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124: The Catcher Was a Spy

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

The movie opens as many do, with some text that sets up our scene. Reading the opening text, we learn that it was in the year 1938 when German scientists figured out how to split the atom for the first time. That’s what gave birth to the nuclear age.

The text goes on to say that the Nazis gave the task of building an atomic bomb to a Nobel Prize-winning physicist named Werner Heisenberg. Then, it claims that the U.S. Government responded to this by sending a Jewish baseball player named Morris “Moe” Berg to assassinate him.

Finally, we see that text we’re so familiar with here on the podcast — based on a true story.

The general idea of that is true, but there’s more to the story.

You see, even though 1938 might’ve been the first time German scientists split an atom, it might be a bit of a stretch to say that was when the nuclear age was born.

That story began a little over two decades earlier in 1917 when a New Zealand-born physicist named Ernest Rutherford claimed to have split the atom for the first time. Although, some historians give the year as 1919 … which is also valid since that’s when Rutherford published his research for the world.

This research marks the discovery of protons and electrons — two building blocks for atoms. But then it wasn’t until 1932 when one of Rutherford’s colleagues, a man named James Chadwick discovered a third subatomic particle: Neutrons.

Two years later, an Italian physicist named Enrico Fermi ran an experiment that caused the creation of new, radioactive elements. But he didn’t really recognize exactly what he’d done at first.

For the purposes of our story today, though, what the movie is referring to is when three German physicists named Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann teamed up to build on those who came before them.

Then, in 1938, after Meitner fled the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany, Hahn and Strassmann became the first to officially acknowledge the process of splitting uranium atoms into two or more parts.

So, that’s what the movie is referring to.

And it is true that a Nobel Prize-winning physicist named Werner Heisenberg was tasked by the Nazis to build an atomic bomb. Well, maybe.

Heisenberg was nominated by Albert Einstein for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1928, but he didn’t win the prize until 1932. And it’s worth pointing out that Heisenberg was attacked by the Nazis during their rise to power in the early-to-mid 1930s as a “white Jew” and as someone who needed to disappear.

But then the tune changed in 1939 when, on September 1st of that year, the Nazis began their nuclear program. That’s the same day World War II officially began after Germany invaded Poland which, in turn, sparked France and the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany.

The reason this outbreak of war has anything to do with Germany’s nuclear weapons program is because, according to the Treaty of Versailles that was signed at the end of World War I, Germany’s military was severely limited. People didn’t want the world to break out into another war, so they forced a cap on what Germany could produce.

Of course, it’s been proven that as the Nazis rose to power, they secretly disregarded the treaty and built up their military in anticipation of war. Was the nuclear program a part of that? Maybe. Some historians think perhaps it was, and that the date of September 1st, 1939 being the start of their program was merely a formality to coincide with the official start of the war.

Regardless, for our story today, as one of the nation’s leading physicists, Werner Heisenberg was one of the men who was wrapped up in the Nazis nuclear weapons program.

How willing of a participant was he in the program? Well, that’s something many people still debate to this day. As with most things that involve top secret members of military, there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know.

Going back to the movie, after a brief opening sequence set in Zurich, Switzerland in December of 1944 where we don’t learn much about Moe, the film then cuts back in time to when Moe’s playing baseball. The text on screen tells us this is eight years earlier, so that’d be 1936. And because the movie takes us right to a Boston Red Sox game, I’d guess it’s not in December since baseball season takes place over the summer.

After the game ends, we see Paul Rudd’s version of Moe Berg sitting in the Joe Cronin’s office. He’s played by Shea Whigham in the movie. The conversation between the two ballplayers starts with Joe asking Moe if he’ll turn in his cleats to help coach the team. Moe turns him down, insisting that he can still play.

We get the sense that isn’t the first time Joe has asked Moe to turn to coaching. In fact, there’s a moment where Joe says he’s been asking Moe to hang up his cleats for two years to go into coaching.

For this scene, though, the conversation turns to an upcoming trip to Japan for some exhibition games after the season ends.

Moe asks who’s going.

Joe says it’ll be Murderers’ Row: Ruth, Gehrig, Averill, Gehringer, Gomez…

Moe interrupts him, “Am I the only bum?”

Joe laughs, saying that they like the whole Professor Berg thing. Oh, and also that you speak Japanese.

“I speak Japanese? Who said that?”

“Kieran said that in one of his columns,” Joe replies.

Moe is heading out the door when he answers with a simple, “Interesting.”

This whole conversation is a highly dramatized one, but it’s purpose in the movie is really to help bring out some very real facts.

Let’s start with Joe Cronin. He was a real person, and really was the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Although, it’s interesting the movie has Joe mention trying to get Moe to go into coaching for two years, because Joe Cronin didn’t become the manager of the Red Sox until 1935. So, if this scene took place in 1936 then Joe wouldn’t have been manager for two years.

Unless, of course, the movie’s version of Joe Cronin is talking about a couple years back when he and Moe Berg played together on the Washington Senators. Joe was the Senators’s manager for his last year there, too, although Moe had a brief stint with the Cleveland Indians between his time on the Senators and being reunited with Joe Cronin on the Red Sox.

Another small, but interesting point here, is how Joe tries to get Moe to hang up his cleats to be a coach. While it makes sense in today’s game of baseball where players and coaches are different, that wasn’t always the case.

In fact, when Joe Cronin was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1935, he was not only the starting shortstop for the team, but he was also their manager. Being a player-manager was a lot more common back then. So, it’s not like Moe would’ve had to have hung up his cleats to be a coach. He probably could’ve done both…especially since, as the movie implies, Moe Berg didn’t play a lot.

The movie is correct there when it talks about Moe’s playing record compared to the likes of those on the exhibition trip to Japan. The other names they mention: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Earl Averill, and Lefty Gomez were all baseball players who made their way into the Hall of Fame. They were the best of the best in their day and are still considered some of the greatest to play the game of all time.

Moe Berg, on the other hand, didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame with his career — although he did get a handful of votes. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll get a sense of how good he was offensively with his career stat line:

  • G: 663
  • AB: 1,813
  • R: 150
  • H: 441
  • BA: .243
  • HR: 6
  • RBI: 206
  • SB: 12

Granted, those aren’t defensive stats, but you get the idea.

You can get a sense for how often he played by looking at his at bats. Playing 15 years with only 1,813 at bats is roughly 120 at bats per year. That’s not very many. For a bit of context, that was back when there were 154 games in a Major League Baseball season.

Today there’s 162.

And in an average game, starters will get 3 or 4 at bats. So, only 120 at bats on average per season means Moe Berg didn’t play a lot. If he were a Hall of Famer like Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig…well, for one, you’d already know who he was — haha! —but from stats alone, he also would’ve been playing in a lot more games. In fact, there was only one year, in 1929, when Moe played more than 100 games.

Oh, and as a quick side note, the nickname mentioned in the movie, Murderers’ Row, that was one for the 1920s Yankees’ lineup that many historians consider to be the best team in the history of baseball. More specifically, it started with the 1927 lineup — one that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but did not include Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, and Lefty Gomez.

But with that said, the movie is correct in mentioning that Moe Berg was one of the players who joined some of the best players in baseball in Japan for some exhibition games. The movie doesn’t mention that a couple other legends of baseball went on the tour — Connie Mack and Jimmie Foxx.

The timeline is also a bit off because if the movie is saying the scene where Moe and Joe are talking about going to Japan after the season happened in 1936, that’d be a little late. You see, the All Americans baseball team that toured 12 cities in Japan happened in 1934.

It’s also worth pointing out the 1934 trip to Japan wasn’t the first time Moe went to Japan. Moe was one of three Major Leaguers to go to Japan in 1927 to teach baseball to teams over there. The other two ballplayers joining Moe on that trip was Lefty O’Doul and Ted Lyons.

Back in the movie, the next major plot point happens while Moe is still in Japan. It’s pretty subtle in that the movie doesn’t come out and say anything really, but it’s the exact opposite of subtle in that it’s clear what the movie is saying when we see Moe meet up with a Japanese man. Then, later, we see shirtless Paul Rudd as Moe Berg wakes up in an empty bed, but one with room for two. The implication here is very clear.

This continues a thread from earlier in the movie when another player on the Red Sox beats up Moe because he thinks Moe is homosexual.

This whole storyline is in contrast to Sienna Miller’s character in the film, Estella, who we see Moe living and having a clearly romantic relationship with.

And not to get too far ahead of our story, but there’s a moment where Bill Donovan — who’s played by Jeff Daniels — straight up asks if Moe is gay. The reply from Paul Rudd’s version of Moe is simply that he’s good at keeping secrets.

That might be true. But, it’s probably not. By that, what I mean is that there’s never been any evidence to suggest that Moe Berg was gay.

Where the movie gets this from is a rumor that floated around surrounding Moe’s sexual orientation. A big part of that was due to the fact that Moe Berg wasn’t very good at close, personal relationships.

In fact, he shied away from them. He especially shied away from them when it came to female companions. He had some relationships that led to sex, but none of them seemed to last. When it started to get more serious, Moe backed away.

The one exception was Estella.

The movie never mentions her last name, but it was Huni. Estella Huni was the only person that Moe Berg had a lasting relationship with, and even then, it was not life-long. Moe ended up breaking that off, too.

We don’t know of any similar relationships that Moe had with men. In the end, yes — there was a rumor about Moe’s sexual orientation while he was alive. But then there were also people who simply thought Moe wasn’t sexually interested in anyone — man or woman.

None of those rumors were ever confirmed nor denied. In fact, a lot of reviews for the movie have criticized the film for trying to imply so heavily Moe’s sexual orientation when, in truth, he kept his sexual preferences, whatever they might have been, a secret.

So, as we often must do, we’ll never know for sure one way or another. Maybe, as the movie implies, Moe was gay and was also good at keeping secrets. Or, maybe, Moe was someone who could never let himself get too close to anyone — man or woman.

Going back to the movie, it’s while we see Paul Rudd’s version of Moe Berg in Japan that we see him walking down the hallway of a hospital. He sneaks up to the roof, then we see him pulling out a camera from his kimono. In solitude on the hospital’s roof, Moe proceeds to shoot footage of Tokyo’s harbor.

That’s true, but seeing as the movie doesn’t really explain anything going on around that scene, there’s more to that story.

And the truth is, it’s really hard to know what the reason behind people’s decisions are…but what we do know is that on November 29th, 1934, the American ballplayers were playing a game in Omiya. That’s on the northeastern side of Japan.

For some reason, Moe Berg instead decided to leave the team and head off to St. Luke’s Hospital in Tsukiji — which is located near Tokyo bay. Although, I say “for some reason” as if he just stumbled over there. His reason … or, perhaps I should say … the reason that he gave for leaving the team and going to Tokyo was to go visit the American ambassador’s daughter, who was a patient at the hospital.

And since Moe wasn’t the star on a team filled with players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, his absence probably wasn’t missed.

While he was there, though, he took the opportunity to slip up to the roof of the hospital. From there, he shot some footage of Tokyo harbor. It helped that the hospital was one of the tallest buildings around, giving Moe a great vantage point. What a nice coincidence … or was it a coincidence?

Was Moe Berg, at this point simply a baseball player, really visiting the ambassador’s daughter? Did he just want to go up to the roof to get some footage for his own personal collection? Or was there something more to Moe’s intentions that made him go there.

It’s the sort of thing that only helps to grow potential conspiracies. And only adding to that is the fact that Moe never made it to visit the ambassador’s daughter.

Back in the movie, even while we see Paul Rudd’s version of Moe Berg filming on the hospital roof top, we can hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Day of Infamy” speech.

The camera cuts to Moe and Estella back in the US. The two are sitting on their couch in stunned silence as they’re listening to President Roosevelt’s speech on the radio. The text on screen tells us that this is December 1941.

After this, Moe’s at a black-tie affair at Princeton when he runs into Jerry Fredericks — who is played by Ben Miles in the movie.

Moe gets right to the point. He asks Jerry if he’s working in DC, and before long it’s clear that Moe wants to work there, too.

Jerry says there’s room for people with languages, and says he knows Moe can speak French, German and Italian. What else?

Moe says he speaks German, Dutch and all of the romance languages. He goes on to say his Italian has an accent. He can speak Turkish, Arabic and Farsi, but pretty heavily accented. He also speaks Latin and some basic Hindi, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Jerry asks about his Italian.

Switching to Italian, Moe says, “Judge for yourself — I’d call it passable.”

It is true that Moe Berg spoke multiple languages. He and Estella would frequently talk to each other in French — she also spoke multiple languages. That was probably the language, other than English, of course, that Moe was most familiar.

But, by the time World War II broke out for the US, he hadn’t really used it much in decades. Alongside French, Moe self-described his Spanish and Portuguese as fair. These two probably because by the time he was in the OSS, he had just spent some time in Central and South America for a different government organization … but we’ll learn more about that here in a little bit.

As for the other languages the movie mentions, it’s true that Moe spoke them, too. Well, sort of. Like many of the languages Moe knew, he listened to them better than he spoke them. And when he did, it was often with such a thick accent that he’d stand out to natural speakers.

But, other than English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Moe Berg also knew Italian, German and some Japanese. He knew Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Hebrew and Yiddish, and even some Russian, Mandarin, Bulgarian, Arabic, Polish and Old High German.

Needless to say, Moe Berg was a smart guy who knew quite a few languages.

Back in the movie, after Jerry tests Moe’s language skills, he asks if Moe knows about Bill Donovan.

“Yeah, I know about Bill,” Moe replies.

Yale, football, Medal of Honor in 1918. Jerry explains that Bill is his boss. They’re setting up a small adjunct to the State Department. Then, he gives Moe a number to call.

In the next scene, we see some text on screen that says it’s the OSS headquarters in Washington, DC.

Moe Berg is there to give them the footage.

It’s here that we meet the guy we mentioned briefly before — Bill Donovan. He’s played by Jeff Daniels in the film. According to the movie, the footage that Moe delivers to the OSS is why Bill invites Moe to join the organization.

This is all…well, it’s mostly true.

For example, that mention from Paul Rudd’s version of Moe Berg about Bill Donovan being a Medal of Honor recipient in 1918 is true, too. That came as the result of an event that took place in France on October 14th and 15th in 1918. Here’s the official statement from the US Army’s website:

Lt. Col. Donovan personally led the assaulting wave in an attack upon a very strongly organized position, and when our troops were suffering heavy casualties he encouraged all near him by his example, moving among his men in exposed positions, reorganizing decimated platoons, and accompanying them forward in attacks. When he was wounded in the leg by machine-gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued with his unit until it withdrew to a less exposed position.

And the end result of what we see is, of course, that Moe joined the OSS. But, there’s more to the story that the movie skips.

By that, what I mean is that it was Pearl Harbor that pushed Moe to become a spy. And the footage he shot was given to the US government. So, in that way, the movie was accurate.

But, it’s oversimplified because he didn’t go to straight to the OSS right after Pearl Harbor like the movie makes it seem. Instead, the truth is that it was a much more round-about path to the OSS.

Perhaps a big part of that is because, well, as you know, the attack on Pearl Harbor took place on December 7th, 1941. The Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, didn’t even exist until it was established in June of 1942.

But it was William J. Donovan, or Bill as the movie calls him, who oversaw the formation of the OSS — an agency that dissolved at the end of World War II and folded into what we know as the CIA today.

As the 1930s were coming to a close, a war was about to begin. Germany invaded Poland in 1939 to begin a conflict that would turn into World War II, President Roosevelt had a growing concern over the lack of intelligence in the US government.

So, he tapped Bill Donovan to come up with a plan for a US intelligence organization based on the UK’s MI6. He did, and the British were instrumental in helping set up the organization, including providing a lot of training and information leading up to President Roosevelt’s military order to establish the organization on June 13th, 1942.

But that’s getting a little ahead of our story. It was due to the attack on Pearl Harbor that Moe Berg wanted to do something more than play baseball. Well, that’s not quite right. At this point in Moe’s career, he wasn’t playing anymore — he was a coach for the Red Sox. Moe’s final playing year was 1939.

Probably the biggest inaccuracy of the movie came with the character of Jerry Fredericks being the connection to Moe and the OSS. Jerry’s a fictional character. If he was based on someone it’d probably be an OSS officer named Ellery Huntington. But we’ll get to Ellery in a bit, because, in truth, Moe didn’t go to the OSS first — he tried the FBI first. But they weren’t interested in hiring an ex-ballplayer.

So, in January of 1942, Moe took a position at the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. That mouthful of a government organization was run by Nelson Rockefeller, who would go on to become the 41st Vice President of the US under Gerald Ford.

The purpose of the OCIAA was to improve commercial and economic relationships between countries in the Americas.

And so it was Rockefeller who had expressed an interest in Moe Berg, the multi-lingual catcher he wanted to help put together a sports program in South and Central America. All to help improve US relations with countries there … especially since there was growing concern that Japan might find a way to attack the US through one of those countries.

After being rejected by the FBI, and still wanting to help the US in the wake of the attack on Pearl, Moe Berg decided to officially retire from Major League Baseball and agreed to join the OCIAA for just over $155 a week.

That’d equate to a salary of about $8,060 per year or, in today’s US dollars, that’d be equivalent to an annual salary over $123,000.

Sadly, before he could start his new job, Moe’s dad passed away. That was on January 14th, 1942. A week later, on the 21st, Moe took his oath of office and officially began his new career for the OCIAA.

But that new career didn’t get off to a great start. In fact, it hardly started at all. Due to the chaos of the war that had just began, Moe’s initial six-month trip around South and Central American countries was delayed, postponed and delayed again.

Anxious to do something, this delay was the real cause for why Moe got in touch with the OSS. He asked if he could be of service, perhaps broadcasting long-distance radio messages to the Japanese. They agreed to let him do that, and he broadcast messages along the lines of explaining about how the two countries both loved baseball — why are we fighting?

While this didn’t make Moe Berg the newest OSS employee, it was the first contact with the organization for Moe. And it’d seem he liked working for an intelligence-gathering agency like the OSS. We don’t know the exact timing or specifics, but the basic gist of the story goes that at one point, in a meeting with the FBI, Moe asked if he could be of any assistance. The reply was that they’d appreciate any information he might have that he thought would be of interest to them.

That reminded Moe of the footage he shot. He offered to show it to them. They agreed, and so he did.

Of course, that didn’t happen in a single meeting. It took place over the course of the entire summer of 1942. The OSS got whiff of the footage and, by July 17th, 1942, Moe had shown the footage to them.

We don’t really know if he showed it to Bill Donovan directly like the movie shows, but we do know he didn’t just show it once, but multiple times to different people.

One clue as to the OSS’s interest in the film came from a letter that Moe wrote to his mother toward the end of July of 1942. As he explained to her, the footage was going to be useful for the pilots who were going to bomb Tokyo. In a later letter, he wrote to another family member that the government was using his footage to help figure out where the different buildings were in Tokyo bay.

It’d seem that the US military was preparing for an attack on Tokyo and Moe’s footage, even though it was years old, was incredibly helpful to help them plan the operation.

Looking back through history, we know that retaliation against Tokyo today as the Doolittle Raid — the unlikely air attack on Tokyo by B-25 bombers launching from carriers to strike at the heart of Japan.

Except, as a student of history, I’m sure you’re saying there’s a big problem here. It has to do with the timeline. Doolittle’s planes bombed Tokyo on April 18th, 1942. That’s three months before Moe’s letters suggest the use of his footage to plan the bombing of Tokyo.

And herein lies the problem. We don’t really know if Moe Berg’s footage was used for Doolittle’s Raid. Maybe. Maybe not. It’s a debated item that, honestly, we don’t know the answer to. But, with that said, most historians think that it’s not likely his footage was used due to both the timing but also the age of the footage itself.

Remember, Moe’s footage was shot in 1934. To be more specific, it was shot 7 years, 4 months and 20 days prior to Doolittle’s Raid. And while there was months of planning for the raid beforehand, a city’s landscape can change in 7 years. But, then again, not as much as you might think. The core landmarks and buildings would be the same, and beggars can’t be choosers and it’s not like the US military could pop open Google Earth to get accurate depictions of what Tokyo bay looked like.

So, as you can see, there’s good points on both sides of the argument. Maybe one day we’ll know for sure.

Before we hop back into the movie’s timeline, though, let’s get the historical timeline straight. Because, as the movie shows, Moe Berg went straight to the OSS after Pearl Harbor with his footage. And, as we learned, that’s not quite true. So, what happened?

Well, in early 1942 is when Moe joined the OCIAA. As we learned, originally the plan was for Moe to help build relationships with countries in the Americas through sports. But that changed.

His primary task at the OCIAA changed from sports-related relationship improvement to helping to improve the lives of soldiers at bases in Central and South America.

He worked with them for a little over a year until he resigned in June of 1943. His primary reason for wanting to leave was because, after traveling to many of the countries in Central and South America, Moe didn’t think they posed very much of a threat to the United States. Initially there was a thought that perhaps the Japanese would attack the US through connections in countries like Peru.

But, as time went on and that proved less possible, Moe decided he wanted to help somewhere he would have a bigger impact on the war effort. That’s why he resigned the OCIAA. That’s also where the OSS comes back into the picture, because Moe and some of his colleagues at the OCIAA knew the OSS was looking for people like them — people who could blend into a foreign country, gather information, and then disappear.

Remember when I mentioned the character of Jerry Fredericks was a fictional character? Well, it was a former lawyer who was now working in the OSS named Ellery Huntington who was Moe’s connection. Although the movie’s connection with the fictional Jerry knowing Moe through Princeton is true — it was just Ellery who knew Moe through Princeton. But that wasn’t their only connection.

In fact, it’s not likely that was the connection that led Ellery to recruit Moe.

The movie never mentions this, but Ellery and Moe worked together at a law firm in Chicago. That happened during the winter of 1930, after the baseball season was over. It was an extremely bad year, statistically, for Moe — he only hit .115 and played in 20 games the entire year.

There’s no doubt Moe thought his baseball career might’ve been over, so he went to work at a law firm.

But, his career wasn’t over yet. The Cleveland Indians picked him up in the 1931. Moe’s next season wasn’t too great, but it was enough to keep him in baseball.

Who knows what would’ve happened if he hadn’t continued his baseball career — would he have been invited to the 1934 trip to Japan? Would he have shot that footage that might have been used in the Doolittle Raid? There’s a lot of “What ifs” in any story…

As for Ellery Huntington, though, having worked with Moe, he thought the former catcher would fit into the OSS fairly well.

And so it was that, just two months after Moe retired from the OCIAA in June so he could do more for the war effort, he took a job at the OSS.

And in the process, Moe took a massive pay cut. If you remember, Moe Berg was making about $8,060 per year for the OCIAA, or roughly $123,000 today.

Well, Moe’s new salary at the OSS was $3,800 per year…or about $55,000 today. That doesn’t even mention that the work for the OSS was certainly riskier — but talking about that would get ahead of our story.

Now that we know how Moe made his way into the OSS, let’s hop back into the movie’s timeline where we see the grand finale of the film center around the plot of a major assignment for Moe Berg inside the OSS. According to the movie, the US military believe a German physicist by the name of Werner Heisenberg is working on an atomic bomb for the Nazis, and they task Moe Berg with finding out if that’s true.

Not only that, but in the movie, we see Moe is ultimately tasked with killing the physicist and stop the atomic bomb from being completed. It’s at this point in the film we’re sent back to the same place we were in the opening sequence. Remember that one I briefly mentioned where I said we didn’t learn much about Moe Berg?

There’s two men walking down a deserted street. Well, almost deserted — there’s one car’s headlights on in the distance.

This is when we find out Moe is there on a mission to kill Werner Heisenberg. After attending a lecture that Heisenberg is teaching, the two lock eyes again in a more private setting of a dinner amongst friends.

It’s after this meal with a full table that includes Heisenberg that Moe overhears conversation where Heisenberg explains he elected to stay in Germany that happens to be Nazi. The implication there being Heisenberg doesn’t like being in the Nazi party. In fact, he tries to stay away from the political discussions going on around him, even once suggesting he was once a citizen of the world — and hopefully, in the future will be one again.

All of this, Moe overhears from across the room. When Heisenberg leaves, Moe takes his leave and follows.

Oh, and Werner Heisenberg is played by Mark Strong in the film.

Moe, who is using the fake name Anton Aziz, tracks down Heisenberg after the dinner and eventually holds the physicist at gunpoint. It’s the moment he’s been waiting for — a chance to end the Nazi atomic program by taking out this one man.  Moe decides not to kill Heisenberg. He leaves, letting Heisenberg live.

This whole idea that Moe Berg was sent to Germany to kill Heisenberg has some truth, but that wasn’t his primary purpose for being there.

You see, he was sent there to observe Heisenberg to see how close Germany was to an atomic bomb. And, if Moe determined they were very close, then he had the green light to kill Heisenberg as a way of slowing the Germans down.

Although, I couldn’t find anything in my research to indicate there was this dinner we see in the movie. And I also couldn’t find anything to suggest that Moe’s cover name was Anton Aziz like the movie shows.

With that said, though, I think we can give the movie a break. At home in America, Moe Berg didn’t hide the fact he was Jewish. But it’d make sense for Moe Berg to go by a fake name while he was investigating the Nazi atomic program.

Did he get as close as pulling a pistol on Heisenberg before making that decision? Maybe. I couldn’t find anything to prove that, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. As you can guess for a lot of top secret operations, even decades later there are details we just don’t know.

But what we do know is that it was in December of 1944 that Moe Berg went to Zurich, Switzerland to attend a lecture given by Werner Heisenberg.

After the lecture, it was Moe’s determination that the Germans weren’t very close to an atomic weapon. As a result, he didn’t try to kill Heisenberg.

At the end of the movie, there’s some text to explain how things ended for the would-be assassin and his target. According to this text, Werner Heisenberg ended up revealing the location of the Nazis stockpile of heavy water to the Allies.

As far as I can tell from my research, that is true … but it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. You see, Werner Heisenberg was captured by the Allies on May 3rd, 1945. Germany surrendered on May 5th — two days later.

If you want to dig more into this, do a search for the Farm House transcripts. That’s the name of the British MI6 location where Heisenberg and nine other German scientists were held after their capture. And, as it turns out, the conversations they had were recorded. The transcripts for those were released in 1992 and unveiled a lot about what the scientists thought of what was going on. For the most part, they were all happy the Allies won the war.

As for Moe Berg, the next bit of text on screen says that he never got back together with Estella. It then continues to say Estella married a young Naval officer in 1945.

That’s true.

As we learned earlier, Moe wasn’t very good at getting close to people. Estella was probably the most intimate relationship he had with anyone, but even that was a relationship that didn’t survive the war.

On February 26th, 1945, Estella married a Lieutenant named C.R. Kahn Jr.

But at this point, Moe Berg was still a part of the OSS. That would change, though, because on September 20th, 1945, the Office of Strategic Services was formally dissolved.

Soon after the formal dissolution of the OSS, Moe was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Truman on October 10th, 1945. In December of the same year, he turned down the Medal of Freedom. He was frustrated that the OSS had been dissolved when there was so much work left to do.

Sure, the war was over, but tensions between countries around the world were still high.

Of course, as government work often goes, just because an agency dissolves doesn’t mean everyone is immediately out of a job. But, it did mean their future was shaky. After all, it wasn’t until almost two years after the OSS was dissolved that the CIA rose out of its ashes. That happened on September 18th, 1947.

Moe Berg didn’t stay with the agency that long. In January of 1946, he resigned his post at the OSS.

For much of the remainder of his life, Moe didn’t work — he mostly lived off family and relatives. On May 29th, 1972, at 70 years old, Moe fell at home. He was rushed to the hospital. Talking to the nurse, he still had baseball on his mind. He asked her, “How did the Mets do today?”

Sadly, he died before she could tell him that they managed to score four runs in the top of the ninth to come from behind and beat the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 7 to 6.

After his death, Moe’s sister, Ethel, received the President’s Medal of Freedom posthumously on his behalf. This is the citation that went along with the medal:

Mr. Morris Berg, United States Civilian, rendered exceptionally meritorious service of high value to the war effort from April 1944 to January 1946. In a position of responsibility in the European Theater, he exhibited analytical abilities and a keen planning mind. He inspired both respect and constant high level of endeavor on the part of his subordinates which enabled his section to produce studies and analysis vital to the mounting of American operations.



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