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Human Game: The True Story of the 'Great Escape' Murders and the Hunt for the Gestapo Gunmen [Hardcover]

Simon Read

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Book Description

Oct. 2 2012
In March and April of 1944, Gestapo gunmen killed fifty POWs—a brutal act in defiance of international law and the Geneva Convention.
 
This is the true story of the men who hunted them down.
 
The mass breakout of seventy-six Allied airmen from the infamous Stalag Luft III became one of the greatest tales of World War II, immortalized in the film The Great Escape. But where Hollywood’s depiction fades to black, another incredible story begins . . .
 
Not long after the escape, fifty of the recaptured airmen were taken to desolate killing fields throughout Germany and shot on the direct orders of Hitler. When the nature of these killings came to light, Churchill’s government swore to pursue justice at any cost. A revolving team of military police, led by squadron leader Francis P. McKenna, was dispatched to Germany seventeen months after the killings to pick up a trail long gone cold.
 
Amid the chaos of postwar Germany, divided between American, British, French, and Russian occupiers, McKenna and his men brought twenty-one Gestapo killers to justice in a hunt that spanned three years and took them into the darkest realms of Nazi fanaticism.
 
In Human Game, Simon Read tells this harrowing story as never before. Beginning inside Stalag Luft III and the Nazi High Command, through the grueling three-year manhunt, and into the final close of the case more than two decades later, Read delivers a clear-eyed and meticulously researched account of this often-overlooked saga of hard-won justice.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Hardcover; 1 edition (Oct. 2 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780425252734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425252734
  • ASIN: 0425252736
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 14.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 558 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #177,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

 “A gut-wrenching account of World War II’s Great Escape and its brutal aftermath. Simon Read’s riveting tale...will touch your soul and increase your admiration for the ‘Greatest Generation.’”—Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, USA (Ret.), New York Times bestselling coauthor of Beyond Band of Brothers

"Simon Read has done an impressive job stitching together a highly readable and informative story from various sources, and making it live again.”—Jim DeFelice, bestselling author of Rangers at Dieppe, Omar Bradley: General at War, and American Sniper

About the Author

 Simon Read was an award-winning journalist before he became a nonfiction author. Read graduated from California State University, Northridge, and he resides in California with his wife and son.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Story Behind The Great Escape Nov. 25 2012
By Bill Emblom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Author Simon Read has written an interesting account of British captives who engineered an escape from their Stalag Luft III prison camp and then executed a few at a time by the Germans when captured shortly after. The prisoners didn't know they were to be executed when "taken for a ride" and then were to relieve themselves off the roadway prior to receiving a bullet in the back or in the back of the head. Those involved in the execution claimed they were only following orders and if they didn't do as told they or their family members would pay the price. One executioner, Johannes Post, went out and dined over a fine meal after doing his dark deed. Another part of the book details the efforts to track down those responsible for these cold-blooded murders.

The book is 330 pages long but the potential purchaser should be aware the text itself is only 235 pages. The rest is made up of source notes, an index, bibliography, and two appendixes.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The fascinating rest of the Great Escape story Jan. 18 2013
By Scott Whitmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the early to mid-1970s American Midwest, there was a certain type of motion picture that was bound to appeal to young males such as myself: the Big War Movie. Just like my friends, I never missed the chance to see TV replays of Kelly's Heroes, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Day, The Guns of Navarone or -- perhaps the greatest of them all -- The Great Escape.

So fascinated was I by the World War II story of the escape of seventy-six Allied prisoners of war from a German camp, I also read Paul Brickhill's classic book with the same title. I recall it was the first time I ever experienced the disappointment of seeing some of what made a book so great lost in the translation to the big screen (key point: Steve McQueen's ultra-hip Cooler Kid character was totally fabricated; there were no American airmen in the North Compound at Stalag Luft III where the tunnels were dug).

The movie had big name stars like McQueen, stirring music, epic visuals, and memorable set pieces (such as the Fourth of July celebration that ends in tragedy, yet another complete fabrication), but after reading the book for me it lacked...something.

Perhaps it was the grittiness and black humor of camp life as described by Brickhill, the amazing scope of the camp escape committee's efforts -- hundreds of false documents, maps, compasses and sets of civilian clothes were created by men barely surviving on watery soup and ersatz coffee -- or the ultimate triumph when three, just three, of the escapees make it to freedom while fifty were summarily executed.

When I saw the full title of Simon Read's Human Game: The True Story of the "Great Escape" Murders and the Hunt for the Gestapo Gunmen, there was no question I would read the book. Frankly, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me that after the war the British government sanctioned an investigation and pursuit of the men behind the executions; it makes sense but for whatever reason it never occurred to me.

Human Game tells the often amazing story of an investigation that ended with seventy-two Germans on trial for the murders; twenty-one were executed for their roles. It is an amazing achievement given the circumstances.

The crime scenes were unknown, so there was no physical evidence beyond the fifty urns of ashes that had been returned to Stalag Luft III. Large areas of Germany were in ruins from fighting or devastating bombing raids, records had been systematically destroyed, masses of people were displaced, many of the dead were not identified in the final hectic days of the Nazi regime, and many of the suspects -- knowing they would be asked to pay for their crimes -- had melted away by grabbing the identity papers from a nearby corpse or giving a false name to the occupation authorities with the explanation that all their belongings had been destroyed.

Making matters harder even than that, the prison camp and the sites for more than half the murders were in the Soviet-controlled zone of occupation, and the alliance between the West and the Soviet Union was quickly hardening into the Cold War. There would be little to no cooperation for the investigators from the Soviets, who had captured some of the key figures in the executions.

Still, the British team persevered through hard work and determination, pouring through records, following up on leads, interviewing potential witnesses and cross-checking stories, until ultimately the final minutes of the fifty murdered airmen -- including who was present -- were revealed.

One of the interesting features of the book is how the author includes witness statements that contradict as the suspected killers sought to downplay their roles. It demonstrates just how difficult the task was for the investigators, who had no way of knowing how much truth was in any suspect's story.

Another interesting section that is certainly relevant in today's world deals with the treatment of Germans suspected of war crimes at the London Cage. Located in three buildings in Kensington Palace Gardens, the Cage was the site of interrogations that included many types of torture including beatings, electrical shock, humiliation, and sleep deprivation. The British were able to keep the Red Cross away from the Cage, and during the trials of the Stalag Luft III killers the commanding officer of the facility is quoted lying under oath about his methods.

All in all I highly recommend Human Game to anyone interested in the rest of the story of the Great Escape, as well as those interested in true-crime investigations or getting a look at post-war Europe.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good writing but a GREAT story Jan. 19 2013
By B. Blinder - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am familiar with many things about WWII but it seems that as time passes, many more interesting things come to light. Everything I knew about the "Great Escape" came from the movie, but this fascinating book tells the whole story of the escape and the (for me, anyway) unknown aftermath that went on for years. Highly recommended!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The Great Escape" and its aftermath Aug. 27 2013
By James Denny - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It was the movie, "The Great Escape" that probably brings most readers to Simon Read's "Human Game." At least, that was the case for me.

"The Great Escape" is the famous WWII movie drama in which captured British RAF airmen contrive a mass escape from Stalag Luft III, a prisoner-of-war camp located in what was then eastern Germany, today's western Poland. "Human Game" is author Simon Read's book version that explains how 76 men escaped via a tunnel. Actually, there were three tunnels, the famously named "Tom, Dick and Harry." Read narrates the escape, the preparation for it and most of all, explains the aftermath of what happened to the escapees and the quest to identify, capture and bring to justice their Gestapo killers.

The Gestapo was issued a secret order that came from the very top--Hitler himself. Hitler's order was to summarily punish the RAF airmen who escaped, to make them pay with their lives. Under international law, escaped prisoners were supposed to be returned to prison, not executed and certainly not killed in cold blood.

The Fuhrer was absolutely infuriated by this mass escape. Stalag Luft III was a prisoner-of-war camp built to the highest standards, supposedly escape-proof. After the escape, Hitler authorized the capture and murder of all the escaped RAF prisoners. However, his high henchmen felt the International Red Cross and foreign governments might get wind of this clearly illegal order. By concensus decision, the top Nazis decided instead to excecute the arbitrary number of "fifty." Fifty of the escapees would be killed, allowing the remaining 26 men if captured, to be returned to camp. That would provide a measure of cover for execution of the fifty. The biographies and backgrounds of each of the RAF escapees were examined. Each of the fifty to be executed was hand-picked. It was never entirely clear why certain individuals were chosen for execution--and others were designated for return to camp.

"Human Game" is a story of dedicated sleuthing, creative investigation and luck. Mostly, however, it was challenging and tedious police work, the kind that involved a lot of shoe leather. Punishment was ultimately meted out to the Gestapo killers who had "followed orders." Some Gestapo men were penitent, a few were voluntarily cooperative in providing information to British authorities. Most, however, were die-hard, true-believers to the end who took pride in "following orders," executing the POWs and lacked any sense of shame for doing so. A few escaped punishment by taking their own lives. A few got off easy. A few were never found. Most of the Gestapo killers were identified, captured and severely punished.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly well told actual event July 25 2013
By PugsRule - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For an actual historial event, this almost reads like a novel. I found it entertaining and engaging. It was a very good all around read. I recommend it.

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