- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

CASCADE, Md. — The Oscar buzz is building for a documentary with Maryland roots that plays like a World War II adventure film.

“The Ritchie Boys” is about a group of German-speaking Jews who fled Europe for America before the war, received intelligence training at a secluded Army post in the Blue Ridge Mountains, then went back overseas as interrogators and psychological warfare experts.

The young draftees from cultured backgrounds embraced the chance to help defeat the Nazis, even though for some it meant participating in the destruction of their hometowns.

“I had run away the moment Hitler came in,” Si Lewen says in the film. “I felt I had to get back and do what I could.”

Two of the film’s subjects, now in their 80s, attended the event. Guy Stern, now a professor of German at Wayne State University in Detroit, and Philip Glaessner, a retired government economist who lives in Bethesda, reminisced, signed autographs and marveled that their war stories might be Oscar-worthy.

The movie, written and directed by German filmmaker Christian Bauer, is among 12 documentaries from which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will select five nominees Tuesday.

Unlike competitors such as “Super Size Me” and “Tupac: Resurrection,” Mr. Bauer’s documentary hasn’t been released commercially. He said an Oscar nod could seal a distribution deal.

The 90-minute, English-language film has won favorable reviews, including the praise from Variety magazine that it “conveys all the emotional contrasts of terror and comedy shown in good war movies.”

The thousands of young men who trained at Fort Ritchie — then called Camp Ritchie — from 1942 to 1945 experienced a little bit of Hollywood at the post. Props, including plywood German tanks and a replica of a German village, were built to help prepare them for the war zone.

U.S. soldiers played enemy troops in German, Italian and Japanese uniforms. And an Army captain portraying Adolf Hitler gave rousing speeches.

“Nothing that happened to me came as a surprise after that training in Ritchie,” Morris Parloff, one of the few American-born Ritchie Boys, says in the film.

They experienced plenty: D-Day, the liberation of Paris and the opening of the concentration camps. Some met Marlene Dietrich, and others became prisoners of war.

In the film, Mr. Lewen, now a New York artist known for his Holocaust-themed drawings, vividly recounts the beach landing at Normandy, France. Once ashore, he used a loudspeaker to persuade German troops to surrender — a risky job.

“All the Germans had to do was just shoot toward where the sound came from,” he said.

Mr. Stern and fellow Ritchie Boy Fred Howard were interrogators attached to an infantry unit. They developed a good cop-bad cop routine that included Mr. Stern posing as “Commissar Krukov,” a supposed Russian army liaison to whom captured German soldiers were told they would be referred unless they cooperated.

Mr. Howard, now a New York-based industrial designer, said the Ritchie Boys strictly adhered to the Geneva Convention governing treatment of prisoners of war. By comparison, the treatment of some Iraqi detainees by U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison was “shameful,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr. Bauer said he worked for more than 15 years on the film, which stemmed from his research on the exodus of intellectuals and artists from Germany to America in the 1930s and early 40s.

“I’m celebrating what is good about America,” he said. “The Second World War is one the most outstanding events in the history of the 20th century, and I think when we look ahead 300 to 500 years, the Second World War will still be that one decisive moment in the history of the 20th century.”

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