A Successful Mission

Timeless Truth Off 52

The four-engine bomber skimming over the snow-capped peaks of the Bavarian Alps was painted a flat black and bore no markings, a sure sign that this was no ordinary mission. But even more unusual were the three men who leaped into the moonless night to parachute into the snow below. Two of the three men, Fred Mayer and Hans Wynberg, were Jews from New York, and the third was a Nazi defector named Franz Weber. Together, they embarked on one of the most dangerous, and successful, espionage missions in history.
Mayer’s family had emigrated from Germany in 1938, and he joined the US Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His resourcefulness and mastery of several languages were just what the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, was looking for. By 1945, it was clear that the Germans would be defeated, but the Americans wanted intelligence from the Nazi stronghold in Bavaria in order to minimize casualties.
After hiding their parachutes in the deep snow of the Austrian Alps, the men headed for Weber’s hometown of Innsbruck, where his family would provide shelter. Mayer was wearing a Nazi officer’s uniform, and he posed as an injured officer seeking care. The OSS had provided him with an ointment that would make his arm swell, and the “wound” was wrapped in authentic German gauze bandages. He headed straight for the town’s convalescent home and joined the crowd of Germans who were recovering there. Over good food and fine wine, he listened with amazement as high-ranking officers talked loosely about everything from supply transports to the design of Hitler’s bunker.
Mayer passed the information on to Wynberg, who operated a radio from a secret location nearby. Using these tips, the US Air Force consistently intercepted trains carrying supplies headed for Italy, putting the German defenders there at a severe disadvantage. More than 26 trainloads of ammunition, food and muchneeded fuel were destroyed. After the war, US intelligence revealed that Mayer’s information might have shortened the war in Europe by six months.
But his exploits were by no means over. The OSS asked him to gather information on the new Messerschmitt jet, a highly advanced aircraft that flew nearly 100 miles an hour faster than the quickest US fighter. Mayer knew that he had to get into the factory, which was hidden in a nearby mountainside, but how?
The Germans enslaved thousands of foreign laborers, and skilled workers were in great demand. Mayer shed his uniform for French civilian clothing, complete with a blue beret. Entering the local registration office, he spoke Frenchaccented German and used his own name, Frederick Mayer, to identify himself as a French electrician! Work papers in hand, he headed straight for the factory, where the foreman assigned him to the supervision of the assembly line’s electrical system. There was not much work to do because production had ceased due to lack of materials, which Mayer dutifully reported.
In the dangerous game of espionage, there is a factor beyond the best spy’s control, and that is the presence of an informer. Mayer’s luck ran out when one of his contacts in the black market was suddenly arrested and disclosed his identity. He was arrested by the Gestapo and beaten brutally under the supervision of the chief detective, an evil man named Walter Guttner. Unbeknownst to Mayer, another American spy had been captured, and he convinced the Gestapo that Mayer was a very high-ranking official. If they dared kill him, warned the spy, American retribution would be unforgiving. Mayer had the good fortune to be captured toward the very end of the war, and many Nazis were worried about what lay ahead for them after Germany’s defeat.
A bloody and battered Mayer was brought before local Nazi leaders, who now attempted to use him as a bargaining chip with the enemy. By now Hitler was dead, and the Germans were mulling over the idea of staging a last stand in the Bavarian mountains, where thousands of well-armed troops were digging in.
Initially Mayer suspected a trap, but he soon realized that his words had considerable sway over the Nazis. He asked to meet with Franz Hofer, the commander of the city of Innsbruck. Hofer had prepared a speech rallying every German to fight to the death, which would mean certain destruction for the entire city. Mayer spoke to Hofer for a while and convinced him that this was a poor idea; he advised him instead to surrender to the Americans, in which case he would be seen as a savior of the prestigious city and its civilians, and would receive favorable treatment after his capture.
Incredibly, Hofer agreed, and Mayer was driven to the American lines holding aloft a white sheet. He was finally a free man.
The American victors captured many high-ranking Nazis, including Guttner. Mayer headed over to the prison where he had once been held and went to the cell where his former torturer trembled in fear. “Do what you want with me, but don’t hurt my family,” he pleaded.
Mayer looked him in the eye and said, “Who do you think we are, Nazis?”
As he turned around and left, Fred Mayer knew that he could at last proclaim, “Mission accomplished.”

About the author / 

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann is a Talmid of Rabbi Leib Bakst זצ"ל, of Yeshivas Ateres Mordechai, Detroit, Michigan. After learning in the yeshivah and kollel, Rabbi Friedmann moved to the British colony of Gibraltar and studied in the Gateshead Kollel for three more years, at which time he received rabbinical ordination. From there, Rabbi Friedmann moved to London, England. In London, Rabbi Friedmann taught in the Menorah Grammar School, and was appointed the communal Rov of Kehilas Kol Yaakov, Edgware, London. Rabbi Friedmann was awarded Qualified Teaching Status by the British Board of Education in 2002, and a diploma in educational psychology by the Tavistock clinic (London) in 2006. In 2005, Rabbi Friedmann was accepted as a Fellow in Holocaust Education by the prestigious Imperial War Museum, London. Rabbi Friedmann relocated to New York in 2008 to become the Director of Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education division of Torah Umesorah. While occupying that position, Rabbi Friedmann created teaching materials, videos, and teacher training programs, including the ZYO Holocaust education fellowship program. In April 2012, Rabbi Friedmann was appointed as the director of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum. The museum founded by Elly Kleinman will carry on the legacy of holocaust history. For more info about when it is expected to open read this article.

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