One of those who had been rounded up was an SS major.
“When I saw him standing before me, a tremendous wave of hatred swept over me,” Mr. Lerner wrote in “Flight and Return: A Memoir of World War II” (2013). “He represented all the evil that he and his kind had brought into the world.” But, he wrote, he resisted the impulse to attack the prisoner and began his interrogation “with complete courtesy.”
Mr. Lerner, whose combat experience was limited to three snowy days firing a carbine from a trench in Luxembourg during the Battle of the Bulge, recalled a foray behind enemy lines.
Dressed as a German officer, he crossed the Rhine in a rowboat at night with three military policemen to destroy the oxygen tanks that German frogmen were planning to use to demolish a pontoon bridge critical to the Army in Oppenheim, Germany — a plan he learned about from interrogating two captured frogmen. With rifle fire and grenades, his raid succeeded; he then watched from his hiding spot, a barn loft, as troops crossed the bridge.
Maximilian Lerner was born on Sept. 4, 1924, in Vienna. His father, Isak, was a furrier, and his mother, Bertha (Deutscher) Lerner, was a homemaker.
Max was not yet 14 in March 1938 when the Nazis annexed Austria, irrevocably changing his family’s life. On the day that he and the other Jewish students at his high school were expelled, they were forced to scrub the streets outside the school with toothbrushes. Two months later, he, his parents and his sister, Susi, escaped to Paris, where he learned French in high school.
They moved to Nice in 1939. About two years later they left France by train to Madrid and then to Lisbon before boarding a ship to Manhattan, where they arrived in April 1941.