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tv   Peter Finn A Guest of the Reich  CSPAN  November 2, 2019 11:35pm-12:31am EDT

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spit tonight here at the national security editor of washington post. in the jig - - zhivago affair which was a finalist. twice nominated for the pulitzer prize in the rfk journalism award and his non- fiction credentials are established. he is here to present his latest book of nonfiction and
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escape from nazi germany. [applause] >> i am delighted to be here. my book is about the women in uniform about the nazis. and with the outbreak of war and captures september 1944. and the friend of gertie's daughter.
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but one of them is that when she was captured and then to be informed by the military that his wife was a prisoner of war the first two words were poor germans. [laughter] and it is a character study for me. and that is the philosophy that goes up to tragedy so looking at the background and then to lead up to the service of world war ii and capture. and from extraordinary wealthy
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american family that went back well into early american history and one of her ancestors was the colonial governor of connecticut. her more immediate family her grandfather and father were in the flooring basis based out of new york. when her grandfather died the estate was worth $1 billion in today's dollars. that gives you a sense of how much money they had. eventually they moved from amsterdam and bought a place on 72nd street in manhattan right by central park they would summer there or in europe and winter in south carolina. in manhattan she had a rolls-royce at her disposal to move around town every morning or theater tickets if anybody had the desire.
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an extraordinarily privileged life but not someone who was content with being a society girl. from early age she learned to shoot and then she went on to hunt raccoons at night doing all kinds of stuff. and in fact in the early 20th century there was a character based on her it was made about her and katharine hepburn played her as an interesting abrasive society woman who is rebelling against the constraints of wealth of her family and wanted something
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more. she first found out when she graduated high school. she went to a girl school in middleburg virginia and instead of the usual coming out she asked if she could go hunting in wyoming. her father agreed and they went out to jackson which at that time was just a little dumpy little town and they hired a guide who took them into the mountains. she killed in elk. it was her first big hill. she never really recovered from the thrill of that and she hunted in alaska and canada all over north america killed bears and moves and goats and sheep. you name it. she killed it her big ambition in life was to go to africa and in 1927 she was invited to
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go on an expedition by another wealthy new york family they crossed the atlantic and they took a boat from naples to the horn of africa and took the british governors train from there to nairobi at that time it was set up to accommodate wealthy american and european hunters. and literary these expeditions were enormous dozens and dozens of africans a several trucks that would scout for game but also act as a service to set up the portable toilets that they had shipped over from manhattan put the
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toothpaste on the toothbrush to clean their clothes, drive and cook the meals. hunting deluxe. and on that first exhibition she was astonished at the range of game and literally crossed the african plains and she was shooting at everything that moved. but she wasn't happy with it. she found it to luxurious and none of the roughness of north america and canada and alaska so when she came back she decided from that point forward all expeditions would have a purpose not just simply to kill animals. even though now we would find what she did she tried to find a purpose of what she was
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doing. she approached the museum of natural history in manhattan and at that time it had 30 expeditions around the world collecting animals and other specimens and they asked gertie if she would collect a particular african and antelope and she agreed to underwrite the whole thing. if you go to the museum of natural history today you will see there is a hall of african mammals with a semicircular display of stuffed animals in the setting of the fauna and the tree and the grass as you would expect in that part of the world she brought that back she was accompanied by the cure reader from the museum to help with the
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taxidermy. and then they had specialist in nairobi. so from that point forward most of her expeditions were for that purpose now on that particular trip she took along to young men that she had met the previous summer in oxford england. the two brothers and she was infatuated with them so she decided to use the expedition as a means to figure out which one might better as a husband. subsequently one propose to her stopping on the way back from africa at a fabulous villa. this was the kind of life that she lived in throughout the 1930s she did many more expeditions.
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she went to china with an eight month expedition up across northern vietnam into laos them back into southern vietnam and then the museum in philadelphia they brought back a goat specimen for that museum and typical of gertie as they got into saigon toward the end of the expedition the first thing on her mind was to visit the opium den. she wanted to see what it was like to get her but luckily it was in poor quality and it was a disappointment. but she did and at the end of that expedition which is a scheme to kill her first tiger. i know. but let me give you a sense of
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gertie. the way they hunted tigers at the time they would place recently killed large animals along the trail in the jungle where the tigers typically hunted and then build a small box about waist high so gertie led get into the box and everybody else would retreat and leave her alone so she would sit and wait until the tiger came. several people had been killed sitting in these boxes because the tiger takes them. she spent two full days in stifling heat with this rotting carcass the tiger came around several times and finally he started to eat the antelope she shot him but the
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buck finished him off with a bullet to the head. of course they were half a mile away they heard the shot and came rushing fearing that the worst might have happened and then wondering why he ever left her alone in a little box in the jungle and here she was sitting on the tigers smoking a cigarette. that was gertie. 's about the start of world war ii with the attack pearl harbor and her husband got a commission in the navy reserve and at that time they were living on a 7000-acre plantation outside of south carolina which they bought in 1929. they moved to washington that
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was a temporary place for him as he was assigned to hawaii. and in august he shipped out gertie saw him off and later he wrote to her about the last day in washington. what he wrote a day or two after he landed in san francisco before going on to hawaii. we talked about the war and other things when we both knew all we really wanted to say was how much we love one another and how we dreaded parting. it's wonderful to wave to me as i entered the plane and to wish me good luck. my throat choked in my eyes so full of tears i could not say anything and then we waved and plunged into the plane.
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so the wonderful thing about gertie for me as a writer this is one of 500 letters they wrote to each other over the course of world war ii. of course every expedition to africa and china she kept a very detailed journal and with these trips she would come back 150 pages of daily notes what she was doing or thinking even as a prisoner of war later she kept the diary actually germans allow diary keeping by the pow so all of this raw material allowed me to create this intimate portrait that otherwise would have been impossible. so when sydney left for hawaii gertie had two daughters at that time.
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one was 11 and one was to. she wanted to do something with congress but they rejected her because she did not have a college degree but the red cross wouldn't take her because she had young children. eventually she used her connections and she had many connections of american high society and the word time american espionage of the cia and the subject of a wonderful novel of a raleigh resident. she got a job in the communications office all of the incoming and outgoing cables would pass through her hands to make sure that it was right classification so a lot
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of top secret material passed through her hands but she hated washington i think she associated washington first with her separation for from her husband which he found totally intolerable and heartbreaking. that second, this was the first time in the workforce. now in her late thirties and never had a job in her life. so she has to reconcile herself to the workplace and also the place of women which she had never experienced before and she wrote to her husband about her supervisor , a male. [laughter] i do all the work and he does all the talk. what burns me up the most is the unbelievable lack of confidence as their world encroaches on them by more
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efficient women. men hate to give women power. that pretty much sums up her attitude to that workplace and washington. she found supremely bureaucratic hugely distant from the actual war fighting and the place for the first time in her marriage separated from her husband. so for all of these region one - - reasons she started to agitate to get out. for she tried to go to hawaii to join her husband but the navy has a strict rule that wives could not join the officer husbands in hawaii. when that was ruled out. she spoke to the head of oss and they transferred her to london. gertie left for london in the
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mid- 1943 on a boat from philadelphia to lisbon and then a plane to take a wide arc around the bay of biscay to avoid german fighters. the plane lost an engine as it was approaching england and had an emergency landing which was very typical of rival anywhere for gertie. but she also left washington without her daughters. both of them were placed in the care of their long time nanny and governess and frankly her husband said in some letters that you do not feel you would want to stay with them? the youngest is to. she might need you but her position was i have worlds to conquer and places to go and
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places to see what the war going on. so she left. frankly with her relationship with her daughters remain fraught throughout their life i don't think they ever quite for gave her for her absence of her approach to mothering. she took the same job in london in the communications office moving that top-secret traffic in and out and that was the center of all operations in london so it was the liaison with the government and the dutch and the check in the polls they were planning for d-day impose d-day operations and they began to infiltrate people into france in advance of the invasion. there is a lot of secret stuff going on. a lot of that was passing through gertie's hands. but then d-day came and went and she was still there and
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bored and could not believe that all the men were gone and she was still stuck in this office. and all the action is taking place in normandie so she began to agitate to go to france and in september 1944 she was transferred to the newly organized oss office at the sean c laissez paris shop the laisse laissez. and then given a five day leave. so she went to the hotel and was having a drink when she crossed paths with a guy named bob channing a naval operator in the oss that she knew from london because she socialized all the time in london and had house parties and went to other house parties and played golf and went hunting the
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evenings and weekends. she hung out with general patton and with lots of general offices. and gertie knew everyone and she knew jenning so they started to talk to war correspondents and other officers. and they were telling them they would head to luxembourg the next day to get close to patents one - - patton's headquarters to get close to the fighting so gertie said we should go to. over the next two days they drove across northern france it was pretty eventful because it kept breaking down but eventually three days later they made it to luxembourg city but too late they felt to see anything they had a warning when and walked
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another american officer who was in oss counter intelligence and he said we hope to hear or see or experience fighting but it doesn't look like it will happen. and they said well driving up to this german village which is the first german village captured by the allies. just over the border from luxembourg and if you want to come with me we can go. you will be back by lunch. so they had a private driver and then set off but what they didn't know that the americans had taken and pushed further and when orders came to pull back. because the american command was concerned of us forces to get too far ahead of the
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supply line. so they pulled the back. they didn't know that there are a series of mishaps and they genuinely believed it was an american hands and they drove right in. they barely had seen the sign when the first shot rang out it initially they were a little tickled thinking that they were being shot out. and they decided to push on which was unbelievably bad decision at that point you should pull back and figure out what's going on. and then machine-gun fire breaks out. and then one was hit in the leg and he screams trying to get the car started again
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another is badly wounded. and then to surrender. then the rifle folded up and the germans come down and gertie is the first american woman in uniform taken by the nazis she had to be in uniform. so that begins her very strange time as a prisoner of the nazis. . . . .
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>> greet now some of these guys prewar has been truck driver and guy who interrogated around a lunch counter in brooklyn, others were children of diplomats but they were all assigned to this interrogation center and that they all initially believed that gurdy and others might be spy and ran a series of parallel interrogations to try and get them and they all had discussed their story in period before the germans came down, and gurdy fileted dit city file clerk and had accidentally stumbled across line and she pulled it off remarkably and never learned she was o ss and that's to her
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enormous credit. she was interrogated several times and not just at the castle as i'll explain. what did happen at the castle, however, was they realized who she was. but this was no ordinary woman. this woman was from a very wealthy family. she knew patton and u.s. ambassador in london and u.s. secretary of war. she knew all of these people, the mellon you name it she knew them and germans naught to themselves we can use this person. and initially there was some squabbling about who would control her. whether it would be the german foreign office, or whether it would be the gastapo and with hitler specific at blessing got her. so she was moved to deets -- from deets to berlin. and i just like to read you a
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small excerpt of her trip from frankfurt which was near where the capitol was they moved her there to berlin to frank further appeared mortsly wounded a shocking contrast to the vibrant city with its medieval center she visited in 1936 hers escort drove her to what appear to be building for several blocks. and immediately alarmed when she saw guards from the sd sicker heights, the intelligence intelligence of the s cringes and nazi party. the offices had no electricity, and she was fraught to third story room lit by oil lamp where she was given a glass of wine and some potato salad. her stay was brief and 11 p.m. her escort took her to the frankfurt train station arch hall of iron and glass reduce to ribbon shells. the station was steaming with soldiers, and many seen sick or
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lame as they hauled their congresswomen equipment to train and buttoned to chin to cover her american uniform her caution was warranted other pow had had encountered angry mobs while being transported and as bombing of germany cities intensified, there were reports of civil i cans assaulting in some cases killing prisoners. the trip to berlin was full a train in front was bombs forcing those behind to rerout our spent waiting on line on eat side of the track destroyed railway carsly thered ground like broken toys. from the neighborhood into the center, the classic five story apartment building stood off tracks like an honor guard of rune roofs and floors have collapsed to the foundation. the windows agate. quote, there's block after block where manmade fire swept with
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life from every building leaving nothing but the raw scorched walls one witness wrote. arrived in central berlin at 3 p.m., clutches red cross box and should per bag, she was pushed out of the station by her guard through dense crowds of soldiers and civilian passengers. people scrambling madly for seats on the chronically overcrowded train. away from bustle of the station the center of the capitol of what was once imagined to be thousand year hike was a dead city. the buildings were broken, the streets were all but empty. rubble block sidewalk, and spilled into the streets. few bus or street cars ran and there were almost no private car. the pedestrians thought were mask of defeat and apathy. she walked through street with her guards to eight prince -- headquarters high stone entryway
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was forbidding as ever. swastika flag and bus of hitler decorated central passengerway of the building former school of industrial earth and craft but large windows were covered with cardboard inside it was dark and frigid around the ankles, part of the staff and their files have been evacuated that august as bombing of the center of berlin intensified. the imposing lobby no longer reeked of fear and -- it was of the coming defeat. even though remaining party officials continued to, quote, strut around with old -- so that was the introduction to berlin and she would spend two months there at a villa in the neighborhood. that was run by the gastapo technically headquarters of what was -- previously interpal and in that
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house she would see senior nazi official like bruiner, head of the reich security main offings and mueller, head of the not allowed to speak to either of them and eventually as she was shifted from there and she began this strange -- journey across germany saw war in ways that no one else did she moved as i described from frankfurt from berlin, and then in late december was moved from berlin to cologne from cologne to bonn and from bonn to just south of bonn and arrived there in the middle of the night at what looked and was a hotel. but surrounded by armed ss guard with ss at the reception desk in the front. she was brought in, and given told where her room was brought
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up to her room lovely room soft bed. and view outside, and told to be downstairs at 9 a.m. and so at 9 a.m. she walked down there was soldier on each floor she came down. and she could hear the buzz of all of this talking. she followed sound and walked in and a was greeted by a french man in french and a french speaker and around her were 75 french men and one french woman. and the one french woman was the sister, and had essentially entered this parallel nazi detention center for so-called special and honored prisoners of the ss. and nazis before and during world war ii kept these special prisoners in special locations inside the camp but also in villa and castles and hotels,
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across germany and this was not through any sense of benevolence on their part but deeply cynical but holding them as chips and holding them as potential prop propaganda tools potential people they could swap for people they wanted, and all of the hostages if -- you know, things got bad, and they understood things might go very badly. but what was bizarre about about this parallel system that she had entered was -- they had, you know, heapings of food compared northeast prisons they have alcohol, and they all played it was like an old people home. and most of these prisoners were eld orally. they all played games eve day. and played tennis different people lecture on different suggests depending on expertise and take a language classes became english professor but
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study german or russian or french whatever you liked, and -- and continued in eventually was forced to retreat out of there. but continued in this system until the end, and the german in the end decided to essentially let her escape, and their view was that if they could inthe doctorate her with anti-soviet propaganda, and there was a -- a nazi fantasy to split the ally and that -- the angela american might ultimately side with the germans against the so-called -- as nazi propaganda call them. it was a fantasy that reached all the way to senior people like that who made efforts to see if they could do it. hitler was totally opposed, obviously, on other side
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roosevelt said he would accept nothing but unconditional surrender and there would be no break with the soviets. and nonetheless, because of their fantasies, they spend a little time trying to indoctorate before finally allowing her to escape at lake constant a city in southern germany that border swit is land and unusual place in that con stance was never bombed, and it -- it is bordered with switzerland and town across the border was so tight. you couldn't tell either city apart so remain a blackout constant kept it lights on so they would mingle with swiss lights, and ally bombers would not be able to differentiate between the two city. and i won't go into exactly how escaped except to say that it
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was -- many adventure, when she -- got to swit land debriefed by a cia director web and then was sent to paris. of course, asked if she would stay in paris because she wanted to hang with her friends and have a good time but no send her on first plane home, and she arrived in manhattan, to the apartment where her daughter bo was, and bo had had no seen her in two years she was now four and been two when she left the man came out holding beau by the hand and said, look bo, it is your mom she's home from the war. and that was essentially the story of gertrude i'll leave it
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at that, and -- thank you for your attention. and happy to take question withs. >> what happens to the driver -- one second she's going to come with the mic. what happened to the driver and two gentlemen that were with her? because the driver was pretty well shot up. and other one was in the knee i can't remember the -- >> dickson, yeah i hate to give everything away. but they were both killed. and they were killed in hospital where they were being treated for their wounds that were bombed accidentally, and by u.s. or british planes. the dickson --
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killed in lindbergh in western germany in late november 1944 dickson moved because german enlisted men and he was moved to a hospital facility for enlisted men in the east. he was then subsequently as russians have advance transferred from there -- to a kind of minor medical facility in brandenburg, dickson story is particularly tragic because of all of the four people dickson had no choice. he was the drive he was told where to go. these other three people were officers. they had some responsible for their own actions. and dickson was killed in a bombing in late march 1945 he was buried in brandenburg
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through a series of -- events that i describe his body was not really found until the early 1950s much to the dismay of his parent in los angeles. who initially as war ended told he was alive and coming home. so -- to go from that to we believe he's dead to we believe he's dead only based on ruers from others we don't know where his body is to ultimately finding his body -- and he was buried in san diego in i think 1953. >> just wait for the mic. thank you. >> thank you who decided to keep all of those journals and letters and how come you have access to them? >> complengt complengt question
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when she died her all of her papers and -- they included her journal, her photograph but also a letter of other relative, her husband sidneys and sidney wrote some books his journals and notes they were all donatinged to college of karlston all housed in college of charleston so that was just a tremendous resource for me. and they, you know, allowed me complete access along with that there were quite a number of file on national archives, and oss files all of which declassified and in that you get the reaction of and dos leadership as they discover that been captured and fear that she's going to reveal secrets to compromise operations they also have a deep fear that --
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that the same thing might happen knew even more than that. and knew about ultra the fact that british had broken german military communication. and so it describes all of that. then in 1947 published a memoir about a prison of war unfortunately it didn't get a whole the lot of attention, and -- about for me it was a wonderful guide. and then critically, within the national archives one of the most important things are fines for me was -- two of the -- interpreters who were there for the interrogation of gurdy in berlin, and were interrogated and debriefed after war and gave a detailed account of how was viewed by germans so that was a particular perspective that i could never get from the oss but
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i wanted to understand how did germans look at her and looked at her as a special prisoner that they could exploit because of her wealth, because of her connections, and because of her background. and so those were basically the elements i got some small after kiefl material from germany and a switzerland butting nothing as substantial as if i found here. could you comment briefly on her had post war life as far as her marital status and her children -- >> sure. >> and sadly saidmy died of a heart attack in 1947 as a very young age. i mean, was left heartbroken. sidney was love of her life.
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she subsequently had a brief five-year unhappy marriage, and ended in divorce and subsequently a single woman who continued to travel and the world and continue to be involved in scientific expedition hate into life, and she died just short of '98 in 2,000 at her estate in south carolina. one of her two daughters would not attend funeral that's how bad blood was and it remain bad through their lives, and the other daughter beau did. but ultimately beau sold the -- sold estate outside charleston which is still intact but he would by another private owner. so gurdy you know never quite had an experience like world war
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ii again but she had a rich and full and life and she -- you know, continued to live life with great enthusiasm. >> yes. >> you had access to her journal and diaries. did any of her relatives or family members who were still living when you were writing the book talk to you? >> yes. i spoke to grandchildren, and may have her daughters may not have thought much of her as a mother. but her grandchildren adored her, and so i spoke to two of her grandchildren, and by the time -- i came to this subject unfortunately was ill and the not in a position to tack to me and she subsequently tied.
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who lives in connecticut declined to talk to me. and fairly forceful terms -- because she felt she just didn't want to talk about her mother. and but mostly the book is built on primary source material diary, letter documentses from official archives, sidney her husband's book and sidney wrote about -- several travel book based on their -- expedition. so then -- you know there were other people who knew her. on from phillip barry play right who wrote holiday to others who who wrote about her. >> yes.
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>> you said she played blond but did nazis treat her as a special person but didn't think they knew anything? >> suspicious that she was a spy. and that they were all spy but they managed to pull it off i think in part this was the senate knowledge based on post war and analysis by american and knew littling about the oss, and so yougurdy convincing and she d worked in an office. so she was quite convincing about -- describe herself as a file clerk because in some senses she was a file clerk. except she was filing, and top secret material --
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>> the girl were estranged from their mother. how did they feel about their father but did they look at his relationship and left by him too or was that -- was that? >> that i knowless about. i think they were lending in particular was not happy with either of them and blamed i think both of them for -- for a sense of abandonment as a child it shall that lasted into adulthood. but, obviously, with sidney's death they were still, you know, very young and so a lot of focus of theirs was gurdy. >> what happened to name rank and serial number. she was enlisted not an officer. >> she was actually a lieutenant. she was commissioned as a lieutenant in the women's army corps, and yet you can say name
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rank and serial number but in the moment it is hard to hold that off when you're subject to these kind of multiple interrogation. so -- when she said initially i don't have to tell you anything, you know she was verbally threatened and threat may not have been real because unlike it was -- not did not torture american or british prisoners with some exception, obviously. but for the most part, but people still e believe that this was a possibility. so also was, you know, did talk but she talked about things she wanted to talk about. she did not -- provide any secrets and, in fact, when at one point in berlin when she was asked to
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translate some military phrasing when she was asked about what troop she had seen in and around luxembourg as she refuse to discuss those subjects so gurdy was happy to talk about her high society, friends, dinner parties. you know, general patten will be here any day now, but she would not and did not to her credit discuss real military information with them. >> how did you find her and decide to write in story? >> that's a -- i found her by accident. so i had written a book established coauthored a book written in 2014 called affair, and that book was about the place of the novel doctor how it was a instrument in the cold were and the struggle over that book, and the cia had secretly
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published it in russian to smuggle back into the soviet union. and -- and posture when he won nobel prize it was vilified, and nearly destroyed by the soviet repression of him. so i came out of that book, and was a year later maybe looking around for another subject and i thought, it took me with that it took me three years to get the documents from the cia and it was a long protracted process. i knew that all oss documents declassified so i just thought maybe some os topic will pop out of me so i started to read book about oss and i was reading doug book about did you and there wal section maybe a page maybe a little more -- and where gurdy was mentioned so that triggered interest and i
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started ploog at other books she was also -- her capture and the capture was also described in -- a book by robyn so i went from there to that great resource called google -- anded all of her papers are in charlton and started to read letters online and digitized and you can read them online they're not allon line but enough when i began to look at what materials are held at the pliesh to realize wow there's a lot of great material here, and when i started search in the national archives became clear there was there was a lot of material there and at some point i reached critical math where i decided there's enough material for me to do this particular subject based on this limited
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rich but limited amount of limited material because frankly i have a full-time job and i couldn't take time off because book writing is not a substitute for a salary. and so this was this past weekend thing for me, and it took, it took me a while it took me three years -- but you know i got tremendous cooperation from the college of charleston, and i was able to bring home copies of all of this material and go through it slowly and then start to build the book. so that's how it happened. >> okay. right on the dot. all right, and unless anybody else had a question. all right. we just like to say thank you
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again for visiting us at the ridge book we appreciate it and sounded like a great informative discussion. so thank you. thank you. thanks. everyone for coming. here's current best selling nonfiction books according to boston globe. topping list in catch and kill plitter prize win investigative journalist details efforts made by others to stifle his reporting. then msnbc rachel argues that oil ands gas industry has weakened democracies around world in blowout. after that author bill provides detailed examination of how human works in body a guide for occupants followed by memoir, me and wrapping up our look at some of the best selling nonfiction book according to boston globe is talking to strangers, new yorkers staff writer malcolm
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examination of how he misreads strangers words and actions. most of these authors have appeared on booktv, and you can watch them online at ....


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