At the time of filming…
Peter Ertel was 96 years of age. He was an author, a poet, and an avid pianist. He was also a former agent for the U.S. State Department, having been recruited by our government to help rebuild his former country, Germany, which was decimated by six years of war. After immigrating to America in 1953, he worked nearly three decades for a small industrial chemical firm in Cleveland, Ohio. The company was owned by Jewish people, who knew that Peter served five years in the German Army during World War II. They knew because Peter made no attempt to hide this during his job interview.
How a man who, a few years previously, represented “the incarnation of evil” to the Jewish people found his way to be considered "like family" by his Jewish employers is just one part of a remarkable life story that is captivatingly recalled by the titular storyteller in the feature-length documentary, The Unimaginable Journey Of Peter Ertel. The film is a first-person narrative documentary about an honorable man who maintained his uncommon humanity despite being trapped in a universe of hatred, destruction, and death. It is also a story of the sometimes miraculous pull of the tides of fate.
Featuring rare archival film and photographs from German, Russian, and British sources - much of which has never been shown before - the documentary illuminates the under-told perspective of a former foot soldier, forced against his will into being part of history’s most notorious army, with unprecedented insight and candor. There is no unseen narrator. Peter Ertel tells his own life story, as only he could tell it - with unflinching honesty and raw emotion, while maintaining penetrating eye-contact with the audience. His are the eyes of a man who has seen so much, and lived to tell about it.
Winner of the 2017 Chagrin Documentary Film Festival David Ponce Best of the Fest Award, the 2016 GI Film Festival Founders' Choice Award, and the 2017 Cleveland International Film Festival Local Heroes Competition.
Produced, Directed & Edited by Joseph Cahn
Written by Peter Ertel
Executive Producer, Samuel Hartwell
Co-Producer, Mary Kay Salerno-Cahn
Stephane Cornicard (voice of Young Peter)
Jessica Ridder (voice of Johanna Ertel)
Jackson Biesecker (Peter in Normandy)
Len Kosatka (Medic)
About the FilmMaker
Joseph Cahn has been producing, writing, and editing broadcast and non-broadcast film and video productions for nearly 30 years. Before starting Victory Films in 2004, he was a producer-editor for several Cleveland-area multimedia firms. Prior to that, he was a producer with NFL Films where he wrote and edited highlight films and segments for HBO, ESPN, and home video.