Category Archives: WWII
2019 Costa Book of the Year. The Volunteer: The True Story of the resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather
The Volunteer: The True Story of the resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather
Would you sacrifice yourself to save thousands of others?
In the Summer of 1940, after the Nazi occupation of Poland, an underground operative called Witold Pilecki accepted a mission to uncover the fate of thousands of people being interned at a new concentration camp on the border of the Reich.
His mission was to report on Nazi crimes and raise a secret army to stage an uprising. The name of the detention centre — Auschwitz.
It was only after arriving at the camp that he started to discover the Nazi’s terrifying plans. Over the next two and half years, Witold forged an underground army that smuggled evidence of Nazi atrocities out of Auschwitz. His reports from the camp were to shape the Allies response to the Holocaust – yet his story was all but forgotten for decades.
This is the first major account to draw on unpublished family papers, newly released archival documents and exclusive interviews with surviving resistance fighters to show how he brought the fight to the Nazis at the heart of their evil designs.
The result is an enthralling story of resistance and heroism against the most horrific circumstances, and one man’s attempt to change the course of history.
WINNER OF THE 2019 COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR
I have read so much about the Holocaust and then I come across the incredible story of Witold Pilecki who volunteered to enter Auschwitz Concentration Camp to organise an escape and also obtain as much information about what was really going on at Auschwitz. Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather recently won the 2019 Costa Book of the Year award.
Poland has been defeated by the Nazis and now they rounding the Jewish men, woman and children, sent them to the ghettos before they were sent in cattle trucks to Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Witold Pilecki was one of the bravest men of WWII. What we know now about Auschwitz, the world did not know during the war. Did anyone believe the German’s could be capable of creating death camps that killed millions? Back then no-one knew. During the Summer of 1940 Witold Pilecki a former cavalry officer in the Polish army was a member of the Polish resistance agreed to captured and sent to Auschwitz to gain as much information about what was really happening there. It was the autumn of 1940. On entering the prisoners witnessed one of the men being beaten to death by the guards. Straight away the message was given to the prisoners.
This remarkable true account of how Pilecki began work in Auschwitz on getting as much evidence on crimes being committed there as well as starting work on starting an underground network inside of Auschwitz. But the conditions were a lot worse than even Pilecki had feared. Even thinking about starting an underground network was dangerous. If caught it would have meant certain death for him and many others. This was very dangerous and courageous.
Very quickly prisoners in Auschwitz were dying at an alarming rate every day. Starvation and daily beatings were the norm by the guards but Witold Pilecki had managed to smuggle out details of what was going on there. Pilecki witnessed the first gassings by the Nazis using Zyklon B and the murders on industrial scale.
With reports passed to the Warsaw resistance who then passed to the Polish Government, they hoped at last the Allies would act, despite repeated calls for the British and American air force to bomb Auschwitz no help was forthcoming.
In April 1943 Witold Pilecki managed to escape Auschwitz in April 1943 and found his way back to Warsaw. It was not until after D-Day when the allies landed in France that the allies began to discuss Auschwitz. Pilecki had believed he had failed those he left behind in Auschwitz.
Following the war Pilecki was arrested by Poland’s the secret police and was accused of treason and then was interrogated over 150 times and was executed in May 1948.
Witold Pilecki’s brave story was lost to history but now thanks to the incredible research by Jack Fairweather Pilecki’s courageous story has finally been told. A deserved winner of the 2019 Costa Book of the Year. Highly Recommended.
528 Pages. (Paperback)
The Volunteer: The True Story of the resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather was published by WH Allen and was published in Paperback on 9th January 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle
Autumn 1943. Realising that his feelings for his sweetheart are not reciprocated, Major John Overton accepts a posting behind enemy lines in Nazi-Occupied Albania. Arriving to find the situation in disarray, he attempts to overcome geographical challenges and political intrigues to set up a new camp in the mountains overlooking the Adriatic.
As he struggles to complete his mission amidst a chaotic backdrop, Overton is left to ruminate on loyalty, comradeship and his own future.
Based on Anthony Quayle s own wartime experience with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), this new edition of a 1945 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds new light on the fascinating true events that inspired its author.
Many will know of Anthony Quayle the actor nominated for many awards for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia, Ice Cold in Alex and The Guns of Navarone to name just a few. But I had no idea of Anthony Quayle the author. In WWII Quayle was a British Army Officer and later served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and served in Albania. The experiences so affected him that he found it hard to talk about. In Eight Hours from England first published in 1945 the story became a fictionalised account of his time in the SOE.
The story follows Major John Overton who is putting his personal life behind him and now has agreed to go behind enemy lines in Albania which is under the thumb of Nazi occupation.
When Overton arrives he is confronted by the task ahead of him, he has to organise the resistance and fight the German forces but there is plenty of in-fighting within Albania and too much focus on their own civil war. What our man Overton has to overcome is the terrain and the weather conditions and despite the promise of supplies these do not arrive.
What I found from Quayle’s words was that he was relieved to get out as he did in early April 1944. The situation was deteriorating with too many factions within the country and Partisans fearing not only certain death but total destruction of their villages. For Overton the need to get out of this situation and also Albania at the same time was real.
This is a compelling account of real life SOE agent although fictionalised it really becomes clear to the reader just what agents had to face when they were sent to the Balkans.
Anthony Quayle went on to continue to serve with the armed forces until the war ended and then went on to star in many films and also many stage productions and was Knighted in the New Year’s Honours in 1985. Sir Anthony Quayle died at his home in October 1989.
Thank you to the Imperial War Museum and also Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle.
Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle was published by Imperial War Museum and was published on 5th September 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17-25 September 1944 – by William F. Buckingham
Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17-25 September 1944 by William F. Buckingham
On 21 August 1944 German Army Group B was destroyed in Normandy and Allied troops began pressing east from the beachhead they had occupied since the D-Day landings. Within days British troops had liberated Brussels and reached the Dutch border. Encouraged by seeming total German collapse, the Allies gambled their overstretched resources on a high-risk strategy aimed at opening the way into Germany itself crossing the Rhine river.
On the afternoon of Sunday 17 September British tanks advanced into Holland in concert with 1,534 transport aircraft and 491 gliders. Their objective was a series of bridges across the Rhine, possession of which would allow the Allies to advance into Germany. In the event the operation was dogged by bad weather, flawed planning, tardiness and overconfidence, and ended with the Arnhem crossing still in German hands despite an epic nine-day battle that cost the British 1st Airborne Division over two thirds of its men killed, wounded or captured.
Arnhem, the Battle of the Bridges combines analysis and new research by a leading authority on Operation MARKET GARDEN with the words of the men who were there, and provides the most comprehensive account of the battle to date.
With the German army driven out of France and Belgium, the allied forces decided on a bold and brave risk. To take the bridges at Arnhem and thus pave the way into Germany which could prove decisive and shorten the war. 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. I have held back from publishing my review of Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17th – 25th September 1944. By William F. Buckingham (Amberley Publishing) until now to coincide with the anniversary.
British Paratroppers on their way to Arnhem
It was Sunday 17th September 1944 and the first British tanks started to make the journey into Holland along with over 1500 aircraft and nearly 500 gliders the race was on to capture and hold the bridges over the Rhine which would give the allies a foothold into Germany. This was a bold and brave gamble by General Montgomery his idea of a ‘Single Thrust’ into Germany.
Everything about Operation Market Garden was based on split second timing and there could be no mistakes no delays. Take the bridges and hold until relieved. Not everyone in the Allied Command HQ backed Monty’s plan indeed everything was put into Operation Market Garden including nearly all the fuel was re-directed for the effort. Such a huge operation was fraught with danger and possible failure. In the end it was an epic battle but one of great heroism by the men who fought at Arnhem.
Three major airborne divisions were to take part in Operation Market Garden, from the US the 101st and 82 and from the British the 82nd. They would pave the way for the armoured division of the Guards to race ahead. Everything depended on split second timing and the superior German forces along with SS Panzer divisions practically destroyed the 1st Airborne division. The who operation was sadly doomed to failure. There are many reasons as to why Operation Market Garden failed and military historians for years have written pieces on how and why it failed. Allied Casualties were close to 18,000 as well as around 500 civilians.
Operation Market Garden was a complete failure with around 2,500 British trooped managing to escape back across the river. Many were captured along with the wounded who could not be evacuated. It would be another four months before the allies would cross the Rhine to defeat Germany and bring the war to an end.
I have read many accounts of Operation Market Garden since my younger days but Buckingham’s account is nothing short of meticulous. Absolutely nothing is left out. It is a hefty book at 624 pages but if you want to know everything there is to know about Operation Market Garden then this is the book you want. It is an epic account. The research is astonishing as well as the memories of those who fought an in the battle for the bridges and the civilians who witnessed the battle. There are also many photographs from Operation Market Garden. My thoughts are with the many brave men who fought bravely and never came home. Highly Recommended.
My thanks to Amberley Publishing for a copy of Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17-25 September 1944 by William F. Buckingham. Released in Hardback on 15th March 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter by Robert Hutton
Delighted to share my thoughts on the story of the MI5 agent at the very heart of Operation Fifth Column, which was the covert WWII operation that was to flush out Nazi sympathisers on British Soil.
Just a few words on what the book is about: June 1940 and Britain stands alone as Hitler eyes his next prize across the channel. Codenamed ‘Jack King’ Eric Roberts who was a former Bank Clerk from Epsom in Surrey. He was recruited into MI5 and then went on to become Hitler’s man in London. This whole operation has only recently come to light. In Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Wartime Nazi Hunter Robert Hutton goes on to tell the story through newly declassified documents and private family archives.
The enemy within during the war was a fear at the heart of the government getting to know who they were and then infiltrate them was key to identifying the key players and also the spies who would pass on information to their spy masters in Berlin.
Author Robert Hutton must be congratulated for his well-researched book that is an incredible read that delves deep into this story of Eric Roberts.
It is hard to imagine that even when that dreadful Oswald Mosely was taken out circulation that there ordinary Britons willing to work for the Nazis and put this country at real risk of invasion.
Eric Roberts hailed from Cornwall and was spotted by spymaster Maxwell Knight. Roberts was nothing short of brave as he set about infiltrating British Union of Fascists at any time he could have caught out and then what? It was later that he rose through the ranks. This an ordinary bank clerk. Nothing short of remarkable.
As the war went on, it was decided the best way to play them was to set up their own ‘Fifth Column’ and so it was the under the name of ‘Jack King’ Eric Roberts played his best part.
‘Jack King’ was to play the Nazi’s man in London pretending to be the link and the key to the very heart of Nazi Germany. Hard to imagine that here in Briton as men and women risking their lives to destroy the Nazis that there were those who believed in the Nazi cause and wanted see their own country defeated. These were the vile anti-Semitic Nazi sympathisers that Eric was infiltrating. This was dangerous work at any time he could have been found out and almost certain death awaited. It was indeed that ‘Jack’ already being eyed as an MI5 spy and her name was Marita Perigoe who was in her own right an extremely dangerous woman who was very suspicious of ‘Jack King’ These were the people plotting against their own country passing vital information to the Gestapo but plotting Churchill’s downfall. These were the enemy within and needed to be brought to justice but at the end of the war were they indeed brought to justice. There are some surprising findings and facts that even opened my eyes while reading this riveting account.
At the end of the story the country owed Eric Roberts a great deal but did he get the rewards he deserved. I won’t reveal that here as I think this is one book that finally opens the story of a man with a smile that opened doors and revealed many secrets.
Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter by Robert Hutton was published by W&N and was published on 6th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel
Some people have dreams of opening and running a bookshop. For Françoise Frenkel this was her dream She loved books when she was growing up. In No Place to Lay One’s Head (Pushkin Press) is Françoise’s memoir. A Jewish woman born in Poland opened her bookshop La Masion du Livre which was a French bookshop in Berlin in 1921. A dream come true. Her memoir was published in 1945 in Geneva to a small press but then was discovered in a flea market Nice in 2010.
Françoise was obsessed with books when she was growing up in Poland then after her studies she started as a bookseller before opening her own bookshop. The came Adolf Hitler and the birth of National Socialism. Soon Jews in Germany became a target and shops owned and run by Jews became a target. Then came Kristallnacht (shards of broken glass in the streets) when shops and property were targeted. In July 1939 in fear for her life she fled Berlin leaving behind her beloved French bookshop and headed for Paris. Then as the war engulfed France she had to leave Paris and then it was a case of moving from one safe house to another to escape the round-up of those Jews in Vichy France who fled to this part of France to seek safety. For Françoise she missed this by just moments. Now she needed to find somewhere to hide and then escape before she was arrested and then sent to a concentration camp.
There was of course those in Vichy France who would easily tell the authorities of her whereabouts but at the same time there was those who bravely hid those Jewish men, women and children knowing too well if caught they would be tortured and then killed.
It was June 1943 that with help Françoise managed to cross the border and arrived in Switzerland. She was safe. It was here she sought solace in writing No Place to Lay One’s Head and was published in September 1945. Only selling a small number of copies. Françoise Frenkel’s memoir was then discovered in a flea market in France in 2010 and translated into English. Though there is no mention of Françoise’s husband who was captured by the Nazis and was murdered at Auschwitz during 1942.
This is a truly heartbreaking memoir written just after she escaped France to neutral Switzerland. It is also an astonishing read and one I could not put down once I had started and after I had finished I wanted to know more about Françoise Frenkel. This is a book that cries out to be read and No Place to Lay One’s Head is highly recommended.
In the years that followed the war I can only hope that Françoise found the peace she craved. Françoise Frenkel died in Nice, France in January 1975.
Thank you Tabitha Pelly for the review copy of No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel
No Place to Lay One’s Head by Françoise Frenkel was published by Pushkin Press and was published on 31st January 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Long Night – Ernst Israel Bornstein
I am so very grateful to Noemie Lopian. Noemie is the daughter of Ernst Israel Bornstein and back in December she contacted me about her father’s book The Long Night. This is his first-hand account of what Ernst endured and witnessed in seven concentration camps. January 27th 2019 is Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) and a day we remember the six million of Jewish men, women and children who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
Ernst was just 17-years-old when the Nazis arrived at their Polish home in March 1941 and arrested him and in front of his fearful mother he was beaten and marched off to a labour camp. Glancing up at the window of their home was his mother. He was not sure when he would see her again. For Ernst this was the start of years of one concentration camp to another and the death marches were many were murdered while being marched from one camp to another.
The vision of seeing his tearful mother from the window of their home stayed with him. He was never to see his mother again. I read that from an extended family of 72 only six survived the Holocaust one was his sister.
To survive seven concentration and the murderous death marches was nothing short of a miracle for Ernst. Witnessing those close to him and the friends he made being killed would live with him forever. Ernst learnt how to survive in the concentration camps from one day to another it was a strategy that kept him alive. Keeping alive deep within him his love for his family. A burning desire deep inside to survive and see them again. But as time passed and stories of mass murder at other camps he was never sure were his family was or if they were still alive.
Gross-rosen Concentration Camp, Lower Silesia
I have over the years read many books on the Holocaust and also survivors own stories. The Long Night deserves a place in history purely because of how Ernst Israel Bornstein describes in his own emotional words. It is the historical accounts from survivors of the Holocaust that are important as they tell the reader what it was actually like because they were there and witnessed the horror on a daily basis not knowing that as a new day dawned if they would ever see the sun go down that evening. These are their words.
The Long Night for Ernst lasted from the time the Nazis invaded Poland until he was liberated by the American Army. It was a Long Night that lasted over 5 years. Ernst Survived and lived to tell the world his story. It is hard to imagine how anyone could remember so much and in great detail. How he watched those around him being cut down or reduced to just nothing as they were given so little to eat yet treated brutally day and night.
It was survival of the fittest and they would fight for a scrap of food not knowing when they would get to eat again. Some reduced to eating blades of grass to try and survive.
Survive Ernst did and after the war he went to medical school and became a loving father. Survivors of the Concentration Camps have to then survive life after the camps and learn in their own way to survive. Many cannot speak of the time in the camps until many years later. It was in 1967 that Ernst published his account of life at the hands of the Nazis with ‘Die Lange Nacht’ in Germany.
Ernst Israel Bornstein died in 1978 of a heart condition. His daughter Noemie with the help of a translator published the English edition The Long Night (The Toby Press) in 2015 with a prefaced later by the then Prime Minister David Cameron.
Both Ernst’s parents and two sisters perished at Auschwitz.
I will continue to share the stories of Holocaust survivors through my blog as I have always beleived it is important to keep their stories alive for future generations.
Thank you Noemie Lopian for a copy of your father’s book The Long Night.
The Long Night by Ernst Israel Bornstein was published on 21st January 2015 by Toby Press LLC and is available through to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Choice: A True Story of Hope – Edith Eger
Edith Eger is a survivor, but no ordinary survivor as she survived the worst hell on earth imaginable.
The Choice by Edith Eger is her memoir of surviving Auschwitz and how she used this to help others. But the one thing that struck me about this incredible book is that it does not begin with Auschwitz but it starts in 1980 in the USA.
It was 1944 and 16-year-old Edith Eger and her Hungarian family were rounded up and sent with other Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz Concentration Camp where she and her sister was separated from her parents. Her parents were sent straight to the gas chambers with others. Edith was a ballerina and had hopes of making the Olympic Games. Soon after arriving at Auschwitz she was made to dance for evil camp doctor Josef Mengele. At any moment a wag of his finger meant you would face death in the gas chamber. What Edith endured and witnessed over the course of the next year is nothing short of horrific. Edith was then transferred then onto the notorious Mauthausen Concentration Camp then later rescued by American soldiers as she was close to dying.
What Edith does for many years is to keep her story of her time in Auschwitz to herself not wanting to tell anyone of the horrors she endured and witnessed. But it was time to tell the world her story and in turn this keeps the stories of survivor’s alive forever. The Choice is not just a story of Edith’s survival of the Holocaust but it is also one of hope and also at the same time one of helping others come to terms and help to heal wounds of the past. Learning to live again and indeed Edith did just that by being a mother to three children and pursuing a career in psychology.
An incredible book that left me numb at the horrors Edith went through but also the hope that The Choice brings to the reader. Highly Recommended.
The Choice: A True Story of Hope by Edith Eger was published (Paperback version) by Rider and was published on 16th August 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 takes place on January 27th and it is the day the Russian army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp in occupied Poland. A day for everyone to remember the six million Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust. #HolocaustMemorialDay #HMD2019
The Jewish Book Week takes place in London from 2-10th March 2019. Tickets for around 80 events including book talks and discussions are available to book. See the official website for more details: Jewish Book Week I am delighted to be named as one of the Blog Partners for this year’s event. #JBW2019
Hitler’s British Isles: The Real Story of the Occupied Channel Islands by Duncan Barrett
When Hitler’s forces rampaged across Europe and then finally France fell to the Nazis, Hitler then turned his attention to across the Channel. Mainland Britain prepared for a similar Blitzkrieg but the Channel Islands lay perilously close to the French coastline, it was now apparent that they would be alone and not defended by Britain. In Duncan Barrett’s Hitler’s British Isles this is the definitive account of the Channel Islands five-year occupation by German forces during the war.
Writer Duncan Barrett interviewed over one hundred people on the islands who had direct experience of the war under the Nazis. When it was announced that the Channel Islands would not be defended, an evacuation took place in 1940 of British forces and also many of the children. Though some could not come to terms of being separated from their parents and stayed on despite the fear of what was on the horizon.
It was June 1940 and the Luftwaffe arrived over the islands bombing and strafing many lost their lives during the attacks. The Islanders were not in a position to fight back. The occupation had begun and the Channel Islands were now under Nazi control. These are British Islands and they had been invaded. Over on the mainland the Battle of Britain was about to begin.
Many on the islands had their homes taken over and families had to move out. The effects of the invasion now came into force. Food was rationed and as the war went on food was scarce and the inhabitants went hungry.
At first those that represented the islanders co-operated with their occupiers. Many of the German soldiers believed the war would be over very quickly, but after the Battle of Britain they knew they were on the Islands for some years. Many of the German soldiers believed that being on the Islands prevented them later from being sent to the front line when Hitler invaded Russia.
There was a small Jewish population living on the Channel Islands and many went into hiding sadly though many were found and rounded up and sent to concentration camps never to return.
As the war went on it was clear the Nazi command was intent on turning the main Islands into a fortress and the Organisation Todt brought around 15,000 men as slave labourers were brought in from the Eastern Europe and they were badly abused and many died of hunger or killed during the building of the fortresses. One of the sadder stories was that of Louisa Gould who helped some of the men and was caught. Louisa was sent to the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was killed in the gas chambers.
By latter part of 1944 the Islanders were starving there was little food remaining and pets were killed to survive. Now Red Cross Parcels started to arrive and just in time.
There are many horrific stories that are uncovered in Barrett’s outstanding book, and as the war ended, some of the Islanders sought justice on those who were a little too close to their German Masters. It was time for retribution.
When the war ended it was a time of trying to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. Many sent to Europe never returned. Then there is the story of a young woman from the Island of Sark who fell in love with a German and when he was sent to England as a prisoner after the war after a number of ‘arranged’ meetings it was clear their love was too strong and they married and then later returned to Sark to live their lives in peace.
Duncan Barrett has well researched the stories of the occupation of the Channel Islands and must be complimented on how well this is set out against the personal stories of those involved. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Sue Stephen (Simon & Schuster) for the review copy of Hitler’s British Isles by Duncan Barrett
Hitler’s British Isles by Duncan Barrett was published by Simon & Schuster and was published on 14th June 2018 and is available in Hardcover through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.