‘Mank’ Fact Check: Did Herman Mankiewicz Really Help 100 People Escape Nazi Germany?

David Fincher’s new film chronicles the feud between Mankiewicz and Orson Wells over “Citizen Kane” screenwriting credit

Last Updated: December 3, 2020 @ 1:26 PM

(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t seen David Fincher’s “Mank.”)

In David Fincher’s “Mank,” Lily Collins’ character Rita Alexander hears that her boss, “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, helped 100 people flee out of Nazi Germany. But is that true?

Somewhat. In Richard Meryman’s biography “Mank: The Wit, World and Life of Herman Mankiewicz,” Meryman wrote, “Herman became the official sponsor for hundreds of German refugees and took responsibility for total strangers fleeing to America. Sam Jaffe protested that he could not possibly fulfill these obligations. Herman continued to sign a stack of affidavits and said, ‘Yes, but the government doesn’t know that.'”

According to “Film History Vol. 1, No.4,” Mankiewicz was among others in Hollywood like Carl Laemmle and William Wyler who were involved in rescuing German refugees. Wyler, for example, was involved in trying to rescue 25 people, while Laemmle helped 300 people; for each case, they needed to petition the State Department for a visa application, indicating why these people were in peril and should be admitted to the US. To prove that the refugee would not be a drain on American taxpayers, they then had to guarantee to sponsor each immigrant financially, providing certified tax documents substantiating personal financial worth. In addition to submitting mounds of paperwork, in many cases they found ways to pay applicants’ fees and travel. Wyler sponsored a woman named Bona Bloch, he stated in his application that “She is in danger because she is non-Aryan and in a concentration camp.”

So he might not have single-handedly helped exactly 100 people escape, but he played a big part in rescuing Germany refugees. And according to “Film History,” it was legal.

“Mank” stars Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz, and Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance, Collins, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton and Arlis Howard also star. Fincher’s period drama centers on the life of the screenwriter as he wrote “Citizen Kane,” and his feud with director Orson Welles leading up to the film’s release. It is based on a script written by Fincher’s father, Jack Fincher.

The film will be released in limited theaters on Nov. 13 and will stream on Netflix on Dec. 4.