A Weird Nazi Trip, Dramatized

The story of four Nazi saboteurs who came ashore in Amagansett in 1942 is the subject of a dramatic reading at the Mulford Farm in East Hampton on Saturday afternoon and evening. U.S. Government Archives

     “History’s wheel just keeps on turning,” was what Peter Koper, the author of the screenplay “Nazi Invasion of the Hamptons,” said fascinated him about the eastern end of the South Fork in general and the subject of the Nazi invasion dramatization scheduled for Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Mulford Farm in East Hampton.
Mr. Koper has lived in Springs for the past 15 years. “It’s a real muse, all the history,” he said Monday morning, already at work on a television pilot about Camp Hero in Montauk.
“I took off from the Montauk project into some wilder theories, multiple universes. The Philadelphia experiment was cheesy,” he said about one time-travel legend that’s been tied to Montauk. “You don’t need science fiction,” he said, going on to reveal a glimpse of the pilot’s plot: alternative universes, “two particles inhabiting the same space at the same time in this weird little village,” he said, referring to the easternmost hamlet.
    Weird, perhaps, but no weirder than Amagansett on the morning of June 13 — two days later than Saturday’s reading but in 1942 — when George John Dasch, Ernest Peter Burger, Heinrich Harm Heinck, and Richard Quirin, Nazi saboteurs, landed from a U-boat, buried their clothes in the dunes, hopped on the L.I.R.R., and headed for the Big Apple with malace aforethought.
    “I always knew about it. I was doing another project with European producers. They were interested and got me a deal with the Berlin-Brandenburg Film Board to write a screenplay.” Strange, Brandenburg was where the saboteurs trained. “They commissioned the plan and are developing it. They have raised half the money [and are] looking at U.S. producers and distributors for a movie, most likely a cable movie.”
    For Saturday’s performances at the Mulford Farm, actors will present a condensed version of the screenplay. “For a reading with actors, you have to rewrite, so you’ve got to change it into a play form with vestiges of the images you’d get in the movie — a hybrid.”
    “It’s funny. A lot of people in Amagansett say they know something happened, that they landed and got on a train, but they don’t know the background of these guys.”
    Mr. Koper said he found the original military trial transcripts at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. “It’s where most of my research came from. They tell the whole story. I wanted to find out who these guys were.”
    In all, eight saboteurs landed on American soil in June of ’42, four in Amagansett, four others in Ponte Vedra Beach near Jacksonville, Fla. They were bent on disrupting war-related industries. But, by the end of June, all were captured, tried before a military tribunal, and found guilty. One was sentenced to life in jail, another drew a 30-year stretch, and six were executed within days of the trial.
    “The whole plot was cockamamie anyway. It failed due to incompetence, betrayal, hubris, and bad luck,” Mr. Koper said.
    For four years he worked as a producer on the television show “America’s Most Wanted.” “I’m well versed in bring­ing real events alive. There’s always spaces between what you read about people and events and what they were like. Their training, how they came loaded with a bag of MacGyver’s tricks, handmade explosive detonators, explosives in the shape of coal, spy craft, this is what the play brings out.”
    Saturday’s reading, produced by Teri Kennedy and directed by Mr. Koper, will benefit the restoration of the historic Amagansett Life Saving Station that played a role in the real-life World War II drama.
    It was a Coast Guard patrolman from the station who came upon the saboteurs shortly after midnight as they left the beach in the fog having changed into civilian clothes. Their story, something about having been out clamming, didn’t make sense to John Cullen, the 21-year-old coastie from Queens they bumped into. He reported the incident.
    The rest is history, a reading on Saturday, and perhaps a motion picture. Tickets for Saturday’s readings cost $50 for the 2 p.m. show and $150 for the 7 p.m. performance, which includes the cost of a 5:30 p.m. reception with food and drink provided by Amagansett Wine and Spirits, the Amagansett Farmers Market, and Stuart’s Seafood Market.