Tag Archives: spies

Hidden heroes of World War II given their due in entertaining format: Pulp history

October 30, 2010

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Remember “Classics Illustrated”?

The comic book-style versions of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Treasure Island” and “The Three Musketeers”, were my first taste of great stories.

Simon & Schuster taps into some of that cartoon format in “Shadow Knights: The Secret War Against Hitler,” one of the publisher’s “Pulp History” series.

First, though, these are great stories that keep you turning the pages.

  • A one-time school teacher is dropped into occupied France and organizes resistance groups that badger the Nazis. Will he survive?
  • A young female refugee parachutes into France to send wireless messages right under the noses of the Germans. Will she escape before she can be caught?
  • Norwegians face impossible odds and endure incomparable suffering to try to blow up the factory making heavy-water that the Allies fear the Germans will use to create nuclear bombs. Will they get there to place their explosives, and, if they do, will they get out alive?

Great writing by Gary Kamiya of these stories of the agents of the British Special Operations Executive makes for 163 pages of entertainment, and the illustrations by Jeffrey Smith would make great posters if any of these stories of behind-enemy-lines fighters were to become movies.

Archival photos and propaganda posters from both sides of the conflict and informative sidebars add to a unique fun read that’s educational as well.

Yet, as thrilling as the spy stories are, as exciting as it is to read about the hidden heroes that helped to win the war, the post-script of “Shadow Knights” makes this work of history something to make today’s reader think about the events of our own time.

It isn’t far-fetched to read about the deaths of innocent civilians when a spy blows up a Nazi boat and think of both the deaths of thousands of innocents at the World Trade Center and the leaked informaton about the deaths of thousands of innocents in Iraq due to the terribly named “collateral damage.”

“Shadow Knights” makes it clear that the stories of the SOE agents is a tribute to the power of humans to sacrifice for others and achieve incredible feats for a greater goal; they do not glorify war.

An excerpt carries that message. David Howarth, who helped run the legendary small-boat service between Scotland and Norway for SOE, wrote:

” To ascribe glory to the violent death of any yong man loving life is only to add further folly to the failure of human wisdom which is the cause of war.”

Amen. — bz

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Capture of Holocaust mastermind a must-read story

May 9, 2009

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“Hunting Eichmann,”
by Neal Bascomb

The story finally is told how Holocaust survivors and Israel’s spies found the mastermind of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution,” the hideously well-organized plan that murdered six million Jews during World War II.

The subject of the quest, Adolf Eichmann, was the diabolical brain behind the extermination plan. It wasn’t until 15 years after the war ended that he was finally found and, after a lengthy trial that was front-page news around the world, hanged for his genocidal crimes.

It’s a helluva story, nonfiction that reads like a modern mystery with twists and turns, dead ends, near misses and tiny details that yield huge payoffs.

How Israel’s Mossad — helped by tips from survivors of the Nazi death camps — tracked Adolf Eichmann to Argentina and a miserable shack with no electricity or running water is nothing short of a miracle.

How Eichmann escaped Germany as World War II came to a crashing end around him could be seen as miraculous as well. How this wanted war criminal made his way to South America, however, includes a segment that will cause shame for members of the Catholic community.


Catholic collusion

Part of the network that helped Nazis escape, Bascomb’s research uncovered, included Bishop Alois Hudal, “an Austrian and a devotee of Hitler who proudly brandished his golden Nazi Party membership badge.”

Bishop Hudal personally wrote to Argentine dictator Juan Peron to request visa for 5,000 Germans and Austrians.

A string of monasteries and convents in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy served as refuge to hide and smuggle Nazis away from prosecution, and Eichmann took advantage, finally making his way across Europe to Genoa, Italy, and the Church of San Antonio. Franciscan Father Edoardo Domoter, a Hungarian sympathetic to fleeing Nazi’s, sheltered him in the rectory there while Eichmann secured a refugee’s passport from Red Cross officials and a visa from the Argentine consulate, and soon was on the passenger ship Giovanna C headed to South America with a number of other former Nazi bigwigs.

Bascomb notes that, while cardinals and priests were involved in helping war criminals escape prosecution, “Pope Pius XII did not officially approve of the Vatican’s involvement in the network, but he certainly turned a blind eye to it, primarily because of the church’s commitment to act as a bulwark against the spread of communism.”


Amazingly detailed research

The capture of Eichmann and especially the deception required to hide him and then spirit him out of Argentina to stand trial in Israel are as close to against-all-odds material as any fiction writer might dream up.

The fact that the Israelis were able to pull it off — find him, first of all, grab him off the street, secret him away for a number of days and whisk him off to Israel in the first El Al plane ever to visit Argentina — is terrific storytelling.

Pulling all the pieces of the story together through interviews and historical documents is truly the work of a gifted writer and team of researchers. The 327-page Houghton Mifflin Harcourt book includes an additional 27 pages of verifying footnotes and helpful bibliography and index. Photos taken with hidden suitcase cameras, maps of Eichmann’s Argentine neighborhood and even Eichmann’s Red Cross passport — using the alias Riccardo Klement — bring life and authenticity to the pages.

The world cannot forget

What Bascomb adds, though, as icing on the cake, is the reason that bringing Eichmann to trial on Israeli soil was so important for the Jewish people, especially for the younger generations of Israelis but even more importantly for the world. Bascomb writes in his epilogue:

“As for the rest of the world, the Eichmann affair rooted the Holocaust in the collective cultural consciousness. . . . The Holocaust was finally anchored in the world’s consciousness — never to be forgotten — by the outpouring of survivor memoirs, scholarly works, plays, novels, documentaries, paintings, museum exhibits, and films that followed in the wake of the trial and that still continues today. This consciousness, in Israel and throughout the world, is the enduring legacy of the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann.”

This is history every human should know. — bz

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