The Venlo incident was one of the most famous British intelligence failures of the Second World War. Believing that they were meeting with Germans who were opposed to Hitler two British spies, Captain Sigismund Payne Best and Richard Stevens, were kidnapped from a café at Venlo in neutral Holland and taken across the border into Germany, where they were held captive for the rest of the war.
The main focus of the book are the years that Captain Best spent in captivity in Germany, where he was treated as a V.I.P. prisoner, probably because the Germans intended to use him in show trials after their expected victory in the war.
Best is surprisingly positive about his time in Gestapo custody. He found their interrogation methods to be ineffective, and described them as being very easy to distract. Most of the Gestapo men that he met were pre-Nazi policemen, who had effectively been drafted into the new organization, just as many of his SS guards later in the war were conscripts.
Best does make it clear that his was a special case. The horrors that one would expect to read about in an account of life in Sachsenhausen are there, but they are happening to other people, while Best was kept isolated from other prisoners. His experience of life in Germany also seems to have helping, giving him a better idea of how to react to the behaviour of his guards, and he soon seems to have arranged things generally to his satisfaction.
This all changed in the last few months of the war. Best and a large band of V.I.P. prisoners were constantly moved, first to keep them away from the Soviets, and then to prevent them falling into Allied hands while their SS captors attempted to make the best use of them. Best provides a detailed account of this period, and especially of the dangerous days in the Tirol, when for some time their fate was in the balance.
This book is of most value for the insights it provides into the life of a prisoner of war, and the adjustments that Best made to cope with his captivity. It also provides an unusual view of the German concentration camp system, and of the chaos at the end of the war.
Author: Captain S. Payne Best
Year: 2009 edition of 1950 original