Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Casablanca of the North
Liberty Lady is a highly personal yet also credible and important history of both US airmen and the men and women of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Sweden during WWII.
The book title was natural, as it was also the name of the author´s father´s B-17 Flying Fortress, that crashed on the Swedish island of Gotland. The author, Pat DiGeorge, would simply not be around, had ”Liberty Lady” not landed safely in Sweden. One of the men aboard, Herman Allen, became one of the 1,218 (!) USAAF crew members interned in Sweden. These Americans are part of my own book Germans & Allies in Sweden. But Pat DiGeorge provides so much more colour and detail to their lives. For example she relates that the jitterbug was introduced to Sweden by a group of American aviators. As DiGeorge correctly states, ”The German internees were never given the freedom allowed to the British and the Americans.”
When Herman met «Hedy», a Swedish-American lady working for the OSS in Stockholm, he found the love of his life and among their children is Pat DiGeorge. Her book provides an amazing insight into the rich lives of both Herman and Hedvig «Hedy» Johnson Allen. On the road from their cradles to their graves one also gets fascinating peeks into the lives of personalities like Count Folke Bernadotte, highest responsible for all interned airmen in Sweden, and Arctic aviation pioneer Colonel Bernt Balchen, who like Herman Allen had one leg in the USAAF and one in the OSS.
Swedes of course also are a big part of Liberty Lady, and not only pro-Allied ones. It is amazing to follow the strange friendship between Herman and one of the Swedes who worked for the Germans.
It is pretty amazing that so few previous books in English have focused on wartime Stockholm, thick with espionage. German and Allied spies not seldom stayed in the same Stockholm hotels and sometimes ate side by side in the restaurants. As DiGeorge writes, the WWII American embassy in Stockholm ”sat at the centre of one of the most important listening posts of the war”. Liberty Lady solves several puzzles, providing valuable insights not only into the OSS in Stockholm but also the wartime visit by USAAF General Curtis.
DiGeorge´s book is also about the B-17 «Liberty Lady» aircraft itself, it is fascinating to read and see how parts of it to this day remain «all over the island of Gotland». Now a personal revelation, I have a rather strange family connection to the place where «Liberty Lady» went down, Mästermyr on Gotland. You see, I inherited a photograph from a relative of mine who was at Mästermyr. The photograph depicts a bomber that he himself photographed. But it is not a B-17, but a German Heinkel He 111. Yes, Mästermyr was the place where a He 111 went down in 1940, after having been hit by Swedish anti-aircraft fire. My photo of the He 111 on Mästermyr is in my book Germans & Allies in Sweden.
Finally, it was great to learn from Liberty Lady that Pat DiGeorge too had the privilege of working with the late Swedish-American historian Carl Finstrom.
In short, Liberty Lady is THE English language book about espionage and love in WWII Sweden, especially in Stockholm, the Casablanca of the north.