Even before WW II came to a close the United States was already preparing to admit Nazis into the country. The horror, of course, is that even though the practice lasted for years beyond the war’s conclusion, Jews who had survived the devastation were still isolated in concentration camps and camps for displaced persons. Palestine, the U.K., and the U.S. forbid their entry. Unfortunately, Lichtblau is so blinded by his outrage that he fails to paint a larger picture. He never explains why American leaders were so obsessed by their anti-Communism that they felt it essential to employ every possible weapon at their disposal to stave off the Russians. Those weapons included nuclear warheads, proxy wars around the globe, spies of every type, dirty tricks, and the drafting of former Nazis (before the Russians could draft the same ones) to develop even more aggressive tactics. Rather than feeling unabated anger over American cohabitation with arch enemies, I was left wanting to know more about the anti-Communist mania that overtook the country. It does not help that Lichtblau considers every Nazi party member to have been a mass killer. No doubt, some were integral parts of the Nazi killing machine, but not every party member is a full supporter of every policy any more than every American who voted for Bush or paid her taxes or worked in his government, say a lifelong Republican worked in the Department of Commerce for 18 years, thought that America’s demolition of Iraq was a wise plan.
Sarah Waldman’s grandfather escaped the Nazi Aunchshloss in Austria by the skin of his teeth. He settled in America, opened a successful medical practice, and lived a life of joy and optimism. In his closet, discovered only after his death, are the letters of his true love, Valy, left behind in Vienna and Berlin. As the jaws of the Nazi vice slowly draw closer together around Valy’s diminishing life her letters to America become increasingly desperate, personal, and ultimately heartbreaking. By searching for Valy’s story, the history of one woman whose trail leads into the maw of the Shoah, Waldman answers one of the most difficult questions asked of Jews. Why did Jews let the Nazis do this to them? Here we see how it happened to Valy who stayed behind to be with her mother when even in 1938 things seemed like they could not get so bad that abandoning a country, a livelihood and the only family you still had was the only means of saving any member of your family. Because we read this book knowing the outcome and that those Jews still in Europe could never know what was yet to come we are even more chilled as Nazi restrictions build one upon another. And then the really unanswerable question comes to the fore. How could Nazis week after week conceive of new methods of torture: forbidding Jews to shop, ride a bus, congregate, appear in public, live in their own homes, work, live?
I learned a lot about the plight of European Jews in the years 1944 to 1947. American Jews knew of the death camps, but widespread American anti-Semitism prevented Roosevelt from even mentioning the word, Jews, in his fight against the Nazis. He could not or did not direct strikes against concentration camps or the trains that fed them and the U.S. refused admission to Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis. Before this book, I knew the Pope was at least silent on the issue of the Holocaust while it was happening, but Carroll’s opinion is that the Vatican was complicit, rather than just mum. The Vatican actively aided and abetted Nazis. When the war ended, and Part II of Warburg in Rome begins, the church and the U.S. government were so focused on the upcoming cold war with Stalin’s Soviet Union that they conspired to ferret Nazi war criminals out of Europe to Argentina in ways that might help their anti-communist campaign. But the fact that I can’t quite explain what the Americans got out of saving Nazis in their fight against communism is one of many flaws with this novel. The characters – a non-practicing, Yale educated Jew, a beguiling Italian spy whose breasts always seemed worth mentioning, an Irish American priest from New York city — are all two dimensional at best. The plot and dialogue are simultaneously confusing and as predictable as a black and white movie from the 1940s. To his credit, Carroll, a former priest himself, is incredibly even-handed and sympathetic to the Jews and nothing short of distraught at the actions of his church. He made me want to read more about the role of the Church in WW II, but I’m not sure I want to recommend this book to anyone else.
Prior to the outbreak of WWII, the British citizen Eddie Chapman spent his youth blowing safes and robbing banks. Passing in and out of jails, Chapman learned new techniques for thievery and when he wasn’t incarcerated, he fell in love, seriously in love, with a series of women. When war erupted, Chapman was languishing in a cell on the isle of Jersey which fell under Nazi occupation and after failing to escape a couple of times figured his best chance for freedom was to volunteer to become a Nazi spy, that is, a British citizen employed by the Nazis to spy on the British. A year or so later the Germans took him up on his offer, trained him, and air dropped him into Britain for the purpose of blowing up a British airplane factory. Chapman’s apparent success led him to become one of the most decorated Nazi spies in history, only soon after landing in England, he also because one of the most celebrated spies in the British secret service, where he acted as a double agent spying on the Nazis. Using newly released documents McIntyre uncovers a fascinating history of the spy war raging between Allied and Axis forces.
Two parallel stories. In France, a teenage girl, blind since the age of five, has her life turned upside down when the Germans invade Paris. She flees with her father to Saint Malo on the coast where she lives under German occupation in further darkness when, for her safety, she is secluded in an uncle’s house. The uncle, a veteran of WW I, suffers from PTSD and never leaves the house. Her father, as any solo parent of a blind girl would, does everything in his power to protect her. He constructs miniature wooden models of Saint Malo in case his daughter ever needs to learn to navigate its streets. Concurrently, a German orphan, also a young teen, faces a grueling life in the mines when he reaches the age of 15. Except, he is immensely adept at working radios, yet another means of communicating with the world without really seeing. His skills are so great he is drafted into the Nazi army, where he blindly follows orders, but worries that the orders are illogical, if not immoral. The book is aptly named.
The year is 1942. Axis powers have taken control of Europe, east Asia and the Pacific, North Africa, and are threatening to consume Russia. Britain, the last western power, is teetering and the U.S. is slowly engaging its war machinery. The first direct contact between inexperienced American forces and the German Army is the battle for North Africa, which rages for two years back and forth across the inhospitable deserts of Tunisia and Algeria. What makes Rick Atkinson such a brilliant commander of storytelling is his ability to focus on individual bullets splintering rocks just above foxholes and at the same time understand and describe the huge wheeling actions of whole armies across seas, continents, months, and years. When the Germans are finally defeated in Tunisia it marks their first major loss and a coming of age for American forces, who (in Atkinson’s second book, The Day of Battle) are now prepared to leap the Mediterranean to invade Sicily and face the Wehrmacht head-on in the battle up the Italian boot toward the German homeland.
Contemporary research on Nazi war crimes suggests most Nazis were Ordinary Men. Neither crazed nor fanatical killers, Christopher Browning’s landmark book in 1992 discovered that most German soldiers were pretty much like any other soldiers. They worked desk jobs, drove trucks, dug latrines, peeled potatoes, cleaned their rifles everyday for inspection, and occasionally used their guns to slaughter innocent Jews. Until Wendy Lower’s book, Hitler’s Furies, no one had ever examined what the women in Nazi Germany were up to during the Second World War. Not surprisingly, German women were just like German men. Half a million of them headed east with their troops to work as secretaries, nurses, Nazi teachers in occupied schools, assistants, and officer’s wives. Like the men they accompanied they were driven by youthful ambition, desires to escape restrictive families, adventure, and patriotism. And just like everyone else bathed in an upbringing of pervasive anti-Semitism, women were just as capable killers as their male counterparts. Many typed the orders for Aktions, filed photos of mass graves, accepted or selected looted jewelry, and occasionally pulled triggers or administered lethal doses of poisons. Though this book is written more for an academic audience and without a lot of effort to make it fluid reading, the ideas it promotes should not be overlooked. Yes, half of Germany’s population, the female portion, has been largely ignored, but upon closer examination, Lower suggests they were no less culpable.
Like a great general, not a good one, but a great one, Rick Atkinson tracks the final battles for European supremacy as the Second World War ground to close. Simultaneously, he debates grand military strategies, political realities on several homefronts, and problematic relationships among national leaders like Montgomery (England), De Gaulle (France), Stalin (Russia) and Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander. And just when you have the big picture and can imagine hundreds of thousands of soldiers swinging about the continent, Atkinson has you read the final letter from a soldier in the trenches, an important reminder that war is senseless for young men dying individual deaths. All the while, again like the general who must track every detail, Atkinson explains how much successful warfare depends on provisioning. The correct size ammunition must be manufactured in large numbers in a state in the U.S. and then find its way in sufficient numbers to the right gunners facing German sharpshooters somewhere a few hundred miles inside France. The same is true for warm socks, powdered milk, gear boxes for over-used half-tracks, and petrol for fuel-guzzling tanks. All of it has to be manufactured quickly (what happens to soldiers on the front if there are not enough laying chickens to produce dehydrated eggs?), labeled correctly, shipped promptly, and transported efficiently along stretched supply lines. What if it all goes on schedule, except for the fuel or the gear boxes? Then nothing else moves. Atkinson presents a remarkable view of WW II from an observation post that perceives a lot more than just men shooting one another.
Reinhard Heydrich, The Blonde Beast, ruled Czechoslovakia for the Nazis until he was assassinated in 1942. One of Hitler’s favorites — how is it I was unaware of him — he was the model Aryan: tall, physically strong, ambitious, murderous, a founder of The Final Solution, and in charge of subduing a conquered nation. And yet one Czech and one Slovak parachuted in from England with the intention of killing the highest Nazi official in their occupied country. The book is a cliff hanger, expertly crafted, originally in French, and translated into English, so the perspective is uniquely European. The book’s subtitle insists it is a novel, but if it is, the author’s presence as the researcher hunting for the assassins’ stories is so real, it is difficult to imagine what part of the account is fictionalized.
This is the tale of a irrepressible friendship between two women doing very unusual jobs. It is World War II and England is barely holding its own as the Germans begin bombing runs over Britain. Maddie, one of the two women, is a mechanical wizard who earns herself a place in the skies as a highly skilled pilot. Queenie, the other, is a spy. Consider how many female spies and pilots you can picture from that era and you have the underpinnings for a lot of suspense with a new twist. I can’t give away more of the plot without being a spoiler. Ignore the book’s cover and be aware the book is written for Young Adults, but enjoy it.