A recently published book, Sons and Soldiers, tells the little-known story of an unusual World War II American army intelligence unit which successfully convinced many German soldiers to surrender and to reveal significant intelligence as well.
There have been a few earlier books on the subject of the “Ritchie Boys” but none as complete as this.
They came to be called The Ritchie Boys because their specialized training took place at Camp Ritchie, Maryland.
What set them apart from the usual army warrior was that instead of firearms, they would be using their knowledge and language skills as weapons.
They all spoke German and most were young German Jewish men who had escaped from the growing Nazi terror in the 1930s as well as the Holocaust which eventually, for many, consumed the family they had left behind.
Sadly, such was the case of my friend and fellow Jewish War Veteran, Rudy Baum (of blessed memory), who eventually settled in Dallas after the war.
Rudy’s older sister fled to Palestine before Rudy left for America. Both would be reunited at war’s end when Rudy visited Palestine, previous to returning to the states.
Brother and sister strongly believed in the importance of their children and everyone in general learning what the Nazis did, the horror of the Holocaust, so in 1996, they self-published the story of their family in both German and English in a paperback titled Children of a Respectable Family.
As a benefactor at the Dallas Holocaust Center (now the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance), Rudy donated his book sales to the center. Additionally, after retirement, as a volunteer, he shared his personal story with visitors.
The Rudy Baum I knew was a quiet, contemplative, highly intelligent, quick-witted, caring person. He never spoke much about his military experiences.
His book, Children of a Respectable Family, includes information I never heard him discuss. I learned that he received the Bronze Star for meritorious service, operating a sound system from the back of a Jeep while under fire, successfully enticing German soldiers to surrender.
Each surrender saved at least one or more American soldier’s life and the information (intelligence) gathered from that prisoner probably helped save other lives as well.
In addition, Rudy helped produce propaganda leaflets, interrogated Nazi prisoners, and upon promotion to First Lieutenant, supervised and managed groups of intelligence teams.
Upon reaching Buchenwald and viewing the deplorable conditions, General George Patton ordered the military police to take trucks into the nearest town, Weimar, to round up all the adults to return to Buchenwald.
Rudy and the other interpreters formed the civilians into lines to view the dead and dying. They were required to view — and the more able ones — to help clean up and bury the dead. The civilians’ denial of awareness of what was going on in the camp infuriated Rudy. “These denials fueled the hatred I had felt for all Germans.”
Rudy’s comment at war’s end was, “War was hell, but the Holocaust was horror!” With the war over and Rudy having accumulated enough points, he was ready to return home, but the military had other plans.
After first being promoted to captain, Rudy was appointed Media Control Officer of Marburg, a university town outside of Frankfurt. His assignment was to help restart the cultural life of the city by hiring a staff and producing a city newspaper.
By screening so many applicants with follow-up interviews, Rudy’s attitude toward German civilians began to change. He found many individuals who were decent people, who were active in the anti-Nazi movement.
Thinking of what happened to his parents and other members of his family, and the poor souls of Buchenwald, Rudy finally came to the conclusion that “not every German can be held responsible for the heinous crimes of the Nazis.”
Like other Ritchie Boy members, Rudy Baum was one of a kind, a member of the only group of its kind in the United States military.
From the viewpoint of fellow Ritchie Boy Gunther Stern, “We were fighting an American war, and we were also fighting an intensely personal war. We were in it with every fiber of our being. We worked harder than anyone could have driven us. We were crusaders. This was our war!”