A Special Mission, by Dan Kurzman

June 21, 2011 at 18:34 (Biography, Book Reviews, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Second World War, War) (, , , , , )


As a piece of investigative journalism this work is almost unparalleled, with a remarkably detailed story accompanying a melodramatic and unbelievable title: Hitler’s Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII. Kurzman’s interviews with Vatican archivists and with General Wolff himself are indeed a coup for him, and this book’s premise is almost as stunning in premise as the incredible capers of Otto Skorzeny or Hanna Reitsch.

Kurzman’s disclaimer that all information is taken directly from memoirs or interviews is important, as his tale is intricately detailed and painstakingly constructed, with intimate depictions of the likes of Himmler, Hitler and the distasteful nest of Nazi diplomats, SS troopers and intriguers lurking in Rome. It is exceedingly difficult to judge the book’s authenticity, and it must be kept in mind that the history’s chief character related most of its material points. Kurzman is usually good about mentioning whether a particular part of his story has documentary evidence or corroboration, but third-party verification remains the largest problem for this book.

What Kurzman provides, true or false, is an elaborate treasury of inside conversation and confession (which is valuable in its own right). He does a marvellous job in putting it all together in a readable format that is full of opinion, but which stops short of forcing conclusions or judgements down the reader’s throat. After reading what is essentially a biography in extreme brevity, independent biographies on Pius, Zolli, Weizsäcker and others are almost essential reading as supplements to Wolff’s moment in history.

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