by Peter Masters
Peter Masters, an Austrian-born Jew, originally known as Peter Arany, has an unusual story to tell, one that has not been told before but needs telling. “To prove that not all Holocaust victims reacted like lambs on the way to the slaughter house but defended themselves whenever and wherever they got the chance is why I wrote this book,” said Masters. “Striking Back. A Jewish Commando’s War Against the Nazis” (Presidio Press; Novato, California; 1997; Amazon Price: USD 17.47).
Masters was one of 87 Jewish refugees from Hitler who volunteered for military service in Troop 3, No. 10 Commando, an elite unit of the British Army. Troop 3 was unusual in that almost all of its members were Austrian and German Jews, men who spoke German fluently and who would be trained in the ways and means of the German Army (to the extent that, Masters notes wryly, “they probably knew more about German weaponry and organization than most German soldiers”). For these men, some of them concentration camp survivors, this assignment represented a unique opportunity to fight back against the Nazis. Ironically, nearly all of them had previously been interned by the British as “friendly enemy aliens” when the war broke out. When they were recruited for “special and hazardous duty,” they were required to assume new identities with elaborate cover stories to explain their oddly accented English. Thus, Arany became Masters, Geiser became Gordon, Abramowitz, Arlen, and so on.
The author recounts their grueling training with wit and gusto, leaving readers with little doubt that these men were ready for combat. And with the Normandy invasion, they saw plenty of it. Masters and other members of Troop 3 fought in Normandy for three long months; he would return to action in the Netherlands and participate in the final invasion of Germany.
His narration of the combat experiences is vivid yet low-key. He never sugarcoats the reality of the violence he witnessed, but the book is leavened by a goodly mix of humor and a warm feeling for his compatriots. An admirable war memoir from a man who was neither a professional soldier nor a professional writer but who has acquitted himself nicely in both roles.