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November 08, 2002 - Image 121

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

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would not have been protected by the
Geneva Convention. If captured by
the Germans, they could have been
executed as traitors.
Veteran Eric Hamberg, of Union,
N.J., recalls being asked during the citi-
zenship process, 'Are you willing to
fight against the country of your birth?"
"When I heard that I laughed," he
says in the promotional trailer for
About Face. Hamberg, who served in
the 84th Chemical Mortar Battalion,
says, "I was fighting as a Jewish boy
out of Germany fighting against an
enemy that I knew."

Kissinger's Story

Those interviewed by Karras include
Henry Kissinger, who was in counter-
intelligence during the war and later
served as a captain in the Military
Government in Worms — experi-
ences that helped launch his diplo-
matic career.
In the film's trailer, the former U.S.
Secretary of State describes the toll
the Holocaust took on his extended
family. "I started looking for mem-
bers of my family to see whether any
had survived. But they hadn't," he
"I went back to my hometown and
to the place where my grandparents
had lived." Kissinger then pauses and
looks off camera. That was a some-
what emotional experience," he says.
As About Face will show, there were
plenty of emotional experiences when
these refugee soldiers came face to
face with their former countrymen.
Martin Selling was a German
refugee serving in the U.S. 35th
Infantry Division. One day while he
was on guard duty, a German prisoner
asked, "Where did you learn to speak
such good German?"
Selling, who now lives in Scottsdale,
Ariz., replied, "I learned to speak
German in Germany, and I learned
how to interrogate prisoners when I
was in Dachau."
"When he realized I was a former
inmate of Dachau," Selling continues,
"he got so scared he lost control of his
bowels right then and there."
Sometimes the encounters were
more ironic than traumatic. Veteran
Harry Lorch (who went by "Hans"
growing up in Germany) recalls an
encounter with a German POW.
Though he had ordered silence among
the prisoners he was guarding, Lorch
heard a voice repeatedly say, "Hans."
Finally the prisoner said, "Don't you
know me anymore, Lorch?" It turned
out that Lorch, who now lives in

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Englewood, N.J., and the German POW
had gone to school together in Germany.

Life Altering Experiences

Speaking with veterans all over the
country, Karras heard more than the
simple stories of revenge he initially
had expected.
Many veterans described the life-
altering experience of being accepted
as American soldiers, their gratitude to
their adopted country, and the lasting
impact their military experience had
on their lives.
Once the interviews got under way,
Karras realized "these guys weren't
talking about revenge. They were talk-
ing about acceptance and citizenship
and feeling really good."
As the veterans told their stories,
Karras noticed changes in their body
language. The same man who sat
slumped in his chair while remember-
ing Nazi Germany would come to life
discussing his military experience.
For most of them, being drafted
offered their first chance to step out-
side the insular immigrant communi-
ties in which they were living.
"The Army was where we got our citi-
zenship, where we got our drivers' licenses
— the last step toward assimilation," says
Walter Goldschmidt, who later served as
a director-of the Chicago Board of Trade.
A letter Goldschmidt wrote to his par-
ents during the war demonstrated just
how profoundly he had changed. "What
a little place it is," Goldschmidt wrote of
Beibesheim after seeing his old home-
town with new eyes. For the young man
who had come of age in a world of sky-
scrapers, double-decker buses and food
packaged in boxes, it was "hard to realize
that I was once at home there."
Now, after recording the stories of
Goldschmidt and scores of others,
Karras and producer Rose Lizarraga
are busy editing more than 1,000
hours of interviews. The two are also
working to land a distribution deal —
simultaneously pursuing both feature
film and television possibilities.
Fund-raising has been a challenge for
Karras. He finds hitting people up for
money a "grueling, uncomfortable task"
"It's hard convincing someone that
they're going to be helping to create a
new historical perspective for the ages
— if I were building a hospital, it
would be much easier."
As Karras deals with the frustrations
of making his vision a reality, he draws
inspiration from the men he inter-
viewed. "They don't harp on their mis-
fortunes, and that's been a huge lesson
for me," he says. El

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