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Sat Aug 3, 2019, 09:42 AM

They've made a movie about the major league catcher assigned to assassinate Werner Heisenberg.

Moe Berg was a third string minor league catcher, sent by the OSS to attend one of Heisenberg's lectures in Switzerland in the middle of World War II.

His task was to listen to what Heisenberg said and to decide whether to assassinate him. (He didn't assassinate him.) The allies were concerned that Heisenberg was building a Nazi nuclear weapon.

The story is ably told in Thomas Power's book, Heisenberg's War

A little bit about Berg from the movie promotional literature.

“The brainiest man in baseball”

That was the moniker bestowed upon major league baseball player Morris “Moe” Berg. An alum of Princeton University, NYU, and the Sorbonne, he was fluent in seven languages and had a propensity for reading ten newspapers a day. While this mediocre, third-string catcher’s command of language, foreign affairs, and other esoteric subjects certainly endeared him to the public, they also made him an ideal candidate for a pursuit known to few at the time — his double life as a spy for the OSS.


The Spy Behind Home Plate

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Reply They've made a movie about the major league catcher assigned to assassinate Werner Heisenberg. (Original post)
NNadir Aug 3 OP
NNadir Aug 4 #1
triron Aug 19 #2
NNadir Aug 23 #3

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sun Aug 4, 2019, 08:08 AM

1. Update: I saw the documentary last evening.

It was fascinating.

It followed the trajectory of his life, beginning in Ukraine, where is forebears were subject to pogroms to the classic American immigrant story of his father, who came to this country, worked in a laundry, bought a laundry, sent for his wife, went to school to become a pharmacist, opened a pharmacy in Newark and raised two sons, one a brilliant linguist and athlete who became a nuclear spy (Moe Berg himself), and one a doctor who would study radiation sickness at Nagasaki, and a brilliant daughter who did the only thing open to all but the rare brilliant woman, became a teacher.

The film features interviews with baseball players, baseball writers, historians (including historians of science), Werner Heisenberg's son, physicists, and family members.

I don't expect this movie will reach mainstream theaters - I saw it in Princeton's "art theater," the Princeton Garden theater, the same neighborhood where Moe Berg was the "token Jew" at Princeton university - but I recommend this documentary highly.

The most interesting part of the film may have been Berg's 1934 baseball "goodwill" trip to Japan with the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other future Hall of Famers - even though she was at best a mediocre major league player, mostly valued for his high intelligence on the field - where he defied the restrictions the militaristic Japanese government put on him - to film Japanese installations, including a Tokyo panorama that was apparently used by the Doolittle raiders.

Ruth asked him if he spoke Japanese on the liner on the way over, and he said, "not really." Two weeks later, when they landed, he greeted his hosts in nearly perfect Japanese, and Ruth said, "I thought you said you didn't speak Japanese," to which Berg replied, "That was two weeks ago."

Franklin Roosevelt said of him, during World War II, when he spirited an Italian aerodynamics expert out of Italy by going behind German lines, "Berg is still getting hits."

Really fascinating.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Mon Aug 19, 2019, 11:42 PM

2. Wow! Never heard of this before. Sure glad Heisenberg not assassinatd!

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Response to triron (Reply #2)

Fri Aug 23, 2019, 05:54 PM

3. An interesting sidelight and confession of an error in the OP.

First the error: Moe Berg was a third string major league catcher, but was something of a celebrity in spite of his limited professional physical skills because of his high intelligence. Casey Stengel said of him that "He couldn't hit in five languages," but his fielding was valued.

(He was not as I wrote in the OP, a third string minor league catcher, at least not for long).

There are films of him playing catch with Babe Ruth on a ship to Japan; all of the rest of the players on board were superstars, but he was brought along because of his intellect, and possibly, as the movie implies, as a US spy.

The sidelight: Heisenberg's doctoral thesis was on the subject of aerodynamics, fluid flows, a subject to which he returned after the war. Although he did some work of value after the war, it most important contributions were over; if Berg had shot him, it probably would not have shattered physics advances all that much.

During the war, before being sent to decide whether to assassinate Heisenberg in Switzerland, Berg "rescued" one of the world's leading authorities on aerodynamics from behind German lines, the Italian physicist, Antonio Ferri, who had gone into hiding after the German occupation of Northern Italy after the first fall of Mussolini.

Ferri was much more important to aerodynamics than Heisenberg, and was highly sought in the development of Jet Aircraft, which the Germans had already developed.

Ferri died in the United States, on Long Island, in 1975 after founding a company there after the war.

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