September Marks the 75th Anniversary of the Start of World War II

After securing a nonaggression pact with the USSR (which secretly allowed for the partition of Poland by the Soviet Union and Germany) just a week before, Germany invaded Poland without a declaration of war on September 1, 1939. Two days later, the United Kingdom and France declared war, with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South African soon following with their own declarations. The conflict lasted six years and was the deadliest and most destructive in history.

The Mercer County Library System owns several brand-new titles about World War II, including:

Double AgentDouble Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring by Peter Duffy
The never-before-told tale of the German-American who spearheaded a covert mission to infiltrate New York's Nazi underground in the days leading up to World War II-the most successful counterespionage operation in US history. From the time Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933, German spies were active in New York. In 1937, a German national living in Queens stole the blueprints for the country's most precious secret, the Norden Bombsight, delivering them to the German military two years before World War II started in Europe and four years before the US joined the fight. When the FBI uncovered a ring of Nazi spies in the city, President Franklin Roosevelt formally declared J. Edgar Hoover as America's spymaster with responsibility for overseeing all investigations. As war began in Europe in 1939, a naturalized German-American was recruited by the Nazis to set up a radio transmitter and collect messages from spies active in the city to send back to Nazi spymasters in Hamburg. This German-American, William G. Sebold, approached the FBI and became the first double agent in the Bureau's history, the center of a sixteen-month investigation that led to the arrest of a colorful cast of thirty-three enemy agents, among them a South African adventurer with an exotic accent and a monocle and a Jewish femme fatale, Lilly Stein, who escaped Nazi Vienna by offering to seduce US military men into whispering secrets into her ear. A riveting, meticulously researched, and fast-moving story, Double Agent details the largest and most important espionage bust in American history.

“This has all the elements of a fine spy novel, with the bonus that it is all true.”—Booklist

“This sprightly book covers in detail Sebold's activities as well as those of his German contacts and adds an important chapter to existing histories of espionage during this period. A fine contribution to the literature on 20th-century espionage worthy of consideration for most libraries.”—Library Journal
Curious Madness
A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II by Eric Jaffe
“The Nuremberg Trials have been written about extensively, but there was another post-WWII military tribunal, which has received much less attention. In Tokyo in 1946, 30 former Japanese military leaders, including Tojo Hideki, general of the Japanese army and architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor, were put on trial for their lives. Also on trial was a civilian, writer and philosopher Okawa Shumei, whose erratic behavior in the courtroom led to his being assessed by Japanese and American experts to determine whether he was insane, or faking. The American expert was Daniel Jaffe, a U.S. Army psychiatrist (and the author's grandfather); he determined Okawa was unfit to stand trial, a determination that is still controversial today. This gripping book explores not only the Okawa case but also a hidden part of the author's grandfather's life. The author delves into both men's backgrounds and offers an opportunity to put Okawa's and Jaffe's actions at the tribunal in a larger context, to understand, in particular, how Jaffe's personal history influenced his assessment of Okawa. Highly recommendable to readers of WWII history.”—Booklist

“Jaffe, a journalist and historian (The King's Best Highway: The Lost History of Boston Post Road, The Route that Made America), combines the story of his grandfather, American Army neuropsychiatrist Daniel Jaffe, with that of Japanese radical conservative thinker Okawa Shumei in this unlikely story of how of two very different lives intersected to result in one of Japan's most notorious war criminals of WWII escaping prosecution. The latter figure was an intellectual heavyweight while the former was an anonymous military doctor, but for a few hours, in May 1946, Captain Jaffe examined Okawa to determine his mental fitness to stand trial as a war criminal. Thus, Okawa, who was considered by the American military to be "every bit the madman" and the ideological inspiration for Japan's militaristic aggression during WWII, was the only top Japanese war trial defendant (and the only civilian among them) to go free. Jaffe's well-researched, engaging story touches on subjects as diverse as the roots of Okawa's conservative nationalism and the U.S. Army's theories and treatments for combat fatigue, but most importantly it reveals the strange ways war can bring diverse lives together for a brief moment to change not only those individuals, but history.”—Publishers Weekly

“Jaffe tells the story of two men whose lives converged at the Tokyo war crimes trial following World War II. One was Shumei Okawa, a Japanese civilian considered by many as the intellectual leader of Japanese militarism; the other was Maj. Daniel Jaffe, the U.S. Army psychiatrist assigned to determine the accused's sanity (and the author's grandfather). This book explores not only the mystery surrounding Okawa's mental state but also that of the quiet, war-fatigued psychiatrist. The only civilian on trial, Okawa slapped former Prime Minister Tojo's head the first day in court; Major Jaffe's assessment of Okawa helped him be removed from the proceedings. A considerable part of the book is devoted to the author's grandfather's story: his mentally ill Jewish immigrant mother, his education and training, and his work with shell-shocked soldiers in combat. Recommended for those interested in the Tokyo war crimes trials, the nature of mental illness, or the treatment of combat exhaustion.”—Library Journal 
Burning Shore
The Burning Shore: How Hitler's U-Boats Brought World War II to America by Ed Offley
On June 15, 1942, as thousands of vacationers lounged in the sun at Virginia Beach, two massive fireballs erupted just offshore from a convoy of oil tankers steaming into Chesapeake Bay. While men, women, and children gaped from the shore, two damaged oil tankers fell out of line and began to sink. Then a small escort warship blew apart in a violent explosion. Navy warships and aircraft peppered the water with depth charges, but to no avail. Within the next twenty-four hours, a fourth ship lay at the bottom of the channel—all victims of twenty-nine-year-old Kapit√§nleutnant Horst Degen and his crew aboard the German U-boat U-701. In The Burning Shore, acclaimed military reporter Ed Offley presents a thrilling account of the bloody U-boat offensive along America's East coast during the first half of 1942, using the story of Degen's three war patrols as a lens through which to view this forgotten chapter of World War II. For six months, German U-boats prowled the waters off the eastern seaboard, sinking merchant ships with impunity, and threatening to sever the lifeline of supplies flowing from America to Great Britain. Degen's successful infiltration of the Chesapeake Bay in mid-June drove home the U-boats' success, and his spectacular attack terrified the American public as never before. But Degen's cruise was interrupted less than a month later, when U.S. Army Air Forces Lieutenant Harry J. Kane and his aircrew spotted the silhouette of U-701 offshore. The ensuing clash signaled a critical turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic—and set the stage for an unlikely friendship between two of the episode's survivors. A gripping tale of heroism and sacrifice, The Burning Shore leads readers into a little-known theater of World War II, where Hitler's U-boats came close to winning the Battle of the Atlantic before American sailors and airmen could finally drive them away.

Someday You Will UnderstandSomeday You Will Understand: My Father’s Private World War II by Nina Wolff Feld
Walter Wolff was the son of a Jewish merchant family that fled their German home when the Nazis came to power and took refuge in Brussels, Belgium. On the eve of the German invasion, in May 1940, the family began its second escape. Their sixteen-month odyssey took them through the chaos of battle in France and the dangers of living clandestinely as Jews in occupied territory, before they finally boarded the notorious freighter SS Navemar in Cadiz, Spain, to be among the last Jewish refugees admitted to the United States before Pearl Harbor. Within two years of his arrival in the States, Walter was ready to take the fight back to the Nazis as a soldier in the U.S. Army. Trained for the Intelligence Corps at Camp Ritchie, he was sent first to Italy and then to Germany and Austria, where he interrogated POWs for potential prosecution as war criminals at Nuremburg. At the same time on his travels in Europe, he returned to the confiscated properties of his extended family, throwing out the occupiers and reclaiming ownership. Telling the rousing story of a Jewish boy who fled persecution and returned to prosecute the Nazi oppressors, Walter Wolff's daughter Nina has reconstructed these events from family lore and her father's own cache of more than 700 wartime letters and 200 photographs, which he revealed to her shortly before he died.

Elephant CompanyElephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke
The remarkable story of James Howard "Billy" Williams, whose uncanny rapport with the world's largest land animals transformed him from a carefree young man into the charismatic war hero known as Elephant Bill. Billy Williams came to colonial Burma in 1920, fresh from service in World War I, to a job as a "forest man" for a British teak company. Mesmerized by the intelligence, character, and even humor of the great animals who hauled logs through the remote jungles, he became a gifted "elephant wallah." Increasingly skilled at treating their illnesses and injuries, he also championed more humane treatment for them, even establishing an elephant "school" and "hospital." In return, he said, the elephants made him a better man. The friendship of one magnificent tusker in particular, Bandoola, would be revelatory. In Elephant Company, Vicki Constantine Croke chronicles Williams's growing love for elephants as the animals provide him lessons in courage, trust, and gratitude. But Elephant Company is also a tale of war and daring. When Imperial Japanese forces invaded Burma in 1942, Williams joined the elite Force 136, the British dirty tricks department, operating behind enemy lines. His war elephants would carry supplies, build bridges, and transport the sick and elderly over treacherous mountain terrain. Now well versed in the ways of the jungle, an older, wiser Williams even added to his stable by smuggling more elephants out of Japanese-held territory. As the occupying authorities put a price on his head, Williams and his elephants faced his most perilous test. In a Hollywood-worthy climax, Elephant Company, cornered by the enemy, attempted a desperate escape: a risky trek over the mountainous border to India, with a bedraggled group of refugees in tow. Elephant Bill's exploits would earn him top military honors and the praise of famed Field Marshal Sir William Slim. Part biography, part war epic, and part wildlife adventure, Elephant Company is an inspirational narrative that illuminates a little-known chapter in the annals of wartime heroism.

"This is the story of friendship, loyalty and breathtaking bravery that transcends species. . . . ‘[Vicki] Croke is a natural storyteller. . . . Elephant Company is nothing less than a sweeping tale, masterfully written.” –Sara Gruen, The New York Times Book Review

"Elephant Company is as powerful and big-hearted as the animals of its title. Billy Williams is an extraordinary character, a real-life reverse Tarzan raised in civilization who finds wisdom and his true self living among jungle beasts. Vicki Constantine Croke delivers an exciting tale of this elephant-whisperer-cum-war-hero, while beautifully reminding us of the enduring bonds between animals and humans." –Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Lost in Shangri-La and Frozen in Time

 "The true-life heroics of Elephant Company during World War II highlight how animals and humans together can achieve extraordinary things. Croke's evocative writing and deep understanding of the animal-human bond bring vividly to life Elephant Bill's great passion and almost mystical connection with his magnificent beasts. This is a wonderful read." --Elizabeth Letts, author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion

Hitler's WarHitler's War: World War II as Portrayed by Signal, the International Nazi Propaganda Magazine by Jeremy Harwood
The downfall of Nazi Germany, as seen through its own media. The first issue of Signal magazine, Germany's biweekly army propaganda publication, hit the newsstands in April of 1940. The magazine's readership grew dramatically as the Nazi empire expanded across Europe, and by 1943 its circulation was roughly 2.5 million. At its outset, Signal was brashly optimistic, packed full of photographs celebrating the Third Reich's triumph over its enemies--but the last issue would appear on April 12, 1945, just weeks before the Reich's surrender. In Hitler's War, historian Jeremy Harwood charts the downfall of the Nazi regime through the lens of Signal magazine, from the heady days of the Blitzkrieg—when a German victory seemed to be just around the corner--to the way the publication faced up to the Reich's ultimate decline and fall. Harwood's fascinating commentary supplements reproduced page spreads from actual issues of the magazine, placing modern analysis next to authentic period writing from the German military. As the tide of war swings inexorably against Nazi Germany, with no more victories to celebrate, Harwood traces the shifting of Signal 's editorial emphasis from confident news and gossip to desperate, sensationalist heroism. Offering a brand-new window into the Third Reich's public strategy, Hitler's War puts the magazine content into accurate historical context, showing how, after 1943, the picture of Nazi Germany that Signal presented was increasingly at odds with reality.

 “Modeled after Picture Post in Britain and Life and National Geographic in the United States, Signal magazine was Nazi -Germany's most successful wartime propaganda publication; its peak circulation reached 2.5 million copies per issue. This chronicle of the magazine's life span, which mirrors that of the Third Reich (April 1940-March 1945), offers a fascinatingly rich and detailed German civilian-centric account and viewpoint of the war, world, and culture. In both full pages and snippets clipped from the publication, every front of the spectacle of war and the German perspective is examined and framed chronologically-the battles and conquests, articles, ads, graphics, human-interest stories, and entertainment/society coverage-with that selective intonation and controlled word choice we've become fascinated with in propaganda and that no doubt propels its enduring intrigue. Owing dually to the effective production value of the publication and Harwood's (The Secret History of Freemasonry) deft presentation of the material, though the story is understood (and it's impossible not to measure the text retrospectively, knowingly aware of the gravity and sensational delusion), this book feels immediate and intimate. Carrying an organic empirical quality rarely facilitated by a historical text, this rich and fascinating study is for World War II enthusiasts, historians, socioculturalists, and journalists.”—Library Journal

 - Lisa S.

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