Filmmaker Aviva Kempner Delves Into The Life Of The Baseball Player Who Spied On Nazis, On B’nai B’rith’s Podcast
(Washington, D.C., May 29, 2019)--Aviva Kempner, the award-winning director best-known for documentaries about baseball player Hank Greenberg and radio and television star Gertrude Berg, joined B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin for a discussion on her latest film project, “The Spy Behind Home Plate.” The movie focuses on the life of Moe Berg, a Princeton and Columbia-educated professional baseball player who spoke 10 languages and spied for the U.S. during World War II. Berg’s role during the war was especially notable because he was a Jew who gathered intelligence to use against Germany. According to Kempner, Berg was a “perfect pick” to serve in the American intelligence apparatus: “The type of people [that] you had to put in [undercover missions] were cool under pressure,” “were very bright,” “could speak a lot of languages” and “knew the customs of Europe.” As someone who was “called the brainiest man in baseball,” Berg was well-suited for his espionage role.
Berg played for five teams throughout his time in professional baseball, including stints of several years with the Chicago White Sox, the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox. While still a player, he is said to have begun his espionage career while gathering intelligence on a trip to Japan, where he traveled with other MLB players including Babe Ruth, in the 1930s. Years after his trip to Japan, Berg became involved with the brand-new Office of Strategic Services (OSS), an American intelligence service that predates the CIA. In this role, he served his country by gathering information about the German nuclear program.
Kempner and Mariaschin discuss Kempner’s personal connection to Berg’s story and her underlying mission as a filmmaker focused on documentaries about Jews who defy stereotypes and make history. Kempner’s parents raised her with a strong Jewish identity, and it frustrated her that so many popular culture portrayals of people who saved Jews during the war only portrayed non-Jewish saviors.
Partially to counter this troubling cultural trend, Kempner has devoted her film career to documenting the lives of “Jewish heroes that break the stereotypes and fought -isms.” Berg, a good-looking, athletic spy who used his skills to fight back against Nazism, certainly fits the bill.
To listen to the full discussion on our podcast, click here. To watch a trailer for “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” click here.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org