An uplifting, exciting story of the extraordinary actions of one family during World War II.
Bailey (Black Diamond: The Downfall of an Aristocratic Dynasty and the Fifty Years That Changed England, 2014, etc.) tells the story of Fey von Hassell (1918-2010), who, at age 12, moved to a villa in Italy, where her father, Ulrich, was Germany’s ambassador. Though appointed by the Weimar government, Ulrich never trusted Hitler and worked with German resistance leaders. The Nazis distrusted him, as well, posting spies throughout the household. After marriage to Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli, an aristocrat from one of Italy’s oldest families, Fey lived at Brazzà, the family estate in northern Italy. She remained there, maintaining the estate while her husband escaped the Italian army and ended up in Rome, working for the Americans. In July 1944, the attempt on Hitler’s life caused the Führer to release his vengeance on anyone even slightly connected to the plot. This included Ulrich, who was tried and executed. Then the SS rounded up their family members, wives, parents, and other relatives. Fey and her two young sons were taken to Innsbruck, where the SS seized the boys and sent them to one of the Nazis’ orphanages. The propulsive narrative traces Fey’s frightening transfers from grand hotels to infamous camps such as Buchenwald and Dachau. The other prisoners became her family, and she was told nothing of her children, worrying that she would never see them again. These high-profile hostages, including royalty and former government leaders, were kept alive and well fed as Heinrich Himmler’s insurance policy against his war crimes. Until the end of the war, they were under imminent threat of execution. Throughout their time as prisoners, they wrote—heavily censored—letters, and many kept journals. Bailey’s access to those journals and SS records attests to the historical accuracy of this tale, and she relates the entire suspenseful story like a novel.
Right to the nail-biting end, this book captures your attention in alternating dread, fear, and hope.