Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pg. 99: Simon Kitson's "The Hunt for Nazi Spies"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France by Simon Kitson.

About the book, from the publisher:
From 1940 to 1942, French secret agents arrested more than two thousand spies working for the Germans and executed several dozen of them—all despite the Vichy government’s declared collaboration with the Third Reich. A previously untold chapter in the history of World War II, this duplicitous activity is the gripping subject of The Hunt for Nazi Spies, a tautly narrated chronicle of the Vichy regime’s attempts to maintain sovereignty while supporting its Nazi occupiers.

Simon Kitson informs this remarkable story with findings from his investigation—the first by any historian—of thousands of Vichy documents seized in turn by the Nazis and the Soviets and returned to France only in the 1990s. His pioneering detective work uncovers a puzzling paradox: a French government that was hunting down left-wing activists and supporters of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces was also working to undermine the influence of German spies who were pursuing the same Gaullists and resisters. In light of this apparent contradiction, Kitson does not deny that Vichy France was committed to assisting the Nazi cause, but illuminates the complex agendas that characterized the collaboration and shows how it was possible to be both anti-German and anti-Gaullist.

Combining nuanced conclusions with dramatic accounts of the lives of spies on both sides, The Hunt for Nazi Spies adds an important new dimension to our understanding of the French predicament under German occupation and the shadowy world of World War II espionage.
Among the praise for the book:
The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France is history, not a novel, and Mr. Kitson is a historian's historian: a patient, meticulous master of the archives, a disciplined analyst, a servant of the evidence. His study of the French counterintelligence service's pursuit of German spies during the collaboration is not calculated to appeal to a mass market. Yet the imaginative reader will find the germ here of at least a dozen characters to populate a sensational spy novel.”
--Claire Berlinski, New York Sun

“Simon Kitson has drawn from intensive study of French archives the first full picture of Vichy's counterintelligence activities. We can now see more clearly how Vichy France tried (ultimately unsuccessfully) to collaborate with Nazi Germany as a sovereign and neutral state, master of its own territory and administration.”
—Robert O. Paxton, author of Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order

“The pungent details give Kitson’s book a particular force: the incidents of head-shearing, the intimations of torture, the leakages back to the German authorities of the places where the spies were held, the contempt of the Vichy secret services for British agents.... All these elements make an English edition of the book a necessity.”
—Rod Kedward, Times Literary Supplement, on the French edition

“Zooms in . . . on the vexed questions of spying and counterespionage under Vichy, affording an extended example of the kind of detailed research that must underpin any reinterpretation of the années noires.”
—Richard Parish, Times Higher Education Supplement, on the French edition

“Previous historians of Vichy espionage have had to rely largely on the (often-self serving) memoirs of French secret agents. Kitson is the first person to have tested these accounts against the historical record deriving from the rich body of archives recently repatriated to France from the former Soviet Union. The result of that important original research, The Hunt for Nazi Spies is a distinguished and skillfully written work."
—Julian Jackson, author of France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944
Read an excerpt from The Hunt for Nazi Spies and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

Simon Kitson is Senior Lecturer in the French Studies department at Birmingham University and co-director of the Centre for Modern European History. Learn more about Kitson's research interests and other publications at his faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: The Hunt for Nazi Spies.

--Marshal Zeringue