The Ritchie Boys could be awarded Congressional Gold Medal


Otto Perl, who was dismissed from the Austrian Army in 1938 because he was Jewish, later immigrated to America. This photo shows his US Army unit at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, circa 1945. — US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Otto Perl

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Earlier this year, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum conferred its highest honor, the Elie Wiesel Award, on the Ritchie Boys, a little-known special World War II U.S. military intelligence unit that included many Jewish refugees from Nazism and was instrumental to the Allied victory. The award was presented last spring. Now a new honor could be ahead for the famed Ritchie Boys.

Maryland Congressman David Trone announced he’s introducing a bill on Thursday to award the Ritchie Boys the Congressional Gold Medal. Trone made the announcement during a visit to the former Fort Ritchie in Cascade in Washington County, Md.

The Ritchie Boys

The Ritchie Boys were a group of 15,200 servicemembers who trained in United States Army Intelligence methods at Camp Ritchie, Md., during World War II. Approximately 2,200 of the Ritchie Boys were Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria who had detailed familiarity with German cultural attitudes and communication. This vital knowledge, coupled with their language skills, is how the Ritchie Boys were able to gather over 60% of intelligence during the war.

“The Ritchie Boys deserve to be honored for their groundbreaking contributions to the field of human intelligence and their outstanding service during World War II,” said Trone. “This extraordinary group of soldiers, many of whom were Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany were responsible for most of the combat intelligence gathered on the Western Front. These men were committed to defeating fascism, bigotry and hate. We must never forget their actions in service to our country.”

The Congressional Gold Medal

Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Each medal honors a particular individual, a group, an institution, or event. The first person to be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal was George Washington.

The Ritchie Boy from St. Louis

To hear the story of the World War II experiences of Gunther “Guy” Stern, who escaped Nazi Germany as a teen, graduated from high school in St. Louis, enlisted in the U.S. Army and became part of the famed “Ritchie Boys” unit that interrogated German POWs after the Normandy Invasion, one is tempted to say, “They ought to make a movie about your life.”

Guy Stern, a 100-year-old scholar of German literature

Stern participated in the Normandy invasion and narrowly averted a German massacre during the Battle of the Bulge. He interrogated nearly 1,000 German prisoners of war and also helped compile and evaluate the results of other interrogations, receiving the Bronze Star for his efforts.

Some of Stern’s most colorful exploits are described in author Bruce Henderson’s book including Stern impersonating a “Mad Russian” commissar to strike fear in the hearts of German prisoners and escorting Marlene Dietrich on a tour of the prison where German POWs were confined.

In an interview with Jewish Light Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Bob Cohn, Stern also said that among those he interviewed was a Nazi commander who helped lead the euthanasia program against the elderly, the mentally ill and the disabled—a prelude to the Holocaust.