Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds tells the story of a special battalion posted in France in charge of sabotaging German military activities and, most importantly, killing Nazis. Starring Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, and Christoph Waltz, in this uchronic story, a group of soldiers manages to kill the most important characters of the Nazi party, including its leader, Adolf Hitler.
So, though the story is completely fictional, the Basterds are pretty much based on some real-life groups that gave their lives to defeat the Nazis, like Nakam, the Jewish group devoted to killing or, as it's literally translated from Hebrew, "to avenge their people." However, Inglorious Basterds highlights the work of one group specifically: "Operation Greenup,” a real American battalion in charge of a similar mission.
In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of the United States Army trained three soldiers: Frederick Mayer, Hans Wynberg, and Franz Webe. They were sent to enemy lines to sabotage Nazi activities. Two of them, Mayer and Wynberg, were exiled Jewish men in America who had fled their countries when hostilities began in Germany. The third soldier was the Austrian Franz Weber, a Nazi officer who had deserted the army. Their mission was given the name of “Operation Greenup,” and though their deeds aren’t that well known, they manage to destabilize the Nazi regime.
“Operation Greenup” begins
After completing their training in Allied territories, the three soldiers were dropped off in Tirol on February 26, 1945. This small town in the Alps was a key spot during WWII thanks to its strategic location between the Italian and Austrian frontiers.
Weber’s sister, a fervent anti-Nazi, managed to steal a German uniform that Weber himself wore on several occasions to attend informal events with some of the Nazi officers appointed in the region. His work was to get as much information as possible from the Germans, from plans for troop displacement, to attacks, and where they stored supplies, so him and his partners could sabotage them. Thanks to the work of these three man, many Allied troops accomplished several effective bombings, destroying Nazi supplies and, naturally, messing with their plans.
However, their plans failed when Mayer was arrested by Nazi officers in an attempt to get crucial information. Disguised as a French electrician, Mayer tried to infiltrate one of the Luftwaffe factories. One of the guards saw him, reported him to the authorities, and he was arrested. Despite being intensely tortured, Mayer never mentioned this to his partners.
Enter Franz Hofer
While Mayer was being tortured in a Nazi prison, another American agent was being interrogated by the Gestapo. This man was Hermann Matull, who was also working as a spy in the region. Matull gave fake information on Mayer, claiming he was an important general of the American Army. This fact caught the attention of Franz Hofer, a member of the Reichsgau, a Nazi administrative subdivision based on occupied territories. Hoffer, who had already anticipated the fall of Nazi Germany, met Mayer to discuss the possibility of a German rendition, and naturally, his own protection. Like many other Germans by the end of the war, Hofer was looking for a safeguard with the Allies to secure his own freedom.
Now, though Hofer had the connections and supplies to resist an invasion by the Allies, it’s known that it was thanks to his conversations with Mayer that he decided to surrender. He was arrested by the American army three days after his surrender and was kept a prisoner until 1948, when he was set free. He would later on return to Germany to start over.
Hofer was later judged in absentia and sentenced to death in Austria in 1949. However, he was never caught and lived a relatively peaceful life until his death in 1964. The members of “Operation Greenup” ended up helping the Allies get their victory and were later on decorated for their heroic services during the war.
As you can see, there are some similarities with Tarantino's film. He enjoys giving his stories several layers of meanings through historical and popular references, and “Operation Greenup” is just one of the real-life cases where he found inspiration. However, this historical episode is not the only one. But that's another story for another time.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
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