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Return To The Reich

“Return to the Reich” tells the story of a harrowing US espionage mission into Nazi-occupied Austria led by Freddy Mayer, who had escaped Nazi Germany for Brooklyn as a teenager in 1938. Mayer, with another Jewish refugee from Europe as his radio man on the mission, posed for weeks on the ground in Tyrol as a Nazi officer and provided US officials with critical intelligence that led to Germany’s surrender in Innsbruck in one of the war’s last major battlegrounds. Mayer almost didn’t make it out of the Reich in the first place, however. The opening chapter of the book chronicles the Nazis’ tightening grip on him as a Jewish boy growing up in Freiburg, Germany — and the reluctance of his father, a successful businessman and decorated German officer in World War One, to leave a place that he considered his home.

Airborne Over The Austrian Alps

February 25, 1945

The snow-capped Alpine Mountains looked deceptively quiet, even peaceful, as Freddy Mayer, crouched in the back of a B-24, gazed down at the majestic peaks whizzing by in the frigid night air. Close your eyes and you could almost forget there was a brutal war being waged on the ground ten thousand feet below. Peering one last time through the narrow “Joe hole” on the floor of the plane’s bomb bay, Freddy waited for the final signal from the cockpit.

Seven years earlier, when Freddy had fled Nazi Germany as a teenager, a return trip to the hellfire Adolf Hitler had made of Europe would have seemed unthinkable. Yet here he was now, at the age of twenty-three — a parachute on his back and a bulky bag strapped to his leg with a pistol, ammunition, and supplies inside it — preparing to dive back into the Nazis’ stronghold in Austria. And he was doing it for the Americans, no less, on an improbable spy mission aimed at thwarting Hitler’s feared “last stand” in the Alps.

This was the life-on-a-tightrope adventure that the barrelchested refugee had been craving for months, pitting him against men he had once called countrymen. Somewhere below him, unseen amid the rugged mountain terrain, were Nazi soldiers armed with antiaircraft weaponry designed to shoot down planes just like this one. The chances of success for Freddy’s tiny, three-man spy team were one in a hundred, an officer had told him glumly. That was good enough for Freddy. Anything to defeat the fascists, he said.

He had waited so long for this chance, and he was desperate to make the jump. The mission had already been scuttled twice in the last five days because of bad weather, and less than half an hour earlier the flight crew had almost been forced to turn back yet again for Italy. Freddy was determined to make this the night. The moonlit skies that separated him from the Nazis on the ground below now looked calm, even inviting. Gorgeous, he thought to himself. An odd feeling of tranquility washed over him.

The cockpit relayed the signal. “Ready, ready, ready, go!” the crewman yelled. Seated at the edge of the Joe hole, Freddy pushed away and jumped.

A German Boy

Freiburg, Germany

Spring 1933

Freddy’s world, nestled in the lush foothills of Germany’s Black Forest, was collapsing around him.

The signs were subtle at first: a slight from a classmate, a sneering glance across the neighborhood pool, as if to say, Stay on your own side. Then the noxious changes in the air became too blatant to ignore, even for a rambunctious boy focused mostly on cars and girls. There were the venomous speeches spewing from loudspeakers in Freiburg’s sun-splashed town square. The laws establishing Germany’s “Aryans” as supreme. The mandatory salutes, the fervent shouts of “Heil Hitler!” from the boys of the Hitler Youth, the red-and-black flags emblazoned with the crooked arms of the Nazi swastika fluttering from balconies across the city. It was hard for Freddy — “Fritz,” as everyone called the eleven-year-old — to look away. A place that had once seemed tolerant, even welcoming, was growing ever more menacing for his family and the other Jews of Freiburg, a tiny minority of scarcely a thousand scattered throughout the largely Catholic city.

Return To The Reich

Return To The Reich: A Holocaust Refugee’s Secret Mission To Defeat The Nazis, by Eric Lichtblau Image by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

One of Freddy’s best pals in town had already fled the country for Switzerland with his family. The book burnings and Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses had just begun in April of 1933, and the boy’s father didn’t want to wait to see what would come next; Freddy’s boyhood playmate was gone in a matter of weeks. Other Jewish families were leaving as well. No one knew where this would all lead, or how much worse it might get.

Freddy’s father assured him and his three siblings, again and again, that things would be okay for them. Heinrich Mayer was a decorated veteran of the Great War, after all, and he clung to his Iron Cross medal as a bulwark against anyone who might question his German patriotism. The cross, bestowed by the Kaiser two decades earlier for Heinrich’s valor in World War I, became his shield. “They’ll never come for me,” Heinrich would say. “I was a Frontkaempfer” — a German combat soldier. “Nothing is going to happen to us.”

The “gathering storm,” as Winston Churchill later described the dark forces at work in prewar Europe, was already beginning to breach Germany. Heinrich, a dapper dresser with a bushy mustache and thin, round spectacles, spent his days focused on the family hardware business, keeping his head down and wishing the storm away. He wasn’t about to let outsize fears lead him to toss away everything that he — and his father before him — had built over the better part of a century in Freiburg, in his home country of Germany.

Freddy’s mother, Hilda, who kept the books for the hardware business, wasn’t nearly so confident. They were Jews, after all, and Germany had a long and ugly history of turning against its Jews. They wouldn’t get any preferential treatment, Iron Cross or not, she warned Heinrich. In Hitler’s eyes, she feared, they would always be Jews first: inferior, subhuman. She was anxious and fretful, looking for a way out of a place that was turning increasingly hostile. Freddy could hear the fear in her voice. But that was a mother’s job, wasn’t it? To worry about her family. Freddy knew his father would protect them. That was a father’s job.

Freddy himself was not the nervous type, but still, it was hard not to worry about the changes in the air. He was a scrapper, a mischievous boy who spoke with his fists. He wouldn’t be pushed around. His ever-present smile — so wide that it seemed his ears might snap off from the strain — belied a fighter’s spirit. One day a classmate on the playground called him “a stinking Jude,” a phrase now heard with chilling regularity in the hills of Freiburg. The other Jewish kids would simply look away when the epithet was used. Not Freddy. Short but stocky, with lightning-quick hands, he slugged the name caller on the chin and readied himself for a round of fisticuffs as the boy hit the ground. A teacher sent Freddy to see the dean — a big, hulking Nazi official named Friedrich Ludin, who would walk through the hallways in his German uniform. Freddy braced for his punishment. “He called me a stinking Jew. I didn’t like that,” he explained matter-of-factly. Ludin eyed the boy. “I can understand that,” he answered finally. Much to Freddy’s surprise, the dean sent him back to class without even a reprimand. Nobody in class dared talk to him that way again.

Freiburg hadn’t always been so hostile to its Jews. Freddy remembered a time — not that long ago, it seemed — when the city, in the southwestern German state of Baden, hugging the French and Swiss borders, was a place that seemed to have accepted his people as its own. In the early 1930s, not long before Hitler, it was the kind of place where a few dozen boys from a Jewish fraternity at the local university, dressed in their best blazers and ties, could take their girlfriends for an outing and pose for photos in the town square with no one bothering them. They didn’t have to fear anyone knowing they were Jewish. The grand Gothic cathedral at the center of town, with a giant spire towering in the sky, seemed less a religious threat to nonbelievers than an architectural point of pride.

With the city’s picturesque tree-lined hills as their backyard, children — Christian and Jewish alike — skipped across the tiny inlets that ran through town, where merchants’ pushcarts rumbled along the centuries-old cobblestone streets. It was an idyllic childhood for Freddy: dinners with his family, with their own maid to serve them dumplings, goulash, and other delicacies; weekends at the movie theater, watching the new black-and-white films; trips deep into the Black Forest to go hiking or skiing with school clubs. As a boy, he led a life that had all the warm serenity of a landscape painting by Renoir or one of the other French impressionists whose works had become so popular across the border just twenty-five miles to the west of Freiburg.

Yes, Freddy knew that as Jews they had always been different, but they were Germans, too; proud Germans, as his father would often remind him. His family could trace its roots in the region back more than five hundred years, all the way to the thirteen hundreds, when the surrounding state of Baden was still in the hands of dukes and monarchs. In the 1860s his grandfather had started his own business, Julius Mayer Hardware, and became the first Jew since the Middle Ages allowed to purchase his own home in Freiburg: a handsome three-story brick townhouse in a leafy part of town known for its linden trees. That same year, in 1865, Julius and the other Jews in town formed a synagogue to call their own, the first in the city in generations. After centuries of rampant anti- Semitism in the region, a new era had begun.

Across Germany, in fact, the Jews were enjoying a remarkable golden age that continued on through the 1920s, as German leaders — ushering in a Second German Empire with grand economic ambitions — gave the Jews greater civil rights and opened doors long closed to them. While the vestiges of centuries-long persecution lingered, Jews managed not only to assimilate but to thrive in almost every walk of life. It was an era in Germany when a young Jew named Albert Einstein could become a world-famous scientist; a businessman named Adolf Jandorf could found an iconic Berlin department store; novelist Lion Feuchtwanger could enter the ranks of Germany’s most respected writers; and a young political philosopher named Hannah Arendt could begin her storied career. By the time Freddy was born, in 1921 — the same year Einstein, living in Berlin, won the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work in physics — the cloud that had shadowed German Jews for so long appeared to have finally lifted.
Most of the goyim — the non-Jews — were civil and cordial, even friendly, to Freddy and his family. The Mayers’ next-door neighbor, Herr Wagner, who owned an umbrella shop, was a trusted friend to Heinrich and helped with the accounting for his hardware business. Wagner had been Heinrich’s sergeant during World War I — a Christian soldier answering to a Jewish officer — and the two neighbors built a bond that erased whatever religious differences separated them. Freddy would come to remember him as “a gentle Gentile.”

At his hardware business, Heinrich was known around town for letting his customers — most of them Christian — buy their metals and hardware products on credit. It was a practice his customers came to appreciate. “It was not always possible for us to make payments to the Mayers in a timely fashion,” the family of one tin buyer wrote years later, when Heinrich tried to reclaim some of the money the Nazis had taken from him. “Other suppliers kept pressuring us, but never the Mayers.”

Freddy’s father would sometimes give the children presents at Christmastime so they didn’t feel left out of the holiday festivities. At his core, Freddy was a proud Bobbele, a term of affection for someone born in Freiburg — Christian or Jew. Being a Jewish boy in those years felt so unremarkable that it seemed almost an afterthought to Freddy. He never considered himself deeply religious, although his parents certainly were. The family kept kosher in the home, and he grudgingly went to religious school like almost all the Jewish kids in town; but that was his parents’ choice, not his. He loved the Jewish holidays — not because of any deep religious connection, he admitted, but because he was allowed to skip school for the day. He identified culturally as a Jew, an oppressed people in Germany for centuries, but God and spirituality? That was never really Freddy’s thing.

Nor was he a deep thinker. He was a mediocre student, by his own admission; his older brother, Julius, named after their grand father, was the real scholar in the family, the “smart one,” an accountant in the making. Freddy wasn’t envious; he had no real academic ambitions himself, and he always admired his brother’s intellect — at least until nightfall came. Julius would stay up for hours reading German books of all sorts in the bedroom they shared, and Freddy would plead with him to turn the light off so he could please get some sleep. Finally, Heinrich and Hilda reached a truce and put the boys in separate rooms to end the bickering.

If his brother was the thinker in the family, Freddy was the doer: his genius resided in an adeptness with his hands. He would spend his free time in his father’s workshop tearing things apart and putting them back together — toys, gadgets, soapbox cars, engines, anything he could find. Or he would sit in the warehouse adjoining the house and watch his father’s employees prepare hardware parts and wholesale metals to sell.

He loved nothing better than examining the newfangled automobiles from Mercedes-Benz and other German, and even American, manufacturers, which were becoming a more common sight on the streets. Freddy talked of building cars, or maybe airplanes, when he grew up. In the boy’s eyes, no task was too difficult, or too dangerous — although some experiments did go awry. Freddy, as a boy of only five or six, had an idea to make the car his father bought, an American-made Ford, go farther with less fuel, so he poured a liquid concoction of his own making into the gas tank. The experiment did not go well. A few years later, still barely able to see over the steering wheel, he managed to start the car and take it out on the streets by himself for a brief ride, only to have a passing police officer stop him and drag him back home by the ear. Heinrich was not amused.

As much as anything, Freddy loved listening to his father regale him for hours with stories about the Great War — even in Germany’s losing cause. Heinrich, a lieutenant in the German 110th Regiment, told the boy how he had fought for the Kaiser at the French fortress of Verdun in 1916, one of the war’s bloodiest battles. It was his valor there that earned him the Iron Cross, the holy talisman that he kept stashed in a special place in the house. That Heinrich was a Jew never mattered to the Kaiser, he told the boy.
Freddy would parade around the house wearing his father’s black military belt, the shiny German medallion on the buckle pulled so tightly that his belly bulged over the top. He imagined that he might get the chance to fight for Germany himself, perhaps as a pilot like the Red Baron, the country’s famous World War I ace. This was his country, after all, and the boy was eager to defend it, not as a Jew but as a German, just as his father had done before him.

But neither Heinrich nor Freddy had anticipated the startling rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Few Germans had. Hitler was a political outlier in 1925 when he wrote “Mein Kampf,” his race-baiting jailhouse screed calling for the creation of a New Order and an Aryan master race. Yet by the early 1930s his Nazi Party was winning seats in the Reichstag with a campaign built on restoring German “pride” in the midst of the economic woes blamed on the Treaty of Versailles — and on the Jews.

Improbably, Hitler was now knocking on the door of the presidential palace in Berlin. Heinrich, five hundred miles away, noticed the Nazi Party’s ominous rhetoric — how could he not? — but he was convinced that the party’s vile brand of politics would not take hold. Hitler would never come to power, he told Freddy. The Nazis’ views reflected an ugly, extremist strain, his father said; not the true German sentiment he had always known. Hitler wasn’t even a native-born citizen. He had started adulthood as a low-ranking soldier in the Austrian army. What business did he have trying to run the country? “They’re still a minority; nothing bad will happen,” Heinrich told the boy, then just twelve, as Hitler prepared a bold bid for president of Germany in 1932.

His father was right — for the time being at least. Hitler earned barely a third of the vote in the national election. While it was a formidable showing for a onetime fringe candidate, he still lagged far behind incumbent president Paul von Hindenburg,who branded him a dangerous extremist and a “Bohemian corporal.” What Heinrich and so many others hadn’t foreseen, however, was the shrewd backroom maneuvering of Hitler and his top Nazi lieutenants; they succeeded less than ten months after the electoral defeat in striking a deal with Hindenburg to make Hitler the ruling chancellor of Germany — and setting off the Third Reich’s twelve-year reign of terror in Europe.

Hitler’s bold political coup triggered a panic among Germany’s Jews. Tens of thousands fled the country within months of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. The Nazis were all too eager to see them go. Freddy’s childhood playmate, eight-year-old Gerd Schwab, was among the early refugees. Like Heinrich, Gerd’s father, David, was a Jewish businessman and a decorated World War I veteran; David and his wife were best friends with Freddy’s parents, making up a regular foursome in bridge games at the house. That was before Hitler. After the Nazis took power, David Schwab feared the worst, but unlike the Mayers and many other of the city’s Jews, he had an escape route in mind. His plumbing business had a second plant in Basel, Switzerland, about forty-five miles across the German border. Desperate to get out of Freiburg, the Schwabs gathered up as many of their things as they could and left, with Freddy’s oldest friend suddenly gone overnight.

A year into Hitler’s reign, Freddy became a bar mitzvah at his family’s synagogue, the same one his grandfather helped found sixty years earlier, when the Jews’ place in Freiburg finally seemed secure. Freddy’s ceremonial rise to manhood coincided with the ascent of a Nazi madman in Berlin, but the boy walled off the outside demons, undertaking the ritual with his customary ear-to-ear grin. His brother, Julius, always the scholar, had chanted practically the whole prayer service for his own bar mitzvah a few years earlier, but Freddy was content reading a single parsha from the Torah; that was enough for him. The family celebrated with a party at the house in an ornate room reserved for special occasions. The room was normally off limits to Freddy, a boisterous boy always at risk of breaking the good china, but now he basked in the milestone. With his whole family around him — parents, siblings, grandparents — the place felt safe and protected from the unease swirling around them.

It was a brief respite. Not long after his bar mitzvah, the Nazi campaign of persecution hit Freddy straight on the first time, when he was forced to leave his public school in Freiburg. His offense: being a Jew. It was part of a series of Nazi education policies put in place nationwide, throwing nearly all Jewish children out of the public schools based on the pretense of “overcrowding.” Ludin, the same Nazi dean who let Freddy off the hook for slugging his classmate, delivered the news personally. Ludin seemed apologetic; he didn’t want to do this, he told Freddy, but it was a new era in the Reich and he had no choice. He sounded sincere to Freddy. For a Nazi, Ludin didn’t seem like such a bad guy.

Freddy made the best of his abrupt expulsion, shrugging it off the way he did most problems once he realized he couldn’t fight his way past them. For him, there were worse punishments than having to give up his schoolbooks. He quickly set to work on his first love — engines and automobiles — as an apprentice for a mechanic at a trade school. His father, meanwhile, talked the Ford auto dealer who had sold him his car into getting the boy a job at the repair shop in Freiburg. Freddy was content; he just had to hope that the Nazis wouldn’t ban Jews from working on automobiles anytime soon.

Heinrich remained resolute. No matter what draconian policies the Nazis enforced, he would not be run out of his homeland. Not when Freddy was expelled from school. Not when a Nazi newspaper campaign demanded that Germans boycott Jewish businesses. Not when the Nuremberg Laws banned Jews from mixing with people of “German blood.” Not when all his Christian employees and the family’s maid had to stop working for him because he was a Jew, or when it became almost impossible for him to buy raw materials like lead and copper for his business. Not when he and Freddy, dismayed, watched the footage of Hitler presiding over the 1936 Olympics after banning “non-Aryans” from German squads. Not even when word began to spread that the Nazis were rounding up Communists, homosexuals, and other “undesirables” — and that the Jews might be next.

Even then, Heinrich stayed firm. “Nothing bad will happen to us,” he kept repeating to his son as a matter of faith. His optimism sprang not from mere hope or delusion. In a particularly cruel bit of psychological warfare, in 1934 the Nazis sent certificates in Hitler’s name to thousands of Jewish war veterans, honoring their service to Germany on the twentieth anniversary of World War I and promising them special treatment even in the face of sweeping anti-Semitic measures. On its face, it was recognition of Heinrich’s standing. He was a leader in the Freiburg veterans’ council, a volunteer in the local fire brigade, a citizen of standing, a good neighbor and friend to the Christians. He was even due a sizable German pension when he retired: 177 marks a month. If things got worse, God forbid, he was protected. Or so he thought.

As the man of the house, Heinrich made the decisions, but Hilda could at least ponder the family’s potential escape routes.“Look, we better prepare,” she told Freddy one day. They needed to make plans. Even if she could somehow persuade Heinrich to leave, she knew it would be difficult to find a place to take them in, and that would take time, regardless. They would need visas, transportation, a place to stay, money — all the elusive essentials necessary to get out of the country. She began contacting the few relatives she knew outside Germany, quietly at first, then with increasing desperation. Could they help? Somehow?

Even Herr Wagner, the “gentle Gentile” next door, was urging Heinrich to flee. He offered to manage the hardware business until the Mayer family could come back — if they could come back. Then it happened. In late 1937, more than four years into Hitler’s reign, Heinrich’s resolve melted. One day he announced to Hilda that he was ready to leave. There was no single trigger point, no final threat or frightful episode that made him reverse course. It was simply the end, the crushing weight of four years of Nazi edicts vilifying him and his people, sapping his business, making his family outcasts. He had no will left to fight for his survival in this oppressive new place called the Third Reich. It was time to get out.

If it wasn’t too late already. Where could they go? The British had squelched emigration to Palestine, the ancestral homeland where so many frightened European Jews longed to resettle. And Heinrich had no real foothold elsewhere in Europe outside Germany, unlike his friend David Schwab, with business interests across the border in Switzerland.

They had one real hope — America. Although it was a faint beacon, barely flickering, they put in an application with the American consulate in Germany, knowing that getting a visa to the United States was difficult, and the gates of America remained closed to all but a lucky few. Many American leaders were oblivious, or willfully blind, to the plight of Europe’s Jews and the havoc that Hitler was wreaking. The tight restrictions on visas reflected that gross misperception. The Nazis had shown “a desire to ease up on the Jewish problem,” the American ambassador in Berlin, William Dodd, wrote optimistically in 1933 during Hitler’s first year in office. A few months later, the ambassador met with Hitler himself and cabled Washington to report that he had come away more optimistic than ever for “the maintenance of world peace.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first term in the White House, remained largely a silent bystander to Hitler’s threats of terror, as tens of thousands of German Jews were denied entry, even as American immigration quotas sat unfilled. Bureaucrats in the immigration service were indifferent to the refugee crisis, and the political perils of letting in Europe’s Jews were too great for even a popular president like FDR to take bold action. Hatred for the “kikes” was blatant in many quarters; in 1934, a year after Hitler seized power, some twenty thousand American Nazi supporters held their first mass rally at New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden. A giant swastika banner hung between two smaller American flags at the rally, an onerous symbol of Hitler’s support in America.

Not until Roosevelt won reelection in 1936 did his administration begin to lower the bars to immigration for those trying to flee Nazi persecution. Nearly eleven thousand Germans, overwhelmingly Jewish, began to enter the next year. It was only a tiny fraction of those seeking to escape, but it was something. With their prospects for getting out improved, Hilda tracked down relatives in the United States on her side of the family to vouch for them with the immigration authorities; they had to produce affidavits affirming that Heinrich had the character and money to come to America. Policy makers, with distorted images of immigrants as slothful, insisted that Jewish emigres not become a “public charge” and a drain on Depression-era resources.

Hilda waited anxiously for any word from America. She didn’t realize it, but their timing was fortuitous. In November 1937, just before a crush of new Jewish applicants made immigrating to the United States even more difficult, the notification came: the American consulate in Stuttgart had approved their visas — seven in all for the whole family and Hilda’s mother. Hilda was jubilant; Heinrich less so. How they had managed to get so lucky was unclear. Freddy didn’t know, and didn’t ask. He had little sense of what to expect in America, but he accepted his newly approved visa for what it was: the chance at a new start in an exciting, faroff land.

Just as Freddy’s family was finally planning its exit, Hitler was maneuvering to expand his tyrannical empire. The Führer convened secret meetings that same month with top military and foreign policy aides, laying out his brazen plans for Europe in what became known as the Hossbach Conference. Two weeks later, on the very same day that the Mayers’ visas to America were approved, Hitler and his top lieutenants were wrapping up a series of meetings with Britain’s Lord Halifax, a key aide to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, during an extravagant game-hunting tournament in Berlin. A rambling Hitler assured his British visitor that he “wanted no more wars,” and an upbeat Lord Halifax came away believing that Hitler did, in fact, want peace, just as Ambassador Dodd had informed Washington four years earlier. Halifax had to concede that many of the Nazis’ policies, including the onerous treatment of German Jews, “offended British opinion,” but he recognized Hitler’s accomplishments, too. “I was not blind to what he had done for Germany,” Halifax wrote. Ten months later, Britain’s ill-fated policy of appeasement toward Hitler would be formally enshrined in the signing of the notorious Munich Agreement, which allowed the Nazis to seize part of Czechoslovakia without fear of resistance from Britain or France.

As Hitler’s ambitions grew more audacious, Heinrich realized that their American visas were worthless without the king’s ransom needed to transport them across the Atlantic. After years of letting his hardware customers buy from him on credit, he counted up about ten thousand marks’ worth of debts owed to him (more than $70,000 today). He tried to collect on them, but doors in Freiburg were now closing in his face. Many of his customers, once so grateful to Heinrich for the unofficial line of credit, knew that they couldn’t be forced to repay a “Jewish debt” in the current Nazi climate. So most of them simply reneged.

Cobbling together money from savings, loans from friends, and the sale of valuables, a deflated Heinrich managed to come up with about three thousand marks to pay for transatlantic passage for the seven of them, as well as train tickets to get them to the port in France. He paid extra to ship some well-worn furnishings to America with them. Nothing new or terribly valuable, though; the Nazis wouldn’t allow it. At the start of Hitler’s reign, the Nazis were so eager to force the Jews out of Germany that they had allowed them to leave with much of their money and property. But those days were gone. Now the Nazis were confiscating virtually everything of value they could grab: bank accounts, storefronts and businesses, artwork, jewelry, and generations’ worth of family heirlooms and valuables, forcing the Jews out with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

Leaders of the synagogue in Freiburg, the one that Heinrich’s father had helped found, bid farewell to Heinrich, thanked him for all his work, and gave him a book in German, History of the Baden Jews — now an endangered species under Nazi rule. Freddy himself insisted on working at the auto shop right up until the day of their departure, making sure to get a letter of reference from his boss before he left. On a mild winter’s day in March of 1938, he put on his best suit and tie, stashed fifty marks in his pocket, and posed for a last family portrait before leaving the home that his grandfather had bought decades before. For the camera, Heinrich mustered a steely grin. Behind him, peering between his mother and father, was sixteen-year-old Freddy, now a hair taller than his father. His smile wasn’t quite as broad as usual, but it was there. He was going to America. And finally, he thought, he could leave the Nazis behind.

Excerpted from RETURN TO THE REICH: A Holocaust Refugee’s Secret Mission to Defeat the Nazis by Eric Lichtblau. Copyright © 2019 by Eric Lichtblau. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


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