Spies, Lies, and Citizenship

The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

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Mary Kathryn Barbier
  • Chapel Hill, NC: 
    University of Nebraska Press
    , October
     352 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


As the title suggests, Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals tackles a controversial topic that has attracted the attention of serious scholars, investigative journalists, as well as tabloid journalists for several decades. Regrettably, the author situates herself among the latter by applying mediocre scholarship, perplexing sympathies, and sensationalist language to highly complex issues. 

The topic of Spies, Lies, and Citizenship is the US Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and its investigations of individuals who have resided in the United States since World War II for their alleged involvement in war crimes under the Nazi regime. This is by no means a new topic, but one that has received renewed attention with the release of a six hundred-page report from 2008 that chronicles the activities of the OSI, which Barbier is responding to as well.

Critiquing the OSI’s work is highly political and indeed a worthy endeavor that requires thorough research, finely tuned analysis, and a well-balanced moral compass to weigh the evidence and arguments put forth in the past. Barbier offers very little of these, however, and what makes her approach especially startling is her sympathetic portrayal of some of those accused of having committed war crimes (including the notorious Klaus Barbie and Josef Mengele) juxtaposed with much less elaborate and sympathetic biographies of “Nazi hunters,” along with insinuations and innuendo against OSI investigators that suggests a miscarriage of justice in some cases. In the process, Barbier aims to show the “dire consequences” some of the presumably false allegations had on the investigated individuals (2). Yet her narrative is not consistent, and her stated goal is at times undermined in her effort to contextualize details from the 2008 report. This may be due to the fact that she takes accounts of the individuals she portrays at face value, even though they really require more scrutiny. For example, in the case of Arthur Rudolph (Operation Paperclip), with which I am most familiar, her narrative relies primarily on works written by investigative reporters and sympathizers instead of academic scholars and a more critical analysis of those sources. In general, her biographies of the alleged war criminals come across as clumsy attempts to humanize them by including seemingly random details and unsubstantiated rumors, reaching as far back as their childhoods. Meanwhile, the author repeatedly uses language that seems to minimize the severity of the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime.

In the book’s acknowledgements, Barbier claims that this work lies “on the periphery of my normal research” (xi). While that may be the case, it does not excuse her reliance on a minimal number of sources, of which some are inappropriate for academic work (she cites www.bibliography.com to relate Simon Wiesenthal’s biography and www.history.com to explain Josef Mengele’s intellectual heritage), her skewed portrayal of facts, or her sophomoric writing style that lacks nuance and precision. Even though this book was written for a general audience, we should expect more from an author who, according to her profile on Mississippi State University’s website, is a history professor focused on Military History, American History, Europe 1870-Present, and Latin America.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Monique Laney is Assistant Professor of History at Auburn University.

Date of Review: 
February 28, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mary Kathryn Barbier is an associate professor of history at Mississippi State University. She is the author of several books, including Kursk 1943: The Greatest Tank Battle Ever Fought and D-Day Deception: Operation Fortitude and the Normandy Invasion.


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