Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds explores an alternate version of World War II, and while its main characters are fictional, many of them are based on real-life people, among those Daniel Brühl’s Fredrick Zoller. Throughout his career as a filmmaker, Tarantino has explored a variety of genres, all of them with his signature narrative style and generous doses of violence and blood, and he has also given the audience a look at alternate versions of history with Inglourious Basterds and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, two of his most critically acclaimed (yet controversial) works.
Set during World War II, Inglourious Basterds tells two stories with a common goal: kill as many nazis as possible, including Hitler. One story follows a group of soldiers known as the “Basterds”, led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), and the other is the story of Shosanna Dreyfus/Emmanuelle Mimieux’s (Mélanie Laurent), a Jewish cinema owner whose family was killed by SS officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and is now ready for revenge. However, Landa wasn’t the only obstacle in Shosanna’s path, as she also met Fredrick Zoller.
Zoller was a German army sniper who met Shosanna in Paris and became infatuated with her, but she always rejected his advances. Zoller was overly-confident as his story was turned into a propaganda film by Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), and he wanted the movie to premiere at Shosanna’s theater. Although Zoller, his story with Shosanna, and the movie Stolz der Nation (Nation’s Pride) are fictional, Zoller was based on two real-life men: Austrian sniper Matthäus Hetzenauer and actor Audie Murphy.
Matthäus Hetzenauer served in the 3rd Mountain Division on the Eastern Front of World War II and is credited with 345 kills. Hetzenauer received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in 1944 and was captured by Soviet troops in 1945, serving five years in a Soviet prison camp, and he died in 2004. Audie Murphy was an American soldier and actor who received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, such as the Medal of Honor for valor. At the age of 19, Murphy single-handedly held off a company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in 1945, then led a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. After the war, Murphy became an actor, and while most of his roles were westerns, he also played himself in a movie based on his memoirs. He died in a plane crash in 1971.
In Inglourious Basterds, Fredrick Zoller’s military achievements were also outstanding, but obviously terrifying: he told Shosanna he killed 68 people on the first day he was in a bell tower in a walled city, then killed 150 people the second day and 32 on the third day. This caught the attention of Goebbels, who asked Zoller to play himself in Nation’s Pride, and so he did. Nation’s Pride is what ultimately led Zoller to his death, as the movie premiered at Shosanna’s theater, where she (and the Basterds, unbeknownst to each other) set a trap for all the Nazi attendees, but Zoller ended up being killed by Shosanna and killing her as well. The inspirations behind Inglourious Basterds’ Fredrick Zoller are interesting, and once you take a look at their stories, their influence on Zoller is very clear.
Next: What Happened To Hans Landa After Inglourious Basterds