Losing a mother in the Holocaust naturally explains how a normal, average citizen can become the ultimate Nazi-under for the United States.
This is the story of Werner Meritz. In an episode of public radio’s, “This American Life,” Meritz recounts the day he captured Julius Streicher, a colleague of Adolf Hitler and publisher of Der Sturmer, an infamous anti-Semitic newspaper.
“I told him, from now on, you sleep naked on this cold floor. You will not move,” said Mertiz. “And with that, I pissed all over him. Terrible thing to tell you. His head and everywhere. … I said, you’re just to lie there to get some sense of what you Nazis did to the Jews.”
Meritz and his American colleagues held Streicher in a shed for three days, feeding him only potato skins also covered in Mertiz’s urine.
“I was enraged. I was trembling. There were tears in my eyes that I had captured this guy. I had him to myself,” said Meritz. “I explained to the MPs (military policemen), I’m gonna do things, you probably think I’m crazy. And you wanna know something? I am crazy. I’m crazed. I captured a Nazi of unbelievable mischief … I’m gonna do what I have to do.”
A Nuremberg tribunal would later sentence Streicher and 10 other Nazis to death.
There is more to Meritz’s story than a tale of vengeance. After surviving three months in the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp in 1938, Meritz fled to the United States. He would eventually be recruited in a secret Nazi hunting project based in Fort Hunt Park, Virginia code-named, “P.O. Box 1142.”
“These men were specifically recruited because they spoke German and because they understood the nuances of German culture and psychology, slang, cultural references, small details that an American would miss,” explained Karen Duffin, a radio producer for the show.
Meritz was one of many German Jews recruited by the program. He and his colleagues were trained as interrogators, but instead of harsh methods, they were taught to be friendly and cordial with prisoners in order to get them to divulge information. The tactics were understandably difficult for some of the Jewish trainees to adapt to, but the results were extremely useful to the war effort. P.O. Box 1142 intelligence was even used to help break the famous German Enigma code.
Meritz went on to live a fruitful life as a textile business owner after his stint as a Nazi-hunter. He and his colleagues in P.O. Box 1142 had kept their former profession a secret until the U.S. Army allowed them to share their stories in 2006.
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