They Dared Return, is the heroic story of a small group of five Jews, naturalized American citizens, who escaped Europe just before WWII began, and returned to Nazi occupied Europe as American spies at the height of war. They volunteered to return to Nazi Germany to fight the enemy. As Jews and as spies, they knew what would happen to them if they were caught by the Nazis. They accepted the risk. All of them had immediate family in Nazi occupied Europe. They wanted to defeat the Nazis and help their families. Their mission is considered the most successful operation behind enemy lines in WWII.
Initially, the US Army refused to recruit them because they were from enemy countries. But they were persistent. Eventually they were recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was formed in 1941 and later developed into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They were selected to go deep behind Nazi Germany’s lines and spy for the Allies. After months of training with the U.S. Army, the spies were sent on their dangerous mission. The group included the Jewish volunteers and several German prisoners of war (former German soldiers and officers), who were willing to betray the Nazis for the greater good of Germany. They parachuted at night into Austria. Their landing zone was a glacier high in the Austrian Alps. The mission’s code-name was Operation Greenup.
The mission’s commander was a US Army Wildcat Ranger sergeant Frederick (Fred) Mayer from Brooklyn. A German-Jewish refugee, naturalized American citizen. The group was sent on a covert operation deep into the heavily fortified area of Austria’s ”Alpine Redoubt,” where Hitler planned to make his last stand. They assumed identities, created spy rings and networks. Every moment they were behind enemy lines they were in grave danger. And yet, despite the great risks to themselves and their local recruits, these Jewish spies helped defeat the Nazis.
Fred Mayer, dressed as a German officer, collected vital information by socializing with other German officers. He relayed to the US forces crucial information such as the location of Hitler’s bunker in Berlin. He reported the destination, time of departure, and cargo content of German trains. The information he provided allowed allied bombers to destroy these trains before they reached their destinations. Some of the men, including Mayer, were captured and tortured by the Gestapo. Amazingly they managed to survive and convince the German officers to surrender to the US Army. This group of five men were responsible for the surrender of thousands of German soldiers, and the destruction of twenty-six trains and other objects vital to the Nazi war effort. They Dared Return is a gripping tale of adventure, espionage, love, and revenge.
I downloaded the audio version of the book (Audible) and listened to it as I drove south on the Florida Turnpike. It was a long five hours drive, but I didn’t notice it. I was consumed by this amazing true story. The author, Patrick O’Donnell kept me in suspense through the entire trip.
The book received great reviews:
Kirkus Reviews “A first-rate read.” — Washington Times “The book reads like a terrific spy novel.” — WWII History “A story of courage, fortitude, and high adventure.” — America in WWII “Reads like a well-orchestrated novel.” — Augusta Metro Spirit “They Dared Return cries out to be made into a movie.” — History in Review