U.S. Army Intelligence Operative (Ritchie Boys)
Mr. Werner Michel was born in 1924 in Landau, Germany, the son of Ludwig and Paula Michel. His father was in the wine business and had served in the German Army during World War I. The Jewish religion was practiced by his family. He attended German public schools until being segregated into special classes and schools because of being Jewish per the dictates of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. Although at first believing that Nazism was a passing regime, his father realized that there was no future for Jews in Germany decided to send him to the United States. This was made possible when, through the efforts of the central Jewish organization in Germany, an American family was found in St. Louis, MO, to take him in. He left for the US in November, 1936, at the age of twelve.
Although unable to speak English upon arrival in the US, he quickly acclimated by starting in Kindergarten and eventually completed high school. His mother obtained a visa for the US and upon her arrival, he, his mother, and his sister who had arrived earlier, were reunited. His father was unable to obtain the necessary documents for entry into the US and after fleeing to France was eventually sent to Auschwitz where he perished.
Although classified as an enemy alien, he enlisted in the US in May 1943 as a private, and had his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. His first assignment was to the Armored Force Training Center at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, as a radio operator. In 1944, he was selected to attend the Officers Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Ga., and graduated as an Infantry Lieutenant. He was then transferred to the Military Intelligence Training Center (MITC) at Camp Ritchie, Maryland.
At Camp Ritchie his primary training was in the interrogation of prisoners of war and to function as the officer of an IPW (Interrogation Prisons War) team. He graduated shortly after the end of the war and believes he was in the last graduating class. After graduation he was first sent to England, then to France and subsequently Germany. He commanded the 270 IPW team, attached to the 9th Infantry Division, and conducted interrogations of German prisoners and those associated with war crimes.
Of special interest was his involvement in the debriefing of German generals and Flag officers at a special detention center for high-ranking German officers at Neu Ulm, Germany. He was also involved in the interrogations associated with the Malmedy massacre of US soldiers by Germany army soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. The trial of those involved took place at Dachau, formerly a Nazi concentration camp and later a German POW camp.
During the interview Mr. Michel describes various other assignments in post-war Germany, including one in which he and some of his men, all fluent in German, went undercover dressed as former members of the German Afrika Korps to the Bavarian town Obersdorf to obtain information on suspected Nazi activities. He also mentions some assignments after leaving the intelligence activities.
Mr. Michel’s describes some of the methods used during interrogations. No harsh methods were used. He believes that harsh methods are not necessary and that a physiological approach and intimidation is more productive and gets better results.
This interview was terminated before its intended end because of time constraints; therefore, it was not possible to record Mr. Michel’s activities and personal life after the initial years following World War II. However, it is known that Mr. Michel continued in the Army serving in CIC (Counter Intelligence Corp) first targeting on Nazis and later on Soviet and Communist subversion. He subsequently served in Korea and Viet Nam and retired from active duty after 31 years of service having attained the rank of Colonel. Following his retirement he worked for the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General in various intelligence oversight positions to assure that all activities were legal and in compliance with DOD policies. Subsequently, he was appointed Inspector General for Defense Intelligence. For this work he received several medals including the Distinguished Civil Service Award and the Meritorious Executive Award. He retired after 17 years, this ending 48 years of public service.
Date of Interview: July 25, 2011
Length of Interview: 56 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Hans R. Weinmann