A Ritchie Boy remembers outfoxing Germans in WWII

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They weren’t so hot with an M1 carbine rifle, but they helped the Allies win the war.

They were the Ritchie Boys: U.S. military intelligence personnel out of Camp Ritchie, Md., trained to interrogate Nazi POWs in perfect German.

How perfect? Many of the Ritchie Boys were German Jewish refugees who fled to America when the Nazis came to power. When the war broke out they joined the U.S. Army and used the best weapon they had: their agile minds.

Their story was turned into an acclaimed documentary, “The Ritchie Boys” (2004), from German director Christian Bauer. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will present an encore screening at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on May 31.

Felix Warburg, 82, one of the few Ritchie Boys now living in the Bay Area, will be in attendance at the screening. He does not appear in the film, but he underwent the same training as the other Ritchie Boys, and was stationed in war-ravaged Europe.

He’ll share some of his memories in a Q&A session following the screening.

Like most of the Ritchie Boys interviewed in the film, Warburg was born in Europe (Vienna, in his case) and grew up speaking German. Unlike them, though, he came to the United States as a child, and grew up in New York. In fact, the house his grandparents built now houses New York’s Jewish Museum.

But he was just as Jewish as the other Ritchie Boys, and just as determined to fight fascism.

“I volunteered for the ski troops at Camp Hale, Colorado, then went to officers candidate school in Georgia,” he recalls. “They were looking for linguists, and they sent me to Camp Ritchie.”

Warburg remembers keenly his training as an interrogator. “We would have sessions, with us as the good guys and the bad guys played by German Jewish actors,” he says. “They were incredibly good. Anytime we asked a question that had a double meaning, they would laugh and turn the whole thing into a joke. You had to be careful how you phrased your questions.”

Warburg remained in post-war Germany for 10 months, stationed most of that time in the mountains near Frankfurt. While there, he studied Russian Army operations. “I kept a map of Soviet troop movements,” he says. “We got reports from civilians, some in German which I would translate. I learned to read all Russian military vehicle markings.”

His military career didn’t end there. He was later reassigned to the Pentagon, then recalled to active duty to serve during the Korean War. Eventually, he moved to California in the early 1950s to launch his career as a contractor and landscape architect.

Over the years, Warburg has been active in the local Jewish community. He is a long-time member of Congregation Emanu-el, and has been a board member of Berkeley’s Judah L. Magnes Museum and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

But for one night at least, after the screening of “The Ritchie Boys,” this old soldier will relive some of his glory days as part of the greatest generation. As for the film itself, Warburg has nothing but praise.

“I thought it was beautifully done,” he says, “and I thought it was particularly moving that the man who put it together was a Christian. It just resonated with me a little bit more.”

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival presents “The Ritchie Boys,” at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday May 31, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, S.F. Tickets: $6-$7. Information: (415) 978-2787.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.