The Gestapo’s Most Improbable Hostage, Hugh Mallory Falconer

The Gestapo’s Most Improbable Hostage, Hugh Mallory Falconer

Hugh Mallory Falconer was probably one of the luckiest SOE officers of the Second World War, although he didn’t think that when he was captured soon after being landed in Tunisia to support Operation Torch! His original interogator in Tunisia clearly thought he was important enough to keep alive and to evacute to Italy as the Axis surrender Tunisia came close, but while Falconer’s aircraft arrived safely, his interrogator and all of his notes were lost. Not only was Falconer thus lucky to survive the flight, the Gestapo in Italy knew nothing about him, so he was able to convince them that he was simply an RAF officer who had been shot down, and not a secret agent. Not only that, he decided to play the part of an arrogant blue blooded aristocrat, modelling his performance on the cliché of the Prussian officer. This appears to have convinced the Gestapo that he was important enough to be worth keeping as a hostage. The idea was that if the Gestapo gathered enough important people and took them to a safe refuge late in the war, the Allies might have been willing to give some senior Nazis safe passage out of Europe in return for the hostages.

As a result, Falconer spend twenty-two months in what was meant to be solitary confinement in Sachsenhausen, before taking part in the increasingly chaotic move to the Southern Redoubt. During his time in Sachsenhausen he discovered his status, and this embolded him to make a general nuisance of himself in the camp. He was imprisoned alongside a remarkable collection of people, including captured Allied generals and politicians, German religious figures and one or two other figures like himself, who had bluffed there way into the list. However he was aware from the start that the scheme was nonsense, and there was no way that the Allies would have traded anyone in his group for Himmler or Goering’s freedom!

One interesting feature of the book is that Falconer was concerned his description of what went on in the concentration camp system would convince people that he was biased against the Germans. The book was written in the 1970s by which time the Nazi war crimes were well documented, and his concerns do come across as baseless, but as a result he includes extracts from other descriptions of the same events, which gives us some useful extra information. This is the darkest part of the book – Falconer witnessed the slow murder of Russian POWs, and at one point ended up sharing a room with one of the notorious Nazi doctors (eventually murdered by his own former boss at Dachau on the way south). He was also a distant witness to the bombing of Berlin, as his cell window faced south towards the city, and was later driven through the ruins.

The heart of the book is Falconer’s account of the chaotic voyage from Sachsenhausen to the Southern Redoubt in the Italian Alps, and how his party was eventually liberated. His destination was the Puster Valley in the South Tyrol, an area that would have fallen into the southern part of the largely fictional German ‘National Redoubt’. He does report seeing fortifications, but no sign of any garrison (and these may have been earlier border fortifications, as the valley was close to the southern end of the Brenner Pass). As his party moved it gained more people, including relatives of the Germans executed for their part in the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. The tone is generally light-hearted, focusing on the personalities on the journey, although there was clearly an undertone of fear at the time, as it seemed more than likely that the Gestapo would simply end up shooting all of their hostages when it became clear that their scheme had failed. The nature of their eventual rescue makes it clear how total the German collapse was by the end of the war, but until then they had clearly been in real danger.

This is an utterly fascinating autobiography, taking us into some of the darkest parts of the Third Reich, then on a journey with a random but equally fascinating collection of enemies of the Nazis.

1 - The Turning Point
2 - SOE
3 - In Tunis Gaol
4 - Tunis to Berlin
5 - The Prinz-Albrechtstrasse
6 - Solitary Confinement
7 - The Hostages
8 - Counter Offensive
9 - The Nazi Way
10 - Sachsenhausen to Buchenwald
11 - Buchenwald
12 - The Road to Dachau
13 - Dachau
14 - Innsbruck to the Southern Redoubt
15 - The Southern Redoubt
16 - The Road to Freedom

Author: Hugh Mallory Falconer
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Year: 2018

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