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A Life in Secrets Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII is a book about journeys A lot of journeys Firstly it is the author Sarah Helm s journey to discover the real Vera Atkins who she met only once in 1998 She initially came to see Atkins about the agents but found that to understand what happened to the agents she needed to understand Vera Atkins herself, a woman who said of her Romanian past It is something on which I have closed the book I have closed the book on many things in A Life in Secrets Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII is a book about journeys A lot of journeys Firstly it is the author Sarah Helm s journey to discover the real Vera Atkins who she met only once in 1998 She initially came to see Atkins about the agents but found that to understand what happened to the agents she needed to understand Vera Atkins herself, a woman who said of her Romanian past It is something on which I have closed the book I have closed the book on many things in life We discover how SOE was created and how Vera was recruited In very readable prose Helm explains the workings of SOE and the climate of the times When after the warthan a hundred SOE agents hadn t returned Vera begins a journey to find out what happened to them.We learn how Atkins took care of each of the female recruits in turn, including checking what they were wearing, their cover story and in many cases escorting them to the airfield to see them off Noor Inayat Khan and Violette Szabo the mother of a small child were favourites Helm interviews former SOE agents and staff at SOE headquarters in Baker Street to find outabout the elusive Vera Atkins and the agents A former filing clerk in MI5 tells Sarah, They were all told it was life and death but it didn t seem to bother them Helm then writes about many of the female SOE agents including Yvonne Rudellat, Nora Inayat Khan, Violette Szabo and others She also investigates the disaster of the Prosper Circuit of F Section and explains the system by which the radio operators kept in touch with SOE headquarters at Orchard Court And then of course there is Charles Buckmaster and Henri Dericourt And Vera s silence just when she should have been speaking up.By September 1944 with Paris back in the hands of the Allies Vera Atkins begins her task in earnest It is three months since the Normandy landings but still over a hundred agents are missing This is the part of the A Life in Secrets I really wanted to read about the fate of the missing agents, including thirteen women And I definitely wasn t disappointed Helm s skilful and thorough investigations of Vera s own investigations her trips to Germany to interview Germans who had captured and killed the agents, is unputdownable, particularly the problems Atkins encountered in identifying the fourth woman who died at Natzweiler The details are sometimes horrifying but the women s bravery in the face of appalling treatment and death is beyond words There are also the journeys made by the relatives of the dead agents in search of what really happened to their loved ones Soon after the war parents, brother and sisters turned up at Vera Atkins doorstep looking for the truth In the sixties, the sons, daughters, nieces and nephews sought Vera out, including Tania Szabo, Violette Szabo s daughter.In the latter part of the book Helm travels to Romania to uncover the real Vera Atkins and a mysterious mission she undertook early in the war One goodreads reader commented that there was just too much information towards the end of this book about Vera Atkins herself I disagree Without revealing , all I can say is that the key to understanding what happened to F Section is, I believe, hidden in Vera Atkins s past Vera Atkins, the spymistress who sent men and women as agents to France during World War II, was a wealthy Anglophile Jewish woman in Romania who ended up trying to assimilate in England and becoming den mother to a legion of undercover operatives in France This biography of Atkins is better even than the novels of Alan Furst The book conveys the author s heroic effort to discover the truth about Vera s life and also about the agents, many of whom landed right into the arms of the Germans an Vera Atkins, the spymistress who sent men and women as agents to France during World War II, was a wealthy Anglophile Jewish woman in Romania who ended up trying to assimilate in England and becoming den mother to a legion of undercover operatives in France This biography of Atkins is better even than the novels of Alan Furst The book conveys the author s heroic effort to discover the truth about Vera s life and also about the agents, many of whom landed right into the arms of the Germans and eventually died horrible deaths in concentration camps The book conveys the incredible work involved in Helm s search for Vera s true story the word wrest comes to mind the truth is foggy and the evidence receding, but the author plugs away and finds nuggets of it in various places.There are many memorable characters such as Nora, the fearful yet courageous Indian Anglo wireless operator and Kieffer, the avuncular German security officer who played the radio game against the Allies, and who convinced a number of the captured agents to play along.Also amazing is the story of Vera s cousin Fritz and his non Jewish wife Karen Karen saved Fritz s life by appealing to a friend s husband who was a German official and getting her husband a new passport that didn t have a J for Jew stamped on it How they ended up in Palestine, what they did there, and Vera s role in their story, are among the hard won secrets that the author finds for us @Free Book ⚟ A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII î From an award winning journalist comes this real life cloak and dagger tale of Vera Atkins, one of Britain s premiere secret agents during World War IIAs the head of the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive, Vera Atkins recruited, trained, and mentored special operatives whose job was to organize and arm the resistance in Nazi occupied France After the war, Atkins courageously committed herself to a dangerous search for twelve of her most cherished women spies who had gone missing in action Drawing on previously unavailable sources, Sarah Helm chronicles Atkins s extraordinary life and her singular journey through the chaos of post war Europe Brimming with intrigue, heroics, honor, and the horrors of war, A Life in Secrets is the story of a grand, elusive woman and a tour de force of investigative journalism 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 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 Got to page 100 and I am so bored My goodness I just could not get into this book at all I tried and really wanted to be amazed and awed Didn t happen. A biography of Vera Atkins, the woman who supervised SOE British secret agents during World War II Their mission was to infiltrate Nazi occupied France, aid the French resistance, and prepare for D Day In rank she was below the SOE commander, Maurice Buckmaster, but in actuality she was the person who kept the agency effective Buckmaster was a screw up Curiously she never tried to undermine him Atkins was especially effective after the war when she investigated the whereabouts of 100 or so A biography of Vera Atkins, the woman who supervised SOE British secret agents during World War II Their mission was to infiltrate Nazi occupied France, aid the French resistance, and prepare for D Day In rank she was below the SOE commander, Maurice Buckmaster, but in actuality she was the person who kept the agency effective Buckmaster was a screw up Curiously she never tried to undermine him Atkins was especially effective after the war when she investigated the whereabouts of 100 or so missing agents Atkins was considered cold and secretive by some but the author did an excellent job suggesting motivations for her behavior Engrossing book Re read There is quite a bit in here about how to do research and about conflicts that we have with our heroes It really is an entertaing book about a quest,than a biography. The subject of this book is the woman who became pivotal to the importance of F section, the part of the World War II Special Operations Excutive SOE who trained and managed agents to be dropped into France to liaise with and recruit locals, act as couriers or wireless operators and manage circuits of resistence operatives including other SOE personnel Vera Atkins took a particular interest in the women agents, and her section boss, Buckmaster, was happy to let her get on with it as the use The subject of this book is the woman who became pivotal to the importance of F section, the part of the World War II Special Operations Excutive SOE who trained and managed agents to be dropped into France to liaise with and recruit locals, act as couriers or wireless operators and manage circuits of resistence operatives including other SOE personnel Vera Atkins took a particular interest in the women agents, and her section boss, Buckmaster, was happy to let her get on with it as the use of women in the field was highly sensitive For a start, they did not have the scanty protection of the Geneva Convention given that they were not military personnel although, for reasons the author explains, they were nominal members of a voluntary organisation attached to the army but not classified as part of it There was even a reluctance to cover them for welfare or pensions purposes.The book is an account of the author s investigation as well as an account of what both she and Vera found regarding the fate of twelve female operatives who were killed by the Nazis It also delves into Vera s background Vera was a very secretive character whose deliberate obstructiveness has led in the past to conspiracy theories as to whether she could have been a Nazi or Soviet agent Eventually the author draws the conclusion that her secretiveness wasto do with Vera covering her own back as, although not widely known but known to her immediate boss and others, she had been born in Romania and so would have been classified as an enemy alien such people usually being subject to internment, rather than working in one of Britain s most sensitive secret services organisations As such, she was dependent on Buckmaster s help in putting forward a successful case for her to be naturalised as a British citizen, and this may explain why she supported him in his ostrich head in the sand behaviour when many others raised doubts as to whether agents had been captured, whether their radios were being operated by the Germans, and whether a particular pivotal agent in France Henri Dericourt was actually working for the Germans so that the parachute drops plane landings of agents sent them into the hands of the enemy Even after the war, she witheld evidence when Dericourt was on trial in a French court and he walked free She also had a deeper secret to do with her activities in the early part of the war before joining SOE, which the author eventually uncovers.The book is an odd mix because it veers firstly from dealing with the F section setup, then back to the author s digging into Vera s early life, and then back to WWII and its aftermath In fact this switching about of viewpoint happens quite a bit and in two places leads to a lot of repetition about the same events So it is to some extent a journalistic detective story.After Germany s surrender, Vera went to Germany and managed to interrogate various Nazi and other people to find out what had happened to what are always known as her girls which I found a bit irritating She had to fight for permission to do this, and overcome various obstacles, but it is clear that it wasa case of wanting to close the files tidily She was never moved by any of the terrible stories she heard and there are some very harrowing accounts of the women s suffering Later on, she showed a cold blooded callousness when faced with questions from relatives who were told, to begin with, that the women were known to be alive at certain times, and then told of their deaths, but to refrain from contacting anyone about it except her, and also when she dealt with the queries of grown up children or grandchildren of the dead women in the 1960s onwards She had an intimidating air which often led such people to feel that they were in the wrong rather than her.She was mistaken about the fate of one agent, Noor, confusing her from the vague descriptions of witnesses with a local operative Sonya who had behaved very bravely and tried to warn London that Noor was a captive When she discovered from interrogating captured Germans that the fourth woman in the group horribly killed at one camp could not be Noor who was, at the time, in a different prison entirely, Vera arranged for an official trial transcript to be altered to say that the fourth woman s identity was unknown even when she had actually sworn on oath that she was Noor It becomes clear that Vera could never admit she was wrong about anything and would rather cover up the truth than own up to a mistake.Oddly, despite her being given direct testimony from, among others, the head of the SS intelligence section, the Sicherheitsdienst SD , in Paris who had presided over the radio game as the Germans called it, she withheld it from the French authorities at the time of Dericourt s trial and also kept to herself the news about Sonya whose relatives were never told what happened to her as she wasn t an actual SOE operative, but just a local recruit.I found the book uneven because of the switching about and the amount of detail about the journalistic search There are also points which are just dropped at one point, the author mentions finding a lot of what look like shopping lists in the papers left by cousins of Vera, with words such as the German for chocolate A bit later, when describing how one of these cousins was instructed by a representative of German army intelligence Abwehr to use code words, including chocolate, for certain military things, in the intelligence they insisted this person should pass to them, we are left to draw our own conclusions about the shopping lists as if the author forgot to explain And the repetition of certain scenes, with some information in one place and other information in another are irritating and unnecessary.Perhaps intentionally, the character of Vera herself is rather repugnant I found her unlikeable and by the end of the book was holding her personally culpable, at least in part, for the deaths of countless agents, both SOE and local French personnel Hers wasn t the only incompetence the amount displayed by the bosses not only of SOE but also the higher ups who didn t pass on, for example, the fact that SOE circuits had been blown in the Low Countries earlier, is absolutely staggering but the fact remains that she put her own circumstances first and did not even attempt to suggest to Buckmaster that the various signs that their own networks had been taken over by the enemy should be taken seriously A colleague of hers who did try to blow the whistle was moved out of the section as being unnecessarily sentimental so it seems she valued her job above the lives of the agents.It is not surprising then, as the author describes, that after the war many people began speculating that the incompetence was really deliberate action, and that agents were betrayed with the intention of delivering false information to the enemy I don t think this likely with the scale of losses involved, but it is regrettable that it was allowed to go on so long with large numbers of people sent to concentration camps, many of whom died and all of whom endured awful suffering, when it was completely unnecessary But those who started to write biographies of agents such as Noor, or about other aspects of SOE and who approached Vera were treated coldly or outright misled, as she continued her mission to cover up her own activities early on in the war And of course she could never admit that SOE or she herself had done anything wrong in sending certain agents at all into the field, for example Noor, whose training was incomplete and who was known to be poor at lying, or another woman with a one year old baby Altogether the book forms an account of an area of the war where the authorities did not cover themselves in glory But partly because I found Vera such an unattractive character and partly due to the muddled sequence which came across as poorly edited I can only award this 2 stars An utterly compelling read about Vera Atkins and the female SOE agents she helped send to France Especially moving is her relentless attempt at the end of the war to discover what happened to those agents who had vanished from all official records At this point the book becomes a gripping detective story There s also the mystery of Vera herself, a fascinating woman who gave so little of herself away and destroyed many of her documents So this fabulously well written and researched book conta An utterly compelling read about Vera Atkins and the female SOE agents she helped send to France Especially moving is her relentless attempt at the end of the war to discover what happened to those agents who had vanished from all official records At this point the book becomes a gripping detective story There s also the mystery of Vera herself, a fascinating woman who gave so little of herself away and destroyed many of her documents So this fabulously well written and researched book contains mysteries within mysteries within mysteries If you want a true idea of what these brave women went through I d definitely recommend this rather than much of the romanticised and patronising fiction written on the subject Vera Atkins core personality seemed as covert as her work in this book, IMHO It s a decent detailing of the origins of SOE during early days of England s WWII years and of Vera s operation of the SOE s French section And yet as I have read other non fiction upon specific agents in this exact circle, I find this particular research work dry and yes, having pieces of interest, but with no solid connecting direction, or how of the operation to mesh transitions between individual outcomes Vera Vera Atkins core personality seemed as covert as her work in this book, IMHO It s a decent detailing of the origins of SOE during early days of England s WWII years and of Vera s operation of the SOE s French section And yet as I have read other non fiction upon specific agents in this exact circle, I find this particular research work dry and yes, having pieces of interest, but with no solid connecting direction, or how of the operation to mesh transitions between individual outcomes Vera was rather a closed trap far after the fact of war time operations.The one and only interview that Sarah Helm had with Vera Atkins occurred when Vera was aged, around 90 years old, and brief Vera died soon after And that one interview was the most compelling window to the woman who was Ian Fleming s grid for Moneypenny.The pictures wererevealing than thethan 400 pages Operational years during wartime is not the onus of the largest majority of those pages The search for missing women agents that Vera Atkins conducted during the war crimes trial years is the much heavier content of this book This is just my opinion, but sending so many men and women to their deaths, but especially her girls I believe that search wasfor Vera than to give medals to the departed You can see it in the pictures Vera s eyes are so, so 1000 year stare and cold Seriously, I can t imagine how she could train and mentor when she knew the odds of futures Wireless operators lasted an average of 5 to 6 weeks in France This also includes some information about the collapsed circles Kim Philby and other SOE connected were double agents and much information about the eventual executions in camps for her girls for which she eventually obtained eye witness documentation Not a happy life, but beyond any definition of courage to take this task upon your back Authority toward these outcomes is never given the credit for success toward overcoming pure evil that it deserves Least of all today.The pictures were fabulous I ve read entire books upon Eileen Nearne and Violette Szabo so further pictures of their contacts were intriguing to me Attractive young women of supreme confidence in movement NO reactions of fear or confusion ever observed were chosen for their ability to hide in plain sight And of course, the language abilities Most were born or had lived in France most of their lives, or like Vera born in Eastern Europe and were cosmopolitan in culture, speaking 2 or 3 languages beyond their English.Nora Inayat Khan was the most famous British woman agent in France for which Vera never really found an answer But it surprised me that she did find facts and witnesses to so many other outcomes Nora was dark and haunted looking, vampish and not easily forgotten when met, so she was probably shot or killed immediately upon capture