Imagine being asked to go entertain the enemy, but not just any enemy. In the case of a group of Jewish refugees-turned-United States citizens, their job in World War II wasn’t like most other Jews. Instead of attacking the German Nazis on the battlefield overseas, they had to stand guard over Nazi scientists in the states.
In a private “prison” camp in Washington, German scientists and other former SS officers, captured elsewhere and brought to the states secretly, were held for questioning. But mostly, they were allowed to roam free, including having a young Jewish soldier accompany them around town, paying for everything. Instead of persecuting them in return for their horrific actions, Nazis were treated like regular citizens at this PO Box 1142.
Before it was bulldozed in 1946, that’s what this camp was called. While many Jews were shipped off to fight the war, others had to cuddle the enemy at home while the U.S. government benefited from their expertise and knowledge of rockets.
Daniel Sivan and Mor Loushy, co-directors of the Netflix documentary short, Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis, manage to strike a deep chord with viewers inventing a new, ingenious way to present vital history lessons–even the ones that this country would like us to forget. By using mostly animation to tell this harrowing story of self-control and moral courage, viewers of all ages should be engaged.
Thanks to the confessions of these Jewish soldiers with an unorthodox mission, the depiction of war and its many layers changes carries a new shade of gray — and it’s no less gut-wrenching than one can expect. And that’s due to the ferocity of the stories, both in the way they are told and the lingering effect it had on their lives. Arno and Peter are the two refugees who provide Sivan and Loushy with the potent stories, and their words should pierce your emotional front easily.
“It goes back to the question of whether you can do bad things to achieve good ends. And I would say that if you do that, then the end that you do achieve is not worthwhile.”-Peter, Jewish refugee who served at PO Box 1142.
Over 1,600 German scientists were brought to the United States–and they were never charged. After their comfy stint at PO Box 1142, it was off to government jobs or helping NASA create a suitable launch for their Apollo program. All the while, the Jews who took care of them were sworn to secrecy, either seeing evidence burned or sleeping behind classified walls. Arno and Peter are the only ones alive to tell us their story.
And it’s a poignant one that stays with you. The way that Peter speaks sounds like a man who was carrying boulders of grief and sorrow on his shoulders before this documentary opportunity came along. When talking about what he would have liked to do to the Germans instead of paying for their wife’s lingerie or drinks, he tells them how rotten and awful they are. But as Arno reminds us, when you’re in the military, you follow orders.
Their orders just happened to claim a piece of their soul. As the United States, who didn’t exactly leap happily into WWII, traded morality for technological advancement (a stroll on the moon), most of these guys took the sorrow to their graves.
Aesthetically, the documentary short model is used superbly here. With a running time of 35 minutes, the film is a quarter of the average length of a film these days, so the attention span won’t waver. The music and score are provocative and not just pulled from the dusty reels of past docs. You really are tuned into Arno and Peter’s stories by the delicate yet sincere score. By not overpowering the words, the strings and instruments only heighten the suspense of a tale many don’t know enough about.
Hearing America has dark secrets is like hearing the bread down at the local bakery is fresh, but the manner and style chosen here to portray one of the country’s worst-kept secrets makes this one hit particularly hard.
Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis is currently streaming on Netflix.