Yvonne's Reviews > A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII.

A Life in Secrets by Sarah Helm
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's review
Sep 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: biography
Read in August, 2011

This biography of Vera Atkins is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I was amazed at the breadth and depth of Helm's research. I was amazed at the level of incompetence in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), clandestinely established by the British to place saboteurs into Europe.They were engaged in recruiting, and setting up resistance organizations as well as supporting them behind enemy lines. The ability to rationalize away grave mistakes in judgment as the result of the fog of war or inexperience on the part of operatives was mind boggling.

Vera Atkins was born Vera May Rosenberg in Romania in 1908. Her parents who were Jews wanted desperately to be something else. After her father's death she and one of her brothers dropped Rosenberg and took their mother's very English maiden name. She put her past behind her and never spoke of it again.

After Dunkirk the OSE was formed and Vera secured a position in the new agency. She was competent and resourceful, a valuable employee who was promoted inside the agency. It was her job to help recruit, train and send off the operatives. She always took them to the plane that would take them to their assignment. She was the one who knew everyone and everything about their background, training and aliases. She was the one who, after the defeat of the Germans, went to the continent to find out what had happened to the agents who had not returned. She gathered information for the war crimes trials and participated in them as a witness.

After the SOE was shut down she became its publicist and advocated for keeping the heroism of those who died alive. Her role at the SOE shaped the remainder of her life as she was alternately considered both hero and villain, selfish and selfless, patriot and traitor.

Helms does a good job of considering all sides while shedding light on a secret life that remained hidden for over 70 years. A worthwhile read.

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02/27/2016 marked as: read

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