Friday, February 23, 2018

Brian E. Crim's "Our Germans"

Brian E. Crim is the John M. Turner Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and an associate professor of history at Lynchburg College. He is the author of Antisemitism in the German Military Community and the Jewish Response, 1914–1938 and the editor of Class of ’31: A German-Jewish Émigré’s Journey across Defeated Germany.

Here Crim dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State:
The incomparable Wernher von Braun, Disney legend and skilled self-promoter, had two movies made about him while he was still alive. One was a glowing biopic called I Aim for the Stars (1960) starring Curd Jürgens. The film completely sanitized the SS Major’s past and portrayed von Braun as the great idealist the Cold War national security state hoped the American public would accept. Humorist Mort Sahl did not buy it and recommended a more appropriate title, I Aim for the Stars ... but sometimes I hit London. East German cinema produced a more negative portrayal of “America’s rocket baron” entitled Die gefrorene Blitze (Frozen Lightning) (1967), which was actually more accurate despite its obvious propagandizing. My ideal Wernher von Braun is Michael Fassbender. Handsome, chiseled, and intense – Fassbender resembles von Braun and has already proven himself a convincing German in Inglorious Basterds (2009) (although he famously gave himself away) and as the young Magneto in the X-Men franchise. Wernher von Braun is neither a hero nor a villain, and Fassbender can play everything in-between.

Another key figure in Our Germans is a German-Jewish émigré named Walter Jessel. Jessel fled Nazi Germany in 1934 and became a US citizen just in time to enlist and return to his native Germany as a US Army intelligence officer. Jessel was among the first to interrogate the rocket team shortly after their surrender in May 1945. The experienced second lieutenant was skeptical of his subjects and wrote incredibly discerning reports. I see Logan Lerman, one of the finest young actors working today, as Walter Jessel. I was incredibly impressed with Lerman as the young recruit in Fury (2014) and the beleaguered first generation college student in Indignation (2016).

The final character to cast is the petulant State Department lawyer Samuel Klaus. A fierce critic of Project Paperclip, Klaus was outraged the US would grant citizenship to hundreds of ex-Nazis while leaving displaced persons, mostly Jews, languished in central Europe surrounded by the very people who tried to exterminate them. Unlike Jessel, Klaus had an edge and provoked many people with this strong personality. I think Andrew Garfield captures this complex figure. He can evoke empathy, but he is zealous and caustic at times.
Learn more about Our Germans at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue