The Ritchie Boys
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The Ritchie Boys – Synopsis

They were young. The world’s most unlikely soldiers. As teenagers they had escaped the Nazis. They trained in intelligence work and psycho-logical 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”.

Christian Bauer´s film “The Ritchie Boys” tells a story that’s 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.

The surviving Ritchie Boys are in their eighties now. They never met for reunions, they did not join veteran associations. When the war was over, 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.

In ”The Ritchie Boys” these remarkable, funny, sharp, brave men share their memories with us. They tell about a war, quite different from the one we have known so far, a war of words. They had no idea what it would be like to see their homeland again, they did not know what had happened to the families and friends they had left behind. On the front lines from the beaches of Normandy onwards, the Ritchie Boys interrogated German prisoners, defectors and civilians, 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.

Ritchie Boy Fred Howard: ”felt rage at what had happened to Europe, I felt rage at what happened to Jews - Europe was raped, by a very powerful, very disciplined, well oiled military machine”. Victor Brombert, Professor Emeritus at Princeton adds: “Our teams were bright, available, not always courageous - not always expert warriors, but certainly our heart was in it.” Guy Stern, Distinguished Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit agrees: “We worked harder than anyone could have driven us. We were crusaders. This was our kind of war.” Fred Howard, who later invented “leggs”, pantyhoses in eggs, again puts a different spin on it: “We were all basket cases - kids! But these friendships were very wonderful!”

Their stories are as much breathtaking, as they are funny and moving: How Fred and Guy invented the capture of Hitler´s latrine orderly, and the swift reaction of the Pentagon. How Werner Angress decided to parachute into enemy territory on the evening of D-Day - his first jump ever - just to stay with his buddies and to be like them. How Victor goes AWOL to be in Paris, his hometown, before its liberation, and how he loses his division in the wake of the celebration. How Philip is captured during the Battle of the Bulge and his life in a German camp for POWs. And how Morris is still haunted by his reaction to the survivors of a concentration camp.

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 “The Ritchie Boys” 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.

© TANGRAM 2004