Might and Fog

Neither my wife nor I remember ever hearing the German phrase “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) in our World War II history classes. And yet, this directive from Hitler was brought up at the Nuremberg Trials, so it was certainly no secret at the end of the war, nor by the time our history classes were put together some twenty to thirty years later.

Basically, Nacht und Nebel was a policty of Hitler’s that broke the rules of the Geneva Convention in which those working against the Reich, most often in occupied countries, were arrested and subsequently put in camps or executed without any information about their fate sent to family or others. It was as though they never existed–they had been, as some novels put it–“disappeared.” Often the letters NN would be shown on any paperwork.

The phrase been around for a long time before Hitler, and especially Himmler used it and made it a part of the German war machine’s policy. NN not only stood for Nacht und Nebel but also for “nullus nomen” (without name) which indicates that such people were removed from the face of the earth physically and in every other way possible.

As I re-read Pam Jenoff’s novel The Lost Girls of Paris, about British agents sent to occupied France to cause trouble and send information back to Britain via wireless, I am noticing this phrase more than I did the first time through the book. I find it haunting and so unfortunately apt considering the fears and dangers of night and fog.

I generally do not like the tactics of the FBI, NSA, and CIA because we keep seeing evidence and innuendo about their spying in all the wrong places. Before all that was known, I’d always thought I’d make a reasonably good CIA agent. And yet I wonder if I ever would have had the grit and courage to do what the SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents did during World War II. Most of them didn’t last very long before they were caught.

I wonder about that, so perhaps that’s why NN bothers me in addition to the fact it “broke the rules of war.” Before I was conscious of the Night and Fog directives, I liked fog, probably because I saw so much of it as a child in San Francisco. Fog was part of the romance of San Francisco (as Tony Bennett sang in his famous song, The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care). But now, I cannot get the Nazi practice of torturing and killing agents–or suspected agents–out of my mind.

Partly, that’s because I think it still happens in unexpected places. And from neo-Nazi regimes and groups what still prescribe the old ways.


Review: ‘ The Lost Girls of Paris’ by Pam Jenoff

The Lost Girls of ParisThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jenoff has written a compelling novel about female British agents serving in occupied France during World War II. In many ways, it’s a heartbreaking novel since we learn early on that the odds are against many of the agents lasting long in the field before they’re captured and executed.

The novel is easy to follow since it focuses three characters, albeit with a good supporting cast: Eleanor, who works for the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) and champions and then trains and manages female agents in the field; Marie, whom Eleanor recruits due her flawless French; and Grace, who finds an abandoned suitcase in a New York train station after the war and becomes interested in a packet of the agents’ pictures.

The novel moves well, giving readers a sense of what it might have been like for these women to suddenly leave the country without telling anyone where they were going and, after arduous training, finding themselves in harm’s way. Fans of black ops novels might wish that more of the novel concentrated on the field work itself rather than the worries and intrigues at SOE headquarters. However, the girls’ work in the field is well researched and authentic.

The problematic character in the novel is Grace. After stumbling upon the pictures, she feels compelled to learn more about the SOE, Eleanor, and the girls in the packet of photographs. While Grace is a realistic character, inserting her life and her problems into this story takes away from the primary focus of the novel. She is more or less a device the author has used to help convey the story to the readers. While Grace “works” as a character, the novel might well have been stronger if she hadn’t been included.

Taking the story as it is with Grace in the mix, the material is well presented and interesting. Goodness knows the story in “real life” could have happened this way with an unconnected person stumbling upon it and trying to learn more. That said, the novel is well worth the reader’s time.

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