There’s still so much to learn about the black experience during WWII (broadly-speaking), and I’m hoping to see even more films centered on stories about the black experience from that specific period, get made.
Like this one, which has been in circulation for about 4 years now, since its it’s North American premiere at the WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA, in 2011. Although many are still not aware of it, so it’s my duty to fix that.
It also aired on the National Geographic Channel.
Titled “The Wereth Eleven,” and of course based on a true story, it’s an epic docudrama that retraces the steps of the 11 soldiers of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion who escaped The 18th Volksgrenadiers after their unit was overrun at the start of the Battle of the Bulge. Their 10-mile trek from their battery position to Wereth, Belgium, led them to refuge with a Belgian family until a Nazi sympathizer revealed their presence. The soldiers surrendered, but were taken to a field, where they were tortured, maimed, and shot on Dec. 17, 1944. The killings were investigated, but never prosecuted.
And thankfully, this didn’t sit very well with the exec producer of the film, Joseph Small, who then spent two years after he heard the above story, researching the events that took place on that tragic day. Small eventually enlisted the help of writers and directors, Robert Child and Frederic Lumiere (who also edited the film) to bring the gut wrenching story to the screen.
The filmmakers then set out to elevate war documentary recreations to a new level, using Hollywood-grade visual effects, as well as interviews with people who were there, and archival footage.
In one of the archival films, captured men of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion are paraded for German propaganda. After some investigating, one of the men was identified and interviewed: Retired Staff Sergeant George Shomo. At 90 years old and a resident of northern New Jersey, Shomo offered a shocking and brutally honest personal account of what it was like to be an African American in World War II; “As a black soldier in the United States Army, you weren’t as good as a dog,” stated Shomo. Outnumbered 10 to one, Shomo and his fellow soldiers were left behind to fight the Germans. “We fired until we ran out of ammunition. It’s hard when a man’s got a rifle coming at you and all you got is a trench knife. But I got a couple [of men] and some of the other guys got a couple. I’d say the Germans had to walk over piles of their dead to get to us.”
A memorial now stands on the site of the soldiers’ murders, dedicated to the Wereth 11 and all African American soldiers who fought in The European Theatre. It is believed to be the only memorial to African American soldiers of World War II in Europe.
The film traveled the film festival circuit in 2011, leading up to a DVD release in the fall of that year. I looked it up to find that it’s available on Amazon as a DVD and on VOD, but it’s not on Netflix.
But today is your lucky day, because it’s also on Hulu in its entirety and is embedded below, so you can watch it right here, right now!