A sympathetic portrait of a reluctant, little-known German-American double agent on the eve of World War II.
There are several spy rings that overlap and converge in journalist Duffy’s (The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland, 2007, etc.) immensely readable account, all involving the German immigrant’s notion of “patriotism.” For many of the select machinists who worked at the Carl L. Norden production facility at 80 Lafayette St. in lower Manhattan, being a good German meant delivering blueprints of the top-secret “bombsight” mechanism to the Abwehr to improve the Luftwaffe’s bombing accuracy and thus “save millions and lots of time.” Many immigrant laborers were virulently anti-communist and members of the right-wing German American Bund, which paraded openly its support of National Socialism through the streets of the German neighborhood of Yorkville at a time before the FBI, and its emergent director J. Edgar Hoover, had declared the group an internal threat. Yet the other kind of patriotism involved loyalty to one’s adopted country, personified by William G. Sebold (1899-1970), who fled the political chaos of Germany in the 1920s and became a naturalized American citizen in 1936. By an extraordinarily unlucky turn of events, when he returned to Germany to visit his mother at the outbreak of war, he was roped into working for the Abwehr in order to get back to the United States. Unbeknownst to the Nazis, he had also contacted the FBI; among the German immigrant community of Yorkville and the Brooklyn Sperry Gyroscope Company, they uncovered a whole nest of subversives offering defense secrets to the Nazis. Sebold ultimately helped to convict 33 traitors in 1941 in what was known as the Duquesne Spy Ring—the first feather in Hoover’s hat. While colorful personalities proliferate throughout the narrative, the understated character of Sebold gleams.
An entertaining work duly informed by Duffy’s knowledge of both the war and New York City.