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Three 70s Thrillers About Postwar Nazis

Updated on January 13, 2019
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The Odessa File theatrical release poster.The Boys from Brazil theatrical release poster.Marathon Man theatrical release posterDr. Josef Mengele Dr. Josef Mengele, 1956.Simon WiesenthalEduard Roschmann with false Argentine identification papers under the name of Federico Wegener.
The Odessa File theatrical release poster.
The Odessa File theatrical release poster. | Source
The Boys from Brazil theatrical release poster.
The Boys from Brazil theatrical release poster. | Source
Marathon Man theatrical release poster
Marathon Man theatrical release poster | Source
Dr. Josef Mengele
Dr. Josef Mengele | Source
Dr. Josef Mengele, 1956.
Dr. Josef Mengele, 1956. | Source
Simon Wiesenthal
Simon Wiesenthal | Source
Eduard Roschmann with false Argentine identification papers under the name of Federico Wegener.
Eduard Roschmann with false Argentine identification papers under the name of Federico Wegener. | Source

The Boys from Brazil

In this 1978 movie a young man, Barry Kohler (Steven Guttenberg), calls up NAZI hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) and tells him there were NAZIs in Paraguay. To Lieberman this is like saying it’s cold in Alaska. Barry explains these NAZIs are plotting something. A murder convinces Lieberman there is something to the story.

The plot is 15 years in the making and at a critical juncture. Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) made 94 Hitler clones. They intend to create a Führer for the 21st century. Knowing someone with Hitler’s genes isn’t enough they decided to replicate the key points in his life as best they can. The first step was to give him a mother and father with similar personalities. The father had to be much older than the mother. He also had to do a type of work similar to Hitler’s father. Since Hitler’s father died when he was 14 the clones’ fathers had to die. This meant they had to kill 94 men within a certain time period. The children were sent to couples throughout the world. The NAZIs calculated the numbers needed to insure at least one of Hitler’s clones would rise to power.

Ezra Lieberman visits the boys of some murdered fathers. He sees boys (Jeremy Black) who looked exactly alike and with the same obnoxious personalities.

The movie has some sardonic humor. In one scene a man unwittingly convinces his assassin to complete his mission. In another scene Dr. Mengele brutally attacks one of his henchmen (Walter Gotell) at a party in front of the henchman’s spouse (Monica Gearson). The hysterical spouse yells “Get a doctor!” Dr. Mengele says: “I am a doctor, idiot.”

The movie ends with a moral question that may be a serious one in this century.

In 1978 cloning was a hot topic. Cloning had been a popular science fiction topic for years. By 1978 it appeared cloning would soon go from science fiction to science fact. Dr. Josef Mengele was the most notorious NAZI war criminal at large. The Allied forces believe he was dead. Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Hermann Landbein discovered Mengele was alive and pressured West Germany into issuing an arrest warrant. Mengele fled from Argentina to Paraguay. Mengele drowned in 1979. His death was not generally known to authorities until they exhumed his body in 1985. DNA testing confirmed the body’s identity until 1992. Dr. Hubertus Strughold, known as “The Father of Aerospace Medicine”, was listed as a person implicated in war crimes committed at Dachau in a 1946 memorandum made by the Nuremberg Trials staff. In 1978 he was a U.S. citizen who was a living legend at the School of Aerospace Medicine. The school’s library was named after him in 1977. Dr. Strunghold died in 1986. The Air Force renamed the library in 1995.

If there are indicatiors someone may commit horrific crimes in the future is it right to de facto push them before they do anything wrong?

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Marathon Man

This 1976 movie opens in New York City with a case of road rage that results in two fatalities. Babe (Dustin Hoffman), the main protagonist, sees the incident’s aftermath from a distance. Babe has no idea how this incident will affect his life. Babe is a marathon runner and a graduate student. The doctorial thesis he is working on is about the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) hearings. The back story is Babe’s father (Allen Joseph) killed himself because he was accused of being a communist. Professor Biesenthal (Fritz Weaver) questions Bebe if he should be writing his thesis on the HUAC hearings since a thesis needs to be a scholarly work, not a political diatribe. Bebe believes his older brother, Doc (Roy Scheider), is a successful businessman and their father would not approve of Doc’s life choice.

Bebe is smitten by a woman he meets in the library, Elsa (Marthe Keller). Doc is in Paris. There is a strike in progress. Moments after he talks to a man in a café the café blows up. His associates tell him it’s just a coincidence and there have been a number of bombings since the strike started. There was an attempt to kill Doc by hand. Doc is an expert fighter. Bebe’s relationship with Elsa develops very quickly. One night he is in Central Park with her when he gets attacked by two men in suits. Bebe writes to Doc about the incident and his feelings about the incident. He also writes about Elsa.

Doc travels to New York. Nazi war criminal Szell (Laurence Olivier) is living in Paraguay. His brother (Ben Dova) was killed in the road rage crash. Szell has a fortune in diamonds in a safety deposit box in New York. With his brother dead Szell has to come to New York to get his diamonds. Bebe introduces Doc to Elsa in a restaurant. Doc quickly exposes she lied about where she is from. Doc accuses her of wanting to marry Bebe so she can stay in the United States. Elsa runs out of the restaurant.

Doc, and some others, meet Szell. Szell mortally wounds Doc with a special weapon. Doc makes his way to Bebe’s apartment. Doc doesn’t say anything coherent before he dies. This puts Bebe in a position of not knowing anything but Szell not knowing what Bebe doesn’t know. Szell’s accomplices kidnap Bebe. Szell was a dentist before the war. He repeatedly asks Bebe, “Is it safe?” Bebe has no idea what Szell is asking about. Bebe tries to get out of being tortured by telling Szell what he things Szell wants to hear. It doesn’t work. Szell uses his dental skills to torture Bebe. This scene is shocking to anyone who has a fear of dentists. Szell is convinced Bebe knows nothing since no one could have endured the torture without talking. This puts Bebe in a situation of not knowing anything to be of use to Szell but knowing too much about Szell to live. Bebe escapes partly because of his marathon training. Bebe is being hunted by Szell and his accomplices. Bebe has no one to turn to except people he can’t trust.


Making Bebe’s father a victim of the HUAC hearings served a political and movie purpose. Bebe keeping the handgun that his father used to kill himself explains how Bebe, a pacifist, had a handgun in New York City. In 1976 New York City had, and still has, strict gun control laws. For political purposes having Bebe’s father descend into alcoholism and commit suicide is a way of keeping the blacklist in the public memory. Bebe proclaiming to Doc his father was innocent is understandable but in 1976 he would have no way of knowing for sure. In 1976 many believed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were innocent. Documents declassified after the fall of the Soviet Union showed they were Soviet spies who died as “good spies” by not admitting their treason. The strikes in Paris and New York, and the mention about bombings being common place in Paris, makes for a good time capsule. France was known for political violence. There was a baggage handler strike at JFK in 1975.[i] Szell’s special weapon might not seem so special today since similar weapons have been used in movies since then.

[i] There was also a baggage handler strike in July 2017.

The idea someone writnng a masters or doctorial thesis should present the facts and findings in an unbiased manner.

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The Odessa File

This 1974 movie’s initial setting is Hamburg, Germany on the night of November 22, 1963. Peter Miller (Jon Voight), a free-lance reporter, is driving through the city streets. Christmas Dream by Perry Como is playing on the radio. The radio interrupts the program for a news bulletin. Peter Miller pulls his car to the curb and stops to listen to the bulletin. The bulletin announces President Kennedy is dead. Miller narrates:

Events that can change history sometimes hang on tiny chances. If I hadn’t pulled to the curb, I wouldn’t have caught the traffic light, nor seen the ambulance, never have heard of Salomon Tauber or Eduard Roschmann. Nor got involved with the agents of Israel, or with the sinister and deadly men behind ODESSA. That night I was just a reporter with a nose for a possible story.

The ambulance leads him to an apartment house where an elderly man, Salomon Tauber (Towje Kleiner), killed himself. The next day a police detective friend of Peter gives him Salomon Tauber’s journal. The journal recorded Tauber’s experience as a concentration camp inmate. Tauber went into detail of the sadistic behavior of SS Captain Eduard Roachmann (Maximilian Schell). At the end of the journal Tauber wrote that he had seen Eduard Roachmann alive and knew Roachmann would never face justice.

Meanwhile Israel is facing a problem. A German company, unknown to its workers, was going to make missiles for the Egyptians. If the Egyptians got these weapons it would mean the end of Israel. ODESSA (Organisation Der Ehemaligen S.S. Angehörigen[i]) was behind the production of these weapons. Israel sends its agents with the mission to infiltrate the ODESSA.

Peter does some poking around and confronts a police official. By chance the official gets a telephone call about his military unit’s reunion with Peter in the office. Peter goes to the reunion. When he snaps a picture of the people on the dais he is promptly ushered out and beaten. Later he is thrown under a train. When his girlfriend, Sigi (Mary Tamm), tells Peter she is afraid Peter retorts that he was the one thrown under the train.

Peter travels to Austria where he attempts to get famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s address. The post office doesn’t give out such information because doing so would put Simon Wiesenthal in danger. He attempts to bribe the postal official but he comes across a rare character in cinema, an honest man. Attempting to find Simon Wiesenthal gets Peter kidnapped by Israeli agents. He tells the Israelis he wants to find Eduard Roschmann and agrees to help the Israelis if they let him deal with Roschmann in his own way. The movie’s trailer said the ending “will startle you”.

The late Simon Wiesenthal is a historical figure. He was a famed Nazi hunter who exposed over 1,000 Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann. Simon Wiesenthal passed away in 2005.[ii] Eduard Roschmann was the real name of the commandant of the Riga ghetto. In 1960 the Austrian court in Graz issued a warrant for Roschmann’s arrest for is part in the killing of at least 3,000 people and other crimes against humanity. In 1963 Hamburg district court issued a warrant for his arrest. West Germany asked for Argentina to extradite him in 1976. Roschmann flew to Paraguay. Roschmann is believed to have died in Paraguay on August 8, 1977. Simon Wiesenthal was skeptical since Roschmann was spotted a month earlier in Bolivia.[iii] In 1959 a group of German scientists approached Egypt and offered to form a group of scientists to develop long-range surface-to-surface rockets for Egypt. In late 1961 a group of 35 German scientists and technicians were in Egypt working on the project. German rocket scientist, Dr. Hans Krug, set up a front company in Europe named Intra Commercial. On August 16, 1962 Isser Harel, Director of the Mossad, showed Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion an order Wolfgang Pilz wrote itemizing the materials needed to manufacture 900 missiles.[iv] In September 1962 the Mossad kidnapped Krug in Germany, took him to Israel, learned everything he knew about the missile program, then killed him.[v] The Mossad made a series of other attacks. This caused strained relations between Israel and West Germany. Israel shared intelligence with West Germany and West Germany pressured the West German scientists to leave the project. West Germany offered these scientists jobs in West Germany. Almost all the scientists left the project which caused Egypt to give up on the program.[vi] ODESSA did exist. Its members were primarily interested in avoiding arrest and having to answer for their crimes.

[i] Organization of former S.S. members.

[ii] The Simon Wiesenthal web site, About Simon Wiesenthal, http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4441293, last accessed 8/7/2018.

[iii]https://www.revolvy.com/topic/Eduard%20Roschmann, last accessed 8/7/2018.

[iv] Jerusalem Post, 1962: Mossad Agents, Egyptian Missile Plots and German Scientists, by Ronen Bergman, February 3, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/An-atmosphere-of-near-panic-540585, last accessed 8/8/2018.

[v] 1962: Mossad Agents, Egyptian Missile Plots and German Scientists, by Ronen Bergman, Jerusalem Post , February 3, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/An-atmosphere-of-near-panic-540585, last accessed 8/9/2018.

[vi] Killing the Killers by Ronen Bergman, Newsweek, December 13, 2010, https://www.newsweek.com/killing-killers-69081, last accessed 8/9/2018.

© 2018 Robert Sacchi

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 weeks ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Part of it has to do with age, timing, and preferences. I've gone through periods where I haven't gone to the movies. Often there is a chasm between people with children and people without. Those with see the children's movies and those without see other movies. I can see where this can bring up a lot of "you've never heard of?" questions. Just this weekend a radio personality had some fun with her producer. She had no familiarity with "The Godfather" so she had no idea what the deal was with Chris Cuomo and Fredo.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      3 weeks ago from The High Seas

      I am surprised at the amount of folk that have never seen nor even heard of Marathon Man. It is an extremely good flick and I was pleased to see that you featured it here.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      Otto Skorzeny was also involved in the Mussolini rescue. Thank you for contributing.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      10 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      Yep. He was freed in 1943 by a raid led by Major Harald Mors.

      The man I was talking about was Otto Skorzi who also led commando raids for the Germans and as known to have started an organization to help former Nazis escape (called 'the Spider')

      Skorzi was recruited by the Mossad to spy on the Germans building the rockets for Egypt.

      The truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Benito Mussolini was captured and executed by Communists on April 28, 1945, along with his mistress and five of his henchmen. They hung them all up on meat hooks. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died of natural causes in 1975.

      The Italians arrested Mussolini when he was overthrown in a coup in 1943. German commandos rescued him and he was put in charge of a puppet government in Northern Italy.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      10 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      Excellent work here. I've read both 'the boys from Brazil' and the Odessa file, they are great books and as with all good fiction they are based on real facts.

      By the way, there really was (and could still be) an organization called 'Odessa' that was started by the German Officer who snatched Mussolini from the Allies, there are a few good docos on the guy on YouTube.

      He was captured by the Americans but escaped with the help of Nazi Sympathisers dressed as American Military Police and made his way to Spain, the CIA (and probably British Intelligence too) knew where he was, but didn't want to cause problems with Franco, so they let him operate there, and even used his skills for some things, he died in 1975.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      12 months ago

      Sometimes there are other considerations. Allowing a dictator to go into exile in another country in order to allow the country to democratize might be the best option.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      12 months ago from Houston, Texas

      That is a shame. Perhaps if more people were caught and paid a price, there would be fewer crimes against humanity.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      Historically relatively few have been punished.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It is a good thing that there is no limitation on making people pay for war crimes. They are still happening today in parts of the world. Syria comes immediately to mind where many people have died by being gassed. Wonder if anyone there will ultimately be brought to justice?

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Ethel Simit, I can see why you would not like the experience of watching Marathon Man,

      Peggy Woods, about 1980 Germany passed a law putting a statue of limitations on WWII crimes. The law lasted about 2 weeks before the public outcry in Germany forced the government to reverse its stand and made it so there were no statue of limitations.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It was interesting to hear on the news today that a former Nazi was returned to Germany from the U.S. He is 95 years old. There is no expiration on dates for prosecuting war crimes or crimes against humanity. Surely he is one of a seriously dwindling number who is still alive.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      13 months ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Yes it does

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      The dentist office gives you the shivers?

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      13 months ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Still have never watched Marathon Man. The dental scene puts me off.

      Other two are excellent movies

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      Yes, father time is dwindling the World War II generation. The was ended 73 years ago.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      There cannot be that many of them who have escaped justice after all of these years simply because of their ages at this point. Most would probably be in their upper 80s or 90s by now.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      13 months ago

      Thank you all for reading and commenting. Yes, South America was a common place for the Nazis to run to. The parallels of these movies to real life events were too interesting to ignore.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      13 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It seemed that many of higher-ups in the Nazi regime escaped to South America as well as other worldwide places. Some died prior to them being caught. We will probably never know the true extent of this. These were all good movies and I liked your input as to actual events and people involved along with the storyline.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      13 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      It's interesting to watch these movies. The constant refrain is that these killers just followed their orders. It is hard to be judgmental in war. War affects people in ways they don't expect. I have not been in such a situation but those who have will have lots to tell.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      13 months ago from USA

      This was really interesting. You summarized the plots well and made me want to watch these. My husband is a WWII history buff (a history buff in general really) and I know he’d like these. I like how you included historical information to provide context. Seems like Paraguay was the place to escape for the bad guys!

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