12 June 2018

Adventures in Book Publishing - The Great Purge

Getting a book published is no mean feat. There's the research, the writing, the re-writing, and more re-writing and maybe some more research. Then a publisher needs to be found and then... then the author has to take their baby and hack it to bits. Seriously.

My manuscript is in the 170,000 word range and needs to be hacked back to the 120,000 word range. All those bios I researched on characters in the Josef saga? Gone... except for the chosen few - like Stephens... and Hinchley-Cooke. I am shaving and condensing and hacking and then sanding over the transitions and rough bits. I know that the manuscript is better after I've done this... but it is still a hard thing to watch so many choice bits end up on the cutting room floor.

I am taking comfort from the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Little Prince. "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." I need to keep that in mind.

I also liken this to my flabby, bloated manuscript being put through a serious physical fitness program... I'm hoping that a lean, mean machine is going to come out the other end. It is time-intensive and... the blog suffers a bit as a result.


30 May 2018

New Book on Operation Lena (in Dutch)

Cover for Zig Spioneerden tegen England (They Spied Against England) (image courtesy of Jan Willem van den Braak)
Cover for Zig Spioneerden tegen England (They Spied Against England)
(image courtesy of Jan Willem van den Braak)
A couple of years ago, Dutch author, Jan Willem van den Braak published a book (in Dutch) on Dutch spy Engelbertus Fukken (alias Jan Willem ter Braak).

And this year, he has published another book titled
Zij Spioneerden tegen England - Operatie-Lena (1940-1941): tot mislukken gedoemd (They Spied against England - Operation Lena (1940-1941): doomed to failure)


The book description (with a bit of help from Google Translate) reads thusly:
In the summer of 1940, the Nazis hastily recruited nearly twenty spies from various countries, including the Netherlands, and in the following months sent them to England, as a sort of scout for the planned invasion of England - which would never happen. This Operation Lena became a catastrophe for the Nazis and the spies involved. Some were executed, one committed suicide and a few could only save their lives by becoming double agents.

In this book, Operation Lena is fully described in its historical context for the first time in the Netherlands. The author also makes some special discoveries, partly in relation to Churchill. In 2017 he published the biography of one of the Lena spies under the title Spy against Churchill; life and death of Jan Willem ter Braak.
 Hoping that an English translation will see the light of day eventually!

09 May 2018

Bella in the Wych Elm - Jill Mossop

Birth Registration Index entry for Jill K. Mossop (from FamilySearch.org website)
Birth Registration Index entry for Jill K. Mossop
(from FamilySearch.org website)
In her 1953 statement to police about the Bella in the Wych Elm murder, Una Abel Mossop stated that: "The only child of our marriage was born in 1932 and he was christened Julian and at the present time, he is somewhere in America." Seemingly an open and shut statement except... when it comes to the Mossops, nothing is open and shut.

A few months ago, Duncan Honeybourne (a Mossop descendant) and I both noticed an intriguing entry on the Ancestry genealogy website. The birth of a Jill K. Mossop was registered in the first quarter of 1942 in Warwick... and the mother's maiden name was Abel.

Was this little girl really a child of Jack and Una? Could she have been conceived while Jack and Una were still together? Would Una have left Jack in December 1941 in the last few months of her pregnancy? So many unanswered questions.

Birth Registration for Jill K. Mossp (GRO)
Birth Registration for Jill K. Mossp (GRO)
A few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and ordered the birth registration.

Jill Kyra Mossop was born on 19 November 1941 at 124 Warwick Road in Kenilworth. The last two letters are hard to decipher and show up in column 6 as well. [A reader of this blog has since suggested that the two letters are U.D., an abbreviation for Urban District.]

Jill's parents were indeed Jack Mossop and Una Ella Abel. And the date of birth does indicate that Jill was born before Una left Jack Mossop for good in December 1941.

Birth Registration for Jill K. Mossp (GRO)
Birth Registration for Jill K. Mossp (GRO)
The second part of the registration notes that Jack Mossop was an aircraft engineer, living at 39 Barrow Road, Kenilworth. The same two initials show up after Kenilworth, as in column 1. [Likely U.D. for Urban District.]

Column 7 should be the signature of the informant, which in this case would be J. Mossop, father, living at 39 Barrow Road, Kenilworth. The handwriting for this column, however, looks identical to the rest of the entry, which would seem to indicate that either Jack completed the entire entry, or that he did not sign the document and his information was simply filled in by the registrar. The birth was registered 2 January 1942, a good 6 weeks after Jill's birth, which makes sense if Jack and Una were in the process of breaking up. The other question would be... was the child actually Jack's? Or had Una and her soon-to-be second husband, James Alfred Hainsworth, engaged in an extra marital tryst?

What became of Jill Kyra Mossop? Why, in 1953, did Una not acknowledge the presence of another child? In later records for Una and her second husband, there is no mention of a Jill Mossop. Una and James had five children, one of whom died as a young child, and nowhere is Jill mentioned:
  1. Andre J.F.S. Hainsworth - born 9 December 1943 in Warwickshire
  2. Eugene H.S. Hainsworth - born 23 January 1945 in Warwickshire
  3. Heather H.R.S. Hainsworth - born 15 November 1946 in Warwickshire
  4. Annette Hainsworth - birth and death registered March 1949 in Warwickshire
  5. Terese Hainsworth - born 15 November 1956 in Ledbury, Shropshire
Death Registration Index for Jill M. Hainsworth (from Ancestry.co.uk website)
Death Registration Index for Jill M. Hainsworth
(from Ancestry.co.uk website)
There is one small clue, and it is a bit of a stretch. In 1942, there is a first quarter death registration for Jill M. Hainsworth.

This Jill was born around 1942 and died in Warwick at the age of 0 years (any age less than 12 months was registered as 0 years). Could Jill, infant daughter of Jack Mossop and Una Abel have been born in 19 November 1941 but her birth was perhaps not registered due to the turmoil in the Mossop household as Una sought to leave Jack for good? Could this young child then have passed away in the early months of 1942, thereby necessitating the registration of her birth? Or, perhaps she became ill and needed a birth registration in order to access medical care? And, given that the young child was now living with Una and her new husband Jack Hainsworth, perhaps her death was registered as Hainsworth? The middle initial in her name is a bit of an issue but looking at her birth registration, it is easy to see how a "Kyra" could be misread in haste as "Myra". It is interesting that there is no birth of a corresponding Jill M. Hainsworth sooo... it could be that Jill K. Mossop and Jill M. Hainsworth are the same infant.

It is, of course, entirely possible that infant Jill K. Mossop was farmed out to Una or Jack's parents. All of this is, of course, speculation, and until someone orders Jill M Hainsworth's death registration, such it will remain.

Sources
Ancestry genealogy website - births, marriages, deaths, passenger manifests, etc.
FamilySearch genealogy website - same as above
FindMyPast genealogy website - same as above
GRO - birth registration for Jill K. Mossop
West Mercia Police files on Bella in the Wych Elm

05 May 2018

Bella in the Wych Elm - Julian Mossop

The West Mercia Police files on the Bella in the Wych Elm mystery contain many interesting documents. There is one file, however, that has the most intriguing title: "Folder 11 - Possible Suspect Julian Mossop". It turns out that Julian Mossop was the son of Jack Mossop and Una Abel. Let's take a look.

Julian Michael Mossop was born on 3 August 1932 in Wombourne, near Wolverhampton. Already, we can see a problem with him being a "possible suspect". Julian would have been 9 years old in 1941. Could a 9 year old have murdered a five foot tall woman in her mid-30s and stuffed her body in a tree trunk? It seems ludicrous and raises more questions. Who was Julian Mossop? What became of him? Was he really a suspect? How far did the police try and track him?

According to the testimony of Jack Mossop's friend and co-worker, Bill Wilson in late 1953, he hardly ever saw Julian and said that the boy was raised by his grandmother (likely Jack's grandmother who had also raised him). Julian attended Campion Elementary School in Leamington Spa until he was 14 years old (around 1946). His father had died in the Stafford County insane asylum in 1942 and his mother, Una Abel Mossop had married Jack Hainsworth in 1943 and settled in Knutshurst, Shrewley Common, near Warwick. After leaving school, Julian worked for his step-father, at a florist shop in Warwick and at a pig farm in Knuthurst.

Lyons Coventry Street Corner House ca 1960
(from British History Online site)
Off to London
In August 1949, at the age of 17, Julian left his step-father's employment and headed to London to seek his fortune. At this point, Julian's story has several different strands. He apparently attended Jack Solomon's Boxing Gymnasium for a few weeks and then obtained a part-time position as a kitchen porter for Messrs. J. Lyons & Co at the Coventry Street Corner House. He worked there from 27 August 1949 to 8 September 1949, less than two weeks. He apparently left of his own accord and this information was verified by the police at a later date.

Julian then claimed that he was employed as a comi-waiter (someone who brings food from the kitchen to the table) at the Grosvenor House Hotel for about three months and then left of his own accord. The police made enquiries but could not confirm that he had been employed there.

He then claimed that he returned to J. Lyons & Co. and was employed as a comi-waiter at the Cumberland Hotel leaving there on 20 April 1951. Again, the police could find no trace of him having been employed there.

On the other hand, Julian apparently used several aliases that the police knew about - Julian Michael Abel and Michael John Kelly - it is possible that he may have used other aliases at the Grosvenor House Hotel and Cumberland Hotels that were not known to the police.

Another report states that when Julian came to London he was employed as a porter at the American Embassy in London and was still employed there when the report was written (unfortunately the report is not dated).

In Trouble with the Law
Julian Mossop - 26 September 1952 Copyright West Mercia Police - all rights reserved - used with permission
Julian Mossop - 26 September 1952
Copyright West Mercia Police - all rights reserved - used with permission
On 4 May 1950, Julian had his first brush with the law. He was brought before the Marylebone Magistrates' Court and sentenced to twelve months probation for receiving ladies clothing (valued at £15). Likely because the ladies clothing was stolen.

Julian almost managed to make it through his twelve months probation but missed the mark by just over a week. On 26 April 1951 he was arrested again while living in a furnished room at 77 Chippenham Road, London. This time, his offense was a bit more serious. On 7 June 1951, having been in custody since April, Julian was charged at Middlesex Quarter Sessions with:
  1. Housebreaking & Larceny
  2. False Representation re: Identity Card
  3. Stealing a motor car
It would appear that Julian used a key to enter a flat where he had been staying and then stole an unattended motor car. This time around, Julian was sentenced to Borstal Training, a series of youth detention centres operated by H.M. Prison Service. Borstals were intended to reform seriously delinquent young people. On top of the Borstal sentence, Julian was also disqualified from driving for five years.
H.M. Prison Usk - former Borstal Institution
(from Capital Punishment UK site)

Unfortunately, Julian wasn't exactly a model prisoner. Less than three months later, on 25 September 1951, Julian escaped from the Borstal institution. His freedom was short-lived however, as he was recaptured two days later on 27 September. He must have kept his head down after that for on 24 November, 1952, he was released from H.M. Borstal at Usk, Monmouthshire. Following his release, he was under supervision which would expire on 6 June 1955. And that is all that the police had on Julian and his ill-starred career in England.

Off to America
Julian's life as an adult was not off to a great start. Rather than continuing on the same path in England, Julian decided to make a new start in a new country. On 25 August 1953, at the age of 21, Julian boarded the M.S. Anna Salen in Southampton and sailed for America with all of his possessions in a trunk. The ship's manifest noted that he was a student and that his final destination was to be Canada. The ship arrived in New York on 3 September 1953. It would appear that Julian never made it as far as Canada, but remained in New York for the rest of his life. In December 1953, Julian's mother, Una, during her statement to police about the woman in the wych elm, stated that "at the present time, [Julian] is somewhere in America". There is no evidence in the files that the Worcestershire Constabulary attempted to track down Julian in order to question him as a "possible suspect". He was out of the country... good riddance.

Julian Mossop - 26 September 1952 (copyright West Mercia Police Files All rights Reserved. Used with Permission)
Julian Mossop - 26 September 1952
(copyright West Mercia Police Files
All rights Reserved. Used with Permission)
At 6'2", with dark brown hair and hazel eyes, Julian would have stood out from a crowd. He apparently caught the eye of a few ladies as well. On 9 October 1954, Julian married Odette Monplaisir at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York. The marriage certificate noted that Julian Michael Abel Mossop was 22 years old and living at 6 East 94th Street in New York, just to the east of Central Park. He stated that his parents were James and Una Ella Abel Mossop.

Odette Monplaisir stated that she was 26 years old (off by 10 years as we shall see), living at 214 West 96th Street in New York, just to the west of Central Park. Her parents were Anibal & Lilian Symo [Sims] Monplaisir. The witnesses to the marriage were Raoul A. Stephens of 214 West 96th Street (the same address as Odette) and Edna May Govan of 240 West 103rd Street.

As it turns out, Odette under-reported her age by 10 years. She was actually born 19 March 1918 as noted on her 1 March 1954 Naturalization certificate. A bit of digging reveals that her father was Louis Joseph Jean Baptist Anibal Monplaisir, born 30 July 1892 in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of Horelle Monplaisir and Sophie Boom. I haven't been able to track down Odette's birth registration, but her parents had another child, Jean Marie Yvan Monplaisir, born 9 May 1934 in Port au Prince, Haiti. Odette may have been born in Jamaica or Haiti, hard to say.

A few years later, in 1958, Julian applied for another marriage license in New York with Maria Vicisoso. What happened to his marriage to Odette? Did his marriage to Maria actually take place? We don't know.

Although, according to the US Social Security Death Index, an Odette Mossop, born 18 March 1918, passed away in New York on 10 April 2008. Odette either never remarried or perhaps patched things up with Julian. The US Public Records note that her address lay within the 10025 zip code area the Upper West Side of Manhattan - sandwiched between the Hudson River (to the west) and Central Park (to the east). This was the same area in which she resided at the time of her 1954 marriage to Julian. In 1974, her address appears to have been 765 Amsterdam Avenue (Apt 3h), New York, 10025-5728.

As for Julian, in 1996 and 1997, he was living in the 10024 zip code area of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, just south of the 10025 area code in which Odette resided. This would suggest that he and Odette were not living together, but also had not moved far from each other. A bit more digging has revealed that his address was 225 West 80th Street (Apt 9c), New York, 10024-7007.

Final Resting Place?
We don't know much about what happened to Julian after 1997, but on 16 October 1998, a Julian Mossop, aged 65 (born 1932) died in New York. He was buried on 12 November 1998 in Potter's Field on Hart Island, New York - Plot 270, Section I, Grave 8. His place of death was redacted from the records.

Entry for Julian Mossop from Hart Island Project
(from Hart Island Project site)
The Potter's Field mass graves have quite a history and are a controversial topic, even today. Individuals were buried in the unmarked graves for a variety of reasons, but mostly because their bodies were unclaimed and became the property of the state. Perhaps they died in prison, or a mental institution, or a hospital, or a long-term care facility. Perhaps their bodies were not claimed within 48 hours of death, or family could not be found, or the family did not have the funds for a burial, or the deceased was homeless. The reasons were many but the final result was the same and profoundly sad. Their bodies were offered to medical schools as cadavers and/or to mortuary schools for embalming training after which the remains were consigned to mass graves on Hart Island. Since 1868, thousands of individuals have been buried in mass graves with no gravestone and no history. The New York Times has an interesting article on Hart Island the mass graves.

Is the Julian buried on Hart Island our Julian Mossop? Given the age, the location, the name, it is very likely.

I had hoped that the Julian Mossop/Odette Monplaisir line of enquiry might have resulted in some surviving relations but... it seems to be a dead end. Odette Monplaisir passed away in 2008 but I haven't been able to find an obituary for her. But perhaps, some day, someone with a distant connection to the Mossop/Monplaisir family will find this blog and reach out.

Sources
Ancestry genealogy site - birth, marriage & death records, US Social Security Death indexes, US Public Records, US Naturalization records, ship manifests

Coventry Street Corner House - apparently quite the place in its day

Lyon's Corner House - the corner houses have an association with gay/lesbian culture

The Hart Island Project - an attempt to document the 67,000+ individuals interned on Hart Island since 1980.

New York Times - article on Hart Island graves that tells the sad stories of some of the individuals

Capital Punishment UK - Borstal Institution at Usk, Monmouthshire 

West Mercia Police Files as released to the Worcestershire Archives- Bella in the Wych Elm case - I received permission to use images from the Bella files on my blog through Lin Allkins, Records and Data Manager, Information Management Department, Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police. Copyright still resides with the West Mercia Police.

25 April 2018

Not so Incognito - German Spies and their Clothing

Diagram of Bella's clothing (original source unknown)
Diagram of Bella's clothing
(original source unknown)
In researching the Bella in the Wych Elm case, I've noticed that several commentators make much of the fact that the tags had been removed from her clothing. Some have suggested that her clothing may have been "seconds" from a market, while others have gone so far as to say that the absence of tags lends weight to the theory that she was a German spy. After all, spies cut the tags out of their clothing as part of their under-cover modus operandi. Didn't they? It's a nice theory, but does it really hold up in the case of Second World War espionage in the United Kingdom?

What many fail to realize is that most of the spies thrown at Britain in late 1940 and early 1941 were poorly trained and poorly prepared. Even MI5 was perplexed that the oh-so-organized Germans could be sending over agents of such poor caliber. But Germany was desperate... and the agents who came over were often sent at bayonet point, so-to-speak. Leaving aside all of the espionage equipment, identity papers and ration cards, which had their own potential flaws that could expose an agent, let's take a look at the personal items of a couple of agents - Josef Jakobs and Karel Richter.

Josef Jakobs landed near Ramsey on the evening of 31 January, 1941. He had broken his ankle during his exit from the aircraft and lay in agony all night. Upon being discovered the following morning by a couple of farm workers, Josef was taken to the Ramsey Police Station where his possessions were itemized. Detective Sergeant Thomas Olive Mills of the Huntingdonshire Constabulary noted in his report:
I subjected the man's clothing to a thorough search and appended hereto is a list of his property - it is significant to note that all his clothing (which were of continental cut), his property, etc., all bore tabs or markings denoting they were made either in Germany proper or in German occupied country. (KV 2/24 - 20b)
Report by Detective Sergeant Thomas Oliver Mills regarding the capture of Josef Jakobs  (National Archives KV 2/24 - 20b)
Report by Detective Sergeant Thomas Oliver Mills regarding the capture of Josef Jakobs
(National Archives KV 2/24 - 20b)

Not only did Josef's clothing bear the clothing tags and markings of Germany and/or German occupied countries, his clothing itself was a dead giveaway as it was of a continental cut. The itemized list of his possessions had a few other key items:
An advertisement for De Jonker chocolate
(SROK Ads website)
  • Spectacles - case marked Optiker Ruhnke (German)
  • Two packets of Orange Fin Jonker product chocolate. "Lekkere chocolate van Cacaofabriek De Jonker Zaandijk" (Dutch)
  • Leather cigarette case marked Zeka Wettig Gedder (Dutch)
  • Dictionary - Metoula Sprachfuhrer (German)
  • Tie - Hemdenplatz - Berlin (German)
  • Trilby Hat - Helium (unknown)
  • Black shoes - Medicus, Dresden (German)
Josef was equipped with German spectacles, Dutch chocolate, a Dutch cigarette case and German shoes - all clearly marked. Not so incognito.

As for Karel Richter, he didn't fare much better. Richter landed via parachute in May 1941 and was swiftly captured. He wore a black serge suit with the name "Grafton" on the tab near the inside breast pocket. On top of that he wore a brownish tweed overcoat with the maker's name and an address in Holland on the tab. His brown trilby hat, surprisingly, was marked "Noble & Sons Old Bailey, London E.C." Richter's career as a merchant seaman prior to the war may have provided him with access to some American and/or British clothing.

List of clothing articles found on Karel Richter (National Archives - KV 2/31 - 77a)
List of clothing articles found on Karel Richter
(National Archives - KV 2/31 - 77a)

Clearly, it would have been best if the spies had been dressed in clothing sourced from Britain. But the German Abwehr had limited access to such articles. Given the large number of German-Jewish, Dutch and Belgian refugees in England, it would not have been remarkable for a legitimate individual to have such items of clothing. It might even have been more suspicious if all the clothing tags had been removed from items with a "continental cut". Better to leave the tags in and hope that the poor wearer would pass as a refugee.

While the German Abwehr appeared to be sending quite incompetent and poorly prepared agents to England, on the other side of the Atlantic, they were doing faring slightly better. Two German agents were landed on the coast of Canada in 1942. Both spies were well-prepared, well-equipped and had spent time in Canada before the war. They were both familiar with the country, the language and the customs. Perfect spy material.

Werner Alfred Waldemar von Janowski, was landed on the coast of Quebec near New Carlisle and captured the next morning. Janowski stopped in a hotel while waiting for a train heading in the direction of Montreal. The eagle-eyed son of the hotel proprietor noticed that the man's clothing was a little odd.
"His shoes were quite different from anything I had ever seen. They were a brown-colored summer type with a thick, light-colored sole, which appeared to be rubber, and had an odd-looking welt around the toes. His dark gabardine topcoat was not quite like the Canadian style. It had patch pockets instead of the slip-in type." (Earle Annett Jr)
Box of Camp Safety Matches of the style found on Janowski (National Education Network Gallery website)
Box of Camp Safety Matches of the style found on Janowski
(National Education Network Gallery website)
On top of that, the young man noticed that Janowski had a packet of Belgian matches which were lacking the excise label. Several tiny slip-ups and yet enough arouse the suspicions of the locals and quickly end the career of would-be-spy Janowski.

The second spy, Alfred Langbein, landed on the rugged coast of the Bay of Fundy in May 1942. He managed to escape detection for over two years before turning himself in to the police. During his first week in Canada, he bought a new hat, visited a barbershop to "rid himself of his distinctive German haircut" (as his German spymaster had suggested) and bought several clothing items at a second-hand clothing shop.

The perfect spy would be equipped with local clothing, speak the language impeccably and be familiar with the local culture, customs and currency.... but the German spies sent to Britain were not perfect spies. Their spy masters were new to the espionage game and mistakes were made. Poor planning and desperation combined to send men off on suicide missions to a country where inhabitants were on high alert for anything out of the ordinary. Clothing tags or no clothing tags, there was more than enough other indicators to give away the enemy agents who came to Britain.

Sources
National Archives - Security Service files on Josef Jakobs - KV 2/24
National Archives - Security Service files on Karel Richter - KV 2/31
Beeby, Dean - Cargo of Lies: The True Story of a Nazi Double Agent in Canada - 1996.

20 April 2018

Enemy Property Act 1953

Envelope that contained Johannes M. Dronkers' farewell
letter to his wife, Elisa A. E. Seignette in Holland.
(National Archives - KV 2/46)
A few years ago, I wrote a blog about the farewell letters of the executed spies in England.

Those letters, written by condemned men on the day/night preceding their execution, were to have been delivered to their families after the Second World War. They never were. The letters sat in the files of MI5 and, when these files were declassified in the late 1990s, most of the letters were included in the release of documents to the National Archives.

That has always perplexed me. Why could the letters not have been delivered? I might have found an answer.

I was poking around the Imperial War Museum website and came across this note on enemy property.

The Enemy Property Act extinguished all German interests, both copyright and ownership, in all material belonging to former German enemies (whether individuals or businesses) which was brought into the UK from certain territories between 3 September 1939 and 9 July 1951.
Enemy Property Act - Summary
(from www.legislation.gov.uk)
The blurb refers to the Enemy Property Act 1953, a rather dense piece of legal jargon that is available on the internet in its entirety.

The Imperial War Museum's blurb is far more readable and sums it up nicely. I had a peek in the original document to get clear on a few definitions.

The term "German enemies" can refer to the German state, a individual who is a German national, someone who is resident in Germany or in enemy territory or someone who for the time being is deemed to be an enemy for the purpose of the Act of 1939.

The term "enemy property" means "any property for the time being belonging to or held or managed on behalf of an enemy or an enemy subject, and for the purposes of this definition the expressions "enemy" and "enemy subject" have the same meanings as for the purposes of the Act of 1939.

Sooo... basically, any property that the spies brought over with them, whether personal items or espionage equipment, belongs to the United Kingdom. Whether this material sits in government files or museum archives, ownership by the individual was relinquished. I'm going to suggest that this likely also applies to the farewell letters. The letters were held on behalf of the enemy agents and as such technically qualify as "enemy property". Legally, the government was quite within its rights to hold onto those farewell letters and release them to the National Archives. Morally... I'm not so sure.

The farewell letter of Josef Jakobs is an exception as it was offered back to our family in the mid 1990s, but only because I had been searching for information on my grandfather. Perhaps if other families had searched, they too would have received their letters... at least before they were released to Kew.

16 April 2018

Book Review - Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi German - Norman Ohler (2016)


Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler (cover from Amazon)
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany
by Norman Ohler
(cover from Amazon)
The Book
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Norman Ohler. Penguin Books. 2016.

Summary
This book was originally published in German in 2015, translated into English for 2016, and I got my hands on a copy a few weeks ago. It's been translated into 25 languages and received rave reviews by numerous journalists. On the other hand, a fair degree of controversy has also swirled around the book. Some argue that the author, a novelist by trade, has taken some liberties with history and fictionalized it to such an extent that it is no longer accurate.

The book examines the use of opioids, methamphetamines and other stimulants by the Germans during the Second World War. Pervitin, a methamphetamine, has a starring role, particularly during the Blitzkrieg invasion of France and the Lowland Countries in May 1940. Most of the author's focus lies with Hitler and his personal physician, Theo Morrell. Was Hitler a drug addict? Did Morrell prescribe him a potent cocktail that included cocaine, oxycodone, methamphetamines and others? There is no doubt that Hitler did receive all of these drugs, but the question seems to be "how much". The author notes that some researchers believe Hitler was a victim of Parkinson's disease but critics have noted that he fails to really engage with the other literature. His sole focus is on the drugs that were administered to Hitler.

The main concern of critics is that Ohler lets Germans and Hitler off the hook for the crimes of the Second World War. Ohler does note in one paragraph that "[Hitler's] drug use did not impinge on his freedom to make decisions. Hitler was always the master of his senses and he knew exactly what he was doing.... He was anything but insane." Critics note that this one paragraph does not negate the general trend of the rest of the book, in which Hitler can be seen as being a victim of drug addiction and his drug dealer (Morrell). Some go so far as to dismiss Ohler's book as "revisionist" history. Given that history is generally written by the victors, and is therefore necessarily one-sided, I wonder if there isn't a lot more to be uncovered that will rewrite the history books. Maybe history isn't as black and white as we like to think? I sometimes wonder if the "serious" historians have a tendency to dismiss the "amateurs" and their theories. Ohler's book gives us a new lens through which to view the events of the Second World War. Is it accurate? Only time will tell.

Review
I found this book eminently readable, despite some of the pharmaceutical language. Ohler writes in a style that is very approachable. It helps that the story is quite fascinating. I was initially interested in reading the book because Josef Jakobs had a capsule of Pervitin (methamphetamine) in his pocket when he was captured by the British. I wanted to know more about the use of Pervitin in the German system, and this book has definitely answered a lot of my questions.

As for the whole Hitler issue - I would say that the issue is a complex one. Some researchers have concluded that Hitler suffered from Parkinsons Disease. Ohler suggests that Hitler was a drug addict. Perhaps both are true. New theories are always helpful, to my mind. Whether they stand the test of time is another thing.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - this book sheds a different light on some aspects of the Second World War

Other Reviews
The Guardian - Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler review – a crass and dangerously inaccurate account
The Guardian - Interview with Norman Ohler
New York Times - High on Hitler and Meth: Book says Nazis were fueled by Drugs
National Post - Hitler was on cocaine and his troops were on meth: Author reveals deep influence of drugs in Nazi Germany