Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 – William L. Shirer

Shirer

In December 1941, CBS News Foreign Correspondent William L. Shirer (1904-1993) sailed from Europe for the final time as World War II claimed lives and destroyed cities. At the time of his departure, World War II was heading into its second year but several months ahead of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the conflict. The journalist said goodbye to a continent to which he had devoted fifteen years of his life. Upon his return, he assembled his diary, carefully hidden from the Gestapo and Nazi Germany officials and turned them into this account of what he witnessed as Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) embarked on a path of world domination and plunged the world into its deadliest conflict.  And the result is an eye-opening account of life behind the carefully crafted world image that Nazis put forth to keep the prying eyes of powerful nations averted as the Wehrmacht plundered its way across western Europe.

Shirer may be recognized by readers for his other phenomenal work on the Nazi regime, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany‘, a masterpiece of writing that remains on my shelf and list of favorite books to this day. I strongly recommend it to readers in search of a thorough history of Nazi Germany.  Here, the story is focused on life in Germany as the Nazis took hold of the country. At the start of the book, Hitler has already been made Chancellor, so there is little in the journal about the transfer of power from President Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) or the Reichstag Fire. The focus is on daily life in Berlin and the sobering Nazi conditions placed on the Reich’s citizens. As an American journalist, Shirer was allowed close access to the notorious figures of the Reich from President and Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe Hermann Göring (1893-1946), Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) and the notorious Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945). Shirer did cross paths with Hitler and witnessed his speeches, but there was no formal interview that Shirer would have referred to had it existed. Regardless of his location and situation within the Reich, he witnesses the truth behind the Reich that contrasted with what Hitler was saying to the German people.

Germany’s rearmament was a direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles, but Hitler had no intentions on adhering to the sanctions and rules placed upon the Fatherland. Western powers were slow to react to the Germany build-up but on the ground, Shirer was able to see how popular Hitler was becoming and the preparations for conflict like no other. He makes notes about German life from the peculiar behavior on the streets and Germans he knows personally. There are bits of humor in the observations yet the dark cloud on the horizon continues to approach. And in the weeks before the Germany invasion of Poland on September 1,1939, the suspense continued to build as Shirer shows in the daily entries. But there are two incidents in the notes that require a comment. The appeasement at Munich, widely seen as the last chance to stop Hitler’s plan is discussed and Shirer’s disbelief at the British actions towards Hitler’s aggression was shared by the author of this post. Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) once wrote about this in his classic ‘Why England Slept‘, a valuable book about the failure to confront the Austrian menace in Berlin. The other entry in the journal relates to the German advancement on the Rhineland in 1936. What he notes in his journal about the missed opportunity to stop Hitler is one of the war’s most puzzling events. The comments by German officers following the de-escalation on the Rhine highlight the ability of the Germans to bluff their way through as Hitler consolidated power and seized territory.

The journal entries pick up in intensity as the threat of war increases. And like a runaway train, we know that it is coming but nothing can stop it, and the shock felt by Shirer as a correspondent on the ground is captured by his words written after the Germany invasion of Poland. From this point on, the diary takes an entirely different course as the Nazi machine kicks into high gear and then plateaus. England is the “antagonist” in the story according to Hitler, and a sizeable portion of the entries are related to the off and on-again discussions with London about “peace”, though Hitler had no desire to let England survive. The showdown between England and Germany intensifies and soon the Royal Air Force began to hit targets within the Fatherland. Experienced German pilots were aware that England would not be easily defeated, and that Germany had its weaknesses which made winning a world war impossible. As a journalist, Shirer was intent on publishing all news about the German war front both good and bad. However, censorship was in full effect and throughout the story, there are countless battles between the author and German officials who inspected incoming and outgoing communications. The propaganda war waged by the Reich was nothing short of absurd. But it worked within Germany’s borders. Shirer takes note of this and gives insight into German mindset that explains why the people gave Hitler the power he desired. And these observations could have only come from a correspondent in the field watching the events as they happened.

There are occasions in the book where Shirer leaves Germany and travels to other European nations but most of the entries are from Berlin where the promise of a quick war rings hollow as England puts up more of a fight than expected. And the realization that Germany is not invincible begins to dawn on the German people who create crude jokes to describe Third Reich leadership. In the distance is the looming threat of American involvement, about which Shirer makes a premonitory statement that later came to fruition. Hitler also knew it would happen and pre-emptively signed agreements with Japan and Italy, realizing that America would never surrender to German domination. Nonetheless, Shirer accurately sizes up Germany’s sealed fate and the insanity of Adolf Hitler. The final entry in the book provides a fitting conclusion to an unbelievable story. As Shirer watches Europe fade in the distance aboard the vessel that will begin his journey back to America he remarks:

“For a time I stood against the rail watching the lights recede on a Europe in which I had spent all fifteen of my adult years, which had given me all of my experience and what little knowledge I had. It had been a long time, but they had been happy years, personally, and for all people in Europe they had had meaning and borne hope until the war came and the Nazi blight and the hatred and the fraud and the political gangsterism and the murder and the massacre and the incredible intolerance and all the suffering and the starving and cold and the thud of a bomb blowing the people in a house to pieces, the thud of all the bombs blasting man’s hope and decency.”

A year after Shirer returned to the United States, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor Naval base bringing America into the deadliest war in history. For the next five years the world remained at war in a conflict between democracy and tyranny. In the end, a dictator lay dead and nations in ruins. The threat of dictatorship will never subside and to protect society from the dangers of tyranny, we must remember how it was done. This is the inside story of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler’s hold over Germany.

ISBN-10:‎ 0883659220
ISBN-13:‎ 978-0883659229

Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific – Larry Smith

iwoIn the 1989 film ‘Born on the Fourth of July‘ by Oliver Stone, there is a scene in which the Marine Corps. recruiter (Tom Berenger) is speaking to high school student Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) and his high school class. To boost interest, Berenger calls out the names of the battles that defined the United States Marine Corps. The list is extensive and impressive but to this day, the deadliest battle in the history of the Marines is Iwo Jima. Between February 19, 1945, and March 26, 1945, the Marines suffered thousands of casualties as they secured the island which translates into “sulfur island” in English. The battle is also famous for the image captured of Marines and Corpsman raising the American flag as they pushed forward against Japanese resistance. Despite the high casualty rate, thousands of Marines survived Iwo Jima and returned home. But they never forgot the sights, sounds and smells from the fierce battles being fought as the world was at war. Larry Smith talked to veterans of Iwo Jima and has compiled those interviews into this book that provided the retired Marines with a platform to tell readers what they remember from the battle that claimed lives and left others with dark and haunting memories.

Sadly, the Marines in the book who fought on Iwo Jima are deceased and the number of surviving World War II veterans decreases each year. Their voices are silent, but their stories are powerful and will leave readers with a sense of gratitude and shock. The battlefield and injury descriptions are graphic in nature, and discretion is advised. Further, the scenes that are relived are nothing short of hell on earth and highlight the deadly environment waiting for arriving Marines. I also found myself shocked at the age of the young Marines at Iwo Jima. More than one in the book was not old enough to buy alcohol but found himself shipped off to the Pacific where the Japanese were waiting. Military commanders knew that it would be costly to take Iwo Jima, but the number of casualties suffered is staggering and the author specifies that

“On the first day alone the Marines suffered 2,420 casualties, including more than 500 killed.” 

The number of casualties increased exponentially on both sides of the conflict as the battle raged. Eventually the Marines began to gain ground and reached the top of Mt. Suribachi. It was there that the American flag was raised more than once. The emotional scenes were captured on camera and the second image of the Marines hoisting the stars and stripes remains one of the most popular images in American history. But there is more to the story of the flag than one might suspect. In the book, Marines who were there speak on the matter, clearing up any confusion or misinformation that has persisted over time. Readers who are interested in a more thorough discussion of the event will appreciate ‘Flags of Our Fathers‘, by James Bradley and Ron Powers. Bradley’s father John “Doc” Bradley (1923-1994) was a Navy Corpsman and one of the soldiers captured in the iconic second photo taken on February 23, 1945. As we learn in the book, seeing the American flag being raised was a tremendous boost to morale. The pride felt by Marines tasked with taking the island is best captured by former soldier Chuck Lindberg who reminisced:

 “It was a great patriotic feeling, this chill that runs through you. . . . My proudest moment of my time in the Marines was raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. My feeling of being a Marine is I served with the finest, and I feel proud every day that I can tell somebody that.

That sentiment is echoed by others who survived combat on Iwo Jima. On the Japanese side of the conflict, losses were equally devastating, and it became clear that Japan could not win against the Allies. Reasons for the Japanese defeat are not discussed here but the speakers do recall how they felt when they learned that the atomic bombs had been dropped resulting in Japan’s surrender. Unbelievably, it would take four more years to remove the last Japanese soldiers from the island. Every war has its mysteries and World War II is no different. The biggest unsolved mystery in this book is the fate of Japanese Imperial Army General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (1891-1945). I previously was not aware of his demise but am inclined to believe that the Japanese troops knew what happened to their fallen commander. A surprising discovery explained in the book provides information that explains the general’s thoughts that were almost lost to history. While researching the book, Smith made the acquaintance of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC (Ret.) who did not serve in World War II but did serve in the Vietnam War and became a military historian of Iwo Jima. The issue of the general’s last known location was a source of interest during and after the war but as Ripley explains, 

“ The thing which is the most irrefutable evidence of all is that Kuribayashi’s body , which was a hot item , was never found . Every single body involved in that last attack was not necessarily identified , but they knew it wasn’t Kuribayashi . Every single one . Because they were looking for him . And he wasn’t there . Period . So that is the premier fact that refutes his involvement in that battle .”

As I read the book, I thought of my great-grandfather who served in Europe during the war. As a black infantry soldier, I am sure he had his share of unfortunate experiences. But he served his country and never spoke negatively of America, nor did he discuss what he saw in combat. In the story at hand, black Marines do play a role as the speakers explained but at the time, segregation existed in the armed forces and on Iwo Jima that also applied. However, as we learn from the Marines in the book, blacks played pivotal roles in the American victory and the burial of deceased Marines whose remains were later retrieved from the island after Japan’s defeat. Smith even had a discussion with Thomas McPhatter, a black Marine who provides a needed perspective on the black experience in the Pacific. I personally learned for the first time from the author that regarding the African American experience, 

Between fifteen hundred and two thousand blacks served on Iwo. Each Marine division had a regimental service battalion or field depot staffed by black marines, not to be confused with the Army DUKW drivers.

I thought to myself that had more black Marines been accepted and deployed, the battle on Iwo Jima might have ended sooner and very differently. De-segregation of the military continued in the years following World War II, but its existence placed America in a difficult position of attempting to deliver freedom around the world whiles struggling to enforce it at home. Despite resistance and discrimination, blacks continued to serve in the military and do so today. This is in no way detracts from the heroic efforts of the Marines of all backgrounds who fought on the island. Their experiences and success in turning the tide of the Pacific war remains firmly entrenched in the annals of military history. 

Readers might ask themselves why Iwo Jima was important. That question is answered in the book as the speakers and the author explain its significance. to success in the Pacific. The number of casualties was undoubtedly high, but without occupation of Iwo Jima, the Allied effort to force Japan’s surrender might have taken longer and the full-scale invasion of Japan on November 1, 1945, could have become a reality. President Harry S. Truman‘s decision to drop the bomb ended the war in the Pacific and brought feelings of relief to the Marines and other military personnel who remained at their posts in the Pacific. V-J Day brought World War II to a close, but history cannot forget mankind’s deadliest conflict. These are the stories of the Marines who served on Iwo Jima in the battle that further defined the Marine Corps. and sealed Japan’s fate.

ASIN:‎ B00ZHJEJWO 

 

Donovan: America’s Master Spy – Richard Dunlop

DonovanIn December 1963, one month after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), former President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) authored an op-ed piece in the December 22, 1963, edition of the Washington Post about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its role in America. While reflecting on what the CIA had become, he stated “there is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.” The agency had been established through the National Security Act of 1947 which was intended to both centralize and simplify national defense and the intelligence apparatus. Five years before the National Security Act was signed into law, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) had also addressed the need for foreign intelligence and through Executive Order 9128 on July 13, 1942, he formally established the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). And to lead the new agency, he turned to former director of the Coordination of Information (COI), the legendary William Joseph “Wild Bill” Donovan (1883-1959). Though he was never director of the CIA, Donovan is credited as being the father of intelligence. Author Richard Dunlop examines Donovan’s life in this intriguing biography and historical account of how the intelligence community came to exist.

Dunlop provides a thorough discussion of Donovan’s early life in Buffalo, New York, and it soon becomes clear that Donovan is a person of action and determination. His life changes with the start of World War I, a conflict in which Donovan would play a direct role as soldier in the U.S. Army. His exploits on the battlefield and recognition by others give credence to the name Wild Bill as readers will learn. Following his service in the military, Donovan returned home to resume his law practice. But as he would see, fate had other ideas for his life. After being appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, Donovan became a rising star in Washington circles as a prosecutor with an impeccable record. But unbeknownst to American citizens, a dark cloud was forming over Europe in the form of a young Austrian name Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and his political party, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (N.S.D.A.P.). As the Nazi threat became real, Washington realized that it needed information about Europe and the truth about its future. Donovan had foreseen things to come and as Dunlop explains:

“Donovan was convinced in the late 1920s that Poland would be the first European nation to be torn apart by the next war in Europe.”

As part of his duties as a traveling businessman, Donovan came face to face with individuals who later played crucial roles in World War II. One meeting in Berchtesgaden will catch the attention of readers. America did not formally enter the war until December 1941 but prior to that the White House was deeply concerned with the events unfolding. Roosevelt knew that America could not ignore the conflict. And this action he took as explained by Dunlop set the stage for the future of intelligence:

“On July 11, 1941, President Roosevelt established the Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI), making Donovan its chief. When the COI was transformed into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942, Donovan continued as America’s wartime intelligence master.” 

On the surface it was just what America needed but as the author shows, not everyone was on board with a central agency. Readers with an affection for U.S. history will know that no one escaped the wrath of former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). The tension between the two is on full display and exemplifies Hoover’s thirst for power and obsession with controlling every aspect of gathering intelligence both domestically and abroad. To say that Hoover was displeased with the new intelligence agencies would be an understatement. And his threats to the Republican party that he would release damaging information is a move all too familiar. I found this passage by the author regarding events after the attack at Pearl Harbor to be a perfect example of the disdain held by Hoover towards any type of intelligence apparatus:

“On Tuesday, December 9, Roosevelt ordered Donovan to coordinate all North American intelligence agencies, including the recalcitrant FBI. The lesson of Pearl Harbor was fresh in his mind: The welter of conflicting intelligence agencies had contributed to the tragic unpreparedness in the Pacific. But when J. Edgar Hoover refused to cooperate with Donovan, Roosevelt backed off and on December 23 lamely reaffirmed the authority of the FBI.” 

Hoover could not control the war and regardless of his personal ambitions, the war mandated a different approach to intelligence and Donovan was the man Roosevelt and Truman turned to. Dunlop discusses the triumphs of the OSS but does not fall into the trap of going into too much detail. There is sufficient information to provide readers with an understanding of its importance without taking the story away from Donovan who is the central figure. And while leading the OSS, he provided the blueprint for the CIA. His agents came from all social classes and the OSS conducted missions that were unbelievable. Donovan was far ahead of his time and realized that intelligence was a vital component if America were to remain secure and powerful.

Following the defeat of Germany, Italy and Japan, the days of the OSS were numbered. However, Donovan knew that his work and that of others following his path was far from over. Truman knew that intelligence was vital and that there was no turning back. Another war was possible, and America could not afford to be caught off guard. Donovan’s importance cannot be overstated, and his legacy is captured with the author’s remark that:

“When on September 18, 1947, almost two years to the day after his OSS had been abolished, the Congress authorized the Central Intelligence Agency, Donovan was delighted. The new CIA in most important respects followed the blueprint that he had submitted to Franklin Roosevelt three years before.” 

In the wake of the dissolution of the OSS, Donovan returned to his private life but remained connected to the intelligence community, issuing warnings and advice. His statement about Vietnamese icon Ho Chih Minh (1890-1969) and his communist organization sent chills down my spine. When Donovan died on February 8, 1959, America lost one of its greatest intelligence assets. The former intelligence chief was far from perfect and the information about his personal life stands in contrast to his professional life. Tragedy, marital issues, and time away from home, took their toll on Donovan at times. But he never wavered in his service to America. This book by Dunlop is an important story that needed to be told about a man who helped change American history.

ASIN: B00I2G6RJM

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World – A.J. Baime

TrumanOn January 15, 1953, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) gave his farewell address after serving as the Thirty-Third President of the United States. He had taken office on April 12, 1945, after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945). At the time of Roosevelt’s death, allied forces were pushing further into German territory to bring the Third Reich to its knees. In the Pacific, the war against Japan continued to rage but in less than six months, it too surrendered after the devastation left by two atomic bombs. In the first four months that Truman was in office, the entire world changed in ways no one could have imagined. Had Roosevelt lived, the war might have ended differently, and domestically, America might have moved forward at a different pace. He did not live to see his post-war plans come to light and for Truman, the title of president was thrust into his lap. He had never wanted the presidency but due to circumstance, he had become what author A.J. Baime calls the accidental president.

In contrast to a standard biography, the focus of the book is on the four months between Truman taking office and the surrender of Japan. The story begins with Roosevelt’s last day alive. Following his death, all eyes become fixed on Truman who is largely unknown to the American people. Washington insiders knew of his background but even within those circles, he was somewhat of a mystery. His unassuming look and plain-spoken Midwest nature made him appear as just another person in the room. But little did anyone know that the next president would usher in a new era in warfare and set the course for future domestic programs and U.S. foreign policy.

Before entering the lengthy discussion of the war and Truman’s role in it, Baime provides a short biography about his early life in Independence, Missouri, and his entry into politics that culminates with his arrival in Washington. One aspect that stood out is Truman’s military service in World War I which is often not discussed. I believe his experiences in combat surely helped his ability to make decisions during World War II. After we learn of Truman’s unusual entry into politics and nomination for vice-president, the author shifts gears and takes us right into the war with a heavy focus on Japan where the U.S. Air Force is conducting firebombing raids under the legendary and controversial General Curtis E. LeMay (1906-1990). Despite the fierce allied attacks, Japan would not surrender but in Europe, the Third Reich was on life support. Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) dream of a master Aryan nation spread across continents had collapsed and the tyrant himself was hiding in his bunker. The Red Army was closing in and the German people knew that retribution from the Soviets was not something any of them wanted to experience. On April 30, 1945, Hitler met his demise and escaped punishment at Nuremberg. Washington breathed a sigh of relief at the German defeat but knew that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) could not be fully trusted. The seeds of the Cold War had been firmly planted as World War II reached its shocking and brutal conclusion. With Germany no longer a threat, the story moves to the war in the Pacific where allied forces are determined to crush the Japanese military.

As the book progresses, it really splits into two stories; the race to finish the bomb and the negotiations at the Potsdam, Cecilienhof conference between Truman, Stalin, and British leader Winston Churchill (1874-1965). The debate over whether Truman should have used the bomb will continue but the author does a good job of showing what was being discussed behind the scenes. Truman knew the decision he had to make was unlike anything a president had faced before. He also knew that he would be judged throughout history for it. Baime summarizes Truman’s historical recognition with this accurate statement:

“Truman is remembered first and foremost for his decision to employ atomic weapons—Little Boy and Fat Man, the only two nuclear bombs ever used against human targets. More than seventy years later, this decision remains almost certainly the most controversial that any president has ever made.” 

However, the war with Japan needed a conclusion, and allied forces had already begun to plan the full-scale invasion of the island on November 1, 1945. The bomb was the ace up Truman’s sleeve, but until a test was conducted, questions surrounding its efficacy remained. All of that changed on July 16, 1945, in Los Alamos, New Mexico when the first successful test was conducted and the outcome of World War II began to take shape.

Remarkably, throughout the reports of carnage, the tension surrounding the bomb program, and interactions with the Soviets, Truman always comes across as incredibly calm. And what we see is that for a man who was the accidental president, he rose to the occasion and showed no hesitation when action was required. The power of the bomb was not lost on Truman or others with knowledge of its existence. Lead scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) also makes an appearance in the story as the full gravity of the bomb’s creation comes down on all of them. No one knows for certain exactly when Truman decided to use the bomb and as Baime explains, there is no written record of it. Eventually, the moment in the book we know is coming arrives on August 6 when the city of Hiroshima receives the first atomic bomb. Three days later, Nagasaki suffered similar devastation which finally convinced the Japanese Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) (1901-1989) that to continue the war would mean Japan’s ultimate destruction.

Finally, the war was over but the destruction and death that ensued were permanently seared into the memories of all who witnesses man’s savagery. Truman personally observed Berlin for himself and the experience is revisited in the book. Survivors of the nuclear bombs provide additional feedback regarding the immediate impact of the detonation. Their words provided a chilling effect to the introduction of atomic weapons. Back in America, Truman’s popularity soared and the little-known senator from Missouri became an American hero. This stands in stark contrast to his wife Bess (1885-1982) whose disdain and avoidance of the public spotlight are also part of the story. The book concludes after the formal surrender of Japan but Baime provides an epilogue that takes a closer look at Truman’s time in office following the war. He never again reached the level of popularity that he enjoyed during the war era but he remains one of the most important leaders in world history. Few knew who he was when took control of Washington on April 12, 1945, but in just fourth months, he cemented his legacy and showed that even an accident president can be just what the country needs.

 “No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save as the people helped with their support. I have had that help–you have given me that support–on all our great essential undertakings to build the free world’s strength and keep the peace. Those are the big things. Those are the things we have done together. For that I shall be grateful, always.” – Harry S. Truman, January 15, 1953

ASIN: B01MQVT9TG

Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War – R.M. Douglas

humaneMore than seventy years have passed since the end of World War II, yet it still fascinates historians and students.  The number of books written about Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and the Third SS Reich are perhaps the most written about any conflict and leader in history.  The former Austrian vagabond rose to power in Germany and plunged the entire world into the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind.  The emergence and use of the atomic bomb by American forces ushered in the nuclear age and set the stage for the Cold-War which lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. In my list of recommendations, I saw this title regarding the expulsion of Germans following the war.  At first, I was not sure which expulsion was being referred to but quickly realized that it was pertaining to the Germans that were living in Nazi occupied territories outside of Germany.  During the war, many of them enjoyed security and a stable life but in the wake of Germany’s defeat, nationalist governments came to power in former occupied territories, and they turned their wrath towards the German people that had been living within their borders.  A staggering number of Germans were forced from their homes and sent back to Germany with no clear or concise plan for reintegrating them into a Germany struggling to recover and rebuild.  And this is one part of the war that is often not discussed but a topic that should be known. 

The title of the book removes all doubt that the story is a “happy” one.  In fact, I believe that it is not for the faint at heart.  Although the book is not rife with gratuitous violence, the actions taken towards German nationals living abroad are both shocking and repulsive.  However, it could be argued that they are no more repulsive than what was done to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.  In the book, this is implied in actions and statements taken by foreign leaders eager to rid their countries of anything connected to Nazi Germany.  Regrettably, the operation to relocate German nationals was plagued by disorganization and confusion, leading to mass confusion the deaths of those being removed.  The author points out that: 

“Calculating the scale of the mortality remains a source of great controversy today, but estimates of 500,000 deaths at the lower end of the spectrum, and as many as 1.5 million at the higher, are consistent with the evidence as it exists at present.” 

We may never know the true number of those who perished during the expulsion program but the numbers we do know of are nothing short of mind-boggling.  Further, it removes any illusion of a “glorious” end to the war where things were made right again. In fact, the book shows that even with Germany and Japan defeated, chaos and confusion continued to be a problem for quite some time as the Allied forces struggled with former camp prisoners, German military prisoners and the German people who were left destitute as their nation crumbled around them.  Hitler had committed suicide and his act left the people without a leader and at the full mercy of Germany’s many enemies.  Berlin became the battleground between the east and west and remained so until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.  Today, Germany is one of the most successful nations in the world and far removed from its post-World War II state.  But the question remains, how and why did the expulsion happen and develop in the way that it did? Further, were there no protections against such a thing?  Some readers will immediately think of the Hague Conventions, but the author anticipates this and explains that: 

“The Hague Conventions were by no means perfect. They bound only those countries that were signatories. They contained few protections for civilians—a crucial omission that in the future would hamstring the work of humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross. They were silent in circumstances in which a government maltreated its own citizens, rather than the inhabitants of foreign lands its armies were occupying. They applied only to conflicts in which a state of formal war existed, rather than in “undeclared wars” or in peacetime. They provided no means of individual redress, nor any mechanism for enforcement.”

Frankly, the Germans being expelled were on their own at times and could expect little to no help from those their country had been recently fighting against.  Readers may find themselves torn as the fate of German nationals is discussed.  And it may lead some to ask the age-old question of whether two wrongs make a right.   We do know that many Germans did not support Hitler, but millions of others did and opposing forces during the war were not eager to distinguish between the two.  During the expulsion, the feelings held by victors was even more direct according to the author: 

“After the Nazis’ defeat, the new regimes of central and eastern Europe were in no humor to try to distinguish between culpable and innocent Germans. This uncompromising attitude extended to German children, for whom in practice few exceptions were made.” 

Of all the things the book shows, one of the most striking is that war truly is hell, and the concept of victory can change depending on the situation that arises.  Some readers who decided to read this book may feel that the Germans brought it upon themselves. Others may be filled with sympathy for expulsion that took place.  Regardless of which side of the argument we fall on, I think we can all agree that the relocation of Germans after the war, is on the conflicts rarely discussed matters that does not put anyone in a positive light.  Fault lies at the feet of many and even during the operation, governments in high positions of power, rarely discussed matters and continued to shuffle the people around like pawns on a chess board. 

Admittedly, I cannot say that I was completely shocked at what I learned in the book.   Germany’s defeat was a concern for many Germans as it became clear that a quick victory would not take place. The entry of the United States into the war and the decision to invade the Soviet Union, showed that Germany had bitten off more than it could chew.  And it also showed that Hitler had gone completely mad.  As I read through the book and learned just how dreadful the expulsion were, I came to see that this was the hand that Hitler had dealt this people.  They would soon learn that national socialism was not all that they thought it would be. 

World War II permanently altered world’s political landscape and the horrors of the war remain with us to this day.  The Holocaust will always be a case study with regards to the dangers of racial ideology supported by government policy. And the dropping of the atomic bombs still sends chills down the spine of many, in particular, those still alive who lived through it.  For the millions of German nationals living outside of the fatherland’s borders, the war upended their lives, and they were forced to leave their long-term homes and return to a nation in ruins. They too can be added to the long list of victims of a senseless war that could have very well been mankind’s destruction.  This is the story of the plight and what really happened to them after the war ended.  Highly recommended. 

ASIN : B008740OQQ

Letters and Dispatches 1924-1944: The Man Who Saved Over 100,000 Jews, Centennial Edition – Wallenberg, Raoul

WellenbergI am always on the lookout for stories that I have not yet heard and names of people I am not yet familiar with.  When I saw the cover of this book, I tried to jog my memory with regards to the name of the author.  I finally realized that I did not know of Raoul Wallenberg (1912 -1947?) but I knew instantly that I had to read this book.  Admittedly, I am always interested in the personal correspondence of figures from the distant past to see how information was shared in the years before E-mails, SMS and social media.  The cover of the book directly describes what is contained within which is a collection of the letters between Raoul, his grandfather Gustaf Wallenberg (1863-1937) and Raoul’s mother Maj von Dardel (1891-1979) whose replies to her son are not included. The bulk of the letters are between grandfather and grandson and what is truly remarkable about them, is the amount of knowledge that is shared between the two.  Raoul embarks on a long journey and I found myself glued to the book. But aside from that, there are other things in the book that make it an enjoyable read.  

Gustaf is the undoubtedly the domineering force in the family structure.   He is Raoul’s guiding light in the absence of Gustaf’s son and Raoul’s father Raoul Oscar Wallenberg (1888-1912) who died of cancer before his son’s birth.  Raoul finds himself blessed to have a very supportive family and his grandfather both encourages and finances his studies abroad.  America is the destination of choice for young Raoul.  Gustaf himself had visited America and explains to Raoul why he feels so strongly about studying in the United States: 

“It is because of what both my father and I found in America that makes me so eager for you to get your direction in life there. No one has ever understood as well as I have, because I saw it in my youth, how decisive his time there was for my father…. I use the expression direction in life and not “education” on purpose. ” 

The first stop for Raoul is Ann Arbor, Michigan where he enrolls in college to earn an advanced degree.  But, it is only the first stop and the young Swede would take advantage of being a young bachelor to travel across the United States meeting people from all walks of life while Gustaf continues to send words of encouragement and enlightenment. I do want to comment on Gustaf’s views on women which might cause consternation in some readers.  I think today we would call him misogynistic but in that era, he would most likely have not received any reprimand.  His comments to Raoul about romance are both interesting and quite blunt.  And while he truly wanted the best for his grandson, I believe that some readers may take some offense to the words he writes.  However, Gustaf is incredibly brilliant and refined in regards to world affairs.  The knowledge contained in his letters can be of value to both men and women. Further, Gustaf’s command of words gives his letters a more potent affect and I found myself amazed at his sentence structure and grammar which is nothing short of clear and concise. 

Raoul comes across as a competent writer himself and relays to his grandfather, plenty of anecdotes from his travels abroad.  The journey goes from America, Central America, Africa and back to Europe.  Along the way, the young student learns valuable lessons about life and as I read his letters I could see his level of maturity increase with each destination.  The insight with which Raoul writes provides food for thought regarding America and other countries seen through the eyes of the traveling student.  And throughout his travels, Raoul remains firmly in awe of Gustaf, whom he looks up to with unconditional admiration.  Their relationship reminded me of the bond between my myself and my great-grandfather William, who was similar in nature to Gustaf and equally as frank in his choice of words.  Putting aside his bluntness, we all loved and respected him deeply because we knew that he loved us in return and never hesitated to show it. 

After graduating, Raoul made his way back to Europe and through a series of events, was introduced to Kàlmàn Lauer, a Hungarian Jew who was the director of the Central European Trading Company, Inc, a business that specialized in exports. This encounter changed his life permanently and as a result of it, Wallenberg accepted a post with the War Refugee Board through the invitation of Iver Olsen, a representative with the board. His new destination was Hungary which had become the target of the Germany army and a hotbed of anti-Semitism. 

The implementation of the “Final Solution” by Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) Third Reich, sent chills across Europe and removed any doubt that there existed a “safe haven” for Jews.  During his time in Budapest, Wallenberg committed himself to saving as many Jews as possible.  In the final part of the book, we are allowed to see his dispatches regarding efforts to deport Hungarian Jews and his willingness to confront both German officials and the Arrow Cross Party, led by despot Ferenc Szálasi (1897-1946).  He was relentless in his efforts and through them, it is estimated that he saved the lives of at least 100,000 Jewish people.  When a friend asked about his determination to save everyone he remarked: ““I’d never be able to go back to Stockholm without knowing that I’d done all a man could do to save as many Jews as possible.”  The exact number of Jews that he saved may never be known but what is certain, is that Wallenberg did prevent thousands from being deported before he was detained by the Soviet Army.   And this is what we learn in the book about his final moments in Budapest: 

“[The Soviet Army’s siege of Budapest began on December 8, 1944, the day this letter was written. Soviet authorities took RW into their ‘protective custody” and sent him to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow on January 17, 1945. He was never heard from again. The Soviets denied any knowledge of his whereabouts until 1957, when Andrei Gromyko, then foreign minister, announced that RW had died of a heart attack in 1947, in Lubyanka. There is ample but inconclusive evidence that this was not the case, and efforts to determine his fate continue.]” 

The truth regarding Wallenberg’s fate remains a mystery as explained in this article in the Israeli journal Haaretz.  The date of his death most likely remains a carefully guarded Russian secret.  Officially, it is believed that he disappeared into the Soviet gulag system in January, 1945 and was never heard from again.  His disappearance adds even more confusion to his story as he was a liberator and should have been seen as such by the invading Red Army.  The reasons for his detainment and subsequent imprisonment are not exactly clear.  And this adds a tragic ending to a remarkable story that should be part of any discussion about World War II and the Holocaust. 

“Across the United States and throughout the world there are Raoul Wallenberg committees and individuals who work tirelessly to educate the public about this compassionate and nonviolent hero, and to assist in solving the mystery of his fate. By introducing the man behind the cause, Letters and Dispatches will help us all remember.” – Rachel Oestreicher Haspel, President of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States

ASIN : B006OALKJK

 

Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany – Stephen Ambrose

20200224_014143On June 6, 1944, American, British and Canadian troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, France and commenced an ground war against Nazi Germany.  The European Theatre was marked by brutal fighting that saw high numbers of casualties on all sides of the conflict.  In the end, Nazi Germany fell to allied forces and accepted an unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, commonly known as VE Day.  The Japanese military continued to fight and remained defiant until two atomic bombs forced it too into surrending to Allied forces.  VJ Day marked the end to World War II and the world breathed a sign of relief.  For the United States Army, the European Theatre was a hard fought campaign that no one ever wanted to see again.  Author Stephen Ambrose has composed a breathtaking account of the Army’s mission from the beaches at Normandy until the Allies seized Berlin in May, 1945.

It should be noted that this book is focused on the army in particular and not the other branches of the armed forces such as the Marines and Air Force.  While the author does discuss air warfare during the conflict, the focus never wavers from the army.  This is the grunt’s view of the war, in all of its horror and glory.   Some readers may find the subject matter tough to read.  The author pulls no punches and the descriptions of events that take place sometimes contain graphic details that bring home the horrors of war. But to accurately capture the gritty reality of the army’s mission, it is necessary.

As to be expected, the book follows the war’s timeline so that we can see the progression of the army’s efforts, their failurs and ultimate success.  The Allied command are driven by the former General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) and General George Patton (1888-1945).  Even General William Westmoreland (1914-2005) commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam during the Vietnam War makes an appearance. But make no mistake this is Eisenhower and Patton’s show, with each serving as the focus of a significant portion of the book, in particular when the European Theatre reaches middle to late 1944.  The story is exciting and the pace is quick, with a significant number of names and places that will require extensive note taking.

Ambrose does an incredible job of covering not just the battles but all aspects of life as an infrantry soldier commonly known as a grunt.  Life in infantry is tough, thankless and also deadly.  Enemy soldiers, shells, mines and even freak accidents are the constant array of threats faced by the grunts.  Europe is revealed as vast landscape of different terrains, some favorable for combat and others such as the Hurtgen Forest, seeming to come out of a horror film.  And as Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) let his paranoia consume him, both sides settled in for a long and brutal fight.  But the Allies remained determined and during the Europeant Theatre, it soon becomes clear that Germany would lose the war.  The author discusses the German war effort, providing critical facts as to how and why it was no match for Allied forces in a protacted struggle.

On the American side, there are areas of confusion and even critical failure.  Further, the plague known as trench foot proved to be as damaging as casualties that occurred in battle.  Ambrose explores the trench foot issue, explaining just how much of an impact it hand on the infantry and troop supply.  It is critical to understanding just how dangerous life on the front lines was during the war.

The United States Army had committed itself to eliminating Adolf Hitler and restoring peace to the world. However, at home, the United State still had yet to face its own problem of Jim Crow and open discrimination against its minority citizens.  Ambrose does not shy away from the topic and sheds light on the racism that was nearly system wide in the military during the war. However, he also shows how black G.I.s served and proved themselves to be as good as others soldiers on the battlefield.  The time he devotes to the topic does justice to the black soldiers who served in World War II including my great-grandfather Floyd Davision (1913-1988).  I can only imagine what he saw, heard and experienced as a black soldier in a time when segregation was still the law of the land.

The number of facts provided in the book are staggering, yet it does not feel overwhelming any point in the book.  The narrative flows freely and the author writes in a style that is gripping and brings the past to life as we move across Europe with sights set on Berlin.  In what can only be described as bizarre, Hitler had decided to conduct military planning himself, rendering his generals almost useless.  It was pure insanity and Ambrose examines the mistakes made by Hitler that sealed Germany’s fate several times before the war was officially over.  Readers will find themselves scratching their heads at Hitler’s actions.  However, Eisenhower and other commanders were waiting for him to slip up and when he did, the gloves came off and the Army went to work.  It had a job to do and would not stop until Berlin fell into Allied hands.  With the Red Army closing in from the east and America from the west, Hitler knew his fate was sealed and took his own life thus evading justice at Nuremberg.  The nation he left behind was in ruins and Ambrose provides photos of the devastation.  It is said that picture sometimes speaks a thousand words.  They certainly do here in this book.

The battle to defeat Nazism was long and bloody but also a display of American and Soviet military might.  In the story at hand, the U.S. Army rose to the occasion and took many bumps along the way.  From start to finish the story is written beautifully there should be no doubt that the American campaign in World War II changed the war and the course of history.  As each year passes, more veterans join the ranks of the deceased, taking with them countless memories of the war.  Their names will be forever linked to it but for some veterans, Ambrose has given them a moment of fame in a book that provides a thorough examination of experienced military planning and execution.  When its country needed them, the citizen soldiers of the U.S. Army rose to the occasion and showed the German menace the power of democracy and freedom.  Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 068848015
ISBN-13: 978-0684848013

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II – Gregory A. Freeman

20200215_203354A colleague gave me this book as a gift during the holiday season, mainly due to his knowledge of my fondness for history.  I quickly made a mental note to give it a read in the near future.  When I saw the title, I was slightly puzzled at the term “The Forgotten 500”.  I have read books on World War II but none mentioned any 500 forgotten soldiers.  Upon closer inspection, I soon began to realize why I had not heard the story.  At the time the mission  occurred, it was carefully hidden by the State Department and Office of Strategic Services who did not wish to jeopardize the lives of any remaining U.S. soldiers still trapped behind enemy lines. Further, in the years that followed, the the story faded into the annals of military history regarding the second world war. Even my father, who is an ardent World War II buff, has never mentioned this story.  Our next discussion will certainly be interesting.

So who exactly were the forgotten 500?  Well, the story takes place in Yugoslavia, where American, British and French airmen have been provided refuge by the local men and women who are fiercely anti-Nazi after Adolf Hitler ordered the Germany Wehrmacht to occupy their country.  The airmen had been sent out on bombing missions to eliminate the German fuel supply lines in Ploesti, Romania.  Berlin knew the value of the supply lines and carefully mounted anti-aircraft batteries around the supply stations in anticipation of Allied attacks.  American crews were typically successful in attacking the lines but suffered heavy damage to aircraft and high number of casualties.  Those who abandoned ship upon orders of the pilot, typically landed in the Yugoslavian countryside and were quickly taken in by peasants and farmers.  This is the story of their survival behind enemy lines 0and the incredible mission to rescue them from German occupied territory.

Today, many of the soldiers who served in World War II are deceased and they took with them to their graves, many untold stories of heroism and heartbreak during the war.  Their names are only remembered by those who knew them closely and for the forgotten 500, the same story would apply if not for this book.  The role of Yugoslavia in World War II is underrepresented in the larger narrative of the conflict.  By 1992, it had broken apart in the wake of a bitter civil war that saw the loss of over two-hundred thousand lives.  Tensions between Serbians, Croatians and other ethnic groups had reached a tipping point in 1989 and could no longer be contained.  in 1995, peace was formally restored but to this day, tensions continue to simmer underneath the surface.  Several decades prior, Yugoslavia was seen a prized possession by both Germany and the Soviet Union and the invasion by German forces served as an impediment to its full independence.   As a result, the people came to the aid of downed airmen and protected them fiercely in spite of the looming German military.

The author introduces us in the beginning of the book to the airmen who have been assigned the task of attacking Ploesti.  Each mission is doomed from the start, forcing all on board to grab their parachutes and jump to whatever fate lies ahead.  Miraculously, they are each found by the locals, embraced and given shelter.   However, as more Allied planes fall victim to German weaponry, it soon becomes evident that the large number of airmen will have to find a way out of the country and back to Italy, where American bases have been established.  The only problem is that the area is surrounded by German troops who will surely notice a major extraction mission.  Washington knows it must do something but is pressed for ideas. The Office of Strategic Services enters the picture and the story changes gears completely.

The author does a fantastic job of providing enough back story to set the stage for the eventual rescue mission.  To understand the situation in Yugoslavia, he provides a thorough discussion of the struggle for power between Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) and Washington over the the small Baltic nation.  Inside the country, German forces are opposed by the Communist Josip Tito (1892-1980) and pro-western Draza Mihailovich (1893-1946).  Tito and Mihailovich are engaged in their own power struggle but determined to defeat the Nazi menace.  However, there were other events and agendas taking place outside of Yugoslavia that dictated the course of the war and came to haunt Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who later called Yugoslavia his biggest mistake of the war.  The three-way dance that ensued and the deception that occurred are covered here and will undoubtedly surprise many.  I found myself shaking my head at the series of mis-steps by Allied forces that seemed to be unaware of Stalin’s true and barely hidden agenda.

Those familiar with World War II history will know about the role of the Office of Strategic Services, under the direction of its first director, the legendary William Donovan (1883-1959).  The agency boasted such recruits as future Central Intelligence Director Allen Dulles (1893-1969) and celebrity chef Julia Child (1912-2004).  Today it might seem surprising that even civilians were recruited by intelligence agencies but during World War II, all bets were off.  The OSS dad a job to do and as we see in the book, they were determined not to fail.  Donovan’s ability to get President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) to agree to the mission is one of the best anecdotes in the book and shows how urgent it became to rescue the stranded airmen.

The approval of Donovan’s request set into a motion a series of events that brought together several different departments and two governments in an effort to pull of a rescue mission that no one had ever attempted before.  The logistics are all covered in the book showing the high amount of risk that came with it.  The margin for error was virtually non-existent but the people involved rose to the call of duty and this part of the book is uplifting and also high on suspense. One mistake could result in falling into German hands and an international diplomatic nightmare.  But surprisingly not everyone was on the same page and the smaller battle between Washington and London is beyond surreal.  It is a story you do have to read to believe.

Following the mission, the airmen return to civilian life but are dismayed to see how the international game of chess continues to be played.  Tito’s rise and Mihailovich’s demise are some of the darker moments in the book. The airmen voice their disapproval with the official narrative and Freeman retraces their steps showing their never-ending commitment to honoring the legacy of their Yugoslavian hosts.  At the end of the book, he provides an update on the airmen, some of whom were alive at the time the book was published in 2008.  Now that twelve years have passed, I do not believe that they are still living but their memory is preserved eternally in this story that is simply unbelievable.  For all of you World War II buffs, this book is a must have. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0451224957
ISBN-13: 978-0451224958

To Hell and Back: The Classic Memoir of World War II by America’s Most Decorated Soldier – Audie Murphy

audieWhen this book came up as a recommendation, I thought back to the movie ‘Platoon‘ (Orion Pictures, 1986) by Oliver Stone.  There is a scene before the final battle in which Bunny (Kevin Dillon) and Junior (Reggie Johnson) have been instructed by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) to get back in their fox holes.  Junior is at his breaking point but Bunny is getting warmed up and says to him “don’t you worry my man, you’re hanging with Audie Murphy now“.  I had heard of Audie Murphy before mainly through my father, who was quite familiar with his story and the 1955 film of the same name. This is the story behind the film of the most decorated soldier to return from World War II.

The book opens with a foreword famed NBC journalist Tom Brokaw before moving to Murphy’s story which begins in Kingston, Texas where we quickly learn that his father has walked out on the family.  He is one of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy and Josie Bell Killian. At the age sixteen, his mother dies and the young teenager is forced to grow up literally overnight.  At the age of eighteen, he reports to the Marine Corps recruiting station but is initially refused enlistment because of his weight and age. Murphy is determined to sign up and eventually succeeds in his quest.  His thirst for action is soon quenched as he finds himself on the front lines in the Mediterranean Theater off the shores of Morocco.  As the story progresses, we are quickly thrown into the mix of the action as Murphy and his platoon are actively engaged in fierce combat.  Soliders enter and exit the story quickly, some having been felled by a sharpshooter’s bullet and others having fell victim to  shells and rockets.  The scenes are graphic and death lingers over them like a storm cloud that breaks without any hint of warning.

The Marines needed killers and Murphy eagerly signed for the task.  Yet the savagery of war is not lost on him and this quote sheds light on the humanity that resides in all soldiers: “But it is not easy to shed the idea that human life is sacred . The lieutenant has not yet accepted the fact that we have been put into the field to deal out death“.  To say that  war is hell is an understatment. Murphy understood the darkness of it all but make no mistake he believed in the job he was assigned to do and he takes pride in being a leatherneck.  He is a killer but one who sees the dysfunction of war and realizes that death is everywhere at all times. Bravery is his speciality but not idiocy.  Further, he was not invincible to the dangers of infantry including malaria which catches him in its grip on more than one occasion.  His time in the infirmary where he meets the nurse known only as “Helen” is a needed relief from the constant descriptions of the last moments of fellow Marines.

The European Theater is undoubtedly where the story picks up pace and as they march across Italy, Murphy fills the book with recreation of battle scenes and hilarious anecdotes through the likes of fellow soldiers such as Novak, Swope and Kerrigan, whom Murphy calls the “Irishman”.  He and Kerrigan develop a lasting friendship built upon the time they spend facing death and dishing it out to German forces.  At the book’s closing, Murphy remarks “but I also believe in men like Brandon and Novak and Swope and Kerrigan ; and all the men who stood up against the enemy , taking their beatings without whimper and their triumphs without boasting . The men who went and would go again to hell and back to preserve what our country thinks right and decent “.  Between the soldiers is a sense of humor that some readers may find to be somewhat macabre.  But in war, the rules of reality and morality are changed in ways some of us cannot comprehend. 

The book is less than three hundred pages but it is by far one of the best memoirs of war I have read.  It is dark, humorous and enlightening at the same time.  War creates a separate world in which soldiers navigate while trying to hold onto their morals and sanity.  Both are sometimes sacrificed and no one who leaves alive,  leaves the same.  There are many books on World War II but to see the war from the grunt’s point of view is a separate experience and Murphy delivered the goods.   Highly recommended.

ASIN: B008VDJGDA

Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America – Annie Jacobsen

paperclipOn April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler fatally shot his wife Eva Braun and then turned the gun on himself as it became evidently clear that allied forces were closing on the führerbunker.  The fear of falling into Russian hands and a subsequent trial for war crimes proved to be too much for the top echelon of the Third Reich that remained in Berlin.  Many top-ranking officials  had previously fled and others had left Germany after realizing that all hope for a victory in the war had been lost.  As allied forces move in and occupied the country, the true horrors of the Nazi reign became clear and soldiers were faced with the grim discoveries of concentration camps, emaciated and dead prisoners.  The Final Solution had been revealed for the entire world to see.  In the aftermath of the war, several hundred Nazi party members were executed by allied forces. Others were acquitted or had their death sentences commuted to long-term imprisonment.  Another group consisting of scientists and doctors, found their way to America with the help of the United States Government in what became known as Operation Paperclip.  Their story is the focus of this incredible book by author Annie Jacobsen.

Government files regarding the secret operation had been marked classified and would have remained hidden if not for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which gave Americans a tool to learn the truth about many of the Government’s secrets. This tool was thoroughly employed by Jacobsen in discovering the truth of this story that was first disclosed by the New York Times.  Jacobsen explains herself that some of her FOIA requests are still pending and it is unknown if or when they will be answered.  Nevertheless, she has written the story that will shock anyone who decides to open the pages of this book.   Her focus is on selected former doctors and scientists of the Reich who had worked on the V-2 rocket program at Nordhausen and concentration camps in which medical and biological experiments had been conducted, with Auschwitz and Ravensbrück being high on the list.  I warn readers that this book is not for the faint at heart .  The atrocities that are revealed defy logic and reveal the very dark side of human nature.  And as the book progresses, the names of the former scientist and doctors will be seared into the reader’s memory as a reminder of the many secrets the Third Reich tried to hide as the military collapsed.   As horrible as the actions of the Reich were, the crux of the book is the courting and resettlement of former Nazis by the United States Government through a program that will cause consternation, shock and even anger in some readers.

The book begins as the German military collapses in defeat and allied forces are scouring Berlin and other parts of Germany on intelligence missions to discover the secrets of the Reich.  Britain and Russia are also conducting their own intelligence missions and a race against time develops as the three nations each seek to obtain as much information as they can from their defeated enemy.   As the author explains, the Cold War was looming in the distance and in the name of “national security”, government officials were more than willing to recruit former Nazis out of fears they would be recruited and resettled in the Soviet Union.  The V-2 rocket and nerve agents Tabun and Sarin, became hot items as superpowers prepared for the next world war which they believed would include the use of biological weapons.  The United States spared no expense and would not let Joseph Stalin have the upper hand.  The brilliant German minds behind innovations that exceeded allied capacity were to be recruited at all costs, even at the expense of morality.  Annie Jacobsen has captured the emotion and tense battles that raged as the State Department battled the military over a program that it found to be appalling.  The American public slowly became aware of this nefarious program and mounting opposition forced the Government to act in what could described as a war against itself.

The main focus is rightly on the secret intelligence operation but the author also includes a stead stream of facts about other members of the Reich and actions that were being taken behind the scenes throughout Germany as the tide of the war changed and defeat became a stark reality.  The entire cast of characters makes an appearance in the story. Some would escape Germany, fleeing to South America and others took their own lives rather than be tried, convicted and executed in a military trial.  Before the collapse of the Reich, officials went to great lengths to hide as much information as possible from the allied forces.  Today there is a strong possibility that secret tombs exist containing secrets of the Reich are still hidden across Germany.  Time will tell if all of them will be discovered or if they will continue to fade from public consciousness.

The amount of research that was conducted in order to produce this book is staggering.  Yet, there is still much we do not know about Operation paperclip as the Government claims files were lost or destroyed.  Some are still classified with no release date on the horizon.  At some point in time, someone will find out the truth about what truly did happened in the wake of World War II as America embraced German talent.  By then, anyone who participated in World War II will be long gone, rendering any type of prosecution or accountability null.  But the public will finally know just how complicit American officials and the White House were in recruiting war criminals for the technological advancement of the United States.  Jacobsen has given us a detailed roadmap with which to start and this book will undoubtedly stand the test of times as one of the finest works on the Third Reich.  My only complaint about this book is that I wished it had never ended.  I found myself glued to the book from the beginning and was unable to put it down.  The is the true story of Operation Paperclip, one of World War II’s darkest secrets.

ASIN: B00BAXFBI