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tv   Eric Lichtblau Return to the Reich  CSPAN  December 7, 2019 6:15pm-7:01pm EST

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that is unthinkable. >> for those of you who did not hear the woman was talking about the u.s. government and cia had recruited nazi scientists to come here after the war. and that is incredibly outrageous. i hear what you're saying, this book focused on a totally different thing than that i understand your point. >> ladies and gentlemen i know we could stay here the rest of the day asking debbie questions but some of your questions will be answered in her book and i want to thank you for being here with us today and join me once again and thinking her. [applause] >> the museum remains open until
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5:00 p.m. so take advantage of that time. [inaudible conversations] >> now on c-span2 book tv, more television for serious readers. >> good evening everyone, thank you for coming out to our new store at south street seaport, we have been open for two months so welcome, tonight we are excited to have with us eric lichtblau with return to the reich whose life tells an incredible story of world war ii hero is in. based on research and interviews with him itself whom the author was able to meet only months before his death at the age of 94 returned to the rich is an
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eye-opening of world war ii heroism and it's an incredible story that i am excited to hear more about. eric lichtblau a two-time pulitzer prize journalist is a best-selling author of the nazi next door and the remaking of american justice. here was a washington reporter for the new york times for 15 years while writing for the los angeles times, the new yorker time and other publications. he has been a frequent guest on npr, msnbc, c-span who we have here tonight and other networks as well as a speaker of many universities and institutions. he lives outside washington, d.c. without further ado let's give it up for eric. thank you so much. >> thank you very much for having me. at your beautiful new facility. it's pitiful. i used to buy so many books when
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we need more people reading. many of you have never heard of freddie mayor and i myself have never heard of him until just a few years ago and it was only by chance that i came across his remarkable life story and i was having coffee with a source who the nazis got into america after work with a man named eli rosenbaum who is investigating were criminals for many years at the justice department and i remember as i was going to meet eli that morning i wrote an obituary in the short story about a man in europe who just died in his 90s after saving countless jews from certain death in schindler's list character but without any of the renown or international credit the oscar schindler got. and i remember saying to eli, as we sat over coffee and bringing
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up the man's obituary, how is it that we have never heard of so many of the people who did such brave and horro heroic things dg the worst genocide of human history in world war ii, i just wrote a book and i never heard of this man, i was embarrassed to admit that to eli. he did not have an immediate answer but i asked him, tell me someone who is still alive today before they pass away and before i read their name and obituary that i wish i could meet and he had an immediate answer to that he said there's a name named freddy mayer not far from washington wearing based, a couple hours away in west virginia and he gave me a short synopsis of his life story of a german jewish refugee who fled with his family as a teenager just before 1938 and almost
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immediately joined in the u.s. military and a spite outfit called oss. and he led an amazing mission back into austria in innsbruck and collecting vital intelligence in the nazis at the end of the war that we helped bring about the surrender of one of the nazis last battle grounds. i went out to see freddy mayer in west virginia, he was all by himself in a small cottage in the woods, 94 years old and still in remarkable health and i remember both physically and mentally. you see a picture here when i visited with him. he was still driving a car and
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he drove meals on wheels for the younger people. he had a girlfriend in her 70s, a much younger woman and he chopped wood and troubled his own driveway and not only physically but he had a mental acumen as we talked about his childhood in germany and the mission itself, he could kick off the names and dates from 70 years earlier during the war of critical events during the espionage mission in tiny towns in austria where he was a spy during his time there, i had not heard of these places, he spelled them for me and would kick them off without missing a beat. and he gladly recounted this incredible time in his life spanning a couple of years as a would-be spy and he was trained with oss right up the road from
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where i lived at a country globe that was converted into a training facility, a congressional country club used for pga golf tournament in the military blue the place away with bazookas and hand grenades and train missions for two years during the war to train people like freddie. so his whole history and i remember telling him how amazed i was that for two months he could've lived undercover a jew posing as a nazi officer but then he gently corrected me and said i was not a nazi officer the whole time, i'm trying to do my freddy mayer exit but he said after about six weeks he said he gave up his nazi officer disguise and became a french electrician working inside a german nazi factory.
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and he told me how he did not have to change his name, he became frederick mayer. he laughed as he said that. but then he also showed me and told me how the nazis had captured him and tortured him brutally for days on in and strong him up from the ceiling onto beams while pouring water down his mouth and in his ears, something we did not know until you years later was waterboarding and within until his back was raw and beat him until up pulp until he was on the verge of death, he showed me all of this he was standing up and showing me around house to the chin that knocks six of his teeth out. and looking at the medical reports that verified this. it was a memorable afternoon to say the least.
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i told freddy i wanted to write about his story, i did not take enough people knew about it. he said you know there has been things written over the years, a couple of books of oss missions including his and documentaries years earlier and he was not sure, what's the point in what's a big deal. and i said i think it's a very big deal, there's generations of people who do not know about the sacrifices of people like you made and i thought this was a story that really needed to be told, it showed not only an untold chapter that most people knew nothing about in world war ii but had modern-day lessons about heroism, hatred and about the contributions that people like fred mayor, jews and non-jews alike made to america, a lesson that resonates today more than ever during these
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times. so we agreed to talk about it later and i would come back out and visit him soon and two months later, freddy died. it was a bit of a shock to me and i did end up writing about him quickly than i thought for the new york times where i was working as a reporter and i wrote his obituary for the new york times and 2016 freddy mayer who spied on nazis dies at 94. i knew immediately that writing 700 or 800 words for an obitua obituary, the type that i read that morning dragging into it to see eli i would not first mention his name, did not do justice and i thought that this really has the makings of a fuller treatment in a book so eventually i decided to write a
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book and i took several trips to austria where the mission took place, i went through thousands of pages of records in the national archives outside washington and silver spring where the reports not only on the machine but on the beating of freddy by his nazi interrogators and omissions by one of the men who carried him out, i looked at records and photographs and talk to survivors, there is one survivor from the mission himself who is 96 years old and the pilot who flew the plane and still lives in virginia and at 96 is still flying a plane and he had these amazing stories about flying a mission and dropping fred and his true patriots in the mission onto a glacier, 13000 feet high in the alps. after three attempts they barely were able to make it and finally
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they were able to put them into position to parachute down. but i knew i do not want this book to be an espionage mission or jason bourne what have you, i wanted it to be about the immigrant experience in that involved not only fred but his second in charge of the left you see him and his twin brother who came to the united states around the same time as did freddy in 1939 fleeing the netherlands. they came for a dair a very dift thing than freddy. i'll get to that in a minute. i wanted this to be about the immigrant experience were somebody like freddy growing up in germany at the age of 11. let me read to you the prolonged of the book if you will which is
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set in february 1945 airborne over the australian alps the buried 25th 1945. the alpine mountains looked quiet even peaceful as freddy mayer crouched in the back of the v24 gaze down at the majestic pete in the frigid night air, close your eyes you can almost forget there's a brutal war on the ground 10000 feet below. hearing one last time through the narrow hole on the floor of the plane on bay he waited for my final signal from the cockpit. seven years earlier when freddy had fled nazi germany as a teenager returned to the hellfire adolf hitler had made of europe but here he was not 23 a parachute on his back in a bulky bag strapped to his leg with a pistol and supplies
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inside. preparing to dive back into the nazi in austria and doing it for the americans no less on a probable spy mission with his last stand in the alps. this was a life in a type or a venture with the barrow refugee have been creating for months, pitting them against men he wants call countrymen. somewhere below him unseen in the train were nazi soldiers armed with anti-aircraft designed to shoot down planes like this one, the chances of his success for his three man's fighting were one and a hundred and officer told him, that was good enough for freddy anything to defeat them. he waited so long for this chance and desperate to make the jump, the mission had been scuttled twice because of bad weather in less than half an hour earlier the flight crew had been almost forced to turn back to italy. he was determined this was the night, the moonlit sky that separated him from the nazi young girl below gorgeous he thought to himself as he washed over him. the cockpit relayed the signal,
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ready ready ready go. seated at the edge of the drill hole freddy pushed away and jumped. fred and his family almost did not make it out of germany. not just because of the discriminant court tory policies in the united states and britain that kept out hundreds of thousands even millions of refugees who ultimately perished in the holocaust but also because of the experience of his own father who was a world war i hero as were many other jews in germany who fought for the kaiser and one the iron cross for his heroic efforts in france during world war i. heinrich perhaps easily or perhaps not thought while this nazi group was tightening around his family after the rise of hitler in 1933 that he and his family would be okay and they
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were hard work and started in his family was untouchable. so he refused to leave and i write about that at length in the book. in all read a passage from that. other people were fleeing, his friends and his playmates were going into hiding and fleeing to switzerland and other parts of europe because they feared the worst from hitler in the mid-1930s. but heinrich remained resolute no matter what policy the nazis and forced he would not be ran out of his homeland not worth freddy was expelled from school for being a jew and not one nazi newspaper campaign demanded the boycott jewish businesses. not when the laws being jews from exhuming people of german blood. not when all of his christian faith had to stop working for him because he was a jew and when it became impossible for him to bring raw materials and
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lead and copper for his business not when he and freddy watched the footage of the presiding of the 1936 olympics after banning the squad. even when war began to spread that the nazis were rounding up communist and other undesirables in the jews might be next. even then heinrich stayed firm. nothing bad will happen to us. he kept repeating to his son as a matter of faith. you see freddy here at about age 11 with a belt around his waist and that's not just any boat, that was a military belt that his father had worn during the war and used to prance around the house wearing it and fighting for the dreaming himself because he thought of himself as man over german in ban of a jew growing up as a kid. it's easy to forget the golden. the jews in the minority went through beginning in the early 1900s, this was a period when jews were at the top of their field in business and literature
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and theater and science, a young physicist named albert einstein on the normal price ten years before and that came crashing down. his father who had built this business in a prolonged to a synagogue that his father had helped found, this is a. when they thought their liberties were growing not being taken away and it was hard for him to give that up and they almost did not make it out because the window of opportunity for people like them was so narrow. and i mentioned the second in command on the mission the man you see on the left got to brooklyn coincidentally at the same time as freddy but he had almost the polar opposite experience. his father was a canary in of coal mine in the netherlands.
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because beginning with hitler's policy 1933 he fears the worst for all of europe. he was warning people around the netherlands when this was still germany's problem about the rise of fascism and tried to have political campaigns and in 1937 he began looking for members of his family, he cannot afford for all of them to get out and he cannot afford visas for all of them to get out but he sent his two twin sons hans on the left and luke on the right, to america basically to escape hitler, the invasion of nazis of his home country was two years away at that point and his friends and other family members thought he was crazy, they said this is not our problem it's
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germany's problem, and you're gonna send her boys to america to the cowboys and indians. he thought this is a rash step. and in overreaction to a political problem that was hundreds of miles away. but obviously he was quite pressing and he would write these letters which the family shared with me long letters which were both passionate and beautiful in the telling of events at work in the political activities of the day before and after the nazis went to the nonviolence. he would talk about chamberlain in england who was way too much for the pacifist. and he would talk about hitler allies in the united states like charles bloomberg who he considered a traitor and was a known anti-semite at the time and he would talk about businessman down the street who pledged allegiance to hitler as he wrote the letters and did not realize the threat it was. but then he would talk about the kids schoolwork because they
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write letters back to them and how were they doing with their grades at school and like a typical father he said at one point, to hans, please whatever you do do not overwork yourself he said, excessive exercise is going to do you win there's no reason to risk an injury you're already the representative of chess players, wasn't that enough. it's amazing how in this time of historic political crisis he was dealing with it same daily mandate entities that a parent might deal with. and then the letters to brooklyn simply stopped, by that point both hans and his brother were in the military, you see them together here, that's hans on the left and freddy on the right they met first at the oss facility the one that the
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military was home to smithereens with hand grenades and bazookas and they quickly bonded, i love this because you can see the affection and the all that they held with his friend freddy. even though he's color than him and he followed him anywhere he was almost like a puppy dog as he would admit and he saw freddy as fearless, freddy did not follow military rules, he was never quite closely shaven enough, his shoes were never shined enough, there were stories in the wargames where he would break the rules in one case capture the commanding officers by outranking all the other men and busting through the military procedures and demanding more from the surrender of the top general at the base and the next day the commanding officer called him and for what freddy thought
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would be a chewing out over how badly he violated the rules of the wargame and instead the general saw a grittiness and freddy and a daring jew and he said how would you like to get out of the infantry and he was bored of all the wargames in endless training and still in the united states where he wanted to be was in europe fighting the nazis who driven him out of his homeland. and he said i would like to get out of the infantry and he said, you speak german and he said yes, you speak french and he said yes, he said how would you like to join up with oss. and he immediately put up his hand and said i would love to, one problem freddy had annoyed you what oss was. but he found out this was a new spy agency that was being set up by bill donovan, wild bill
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donovan. before the cia was in existence this was an agency meant to collect intelligence and to sabotage missions. it was a fly by the seat of his pants agency that was put together after pearl harbor because united states had no centralized intelligence agency and donovan was determined to create what he called a band of amateur who could literally parachute or tunnel into or swim into enemy territory and collect intelligence secrets and if necessary directly confront and capture the enemy. whether the nazis -- freddy and hans were going to be truthful of the team that was originally supposed to going to france and they were all suited up to dive
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into france in 1944 even before normandy and the mission was canceled while they were on the runway and fred was so frustrated by their lack of action and the failure of mission that he was making while demands left and right and he wanted to be dropped and he said give me a bag of guns and drum either in the concentration camp there and i will free the prisoners by myself in his commanding officer added him as if he was ready to be checked in to a mental institution for treatment because it was such a suicidal thought and another point he led hans and three other jewish refugees from europe 20 miles to a base in italy where they were stationed at that point to demand a new assignment in this work. because the commanding officer sent them to a new unit also in italy that was formed with
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general eisenhower and ultimately after a lot of waiting in training missions is seem pointless especially to freddy that they did get an assignment to parachute into austria and their mission was to mainly collect intelligence on what was feared by the united states would be a last great standby hitler and the alpine fortress in the alpine readout the color. which was a notion that i compare to later times that was a houseboat concept by the nazis nearly to the point that the allies feared, a booby trapping the higher austrian alps to not one last final stand and take hundreds of thousands of allies with them.
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it was as much up to freddy to prove this wrong as to develop intelligence. as i mentioned he went undercover as a french electrician and found the jet planes that hitler was supposedly building in a factory were basically grounded in the assembly line had grounded to a halt and no materials to build them, this is a critical intelligence to the allies and knowing what the nazis could not do as what they could do. but he also gathered intelligence that helped allied bombings and targets in berlin and at one point there was a network of locals who had helped them, i will skip ahead, this is one of the local spice or local resistance in a hotel and she was anti-nazi and agreed to hide
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the three men in her hotel attic. and another woman maria also helped and had alternative motive she was anti-nazi and fallen in love with freddy after they parachuted down onto the glacier that you saw here and you see the 13000 feet, they needed help from the locals and many of the others and maria was quite taken with the young american and she was quickly willing to do anything that she wanted even her bicycle and she gave him food and carried him messages back and forth and they develop that. and also acquitted and he was
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the third member of the team and the tour guide. he was a real nazi not a fake one like freddy, he was an attendant and been at warsaw in russia and throughout europe and he agreed to help the united states and freddy who identified him as a possible sympathizer and defector and he was critical in developing this network of local resistance fighters who help them on the ground and his sister worked at a hospital in innsbruck and with her help she was able to get a hold of the uniform of dead nazi soldiers and sneak out of the hospital and freddy was able to come the lieutenant mayor of the uniform and you see at the bottom left and wearing the uniform he did some of his best work, that is
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where he snuck in to an officers club in innsbruck pretending to be a recuperating soldier and i'll reach you a bit of where he got into the officers club where he developed some of his best sources of material of his entire time on the ground. the night in the bar at the officers club piece out by himself as usual while small group of older officers sat together at a table nearby one officer a captain was dominating in conversation and he was drinking wine a lot of it the more he drank the more he talked another officer noticed him and freddy pulled up a chair and figured they must of felt sorry for him like a young officer newly arrived in sitting by himself. he picked up the conversation to tell that the drunk captain was an officer who served in the country nazi corps.
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he returned days earlier and the nature of the injuries were unclear but the engineer seemed to impress his drinking mates with everything he did in berlin. he told them how he had been at the nazi headquarters and worked on hitler's underground bunker. now freddy's interest did not appear interested. he had more wine with his new friend. the captain kept talking in one striking detail after another about the undergoing complex the precise location in the dimension of the wall and the layout of the wounds and were hitler usually slept and then had a memory for members. he throughout so many details that freddy worried he would not be able to commit them to memory. so freddy scurried back to the room where he was staying and wrote down as many of the figures as he could, the dimensions of the walls in the locations and held up a message that he would pass along to hans
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hiding out in the addict who is a radioman. fear headquarters is one and half kilometers southeast of the real station and it went on and on and details where his room was in the guards were and where the planes were when patrol missions were over them. it was what one of them called a pin strike, there were shears that went up from the light officials when they read this. but freddy was not done, he was able to gather the exact location of trains that were heading to italy for the frontline and to detail the missions and the men in the supplies and that led to a bombing mission that destroyed a caravan of 80 railcars heading for the frontline and a lily and
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finally in a number of weeks. weeks or months, it was one remarkable mission after another almost single-handedly with the help of hans who goes back to italy. and yet in the view of many of his superior officers with a remarkable spy mission he had ever seen during the war. but freddy never wanted to be a spy even after the war he felt like he had had his 15 minutes of fame and the chance to continue the espionage after the war and he turned it down. he felt like he gave back his obligation to the united states. and this was something that he took the end of the war with hans on the ground and freddy on the right and the defector on the left after they had helped to the surrender of nazis in
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innsbruck. i went back there to austria and was able to go to the exact same location, there was a local band where i've shared the photo the story that i did on the three of them and i know exactly where that is that the backyard of my friend a few miles away. in about ten minutes we were in the exact same place -- we won't be able to show you that but i was able to go back to the same exact spot and i still get chills as i think about that and in that spot at the austrian alps where freddy and hans have basically when a war and i don't think that's overstating. later in life freddy gave an
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interview that stevens fogelberg did in the holocaust survivors and asked about what it meant to him to flee nazi germany and go back into austria and confront the nazis and help to force their surrender and his words were so powerful i ended my book with them. i'll read them to you here. he said something with a rare opportunity in a solemn obligation, i would like people to realize that the refugees who got a haven in the u.s. did their best to repay that debt. i think he really did a million times over he repaid the debt and heroic fashion. so with that i would be glad to take any questions that you have. [applause] thank you very much.
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>> bringing this to the public life, i have a couple of questions, did he ever go back to germany and how was he discovered by the nazis being a spy? >> will take the second one first. his ambitions got grander with his successes. and after he developed such vital intelligence on hitler's bunker and the train runs he at one point cable back to the allies that he thought he found enough men willing to help him that he could take innsbruck and he thought he had 500 men willing to help him and they arranged to send several drums for love guns and ammunition and explosives down to him and days to get them in miscommunication and ammunition never arrived.
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but his plans got so grandiose that the nazis realized something was different and they began around up in innsbruck of possible resistors and he was caught up in that. so after the war he did go back to germany and he went to work for voice of america the radio network and he was an engineer and scene spots all around the world in asia and europe in part of that he went back to germany and then immediately after the war he returned to his hometown in germany when he was still with the military, this was six months after the end of the war in late 1945 or 46. and he was amazed to see the whole town had been bombed by ally air raids except for his home where he had grown up and
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where his father had his hardware business, every house was leveled except for his seemed like a passover with god passing over his house as he talked about it. he sent back a picture to his parents in brooklyn which is very powerful. hans had a different experience with his number two man on the ground, on that same time he returned home to the netherlands as a mention they had stopped several years earlier annoyed you what to expect so he went back to the netherlands and went back to his house and abandon andy found a neighbor who told him that his mother and father and little brother would also stay behind and tried to free and they had been captured by the nazis and his experience was
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very different in the sense. >> thank you. [inaudible question. >> he married a woman in europe after the war that had two children and he divorced later at the end of his life he was living by himself in west virginia but he had a quiet life after this remarkable couple of years in a couple of months, he lived in amenity and he liked it that way. at the end of his life there was a movement by holocaust survivor group to get him the medal of honor, the highest congressional honor that there is. and he had been put up for that award seven years earlier by the military and they turned it
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down. he got purple hearts, silver stars and nice metals which he showed me when i met him there and you can see them in this photo but they passed them over in 1946 for top honors, the congressional medal of honor and at the time of his death even though he had the local senator jay rockefeller trying to get him that, he did not get it then, there was a feeling at the time of the war and at the time of his death that the medal of honor should be reserved for those in actual combat in the spy did not fit the criteria. so he died without the recognition which i know he would've liked that even though he did not mind the amenity a part of him would've liked to been recognized all those years later. maybe it is the will.
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>> did he ever encounter any anti-semitism in the oss. >> not directly, i asked him that and the jews were certainly in the minority and he encountered it early on even though he was not allowed to join the military because ironically he was considered as a german jew and he felt like was the ultimate catch 22. he fled as a jew under intense persecution and he was regarded as an alien because he was german and he had it coming and going and once he got past the hurdle in the military did allow people like him into the military, he found himself in some demand at oss because of
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the spy chiefs realizing they needed the language skills of people like him and people who can speak german and french and dutch as hans could and italian because we did not have the spy skills and experience of the british in terms of the intelligence and did not have a language skills and they were desperate to find people like that and they did not care what the religion was. >> i'm curious what the process of research was like because presumably many people were not alive by the time oss records and documents were public record. >> luckily beginning in the 1970s a lot of the intelligence and oss were declassified and on file in
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maryland of the national archives, that was an immense help and i was able to not only uses records but rely on the earlier work that had been done by interviewers and there's a whole archive at stanford that was done of interviews with fred and other members of the team and their supervisors at oss and those included not just the written summaries but the tapes which were and are mostly helpful. and i mention steven spielberg project to interview 50000 holocaust refugees and what they did with fred and 1980s was incredibly helpful because in the interview he discusses not only the espionage mission but growing up in germany under hitler and what that was like in this news that was tightening around him. there was record like that that were very helpful. in my own trips to austria and i
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mentioned one survivor, the captain who is still alive and 96 remarkably, i was able to pull together different sources and different archives of information. >> any other questions? [applause] thank you very much thank you for your interest. >> thank you, thank you for sharing your process and for reading. this was incredible. if you would like to get a book and have it signed high presume this to be a good place to sign and you can get it signed first and get the book on your way out. thank you so much for coming. >> thank you. >> with tvm primetime start now.
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first up andrea widow of capital sports reporter john who was killed in a mass shooting last year, we will talk about her late husband's life in the published book on the history of basketball in the nation's capital. in new york revealed books contributor will reflect on the black experience and america. the creator scott adams will argue that people's political and social beliefs are superseding reality . . .

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