“There weren’t any good Nazis then, and there ain’t no good Nazis now,” World War II veteran Mort Waitzman said Sunday, Feb. 4, after a screening of the documentary “GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II” at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
Waitzman, who became an ophthalmologist and an Emory University professor after his U.S. Army service, was answering an audience question about his thoughts on contemporary politics and incidents such as the August violence in Charlottesville, Va., after he fought the Nazis and helped liberate concentration camps 70 years ago.
He and Bob Maran represented their fellow Jewish Atlanta war veterans during a discussion moderated by Eric Goldstein, the director of Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, at Atlantic Station.
Both Waitzman and Maran served with the U.S. Army in Europe.
In his role as an artillery spotter, Waitzman was one of the first Americans on the beach during D-Day. He said his friend Hal Baumgarten, featured prominently in “GI Jews,” liked to tell people he was the first Jewish soldier ashore at Omaha Beach, but because Baumgarten died in December 2016, Waitzman said he felt free to reveal that he arrived about an hour earlier.
Maran missed D-Day but shared details about fighting in the Battle of the Bulge six months later, then marching with Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army across Europe.
He reminded the audience that the German surrender in May 1945 didn’t end the war for Jewish soldiers, half a million of whom fought with the U.S. military. Maran was sent on a three-month voyage to the Pacific to participate in the planned invasion of Japan but instead became part of the occupation force after the atomic bombs forced Japan to surrender in August.
The final AJFF screening of “GI Jews,” which features interviews with celebrities such as Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Henry Kissinger as well as with lesser-known Jewish veterans such as Baumgarten, is at 1:25 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, at the Regal Tara Cinemas 4 on Cheshire Bridge Road.