DOCUMENTARY TO TELL STORY OF JEWISH WWII HEROES
“I had no idea that he was such a hero. I never even knew what he did during the war.”
Here, Atlantan Cynthia Michel is referring to her father, Fred Michel, who recently passed away. Fred worked for the U.S. Government for most of his life, and his daughter was aware that he was important and that he traveled quite a bit.
`She just never knew that he was a hero in World War II; his top secret work was a mystery to her until now.
Michel is currently producing “P.O. Box 1142 – Top Secret Heroes,” a video documentary about her father’s Army unit, which was known by the code name “P.O. Box 1142,” “POB 1142” or just “1142.” These designations also served as the code name of their secret base, which was actually Fort Hunt, located on what used to be part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.
Many of the soldiers who worked there from 1942 to 1946 were former German or Austrian Jews who had escaped the holocaust and had come to America; indeed, some of the soldiers were the only people left in their entire family. Their assignment at P.O. Box 1142 was to interrogate the highest level Nazi prisoners.
“It’s really something when you think about it, that these were gentlemen who five years earlier had been in a very hostile environment over in Germany or in Austria,” Brandon Bies, a Ranger who has been gathering the story for the National Parks Service, said. “They then had fled to this country, had been in many cases drafted as enemy aliens, weren’t yet even citizens of this nation and then were sitting face to face with people who were Nazis.”
Nonetheless, with their knowledge of the German language and German culture, their superior training and their intellect, they managed to get information that brought an earlier end to World War II, gave the U.S. advantages in the Cold War and put a man on the moon. Their work also aided the Manhattan District Project, the Army’s part of developing atomic weapons.
Their level of success was amazing, but more astonishing was the method that they employed. They played chess with the prisoners, took long walks, took them to the movies and even, as Veteran Peter Weiss put it, “went shopping with Nazis.” Through these methods, they turned the prisoners, and got them to cooperate.
“So far, we have interviewed a handful of veterans, and a couple of historians,” Michel said. “There is great urgency, as we are losing veterans every day.
“We also need to continue our work at the National Archive. Anyone who wants to help us can visit our web site [pobox1142-topsecretheroes.com]. You can even contribute there through PayPal. We’re also looking for organizations that want to partner with us.”
Michel has hired her long-time colleague Jim Sutherland, a Peabody Award and Emmy winner, as executive producer.
“The more I learn as we work on it, the more I am convinced that the story must be told,” Sutherland said.
The team’s plan is to broadcast the one-hour documentary first on WPBA Channel 30 in Atlanta. From there, it will be pushed to key market PBS stations, festivals and awards competitions around the country, and Michel and Sutherland will also make the video available to schools and museums.
The filmmakers’ determination to tell the story is contagious.
“This is a part of the global Jewish resistance to the Nazis,” Michel said. “They came over here as boys, in short order were put into a situation that they could not have imagined and – the best part – they won!”