Why did I love this book?
This is the biography of Frank Foley who worked for the most secret of organisations the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS /MI6). From serving in the Intelligence Corps in the First World War, he went become the British passport officer in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s, a cover for his real role with British intelligence. Foley ran spy networks across Germany, often gaining scientific secrets for the British as the Nazis rose to power and threatened the stability and peace in Europe. Foley lived in the midst of the regime, witnessed the events in Germany, and was able to send intelligence back to his boss – ‘C’ – the head of MI6 in London. But parallel to his intelligence work, the situation became perilous for Germany’s Jews as Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies and laws singled them out for exclusion from public life and eventually death.
Foley embarked on an incredible humanitarian effort that resulted in saving thousands of German Jews from the Holocaust. Historian Michael Smith gives plenty of examples of Foley’s bravery, including standing up to the SS and Gestapo and eventually going into the concentration camps to secure the release of Jews. His actions were nothing short of selfless. Why did Foley risk his life? Was it something about the reckless side of a spy’s character? Yet, Foley was a discreet, quiet character and this is clear throughout the book. He was a man of great kindness and humanity, and moral conviction – yet determined to steal secrets for his country. During the Second World War, after a period in Norway on intelligence work, Foley returned to Britain and was one of the members of the XX Committee – running the double-cross agents of the war.
This biography continues to inspire me ever since I first read it over a decade ago. Today, much more is known of Foley’s legacy, thanks to Michael Smith’s work, and a number of memorials exist to mark Foley’s incredible work in saving over 10,000 German Jews and he is recognised as a Righteous Gentile in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.