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318: This Week: The Hindenburg, Band of Brothers, Operation Finale

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: The Hindenburg, Band of Brothers, and Operation Finale.

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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.

May 6, 1937. Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Beneath a clock that reads 5:05 is a sign indicating the wind is blowing southwest at 16 knots. There’s another spot beneath the wind speed to indicate gusts, but that isn’t showing any reading as two men appear to be working on the sign.

We seem to be at some sort of an aircraft hanger. Outside the hanger, the ground is covered with people who look up to see a strange shape emerging from a big, white cloud in the blue sky.

We can hear someone below yell, “Look up there! Here she comes!”

The crowd watches eagerly as the full shape makes its way through the cloud. It’s an oval-shaped craft. A uniformed man notices the gusts aren’t showing on the sign and asks what’s happened there—that wind has to be at least 25 knots. The other officer says they can’t get the sign fixed. Frustrated, the commanding officer picks up a phone and orders them to flash red.

A red light flashes on the sign, something picked up by the men inside the craft. They’re all wearing uniforms, too, although they’re different uniforms than the ones worn by the men below.

The man who seems to be in charge there says they’ll delay the landing.

From below we can see a shot of the hanger in the foreground with an American flag inside. Above the hanger is the craft, a dirigible balloon, bearing a Nazi swastika on its tail fins. It floats slowly back into the clouds.

At this point in the movie, we’ll jump ahead a little bit and pick up at about an hour and 44 minutes when the command is sent from the ground to flash green. The ground crew is ready for landing. The clock shows the time as 7:09.

Inside the dirigible, the order is given to go to landing stations. There’s a flurry of activity as men make their way to what we can assume are their landing stations. That is, it seems, except for one man. George C. Scott’s character, Colonel Franz Ritter, asks some of the men if they’ve seen Boerth—referring to William Atherton’s character, Karl Boerth. They reply they haven’t seen him, but he should be there!

Ritter goes on to try and find Boerth. Some other men tell Ritter that Boerth’s landing station is in the nose. Ritter looks at his watch as the second-hand passes from 7:13 to 7:14.

The sound of the dirigible’s engine can be heard as it lines up with a massive tower, and the men below are ready to connect with the balloon and anchor it to the ground.

Back inside, Ritter continues his search for Boerth. He looks at his watch again. It’s 7:16 now.

Someone tells the men lined up in their landing stations to standby for starboard line drop. We see two lines drop from the front of the balloon to the ground. On the ground, men grab the lines and attach them to a machine that starts to pull the line tight.

The camera cuts to another man on the ground, who is speaking into a microphone and giving a play-by-play of what’s happening. Through this, we find out she’s hovering just short of the mast as she waits for her nose cone to be connected up.

Back inside the dirigible, Ritter continues his search for what seems to be the missing Boerth. He runs along a plank inside the airship, looking behind a canvas flap. Not there. Is he over here? Nope, not there either.

Then, he sees him. Boerth is lying on the ground and a man is standing over him. The man points the knife in his hand at Ritter, commanding him to leave. Ritter doesn’t leave, though, and after a brief fistfight, Ritter gets the best of the man with the knife—who gets knocked out.

Ritter turns to Boerth. He says, “It’s 7:20! Where’s the bomb?”

Boerth seems delirious with blood on his face. Ritter says there are less than ten minutes left. Boerth mutters the words repair patch four, and Ritter immediately runs away to navigate the maze inside the balloon.

When he gets to the location, he cuts the canvas away carefully to reveal a small device in what looks to be a knife’s handle. This must be the bomb. Looking at the watch attached to it, we can see the time. It’s 7:23.

Ritter follows the wires on the device, carefully fiddling with a switch inside. His finger moves to the crown of the watch—that’s the name for the knob that adjusts the time. Below, the man who he knocked out calls Ritter’s name. Ritter looks down for a moment, then continues to slowly pull the crown to stop the watch from ticking.

An explosion.

The movie switches to black and white now as it shows the officers commanding the ship in the navigating room of the gondola feeling the blast.

From below, we see a huge ball of flame at the back of the balloon. The man doing the play-by-play on the ground starts yelling hysterically, “It burst into flame! It burst into flame!”

The fire quickly spreads, engulfing the entire airship. Panic ensues among the passengers as the camera cuts to a clock inside telling us the time: 7:25.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Hindenburg

That sequence comes from the 1972 film called The Hindenburg, and it’s showing us an event that happened this week in history when, on May 6th, 1937, the German dirigible airship the movie is named after exploded while it was landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Three days earlier, on May 3rd, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, to cross the Atlantic in something that wasn’t too common at the time. After all, most aircraft of the time couldn’t sustain a trip across the ocean and a ship’s time across the ocean was much more than a few days. In fact, it was the Hindenburg that made commercial air service across the Atlantic a somewhat normal thing as it carried over a thousand passengers across the ocean in 1936—10 round-trips between Germany and the United States and seven trips between Germany and Brazil.

The trip in May was its second of 1937, and for this trip it was only about half full with 36 of a maximum 70 passengers on board. Then there were 61 crew for a total of 97 people on board.

So, the movie was correct to show passengers on board in what would’ve been a rather luxurious setting—and probably with some room to spare, considering it wasn’t a full flight.

The main characters that I mentioned were based on real people, although a lot about them was changed so many have considered it a stretch to say it’s based on the real people at all.

For example, the character we see George C. Scott playing in the movie, Colonel Franz Ritter, was not a real person. Although he was probably based on someone who was real, and he was a Colonel in the German Luftwaffe by the name of Fritz Erdmann. And it is true that Erdmann was aboard Hindenburg, but he wasn’t a part of the security team on Hindenburg like we see Ritter being in the film.

William Atherton’s character, Karl Boerth, is the one that Ritter is trying to find in the scene I just described. Boerth was based on a real person named Erich Spehl, who was a rigger on Hindenburg. And it is true that there were some theories that Spehl was a saboteur who was part of a plot to destroy Hindenburg. Why? Well, because Hindenburg was the pride and joy of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1937. Remember that was before the start of World War II so the world wasn’t entirely aware of the atrocities the Nazis would stand for yet—but that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of Germans who were opposed to the Nazis taking over their country.

That’s a discussion for another day. Although the movie shows Colonel Ritter checking his watch over and over because of the bomb on board, so the point of mentioning all this about the idea of an anti-Nazi conspiracy to destroy the dirigible bearing the swastika is simply to say the idea of the Hindenburg disaster being an act of sabotage is real, but it’s never been proven.

The idea of sabotage started a 1962 book by a historian named A.A. Hoehling whose research led him to believe Spehl planted a bomb on board. There has been no evidence to prove it to be true, and even though he researched his theory, Hoehling has admitted it’s circumstantial.

The movie, which was released in 1975, took its own storyline from a book that was released in 1972 by an author named Michael Mooney—he also followed the idea that Spehl planted a bomb on board. That’s something Spehl’s fiancée was asked about and denied as “absolute madness.”

As for Spehl himself, well, he was one of the victims of the crash. So, perhaps we’ll never know the full truth about that theory.

What we do know, though, is that the Hindenburg had just crossed thousands of miles—over 6,000 kilometers—from Germany to the United States in a rather uneventful trip. It was scheduled to land at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey using what was known as a flying moor. That’s what we see in the movie where the airship drops its cables to be tied down from crews on the ground.

Think of it kind of like a ship’s anchor in the ocean—except this time it’s an anchor of sorts being tied down by people on the ground. While it was a common tactic for American airships, it wasn’t done in Germany so the only times the Hindenburg crew had performed this was the handful of times they traveled to the United States.

At about 7:00 PM, Hindenburg made its final approach for landing. But, similar to what we see in the movie, the crew on the ground wasn’t ready yet. Captain Pruss, who is in the movie—he’s played by Charles Durning—was in command of Hindenburg and as the wind shifted he ordered the airship to turn. Then, he ordered over a series of water drops. That’s something we see in the movie, and the purpose of it was to relieve weight to steady the ship as it approached the mooring mast.

At 7:21 PM, Hindenburg was 295 feet above the ground—that’s about 90 meters. At this point, lines were dropped so the ground crew could grab the mooring lines. Four minutes later, at 7:25 PM, all hell broke loose.

Some witnesses mentioned seeing some fabric fluttering. Maybe a gas leak? Some mentioned seeing some flames. Others claimed the fire started on the port side. Still others said it started near the top fin. Or maybe it started near the lower side first. It all happened so fast, it’s hard to rely too heavily on people’s recollections of what happened after the fact.

You’ve probably seen the footage—if not, I’ll include a link to it in the show notes for this episode—but in studying that there have been varying suggestions of how long it took. The challenge is that none of the footage from that day started at the first moment of the flames. So, we have to partially rely on witness testimony. Although there have been some scientific analysis done to run the numbers on what should happen. Those numbers for how long it took for the Hindenburg to be engulfed in flames range anywhere from 16 seconds to 37 seconds.

That’s from the moment of the first flame appeared to the 803-foot, 10-inch airship crashing to the ground. It happened fast. Very fast.

That’s 245 meters long, by the way.

Speaking of the footage, perhaps one of the reasons why the Hindenburg disaster has lived so long in the history books was not only because of how terrible it was—but because the disaster was captured on film.

And that guy we see in the movie who is doing the play-by-play?

There really was someone doing that. His name was Herbert Morrison, and his radio broadcast of the disaster with the now-famous line “Oh, the humanity” elevated the public’s awareness of what happened.

Here is Herbert Morrison’s audio that he recorded while the Hindenburg disaster unfolded in front of him:

It’s starting to rain again; it’s—the rain has slacked up a little bit. The back motors of the ship are just holding it just, just enough to keep it from — It burst into flames!

Get this, Charlie! Get this, Charlie! It’s fire—and it’s crashing! It’s crashing! It’s terrible! Oh, my, get out of the way, please! It’s burning and bursting into flames, and the—and it’s falling on the mooring-mast and all the folks agree that this is terrible, this is one of the worst catastrophes in the world. [Indecipherable word(s)] It’s–it’s–it’s the flames, [indecipherable, possibly the word “climbing”] oh, four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it … it’s a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It’s smoke, and it’s flames now … and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here. I told you, I can’t even talk to people whose friends are on there. Ah! It’s–it’s–it’s–it’s … o–ohhh! I–I can’t talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest, it’s just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk, and the screaming. Lady, I–I’m sorry. Honest: I–I can hardly breathe.

I–I’m going to step inside where I cannot see it. Charlie, that’s terrible. Ah, ah—I can’t. I, listen, folks, I–I’m gonna have to stop for a minute because I’ve lost my voice. This is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed.

You can hear the emotion in his voice.

36 people were killed. 35 were on the Hindenburg and one ground crew member.

And while dirigibles for commercial travel didn’t go away immediately, the public’s trust in them started to wane. I’m sure seeing the footage of the disaster didn’t help. And then, of course, there was the start of World War II. Throughout the war, the technology for airplanes grew to where they could fly farther and faster than they ever could before.

Oh, and the movie’s scene we just heard doesn’t talk about this, but one of the reasons Hindenburg went up in flames so fast was because it was filled with hydrogen—which is extremely flammable. That acted like a starter because even though it all burned up in about 90 seconds, it was enough to bring the whole burning wreck down and cause the deaths while also igniting the engine’s diesel fuel which continued to burn for hours.

Why did they use such a flammable gas inside Hindenburg? It’s not because it was the only option. In fact, Hindenburg had been designed to use helium—a gas that is not flammable or explosive. But, the United States had export restrictions against Nazi Germany so they had to use hydrogen instead.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history on screen, check out the 1975 movie called The Hindenburg. The landing sequence leading up to the explosion starts at around an hour and 37 minutes.

And if you want to learn more about the true story, we did a deep dive into that movie over on episode #91 of Based on a True Story.


May 8, 1945. Berchtesgaden, Germany.

An American soldier flips through a photo album filled with carefully mounted black and white photos. As the camera shows the pictures inside, it’s not super close to the album yet but we can see there are two men standing side-by-side posing for the camera. The photo next to that is of a huge crowd of people lined along a street. On the street are more people in a formation; it looks like a military parade of some sort, and massive mountains provides an impressive backdrop.

The soldier turns to the next page and we can see more photos of people. There seems to be a Nazi swastika in almost every photo. In this photograph, there are people sitting around a dinner table. In the middle is Hitler. Could this photo album belong to Hitler?

Outside, we can hear the voices of some other soldiers as the camera cuts to them.

They’re listing off names of Nazi leaders who sound similar: Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Goebbels.

A couple other soldiers make their way outside to join the three who are sitting down on the balcony. It looks like a luxurious place, with huge stone arches and on the other side we can see massive, snowcapped mountains in the background that look similar to those in the photo album. It’s the kind of natural view that no photograph can do it justice.

One of the two soldiers who just walked up is Damien Lewis’ character, Richard Winters. A soldier who was already there grabs a bottle of wine and shares it with Winters, offering him a drink. It’s obvious the men are relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

But Winters, who is the senior officer of the group, has some news to share with the other men. He unfolds a piece of paper and reads it to them:

“Effective immediately. All troops stand fast on present positions.”

He pauses and looks up at the three soldiers who are relaxing, each one with their own bottle of wine. One of them, Ron Livingston’s character, Lewis Nixon, is laying back on a chair. He puts his hands behind his head in a very relaxed manner and smiles, “Standing fast.”

A chuckle bursts out. Winters laughs, too.

Then, he asks if the men want to hear the rest of the news. “Ready for it?”

They continue laughing and nod their heads.

Winters simply says, “German army’s surrendered.”

Everyone looks up at him, including Nixon, who pulls his hands out from behind his head. Winters points at Nixon, “I’ve got a present for you.”

In the next scene, we see Winters driving an Army Jeep with Nixon in the passenger seat. They’re going through a forested area, pulling up to an elegant-looking house that has half of it blown apart. We can see the same, beautiful snowy mountains in the background, providing a stark contrast to the green trees in the foreground.

Nixon asks what the place is, to which Winters replies it’s Hermann Goering’s house. They hop out and go inside. A couple other American soldiers were there at the house and Winters leads the four men down some stairs into a massive wine cellar. Nixon is speechless as he looks around.

Winters has some voiceover explaining the contents, saying 10,000 bottles of the world’s finest liquor, wine and champagne helped “Easy Company” mark the day the war in Europe came to an end. Then, in the scene, Winters says it to the other three: “Happy VE Day.”

One of the men turns to Nixon and asks, “VE Day?”

Nixon explains, “Victory in Europe.”

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the series Band of Brothers

That sequence comes from Band of Brothers, the 2001 HBO miniseries, and it’s depicting an event that happened this week in history: The end of war in Europe during World War II, commonly known as VE Day, on May 8th, 1945.

At least, it’s depicting one version of how American soldiers learned of the news. It’s obviously not showing us what happened to trigger VE Day.

That would be the unconditional surrender of the German Army, which actually took place the day before on May 7th. But, let’s back up a little more to get some historical context for the end of the war and the events that led up to the surrender.

On Sunday, June 22nd, 1941, the Germans launched what would end up being the largest military operation in human history when they invaded the Soviet Union. It was a move that came as a complete surprise to the Soviets because prior to the attack, the two nations had signed a non-aggression pact.

This was the start of an Eastern Front of fighting for Germany.

For the next three years, the Soviets had managed to slow down, stop, and push the Germans back. Near the end of 1943 and throughout 1944, the Soviets launched offensives of their own along the Eastern Front. They drove the Germans back from Estonia and Latvia to the north all the way through Ukraine, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Meanwhile, on the western side of Europe, the Allies landed in Normandy on D-Day: June 6th, 1944. What followed was a lot of hard fighting for months as the Allies pushed their way through France, Belgium, Holland and into the Germany.

So, essentially, Germany was being pushed back on both sides.

On March 22nd, 1945, the Allies crossed into Germany on the Western Front. A little over a week later, on April 2nd, 1945, the Soviets drove the Germans back through Austria on the Eastern Front. Both sides continued to push, on April 16th, the Soviets made their way to Berlin.

That same day, the Americans started attacking the German city of Nuremberg. They captured it four days later, on April 20th. Meanwhile, the British started attacking another major German city, Hamburg, on April 18th.

With Soviet explosions getting closer, Adolf Hitler knew the end was near. He committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on April 30th, 1945.

This sparked a change in leadership as well as suicides by other Nazis such as Joseph Goebbels on May 1st. It also was the start of surrenders by German generals and armies. On May 2nd, the Germans in Berlin surrendered to the Soviets. That same day, some other German armies surrendered to the Allies. German forces in Denmark, Netherlands, Bavaria and more surrendered in the following days.

Then, at 2:41 AM on the morning of May 7th, 1945, General Alfred Jodl officially signed an unconditional surrender for all German forces to the Allies and they were to cease active operations the following day. On that same day, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel also signed another document of unconditional surrender.

At 3 PM on May 8th, Winston Churchill had a radio broadcast to announce the end of the war in Europe. Here is that speech:

Yesterday morning at 2.41 a.m. at General Eisenhower’s headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command and of Grand Admiral Dönitz, the designated head of the German state, signed the Act of Unconditional Surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command.

General Bedel Smith, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and General Francois Sevez signed the document on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General Suslo Parov signed on behalf of the Russian High Command.

Today this agreement will be ratified and confirmed at Berlin, where Air Chief Marshal Tedda, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General Delac de Tassigny will sign on behalf of General Eisenhower.

General Zhukov will sign on behalf of the Soviet High Command.

The German representatives will be Field Marshal Keitel, Chief of the High Command, and the Commanders-in-Chief of the German Army, Navy, and Air Forces.

Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, Tuesday the 8th of May.

But in the interest of saving lives, the ceasefire began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.

The Germans are still in places resisting the Russian troops, but should they continue to do so after midnight, they will of course deprive themselves of the protection of the laws of war and will be attacked from all quarters by the Allied troops.

It is not surprising that on such long fronts, and in the existing disorder of the enemy, the commands of the German High Command should not in every case have been obeyed immediately.

This does not, in our opinion, with the best military advice at our disposal, constitute any reason for withholding from the nation the facts communicated to us by General Eisenhower of the unconditional surrender already signed at Reims, nor should it prevent us from celebrating today and tomorrow, Wednesday, as Victory in Europe Day.

Today perhaps we shall think mostly of ourselves.

Tomorrow we shall pay a particular tribute to our heroic Russian comrades, whose prowess in the field has been one of the grand contributions to the general victory.

The German war is therefore at an end.

After years of intense preparation, Germany hurled herself on Poland at the beginning of September 1939.

And in pursuance of our guarantee to Poland, and in common with the French Republic, Great Britain, the British Empire, and Commonwealth of Nations declared war upon this foul aggression.

After gallant France had been struck down, we from this island and from our united empire maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year, until we were joined by the military might of Soviet Russia, and later by the overwhelming power and resources of the United States of America.

Finally, almost the whole world was combined against the evildoers who are now prostrate before us.

Our gratitude to all our splendid allies goes forth from all our hearts in this island and throughout the British Empire.

We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead.

Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued.

The injuries she has inflicted upon Great Britain, the United States, and other countries, and her detestable cruelties call for justice and retribution.

We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our tasks, both at home and abroad.

Advance Britannia!

Long live the cause of freedom!

God save the King!

Back to Band of Brothers, though, the series is correct to show that the 101st Airborne was at the Bavarian home of Hitler in May of 1945.

If you want to see their experiences on the screen, you can find that starting at about 13 minutes into the final episode of the miniseries.

And we did a huge deep dive into the historical accuracy of the entire series which you can find over at

Part 3 of that miniseries is where we cover the events on and around VE Day.


May 11, 1960. Argentina.

The sun is almost gone now as darkness fills the sky. There’s just enough light left in the day to show a simple building silhouetted against the sky. The building is completely dark, though, because there’s no lights outside. The only artificial light in the shot is the yellow glow of lights coming from inside the house, but it’s not powerful enough to spill into the outdoors.

The camera pans over to show a couple other artificial lights. We don’t have to see the vehicle to know these are car headlights. The car slowly makes its way down the road before stopping underneath a dim streetlight. Inside the car, we can see a man and a woman.

Then, the camera cuts to another car. This one has people inside, but at the front of the car a man is raising the hood and propping it up. Maybe something is wrong with their car. We can see better inside the car now, and there are what looks like three people inside the car, one in the passenger seat and two in the backseat.

The fourth man who raised the hood is tinkering with the engine.

Another man on a bike rides by. In Spanish, he asks if they need help. The man working on the engine politely declines the offer for aid.

There’s no light left in the sky anymore as the camera cuts to a scene just ahead of a bus pulling up to a bus stop. There are a few scattered streetlights, but overall the scene is still very dark and hard to see as the bus stops near a sign and one of the streetlights.

At the same time, one of the men gets out of the car and starts walking toward the bus. He pauses. The bus has continued driving now, and it doesn’t look like anyone got out when it stopped.

The four men are starting to get panicked. Does he know? He must know. But his wife and kids are still home, he wouldn’t leave without them would he? He’s done it before—we should leave. Now!

They all look at each other, clearly trying to figure out what to do. From a distance, the man and woman in another car look on. They, too, seem to be wondering why no one got off the bus, although there’s absolutely no dialogue from them.

Just then, another bus rumbles down the same street the other one just left. Like the bus before it, this one stops at the same place, its brakes screeching slightly as it does. From the dim light inside the bus, we can see some movement. The bus pauses for a moment, then continues on. After it passes, we can see a solo man standing there. He’s reaching for something in his pocket. A flashlight. Makes sense, it’s still very dark.

In fact, we can’t see his face at all, it’s way too dark for that, but we can see the outline of him thanks to a couple of the dim streetlights near the bus stop.

The men in the car notice this. The camera zooms in on one of them who makes a positive identification, “Him.”

We can see the flashlight bouncing slowly as the man carries it while he walks. The men in and around the car contemplate what just happened. Why was there a second bus? And the man on the bike? Something feels off.

Making a decision, one of the men near the car with the hood up starts walking toward the flashlight man. With the rest of the men staying in the car, now we have two men walking toward each other. One, the guy who just got off the bus, is carrying a flashlight. The other is not.

They pass each other silently, then a moment afterward the man from the car turns around to say something. That makes the flashlight man turn around, but it’s only for a moment as flashlight man doesn’t seem to care who the other guy is. But he doesn’t get far. The man from the car jumps into action, putting his gloved hand over flashlight man’s mouth. That muffles his screams.

In the dark shot, his flashlight starts waving around wildly as he’s being abducted. The two men continue to wrestle each other, falling into the ditch by the side of the road. As the struggle continues, flashlight man manages to get a scream out—part of it is muffled, though, as the other man continues to try to keep his hand over his mouth. Another of the men from the car jumps out, rushing to the aid of his colleague.

The camera cuts to inside the building we saw at the beginning of this sequence. Inside is a woman. This must be her home. Even though there’s no dialogue, after the scream outside it’s obvious that maybe she heard something. Right? Maybe. And maybe the guy outside being abducted is her husband. Of course, she doesn’t know that’s happening. But maybe she did hear something, so she starts to investigate.

Back in the ditch, it’s two against one now. The car with the man and woman that we saw at the beginning of this sequence appears, backing up right alongside the spot where the struggle is taking place. The woman gets out, opening the back door as the two men carry the flashlight man and put him in the back.

She gets in alongside the flashlight man, who is still being held by the first guy from the car. He tells her to get the sedative. Then, to flashlight man, the man from the front seat of the car says, “Make a noise and I’ll kill you.”

The car kicks into gear and they drive away, followed shortly by the other car.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Operation Finale

This comes from the 2018 movie called Operation Finale and it depicts an event that happened this week in history when Israeli spies managed to find and capture Adolf Eichmann—the Nazi war criminal who was one of the twisted minds behind the Holocaust.

With help from a Catholic bishop, Eichmann escaped to Argentina after World War II ended. That’s where he was in 1960, which is why we see people speaking Spanish in the movie.

Of course, no one really knew the path he took from Europe to Argentina at the time.

We only know that now because while other Allies started the post-war process, one of the things the newly formed country of Israel did was to try and find the Nazis behind the Holocaust.

The movie is correct to show the Israeli Mossad agents capturing Eichmann in secret. Although I only described the sequence in the movie from this week in history, for some more context, after thinking perhaps they knew where Eichmann was, they had to make a positive identification first. That happened in March of 1960.

Once they knew where he was, the next step was to decide what to do. Normally, a criminal would be extradited—we hear about this kind of thing happening all the time. But one reason why so many Nazis like Eichmann went to Argentina was that they tended not to extradite Nazis. That’s a big reason why the decision was made to capture him in secret.

So, in April of 1960, Israel sent spies with the task of capturing him and returning him to Israel for trial.

After some more observations to establish what Eichmann’s routine was, they determined the best time to capture him would be after he took his normal bus in the evening. Just like we see in the movie, though, on the night of May 11th, 1960, he wasn’t on his normal bus. They were about to give up for the day when Eichmann showed up on a bus that came by about 30 minutes or so later.

The movie correctly showed Oscar Isaac’s version of the Mossad agent Peter Malkin as the first to walk up to Eichmann. Malkin asked Eichmann a question, the latter of whom didn’t want to interact with this stranger and continued on. That’s when the struggle ensued.

The agents tackled Eichmann and put him in a waiting car before driving to a nearby safe house they’d set up beforehand.

If you want to watch this week’s event in the movie, check out 2018’s Operation Finale and the actual capture of Adolf Eichmann starts at about an hour and 14 minutes into the movie.

And if you want to learn even more about before and after the capture of the notorious Nazi—including what happened after they brought him back to Israel—we covered the true story behind that movie over on episode #162 of Based on a True Story.


And while that makes our third historical event this week, there’s one more important one to share that was depicted in a movie called Amazing Grace, so we’ll hear that right after the break.


May 12, 1789. London, England.

We can hear his words before we see who is talking.

“It is with a heavy heart,” he begins. The camera pans around into a large chamber where many stately men in suits and wigs befitting the 1700s are either standing or sitting, listening to the man speaking. He continues, “…that I bring to the attention of this House, a trade which degrades men to the level of brutes.”

Now we can see the person talking. It’s Ioan Gruffudd’s character, William Wilberforce.

Wilberforce explains that, “I am speaking of the slave trade.”

All the men in the room start to make noise, seemingly disagreeing with the mention. The commotion continues as Wilberforce recognizes the elephant in the room: Namely that people in the room have interests in the Indies, or investments in plantations, or they’re ship owners. In other words, they’re profiting from the slave trade.

While the movie doesn’t mention this outright, it doesn’t really have to because we can see it visually, but it’s probably no surprise that everyone in the room is white.

The commotion is getting louder as Wilberforce continues his speech, trying to appeal to their humanity. People are talking loudly, banging, calling out…none of it really seems to be saying anything, but the closed captioning in the movie describes this as “clamoring.”

The first thing that came to my mind was trying to talk over a busy restaurant.

Basically, it’s not any single person who is stopping Wilberforce from talking, but collectively it’s the hundreds of people in the room who are all making enough noise that Wilberforce has to raise his voice to be heard. Even then, it doesn’t seem to be working. His voice is being drowned out as he tries to plead his position.

Finally, someone in the room calls out for order.

Lord Tarleton, who is played by Ciarán Hinds in the movie, stands up to speak out. He says he can’t believe his ears. Someone from the other side bounces back, “We can hardly believe your mouth!”

There’s scattered laughter among the men.

Tarleton continues, saying that his young friend, Wilberforce, seems to have a long-term strategy to destroy the nation that spawned him. Everyone in the room seems to agree with Tarleton as Wilberforce sits down.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Amazing Grace

That sequence comes from the 2006 movie called Amazing Grace and it depicts an event that happened this week in history: William Wilberforce’s first major speech on abolition to the House of Commons. That was this week in history on May 12th, 1789. Or maybe it was May 13th, in my research there were both dates given by different sources.

Although the movie doesn’t mention this, the speech we hear comes from accounts of the speech because at that time they didn’t transcribe every speech in the House of Commons. With that said, though, the movie’s version of the speech is pretty accurate—albeit much shorter than the actual speech which lasted for about three hours.

But here is the generally accepted version of how William Wilberforce started his speech:

When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House, a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause, when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task.

But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candour I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours; when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end; when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade.

The movie was also correct show that Wilberforce’s speech in 1789 wasn’t necessarily received very well. After all, as the movie also correctly depicts, there were many in the British government who profited greatly from the slave trade. It also wasn’t the last of his speeches against the slave trade. But, it was a moment in history that many consider the beginning of the end for slavery in Britain, something that wasn’t fully abolished until August 28th, 1833.

If you want to watch the speech as it is depicted in the 2006 movie called Amazing Grace, you’ll find it starting at about 47 minutes and 17 seconds.

And we did a deep dive into the true story behind that film way back on episode #22 of Based on a True Story.



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