December 15, 2010
After WWII, a small group of Holocaust survivors set out to take revenge on Nazis. They tracked down former Nazi soldiers, executed them in the middle of the night, and even allegedly poisoned hundreds of SS officers in American POW camps.
This group was nicknamed "the Avengers." Their true identities were kept secret for decades--and not many people know about their history. Even today, it's difficult to separate hard fact from lore and legend, including what was perhaps their biggest victory: Smuggling a huge shipment of deadly arsenic from Paris to Germany in 1945 and poisoning the bread served to German prisoners of war.
In 2005, a request from the Polish government that Israel extradite one Avenger to stand trial over his activities was ignored. Its members--some of whom also took part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising--are not apologetic. "I didn't see myself as a murderer, not then and not today," one of the Avengers told CBS News, also in 2005.
The group is the subject of a newly-published thriller, The Final Reckoning by Sam Bourne, and is profiled in a nonfiction book, The Avengers, by Rich Cohen. It's often said that the Oscar-winning film Inglourious Basterds owed the Avengers a debt of gratitude. But if truth is stranger than fiction, then the real-life adventures of the Avengers are far more intriguing than anything our imaginations can conjure.