|Life in Camp Ritchie
Excerpts from the film
This is the story of a group of young men in World War II - many of them Jewish-German refugees. They escaped the Nazis and found a new home in America.
They knew the language and the psychology of the enemy better than anybody else. Fighting Fascism was their goal. In Camp Ritchie, Maryland they prepared for their own kind of war.
I was an alien when I was drafted in April of 1941, and then a few onths later - and I was by this time a corporal in the army - I became an enemy alien.
Being an enemy alien and they didnt trust me with the weapon, they put me into Camp Grant Illinois, which is the basic training for the medical corps. Now, I make no aspersions to the medics, they are the bravest of the brave, they go under fire without a weapon to help a fallen comrade. But if I was gonna fight a war, I wanted a weapon, I wanted to kill Nazis, not with a syringe.
So after my basic training I was called to my company commander and I said: Sir, Private Spear reporting, and he said to me: Private Spear, pack your duffel bag, youre shipping out. And I said: May I ask where I am going to? And he told me: Confidential information, I cant tell you.
I called my wife and I told her: I am going away from Camp Grant, I dont know where I am headed to, I call you when I get there. And the next day I found yself in Camp Ritchie, Maryland - Military Intelligence Training Centre.
There was a big portal that said something like Military Intelligence Training Centre. Now, it struck me even then, that thats not the way normally military intelligence advertises itself, because on the contrary it tries not to declare itself.
Military Intelligence Training Centre MITC, I think thats what we had on the gate.
It didnt say, like the beginning of Dante, you know, loose all hope.
Somebody changed that and made it Military Institute of Total Confusion - MITC. And that in many ways it was. It was the strangest collection of people, but I found a great number of them exceedingly pleasant.
Camp Ritchie was founded by the Maryland National Guard. In 1942 the U.S. Army took over and replaced the tents with permanent buildings. The remote location seemed ideal for the task: A school for intelligence and psychological warfare.
Somebody in the War Department had realized that enemy aliens might be quite useful in this war. The place was teeming with students from seemingly every European country.
Imagine, when I come into the army, I am 21 years old a kid, I am a smart kid, but I am still a kid. For us, and I think for the Ritchie Boys with that European connection, I think, it was a rebirth.
We could shed and we could investigate our past and do something about it, and do something about what we didnt like and simultaneously do something for this fantastic country that permitted me to live.
Around me, in this typically American, almost Hillbilly country, I only heard foreign accents, and I heard foreign languages.
They realized that we were more valuable than the average soldier. Now mind you, my life is no more important than anybody elses life. But you can teach somebody in six months how to handle a machine gun or to throw a hand grenade. But you cannot teach anybody in six months to be fluent in a language in order to interrogate anybody.
Compared to the units I had been in before, that was a circus. But a good circus, you know, fun. There were all kinds of stories, there were rumours at one time that you couldnt get promotion, get a promotion as an enlisted man, say from Private First Class to Corporal, unless you had a German accent.
Sooner or later, everybody knew each other or was related to somebody that you knew, it became kind of a family thing.
This was on a Monday morning and I had been off over the weekend and I shake this bed and this head pops out from under a blanket, and here is Private First Class Joseph Bromberg, who was a childhood friend of mine in Leipzig and left there many years before I did. And here we meet, and that happened all the time at Ritchie.
All over the place there were little groups of people talking about politics, talking about the latest gossip, talking about Europe. And they talked about philosophy also, I heard very interesting conversations about music and so on. But most of them looked very unmilitary. They had slight bellies. And people who had no military instincts, basically; who were not fighters basically. No.
Ingenuity and imagination played a great part in their type of war. Germany had not allowed them to stay - now Ritchie became a haven for some of the most creative minds of this generation.
We were intellectuals and so we were misfits really, as far as army discipline is concerned.
I knew I had to fight fascism and Hitler had to be defeated, you know. But in terms of what we think in terms of a tough soldier, I was not tough, I was not tough.
I wasnt much of a soldier, I am, basically, I am an artist, I am an artist. We are delicate creatures; we are very sensitive you know; things affect us very easily. There were certain instances during the war. When things got very traumatic, you know. Fear had suddenly taken over, whatever else was. When colour disappears. There is no colour. The sky, which a minute ago could have been blue, suddenly is just white, you know. Blood is not red but black, ja, You lose the sense. I only speak for myself, it may not have happened to others. And so maybe thats why much of my work now, much of my work which deals with war
its mostly black and white.
Classroom instructions were the most intense instructions I had ever had either in high school or college. It was a most concentrated course in the most various types of intelligence work, ranging from learning the Morse code to interpreting aerial photography to learning the so called German Order of Battle, which was a breakdown of all the German divisions, we were likely to encounter. And you had to memorise a good part of that Order of Battle.
We were put into the landscape at night we had to find our way, without a compass or with only a compass and no map. I mean, all sorts of exercises and some of them were quite strenuous. But on the whole it was mostly classroom instruction, ah yes and also combat of, close combat, of how to kill the person quickly, by sneaking from behind, you know.
So it was physical, it was technical and it was linguistic and it was often amusing also.
Among the many oddities in Ritchie were a team of US soldiers dressed in
German uniforms - sparring partners for the Ritchie Boys.
Not always did their uniforms fit well. The fake Germans frightened the farmers in Maryland. They thought the invasion had already taken place. But these German tanks were made out of cardboard.
Geran prisoners, who had been captured during the African campaign, were shipped to Camp Ritchie and they became, so to speak, our guinea pigs.
So we went through play-acting, but that became quite real and angry at times.
And then we interrogated each other, you know. And it first we were screaming at each other and then we realised that thats not good enough, that thats sometimes quite stupid.