World War II seems to provide an endless supply of amazing true stories of heroism in the face of mortal danger. This true account of an MI6 agent's kidnapping and survival is a real-life spy thriller, and one worth knowing. On November 9, 1939, Captain Sigismund Payne Best and other members of Britain's ultra-secret Z service sat near a café in Venlo, The Netherlands, waiting to meet with whom supposedly-sound intelligence told them would be German resistance leaders. In reality, what they would meet at Venlo was an SS ambush—leading to the murder of Best's Z associate and the Nazis' seizure of a plain text list of British under-cover agents. It was a massive disaster for British intelligence and a crucial turning point of war-time espionage.
Best survived Venlo to tell of the shocking intelligence coups that precipitated the attack. His harrowing account of torture at the hands of the Nazis and five years in the infamous Sachenhausen and Dachau concentration camps offers unparalleled, first-hand details from inside the Third Reich. As a prisoner, he crossed paths with famous Nazi resistance fighters, including Georg Elser and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Best's explication of top-secret spy techniques and his depiction of how the incident played out to justify Nazi aggression is military history at its finest. His memoir of espionage, survival, and captivity is a riveting narrative that readers will not soon forget.
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Captain S. Payne Best was an MI6 agent and the head of the top secret Z organization in The Netherlands during World War II. Captured by Nazis following a disinformation trap, he has a unique knowledge of both British and Nazi espionage techniques. "Tall, spats-wearing, and monocled," Best was a classic spy of the old school. He died in Britain in 1978.From Booklist:
*Starred Review* Nazi plots; plots against Nazis; secret meetings; double and triple crosses; narrow escapes; capture and imprisonment; intelligence, both organized and individual—this is the stuff of spy thrillers, but it’s all here in this nonfiction account of a real-life espionage snafu during WWII. Captain S. Payne Best was a British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) agent during both world wars. This memoir, first published in 1950 but long unavailable, traces the attempts of British intelligence to contact German insiders who opposed Hitler. The plan culminated in the disastrous Venlo incident, a trap sprung by the Nazis on the British at Venlo on the Dutch-German border. Best was caught and spent the rest of the war in a concentration camp. The Nazis made propaganda hay out of his capture and what they portrayed as the failure of British intelligence. Best’s memoir is well worthy of republication for a contemporary audience. Besides giving readers an insider’s account of spy tactics, Best provides fascinating details about life in a Nazi prison and then in a concentration camp. His sketches of the people he encountered (including figures in the Nazi resistance movement) are novelistic in scope and texture, and his dissection of his reactions to imprisonment have immediacy and humor. All in all, an amazing read—nonfiction boasting the kind of plotting, sense of place, and rich characterization that one associates with le Carré. --Connie Fletcher
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