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November 08, 2002 - Image 120

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-11-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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At The Movies

Everything Made Fresh Daily

Freedom Fighters

Documentary film to tell story of Jewish German and Austrian-born refugees
who served as U.S. soldiers during World War II.

AD RIANA GARDELLA
Special to the Jewish News

alter Goldschmidt recalls how quickly his
tiny German village of Beibesheim was trans-
formed after Hitler's rise to power.
Printed notices from the government
warned villagers not to do business with Jews. Schoolmates
who had been Goldschmidt's friends now wore Nazi Youth
uniforms, and refused to speak to him.
Like Jewish children all over Germany, Goldschmidt,
could no longer. attend school. "It became very apparent,
very early, that [Germany] was not the place to be," recalls
Goldschmidt, now 80 and living in Glencoe, Ill.
In the middle of one night in 1936, the
Goldschmidts left their home, their
friends, most of their possessions — the
only life they had known — and began a
journey that would eventually take them to Hyde
Park in Chicago. A few years later, at 21,
Goldschmidt was drafted into the U.S. ArmY
and assigned eventually to duty in
Germany.
As an interpreter with the military gov-
ernment stationed there, Goldschmidt eventually
wound up back in his former village, where his
old neighbors — their fates now in Allied hands
rolled out the red carpet.
News of his arrival spread quickly through
Beibesheim, and soon the town's windows filled with
vaguely familiar faces, waving to the young man they had
last seen as a 14-year-old boy. Goldschmidt was not inter-
ested in socializing, but when he visited the family that had
helped hide him on his last night in Beibesheim, the
townspeople flocked to see him.
The show of enthusiasm did not impress the young sol-
dier. In a letter to his parents back in the States he wrote, "I
remembered too well under what circumstances we had left."

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www.detroitiewishnews.com

11/8
2002

88

Find out

before your mother!

.

Goldschmidt's story, and those of hundreds of other
German and Austrian Jewish refugees who fought as Allied
soldiers during World War II, are now being told thanks to
the efforts of a young filmmaker named Steven Karras.
Over the past few years, Karras has tracked down Jewish
refugee soldiers from around the country, gathering their
recollections on videotape.
His documentary, About Face, is still being edited — and
still looking for a distributor — but based on a 20-minute pre-
view of the film and on interviews with several Jewish refugee
soldiers, it's clear that Karras has tapped into a remarkable
story from World War II that has been largely untold.
Karras, 31, took a circular route in arriving at this project.
As a Jewish kid growing up in Northbrook, Ill., he thrilled
to his father's tales of Jewish courage throughout history.
Later he went searching for stories of Nazi-era survivors who
refused to wear the cloak of the victim," he says.
While quick to point out that the Holocaust was certain-

"

ly the worst thing to happen during that time period,
Karras laments that victimization seems to have become a
"major cultural identifier for Jews." In 1999, Karras
searched for books and films about Jewish soldiers who
fought the Nazis. Despite the prevailing World War II
mania, he found the subject largely ignored.
As a dot-commer with an unfulfilling sales job, Karras
had time to spare — and a languishing film degree. An
acquaintance of Karras' mentioned she knew someone con-
nected with the 104th Division. Out of curiosity, Karras
visited a Web site for veterans of the division, and asked if
anyone knew of any Jewish refugees who had fought in
World War II.
One day Karras returned to his apartment to find his
answering machine flooded with messages from across the
country. Men named Klaus, Sigmund, Gunther and Hans
were eager to tell their stories of service in can-ipaigns
from Dieppe to D-Day.
Listening to their messages, says Karras, "I knew
my life was going to be completely changed."

The Makings Of A Film

His first meeting was with a Chicago
veteran named Harold Weinberg. Karras,
who had envisioned a documentary,
took his camera to the interview.
Weinberg greeted him in his Army
uniform, and when he had finished
telling his story, Karras realized he did
indeed have the makings of a com-
pelling film.
Ultimately he left his day job and part-
nered with Julia Rath, a research think tank veteran, to cre-
ate Beach. Street Educational Films Foundation. In addition
to producing About Face, the foundation is establishing a
visual history archive to record these veterans' stories for
educational and historical purposes.
It is not known how many Jewish refugees from
Germany or Austria fought for the United States during
World War II (a total of 550,000 Jewish soldiers served in
the American armed forces during the war, according to the
National Museum of Jewish Military History). But Karras
managed to locate more than 200 veteran refugee soldiers
who, in German-accented English, told their stories.
These men served as combat infantrymen, paratroopers,
interrogators, counterintelligence officers and members of
the occupation armies stationed in their homelands. Their
understanding of the German mindset and language made
them particularly effective soldiers.
As German nationals — officially classified "enemy
aliens" — they were unable to enlist in the U.S. Army. Yet
they were not exempt from the draft. Once cleared by the
FBI, their choice was to join the Army or go to jail. For
most the decision was easy.
The majority of refugee soldiers went through an acceler-
ated citizenship process, often at mass naturalization cere-
monies. There was a practical point in becoming American:
Without the benefit of U.S. citizenship, the new soldiers

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