The Secret History of World War II makes an excellent gift for history buffs. Alternating between six narrative chapters and six major pictorial essays, this coffee-table volume reveals the “secret history” of spies, code breakers, and covert forces of the Second World War, including sidebars on covert operations and techniques of the armed forces as well as Hitler’s war against the Jews.
Of special interest is the work of the Red Orchestra, a communist underground group located in Berlin. Consisting of Soviet agents as well as a number of Jews outraged by Hitler’s policies, the Red Orchestra printed and disseminated anti-Nazi flyers and pamphlets and helped would-be victims flee Germany. Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the underground organization reported to the Kremlin of atrocities in Poland, subsequently informing Stalin of the mass executions of the Jews in the German-occupied territories.
The Secret History of World War II also includes sections on the death camps, which include pictures of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews, photos of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and a rare photo of Jan Karski’s 1942 report to the Allied nations titled “The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland.” But the bulk of the book’s 352 pages focuses beyond the Jewish experience. For those interested in the war in the Pacific Ocean theatre, the details of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Czechoslovakian commandos, the story of Soviet superspy Richard Sorge, and the deciphering of Japan’s naval code by Joseph Rochefort and his team of Navy crypt-analysts led to the Japanese Navy defeat at Midway, The Secret History of World War II is an excellent selection.
The volume is published by National Geographic and organized by its editor, Neil Kagan — who has created numerous book series, including the award-winning Voices of the Civil War — and author Stephen G. Hyslop, who has written numerous books on American history, including National Geographic’s Eyewitness to World War II.