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They Dared Return

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They Dared Return
The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany. By Patrick K. O'Donnell. (Da Capo Press Cambridge, Massachusetts: 2009. Pg. 240. 8-page Photo Insert.) ISBN: 978-0-306-81800-4.

Reviewed by Herbert White - November 16, 2009

If you were Jewish, would there have been anything in the world that would have compelled you to voluntarily go, nearly defenseless, into Nazi Germany and the proverbial lion's den? Especially if you had already escaped from the Nazis once already? For one group of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, there was reason enough to go back. These men, later known as the Jewish Five, willingly walked back into the lion's den to fight for the freedom of their brethren and to do what they could to slow the Nazi war effort! In They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany, Patrick K. O'Donnell tells the astounding, and true story, about this remarkable group that consisted of five, young, Jewish men - five hitherto unsung heroes.

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed in 1941 and later developed into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Five young Jewish men, many of which had barely escaped from Nazi Germany and many of whom had friends and family concentration camps, were recruited by the OSS to go behind enemy lines, one of whom went disguised as a Nazi officer, to work as spies and saboteurs. More so than other operatives, they knew the dangers they would face if captured. Along the way some of the men where captured and horribly tortured by the Gestapo, but amazingly they managed to escape. Even more amazingly, this little group of five men where responsible for the surrender of thousands of German soldiers, the destruction of numerous trains and other objects vital to the Nazi war effort, and in relaying vital intelligence back to the Allies.

Their ultimate mission was aimed at greatly advancing Nazi Germany's defeat. If the mission failed, the agents had no doubt that they would die - and most likely by torture, not by the swift release of a bullet. This mission would send them deep within enemy territory, the area was known as the "Alpine Redoubt" (Alpenfestung) in Austria. Within the pages of this gripping and unputdownable book, O'Donnell chronicles the formation of this remarkable team of spies, the training they received, how they were inserted into Austria, their actions behind enemy lines, and the results of their mission to the Alpine Redoubt. O'Donnell touches upon several of the missions that the members of the 'Jewish Five' were involved in, including Deadwood, Greenup, Dania, and Dillon. Several recently declassified mission reports are also included in the book's appendix. What I found most interesting was the information O'Donnell presents on how the agents were outfitted for their various missions, including how their forged documents were created, how their communication systems worked, how items were secreted on the agents, and other nuances of the spy craft.

They Dared Return cries out to be made into a movie. It has everything that makes a Hollywood blockbuster - unforgettable heroes, a dastardly enemy, lots of action, and even a little romance. Most important, it is a true story that you'll remember for the rest of your life! Even if it is never made into a movie, this book is a must read for anyone with an interest in Jewish history, World War II, or espionage. It will also enthrall anyone with a liking for espionage thrillers. O'Donnell writes with the skill of a novelist, and his narrative style of writing draws you into the story and never lets you go, while at the same time authenticating his information to the satisfaction of scholars and general readers alike who demand historical accuracy. When I reviewed O'Donnell's The Brenner Assignment, another book about a behind-enemy-lines, World War II spy mission I said that it was "...by far the most riveting history book that I've ever read." I've changed my mind, The Brenner Assignment is now second with They Dared Return easily moving into the role as the most riveting history book that I've ever read! Whether you are a fan of popular histories, or espionage thrillers, give this book a read, I think that you'll agree that it is a ripping good read that is both edifying and entertaining.

Related Reviews:

The Brenner Assignment, by Patrick K. O'Donnell.
The Untold Story of the Most Daring Spy Mission of World War II, in which a three-man team parachuted behind enemy lines to sabotage and hopefully destroy the Brenner Pass - a vital Nazi supply line between Austria and Italy.

The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944, by Lt. Col. Will Irwin (Ret).
Irwin not only provides a general overview of the Jedburghs history and their training, but he also provides riveting accounts of their hair-raising missions, battles, and close-calls where they had to dodge not only German troops and the Gestapo, but also collaborators who could easily have blown their cover.

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