Reviews

Return to the Reich

A real-life World War II spy thriller from a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist.


Lichtblau (The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men, 2014, etc.) narrates the exciting story of Freddy Mayer (1926-2016), from his childhood in Germany before the rise of the Nazis to his escapades in the OSS. His family was lucky to escape from Germany, arriving in New York in 1938. After Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist, hoping to use his German training as a mechanic, but he was rejected as an “enemy alien.” Soon, the need for able-bodied men eased the restrictions, and Mayer’s older brother was called up. Freddy appealed, and the draft board took him instead, allowing his brother to finish college. His dauntlessness, abilities, and outlandish maneuvers brought him to the attention of the OSS, and after months of training, he arrived in Africa in June 1944. His partner was Hans Wynberg, a Dutch Jew and Morse code expert. Frustrated at the lack of action, Mayer came up with audacious ideas for missions. While his superiors never doubted his motives, they worried that he had no limits. Finally, they engaged in a mission into the Austrian Tyrol, but there were no local resisters to meet their landing; they needed a guide. Thus Mayer was sent to a Nazi POW camp to find a German ready to turn to their side. He struck gold with Franz Weber, a German deserter born in the Alps. Mayer, Wynberg, and Weber ended up in Weber’s hometown, where some local citizens helped them. And that’s just the backstory. Recounting one of the most successful espionage missions, Lichtblau delivers the goods, shining a bright spotlight on a truly unique character: Mayer was aggressive, ingenious, and often disregarded the rules, to great effect.


An enthralling page-turner.

The title is a giveaway in this gripping WWII tale by Pulitzer Prize–winner Lichtblau (The Nazis Next Door) about Freddy Mayer, a Jewish refugee who fled Hitler’s Germany only to return as an American spy. In chilling detail and skillful prose, this deeply researched narrative recounts Mayer’s family fleeing Freiburg for Brooklyn in 1933. Although the U.S. Army initially rejected Freddy as an enemy alien, after Pearl Harbor “officials came to realize that they would need every able-bodied man,” and he was recruited into a unit of the espionage-focused Office of Strategic Services composed mainly of Jewish refugees, including Dutch-born Morse code expert Hans Wynberg. Their assignment was to go behind enemy lines with a “Mission Impossible mandate... to harass the enemy.” Along with Franz Weber, an Austrian POW they convinced to defect, in February 1945 Mayer and Wynburg were dropped into the heart of Nazi territory. Things, unsurprisingly, got hairy: Gestapo officers demanded to see their papers, and Weber was recognized by a teenage girl. But before long, everyone at HQ was impressed with the intelligence the trio sent back. Despite his best efforts, the Nazis arrested Mayer, and he was summoned to meet with “the most powerful Nazi in Tyrol,” regional party leader Franz Hofer. No spoilers on the rest—readers will devour Lichtblau’s fresh and masterfully told WWII story. (Oct.)

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The Nazis Next Door

New disclosures on the Nazi scientists are “just one sensational element of the post-World War II U.S.-Nazi community revealed in Lichtblau’s book, which has received rave reviews for both its narrative style and painstakingly well-researched facts. The book hit shelves last week.”


Huffington Post, November 8, 2014 (full review)


Eric Lichtblau has written a captivating account….The events Lichtblau recounts are infuriating, flipping American textbook history on its head, but that makes it all the more an important read. The Nazis Next Door reads with the ease of fiction even as the author draws on a litany of declassified documents, extensive interviews and other sources.


Newsweek, ‘Our 20 Favorite Books of 2014,’ December 4, 2014 (full review)


Lichtblau brings ample investigative skills and an elegant writing style to this unsavory but important story. The Nazis Next Door is a captivating book rooted in first-rate research.


New York Times Sunday Book Review (full review)


Lichtblau utilizes obscure sources and declassified files, tenaciously circling back to a dark reality: Many of the estimated 10,000 Nazis who settled here were involved in the worst aspects of the Holocaust. Fascinating and infuriating corrective to the American mythology of the “Good War.”


Kirkus Review (full review)


An essential read for all those interested in World War Two, the Cold War and 20th-Century history


Library Journal (full review)


Bits of the story have been reported in the past, but the full scope of the operation has now been reported in Times reporter Eric Lichtblau’s new book, The Nazis Next Door.


--Washington Post (full story)


The Nazis Next Door provides an intimate and digestible introduction to a subject still very much in the news.


The Chicago Tribune (full story)


‘At least 1,000′ Nazis worked for US as spies, author says American agencies not only employed them, but also sometimes covered up their war crimes for decades, according to new book.


The Times of Israel (full story)


Chilling: CIA and other spy agencies hired 1,000 Nazis during Cold War, report finds; The New York Times uncovers more unsavory details about the Cold War.


Salon (full story)


America’s Six-Decade Nazi Spy Cover-Up
Why Are Spy Agencies Still Classifying Cold War Documents?


Jewish Daily Forward (full story)


Bookstores next week will begin selling Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eric Lichtblau’s book, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men. The excerpts he has published are jaw-dropping.


Orange County Register (full story)


In The Nazis Next Door, published Tuesday, Eric Lichtblau uses declassified documents and interviews to tell the story of how the U.S. became a safe haven for Nazis after the war, recounting one infuriating detail after another.


Newsweek (full story)