Three 70s Thrillers About Postwar Nazis
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?
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.
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