ADDRESSES: Home— London, England.
CAREER: Sunday Times, London, England, former reporter and feature writer;Independent, London, founding member, 1986—, became diplomatic editor, Middle East correspondent, and European correspondent.
AWARDS, HONORS: British Press Award; Laurence Stern fellowship, Washington Post.
A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: British journalist Sarah Helm is the author of A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII, a history of a British spy who left behind documentation of her role in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) when she died in 2000. Helm met Atkins in 1998, when the latter was nearly ninety years old. Atkins was a Jew who generally passed as upper-class British, although she did experience prejudice by some who knew the truth and who tried to prevent her from advancing in her career. She had been born to a German father named Rosenberg and a South African mother, who then moved to Romania, where she was born. Her secret was that she dealt with the Nazis herself in order to secure freedom for members of her family. After the war she was reported to have been a fierce interrogator when she became attached to the war crimes unit.
The highest-ranking female officer in the French section, Atkins, who was based in London, sent four hundred agents to France, including thirty-nine women she had recruited and supervised. Most were turned over by a double agent to the Gestapo. Atkins’s incompetent superior, Maurice Buckmaster, refused to believe that the operation had failed until Hitler sent a message thanking him for the guns and cash. In 1945, after the war had ended, Atkins attempted to track down her missing “girls” by traveling to Germany and interviewing survivors and officials from the concentration camps. She did learn the fates of several, including children’s book author Noor Inayat Khan, who was shot at Dachau.
Vanessa Juarez concluded in an Entertainment Weekly review that Atkins “was mysterious, with a lot to be mysterious about. Ms. Helm, to her great credit, digs to the very bottom of it and lays it out for the world to see.” A Publishers Weekly contributor called A Life in Secrets“a searing history of female courage and suffering during WWII.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES
Booklist, August 1, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII, p. 31.
Contemporary Review, summer, 2006, Edward Bradbury, review of A Life in Secrets, p. 251. Economist, August 6, 2005, review of A Life in Secrets, p. 69.
Entertainment Weekly, August 25, 2006, Vanessa Juarez, review of A Life in Secrets, p. 89. Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2006, review of A Life in Secrets, p. 557.
Library Journal, June 15, 2006, Ed Goedeken, review of A Life in Secrets, p. 82.
New Statesman, June 6, 2005, Paul Laity, review of A Life in Secrets, p. 52.
New York Times, August 30, 2006, William Grimes, review of A Life in Secrets.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 29, 2006, Peter B. King, review of A Life in Secrets.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 2006, review of A Life in Secrets, p. 173.*