A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE by Sarah Helm - review by Frank Fairfield

Frank Fairfield

Secrets and Spies

A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE

By

Little, Brown, 463pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Some years ago, staying in Alsace, I was asked if I would be interested in visiting a Nazi concentration camp in the vicinity. I had never heard of the place, Natzweiler, and had no idea that such an abomination existed amidst the beautiful Vosges mountains. It is the obscene contrast between the heavenly views from within the camp's perimeter wire and the atrocities that were perpetrated within that wire that most strikes the modern visitor to Natzweiler – the devastating climactic scene of Sarah Helm's impressive and obsessive debut book.

In July 1944 four women arrived at Natzweiler. Their appearance created excitement in the all-male camp. They were young, pretty, well-dressed, and carried vanity cases – extraordinary enough to cause a buzz among the beaten, starving, disease-ridden camp captives. At first, rumour suggested that the newcomers would staff an SS

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter