arts, culture & judaica | In their own words, real ‘Inglorious Bastards’ tell their storyby dan pine
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Unlike the marauding heroes in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning 2009 film, the soldier-spies of “The Real Inglorious Bastards” never took out a theater-full of Nazis. But they did slip behind enemy lines and gloriously disrupted the German military machine.
Spoiler alert: The real inglorious bastards — two Jewish refugees and a German deserter — helped win the war.
We meet pugnacious Fred Mayer and gentle Hans Wijnberg, two Jewish escapees from Nazi tyranny who join the U.S. Army and volunteered for special ops.
They are assigned to the OSS (precursor to the CIA), trained for combat and sent to the front. There, they pair up with Austrian soldier Franz Weber, an imprisoned deserter disgusted with Hitler, and together parachute into the Tyrolean region of Austria, which clung to the Third Reich into the last hours of the war.
Operation Greenup was underway.
The three spied on Nazi rail traffic. Mayer, fluent in German and dressed in a Wehrmact uniform, brazenly showed up at the officer’s club, extracting military secrets from unsuspecting soldiers.
Director Min Sook Lee does a serviceable job, though her re-creations come off a bit like History Channel outtakes. The voiceover narration grates, as does the music.
However, Lee did conduct extraordinary interviews with Mayer and Wijnberg, elderly but no less vital, eager to recount their exploits. Mayer, especially, has a blinding twinkle in his eye when he says he went back to Europe “for vengeance, to kill Nazis.”
Because of Operation Greenup, the Allies took out German munitions trains. They learned the location of Hitler’s Berlin bunker. In the most striking parallel with the Tarantino film, Mayer single-handedly — and this after a few days of torture — persuaded the Nazi governor of the Tyrol to surrender. He does so, handing his pistol over to Mayer himself.
The story of Operation Greenup is not commonly known, but “The Real Inglorious Bastards” should rectify that historical oversight. The world owes these men a lot, but as the irrepressible Mayer shrugs at the end, “I did my job. It was my war.” — dan pine
“The Real Inglorious Bastards,” in English and German with subtitles (57 minutes)
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