Return to the Reich: A Holocaust Refugee’s Secret Mission to Defeat the Nazis

Return to the Reich: A Holocaust Refugee’s Secret Mission to Defeat the Nazis

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The remarkable story of Fred Mayer, a German-born Jew who escaped Nazi Germany only to return as an American commando on a secret mission behind enemy lines.

Growing up in Germany, Freddy Mayer witnessed the Nazis' rise to power. When he was sixteen, his family made the decision to flee to the United States—they were among the last German Jews to escape, in 1938.

In America, Freddy tried enlisting the day after Pearl Harbor, only to be rejected as an “enemy alien” because he was German. He was soon recruited to the OSS, the country’s first spy outfit before the CIA. Freddy, joined by Dutch Jewish refugee Hans Wynberg and Nazi defector Franz Weber, parachuted into Austria as the leader of Operation Greenup, meant to deter Hitler’s last stand. He posed as a Nazi officer and a French POW for months, dispatching reports to the OSS via Hans, holed up with a radio in a nearby attic. The reports contained a goldmine of information, provided key intelligence about the Battle of the Bulge, and allowed the Allies to bomb twenty Nazi trains. On the verge of the Allied victory, Freddy was captured by the Gestapo and tortured and waterboarded for days. Remarkably, he persuaded the Nazi commander for the region to surrender, completing one of the most successful OSS missions of the war.

Based on years of research and interviews with Mayer himself, whom the author was able to meet only months before his death at the age of ninety-four, Return to the Reich is an eye-opening, unforgettable narrative of World War II heroism.

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  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328528537

  • ISBN-10: 1328528537

  • Pages: 304

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 10/15/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 12

Eric Lichtblau
Author

Eric Lichtblau

ERIC LICHTBLAU, a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, is the best-selling author of The Nazis Next Door and Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice. He was a Washington reporter for the New York Times for fifteen years, while also writing for the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, TIME, and other publications. He has been a frequent guest on NPR, MSNBC, C-SPAN, and other networks, as well as a speaker at many universities and institutions. He lives outside Washington, D.C.
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  • reviews

    Return to the Reich is a mesmerizing piece of historical reportage. Not a word wasted, every page worth turning in this beautifully written account of one of the most daring and successful secret missions of WWII. This is a masterful account by a fantastically talented writer.” 

    —Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of The Liberator and The Longest Winter 

     

    “Eric Lichtblau’s absorbing narrative reads like a spy novel; he captures a sense of working and living undercover, from the strains of secretly building support for the intelligence mission, to the thrills of succeeding against the Nazi regime while living among its supporters. This recounting of the work of two Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe fighting against the horrors of Nazi Germany is as much a lesson for today as it is a tale of their astonishing experiences.” 

    —Margaret Henoch, retired CIA senior chief of station 

      

    “At a time of national division, Freddy Mayer is the hero we so desperately need to remember and celebrate. In Return to the Reich, Eric Lichtblau has discovered a riveting story of the boundless courage of an ordinary man who became extraordinary at a time when the world was on fire. One of America’s great reporters takes us back to a gripping chapter of World War II that Hollywood has somehow missed. Tom Hanks, call your agent.” 

    —James Risen, author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War 

     

    “Recounting one of the most successful espionage missions, Lichtblau delivers the goods, shining a bright spotlight on a truly unique character: Mayer was aggressive, ingenious, and often disregarded the rules, to great effect. An enthralling page-turner.” 

    Kirkus Reviews, starred review 

     

    “An extremely accessible read, this well-researched book will appeal to fans of espionage tales, World War II history, biographies, as well as young adult audiences.” 

    Library Journal, starred review 

     

    “Gripping . . . Readers will devour Lichtblau’s fresh and masterfully told WWII story.” 

    Publishers Weekly 

     

    "Readers are launched on an exhilarating ride . . . Details pop and characters vividly spring alive . . . Freddy Mayer is an irresistible subject, and he deserves a dozen more recountings of his adventures.” 

    Wall Street Journal

  • excerpts
    A German Boy 

     

    FREIBURG, GERMANY 

    Spring 1933 

      

    Freddy’s world, nestled in the lush foothills of Germany’s Black Forest, was collapsing around him. 

      

    The signs were subtle at first: a slight from a classmate, a sneering glance across the neighborhood pool, as if to say, Stay on your own side. Then the noxious changes in the air became too blatant to ignore, even for a rambunctious boy focused mostly on cars and girls. There were the venomous speeches spewing from loudspeakers in Freiburg’s sun-splashed town square. The laws establishing Germany’s “Aryans” as supreme. The mandatory salutes, the fervent shouts of “Heil Hitler!” from the boys of the Hitler Youth, the red-and-black flags emblazoned with the crooked arms of the Nazi swastika fluttering from balconies across the city. It was hard for Freddy—“Fritz,” as everyone called the eleven-year-old—to look away. A place that had once seemed tolerant, even welcoming, was growing ever more menacing for his family and the other Jews of Freiburg, a tiny minority of scarcely a thousand scattered throughout the largely Catholic city. 

      

    One of Freddy’s best pals in town had already fled the country for Switzerland with his family. The book burnings and Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses had just begun in April of 1933, and his friend’s father didn’t want to wait to see what would come next; Freddy’s boyhood playmate was gone in a matter of weeks. Other Jewish families were leaving as well. No one knew where this would all lead, or how much worse it might get. 

      

    Freddy’s father assured him and his three siblings, again and again, that things would be okay for them. Heinrich Mayer was a decorated veteran of the Great War, after all, and he clung to his Iron Cross medal as a bulwark against anyone who might question his German patriotism. The cross, bestowed by the Kaiser two decades earlier for Heinrich’s valor in World War I, became his shield. “They’ll never come for me,” Heinrich would say. “I was a Frontkaempfer”—a German combat soldier. “Nothing is going to happen to us.” 

      

    The “gathering storm,” as Winston Churchill later described the dark forces at work in prewar Europe, was already beginning to breach Germany. Heinrich, a dapper dresser with a bushy mustache and thin, round spectacles, spent his days focused on the family hardware business, keeping his head down and wishing the storm away. He wasn’t about to let outsize fears lead him to toss away everything that he—and his father before him—had built over the better part of a century in Freiburg, in his home country of Germany. 

      

    Freddy’s mother, Hilda, who kept the books for the hardware business, wasn’t nearly so confident. They were Jews, after all, and Germany had a long and ugly history of turning against its Jews. They wouldn’t get any preferential treatment, Iron Cross or not, she warned Heinrich. In Hitler’s eyes, she feared, they would always be Jews first: inferior, subhuman. She was anxious and fretful, looking for a way out of a place that was turning increasingly hostile. Freddy could hear the fear in her voice. But that was a mother’s job, wasn’t it? To worry about her family. Freddy knew his father would protect them. That was a father’s job. 

      

    Freddy himself was not the nervous type, but still, it was hard not to worry about the changes in the air. He was a scrapper, a mischievous boy who spoke with his fists. He wouldn’t be pushed around. His ever-present smile—so wide that it seemed his ears might snap off from the strain—belied a fighter’s spirit. One day a classmate on the playground called him “a stinking Jude,” a phrase now heard with chilling regularity in the hills of Freiburg. The other Jewish kids would simply look away when the epithet was used. Not Freddy. Short but stocky, with lightning-quick hands, he slugged the name caller on the chin and readied himself for a round of fisticuffs as the boy hit the ground. A teacher sent Freddy to see the dean—a big, hulking Nazi official named Friedrich Ludin, who would walk through the hallways in his German uniform. Freddy braced for his punishment. “He called me a stinking Jew. I didn’t like that,” he explained matter-of-factly. Ludin eyed the boy. “I can understand that,” he answered finally. Much to Freddy’s surprise, the dean sent him back to class without even a reprimand. Nobody in class dared talk to him that way again. 

      

    Freiburg hadn’t always been so hostile to its Jews. Freddy remembered a time—not that long ago, it seemed—when the city, in the southwestern German state of Baden, hugging the French and Swiss borders, was a place that seemed to have accepted his people as its own.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328528537

  • ISBN-10: 1328528537

  • Pages: 304

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 10/15/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 12

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