Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson

I don't normally read a lot of non-fiction, but the premise of this one caught my eye.  It is the previously untold story of a group of Jewish boys who escaped Nazi Germany in the mid to late 1930s and became interrogators for the US army during World War II.  They were referred to as the "Ritchie Boys" for the name of the camp where they did their training.

Though there were close to 2000 of them, the book primarily followed the stories of 6, beginning with their pre-Nazi family lives, through the Nazi rise to power and Kristallnacht then their eventual escapes to the US.  Some came alone, sponsored by relatives already living in the US or as part of orphan rescue missions.  Others were lucky enough to have escaped with their families.  All of them felt the call to do what they could to eradicate Nazism after seeing the terrible toll it took on their country.  Though most were initially turned down by the army as "enemy aliens", eventually they were able to prove their loyalty to their adopted country and were fast tracked to citizenship.  Moreover their command of the language and understanding of the German way of life and psyche made them ideal intelligence officers.

Statistics suggest that 36% of all combat intelligence gathered by the US army in the European theatre came from German-language interrogations conducted by the Ritchie Boys.  The book goes on to illustrate many of the ways in which they participated in the war, at great danger to themselves, especially if the Germans found out they were Jews.  At least two of the Ritchie Boys were executed by a German officer who found out they were Jews.

After the Germans were defeated many of the Ritchie Boys looked for family members that they'd left behind - some were lucky to find relatives who had survived the concentration camps or in hiding; most were not so lucky.

My main criticism with the book was that it was sometimes hard to follow.  It jumped from story to story without elegant transitions.  I also often forgot the back story when I got to a new section about one or the other of the main characters.  It might have been easier if I were reading a physical book rather than an e-book as I could have more easily flipped back and forth.  The book was obviously very well researched and sometimes read like a textbook which made parts dry.  That being said, overall I enjoyed reading about an angle of the war of which I had no prior knowledge.

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