I think it was Spock in Star Trek that said, “For all things, there is a first time.”
Well, that’s true. But the reverse is also true. For all things there’s also a last time, and this case it was the final battle of WW II in Europe.
Everyone knew the war was at an end. Hitler had killed himself and the nails were being pounded into the coffin of the Third Reich. But the Third Reich had some unfinished business before it allowed itself to be buried. And that was to eliminate hostages and prisoners who might testify against the survivors.
And so it was with hostages being held at Schlos Itter, a castle in Tyrol, Austria. If camps like Dachau and such were Hell on Earth, Schlos Itter was a gilded cage. Here, VIP prisoners were held. They were fed well, lived in comfortable surroundings, and had access to good medical attention. These people had been the movers and shakers in France before the Nazis bulldozed their way through it. Some were famous politicians and were a veritable who’s who of the French political and military elite, including the labor leader Leon Jouhaux and Augusta Bruchelen, the sister of General Charles De Gaulle.
A hostage is good if you need a bargaining chip, and that’s why they were kept alive. With the Third Reich dying, there was little point in keeping them around.
What follows is a story of a handful of American soldiers partnering up with German soldiers and Austrian Resistance fighters to prevent what’s left of the SS from killing them. It’s a high stakes mission that Hollywood would never dream up because it’s true.
No one wants to be the last man to die in the final battle but there you are. Someone will be.
OK, a little about the book. At first, I was a little put off. I expected Stephen to get to the main event. He took a long road to get there. I’m glad he did.
He not only introduces us to the people and rescuers, but gets inside their heads, such as Josef Gangl, the German Commander who sided with the Americans. Or Jack Lee, the American Tank Captain, who was the spark plug who put the rescue together and then sided with former enemies to hold the castle. In most cases, these men and women were nothing to me except a mention in a history book someplace. We had a chance to find out who they were and what they thought. It was also interesting because he brought out how petty great people really can be. They’re faced with extermination and many still kept their old grudges and opinions against each other.
He built it up so that when we we did get to the actual battle, I wasn’t disappointed. I’d built a relationship with these people and found myself absorbed in what was going on.
The actual battle certainly wasn’t Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge, but more a Company sized element vs. a company sized element, with part of that group not wanting to remember how fights like the Alamo, Little Big Horn, and Dunkirk ended.
If Hollywood ever does get around to making this into a movie, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket.
A very worthwhile, well written and researched book. Five stars here.