Max Lerner, One of Last 'Ritchie Boys,' Dead at 98

The specially trained soldiers served as interrogators, spies, and saboteurs
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2022 6:04 PM CDT
One of the Last of WW2's 'Ritchie Boys' Dies at 98
Screenshot from "60 Minutes" shows "Ritchie Boy" Max Lerner (1924-2022) during World War II.   (CBS News via YouTube screengrab)

Maximillian "Max" Lerner, one of the last of the so-called Ritchie Boys, has died at age 98. According to the New York Times, he was among roughly 11,000 primarily foreign-born, German-speaking soldiers recruited to Camp Ritchie, a secret intelligence training center in Maryland during World War II. Lerner was also one of thousands of European Jews who graduated from the program with skills in interrogation, translation, and espionage. Many went on to serve as frontline interrogators and spies in every major battle in Europe. West Point historian David Frey credits them with "producing at least 60 percent of the actionable intelligence in the European theater."

Lerner was born in Vienna in 1924 but escaped to Paris after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. The family eventually made it to Manhattan, and Lerner enlisted in the US Army at age 18. He soon found himself at Camp Ritchie, thanks to a high IQ and knowledge of European languages and culture. In 1944, he worked in Paris feeding intelligence to the French underground. He later saw action at the Battle of the Bulge, where he experienced his only direct combat "firing a carbine from a trench in Luxembourg," according to his 2013 book, Flight and Return: A Memoir of World War II.

In a 60 Minutes episode about the Ritchie Boys earlier this year, Lerner said he was trained as a spy and to “wear civilian clothes, pass messages, and kill.” He also recounted a mission behind enemy lines in which he disguised himself as a German officer and lead a small team of soldiers to destroy equipment at an enemy depot. In the months after the war ended, Lerner helped track down war criminals including Julius Streicher, founder of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer. "I made sure that he and others I arrested knew that I was a Jew," Lerner wrote in his memoir.

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Per an obituary in the Cheyenne Post, Lerner went on to complete his education, raise a family, and work as an importer. He also “participated in Holocaust education programs at the US military academies” and served on the Speakers Bureau at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. (Read more World War II stories.)

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