History, Politics and Current Events, Reviews

Fighting Espionage in Vichy France

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The New York Sun is running a review of Simon Kitson’s recent book The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France in today’s “Arts and Letters” section of the paper. Praising the book for it’s captivating account of the French predicament under German occupation reviewer and spy novelist Claire Berlinski writes:

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.

The review goes on to address the central question of the book: why was the collaborationist Vichy regime hunting and imprisoning Nazi spies at all?

Mr. Kitson is fascinated by this paradox. [Does this phenomenon] suggest a deep vein of anti-Vichy, pro-resistance sentiment among the French secret services, as some of its veterans have suggested in their memoirs? No, Mr. Kitson answers. This is by no means an exonerating story: The overarching goals of the Vichy regime, in whose service, he concludes, the Vichy spy-hunters were most certainly acting, was the defense of French sovereignty and the preservation of a state monopoly on collaboration. These unauthorized collaborators were a threat to both, and thus were they neutralized.

Read the rest of the review on the New York Sun website. Read an excerpt from the book.