements, and their long-term impact on military tactics remained forgotten. The film not only tells the story of their bravery, it also reveals the contribution the Ritchie Boys made to the victory over Nazi Germany. This is a deeply personal account of a decisive moment in history given by the last of the surviving Ritchie Boys. In The Ritchie Boys, they once again show their determination, courage, humor, and imagination.
Following the film there will be a dessert reception and panel discussion with Col. Rich Goldenberg (U.S. Army), Lt. Col. Lance Allen Wang (retired, U.S Army), Deborah Rausch, whose uncle was a Ritchie Boy and whose father was at Dachau, and Art Ruben, whose father was a Ritchie Boy. Screening will be March 25, 7 pm, at Davis Auditorium (Palamountain Hall), Skidmore College. A $5 donation is requested. Students are welcome without a donation. For information or reservations, call 518-584-8730 option 2; www.saratogasinai.org