Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Glorious Basterds

That Tarantino film I've been covering has a real-life parallel, in Hunting Evil by Guy Walters:

There were British soldiers, however, who were not constrained by lack of political will. They wreaked vengeance unofficially. Many came from the ranks of the 5,000-strong Jewish Brigade, part of the British Army.

After fighting in Italy in the closing stages of the war, the “brigaders” were stationed after victory in Tarvisio, near the border with Austria. While some of them guarded the frontier, others hunted for hidden Nazis and killed them.

...Morris Harris, a former signaller, told me two years ago: “There was a high spirit to find Germans and kill them.” He thought their officers turned a blind eye. “Some of those seeking vengeance had families who had died in the camps,” Gideon Fiegel, a former private, recalled. “We were a pretty hardened lot. We might have taken the view that some of the victims had what was coming to them and we were most probably not all that sympathetic.” He claimed the killings were carried out “very efficiently”.

Cyril Pundick, who was a 26-year-old dispatch rider with the brigade, went out in the mountains around Tarvisio with two other brigaders who had lost their families in the camps. He remembered when I spoke to him in Manchester 62 years later: “I used to go with a fellow called Bobby Ackerfield. He was a boxer. The other chap was called Hans Wald. However, we didn’t go looking for them because we knew where they were. This Bobby Ackerfield found out from the women where they were. I didn’t know his technique, but he was amazingly good-looking and he spoke pretty good Italian.”

When they found a German they hauled him out of his house and interrogated him for little more than 15 minutes. “Ackerfield knew right away whether they were a Nazi or not,” said Pundick. While the interrogations took place, he stood outside the house ensuring their victims’ Italian girlfriends did not interfere. If the German had been a member of the regular army he was spared, but if he had served in the SS he would be shot...the number killed cannot total more than 500...

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