Silent Heroes: Downed Airmen and the French Underground

Silent Heroes: Downed Airmen and the French Underground

by Sherri Greene Ottis, Sherri Ottis
     
 

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"Under the shadow of Nazi occupation, ordinary men and women leading apparently quiet lives as doctors, farmers, housewives, priests, and teachers engaged in spy thriller adventures to save the Allied airmen raining down among them. French and Belgian patriots, usually without aid or training, created elaborate escape lines that enabled thousands of Allied airmen to… See more details below

Overview

"Under the shadow of Nazi occupation, ordinary men and women leading apparently quiet lives as doctors, farmers, housewives, priests, and teachers engaged in spy thriller adventures to save the Allied airmen raining down among them. French and Belgian patriots, usually without aid or training, created elaborate escape lines that enabled thousands of Allied airmen to evade enemy capture. Known simply as "helpers," these men and women organized prison breakouts, seaside evacuations, and parachute drops as well as provided food, shelter, and traveling papers for the men in their care. All this was done amidst the constant threat of betrayal by a traitor or brutal arrest and interrogation by Gestapo agents." "To research these stories, Ottis hiked the Pyrenees and interviewed many of the surviving helpers and evaders. She tells of the extreme difficulty helpers had in avoiding Nazi infiltration by double agents; of their creativity in hiding evaders in their homes, sometimes in the midst of unexpected searches; and of their generosity in sharing their meager food supplies during wartime. Silent Heroes is filled with dashing heroes, dastardly villains, well-planned traps, and last-minute escapes. The sum of these stories reveals the unflagging spirit and courage of these men and women in the face of a war fought on a very personal level."--BOOK JACKET.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The British bombed occupied Europe and Germany by night; American aircraft bombed by day. German fighters and flak gunners downed hundreds of aircraft, and thousands of airmen found themselves hunted by the Germans on the ground or in offshore waters. Enter the French Resistance. Independent scholar Ottis has produced a valuable addition to the "hidden" history of WWII, showing us the men, woman and sometimes children who helped Allied airmen evade capture, with more than 5,000 crewmen returned to England. Ottis, using primary and secondary materials as well as her own interviews with French civilians, tracks in suspenseful detail the three major routes for getting the airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Whole villages sometimes were at risk if the Gestapo found and cracked down on a "line." Executions and deportations to concentration camps were commonplace. Ottis also reports on postwar reunions, including a trek that reenacted one of the lines into Spain. This is the first documented (including 30 b&w photos) study of escape routes in almost 30 years, and it makes for a valuable addition to WWII history. (May) Forecast: American encounters with the Resistance is an underexplored area of Franco-American relations and should draw readers from beyond the WWII market. The individual stories Ottis has unearthed are detailed enough to interest producers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A solid tribute to some remarkable WWII heroes: the spectacularly brave and selfless civilians who helped thousands of Allied fliers shot down in France evade the Nazis and get back to England so they could fight again. These clandestine operations were sponsored by intelligence agencies in London, but managed by audacious operatives in the midst of the Occupation. The downed airmen were prepared as well as possible with training and escape kits, but for the most part they would not have avoided capture without the singular individuals in the networks of helpers who provided them with food, shelter, false identities, and guidance on the paths to safety and home. The civilians were quick-witted and agile, the Nazis determined and ruthless. The Gestapo attempted to use agents disguised as fugitive Allied fliers to infiltrate the escape-route operations. Unlike much of the Resistance, the operations were generally free of infighting, but despite elaborate precautions entire networks of the underground railroad were compromised by betrayal. Yet by 1943, whether they had to traverse the Pyrenees in winter or wade through surf on moonless nights to rendezvous with a boat, the evaders stood an even chance of being restored to their units from enemy territory. Independent scholar Ottis provides a clear, simply stated account of the mechanics, the difficulties, and the dedication involved. She documents the personal stories of many relatively unsung helpers, offering instances of rare humanity that even now evoke powerful emotions. (Ultimately, readers must ask themselves, "What would I have done?") More than a screenwriters' source book, this carefully researched text tells a story atonceromantic, factual, and ennobling. Emblematic of the truly significant sacrifices and triumphs of a passing generation. (30 b&w photos)

From the Publisher
"This carefully researched text tells a story at once romantic, factual, and ennobling. Emblematic of the truly significant sacrifices and triumphs of a passing generation." — Kirkus Reviews

"Ottis has written the only comprehensive study on escape and evasion in Western Europe in the last thirty years, and she does so with powerful stories of courage, taken directly from those who participated in the resistance." — McCormick (SC) Messenger

"Flypast A very valuable book." — NYMAS Newsletter

"Tales of French underground resistance units are a familiar element of World War II history. The 'Underground Railroad' lines organized to lead the downed fliers to safety rarely have earned equal attention. This book is a well-documented effort to make up for that omission." — Proceedings

"A valuable addition to the 'hidden' history of WWII, showing us the men, women, and sometimes children who helped Allied airmen evade capture.... The first documented study of escape routes in almost 30 years." — Publishers Weekly

"She makes the individual Frenchmen — the heroes of her book — live, and the reader goes hand-in-hand with the helpers as they face the tension, uncertainty, and danger associated with aiding their allied charges." — Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Undoubtedly one of the most stirring accounts of the assistance rendered downed American and British flyers shot down over France and Belgium."This is one book that needs to be read and re-read for its lessons in survival, evasion, and escape from would-be captors."Well-written and superbly documented." — Leo J. Daugherty III, World War II Quarterly" — Leo J. Daugherty III, World War II Quarterly

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780813121864
Publisher:
University Press of Kentucky
Publication date:
06/28/2001
Pages:
248
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

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