War makes for strange bedfellows and that axiom is no truer than the story of P.O. Box 1142. That was the code name of a secret POW camp that the Americans ran just outside of Washington, D.C. as the war in Europe was coming to a close. Unlike POW camps on the other side of the Atlantic, this facility may have been one of America’s first “Club Feds”. There was a tennis court and a swimming pool, plenty of food and alcohol, and the most cooperative inmates – many of them senior Nazi rocket scientists – even got to go on shopping trips to the city to pick up gifts for their families back in Germany. Even more bizarre, though, were the soldiers who staffed the camp. They were, for the most part, recent German-speaking Jewish immigrants to the US who had enlisted in the army to go fight against the people who were killing their families in Europe. Instead, their job was to make the lives of these prisoners as pleasant as possible while extracting intelligence from them that could turn the tide of the war.
CAMP CONFIDENTIAL: AMERICA’S SECRET NAZIS is a new documentary short by Daniel Sivan and Mor Loushy, who previously worked together on CENSORED VOICES and THE OSLO DIARIES. The pair meshes animated re-enactments with talking head interviews of Arno Mayer and Peter Weiss, two of the camp’s former soldiers who are still alive today. (Both are 95.) As the filmmakers explain at the outset, the facility was kept a secret for five decades. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the files were declassified and the soldiers who served there were able to speak. Most, sadly, went to their graves without ever even telling their families what was taking place there.
The film is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time. While the world was engaged in a global fight against fascism, America was also looking ahead to the next conflict – the Cold War against the Soviet Union. American military strategists knew that the Soviets were scooping up as many Nazi scientists as they could and the Americans believed that they wouldn’t be able to compete against their frenemy in the future unless they did the same. While the American efforts at P.O. Box 1142 resulted in the destruction of the Nazis’ secret base for producing the deadly V2 rocket and ultimately led to the creation of NASA’s Apollo space program what was the cost? Unfortunately, Sivan and Loushy don’t spend too much time dwelling on the question of the greater good. With the film’s short running time of 32 minutes, one hopes that someone will turn this story into a feature film where that question could be examined deeper.
CAMP CONFIDENTIAL: AMERICA’S SECRET NAZIS is available on Netflix now. It’s definitely worth watching.
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