Jewish men who fled the terror of the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria just before the war broke out found themselves branded enemy aliens when they arrived in Great Britain, spent and exhausted, having lost their homelands, their fortunes, and often their families as well. Expecting a safe haven, they were instead shunned and feared, and soon arrested and imprisoned in British internment camps by the thousands.
But that was not to be their fate for long. In a bold and original move, Churchill and his chief of staff cooked up an idea that would not only change the course of their lives, but alter the course of the war, as well. The men were gathered together, trained, taught to channel their fury, and turned into a first-class commando unit.
X Troop, as they were called, a top-secret unit, consisted entirely of Jewish refugees. They would fight on the beaches of Normandy, in olive groves in Italy, and hayfields in Holland, and act as clandestine shock troops that battled the Nazi war machine with sharply developed skills in counter-intelligence and advanced combat. In addition to these powers, they possessed a potent secret weapon: the native knowledge of the German language. Throughout the war, they accomplished dangerous missions across occupied Europe, fighting back against the forces that had torn them from their homes and turned them into men without a country.
They came from varied backgrounds — some were athletes, others were shopkeepers, physicists, firefighters, and many were intellectuals or artists — yet they coalesced into a band of brothers. They were trained in warfare and given British names and identity papers in case of capture. And while their old lives fell away, their new ones united them in one critical way; they would stop at nothing to defeat the Nazis.
In X Troop, this is the first time this dramatic, deeply moving story has been told. It is a remarkable and unknown story that reads like a thriller, encompassing both history and mystery. Details about the recruitment, training, and operations of X Troop, one of several units of this type, are brought to life with masterful strokes.
X Troop first saw action in 1942 and fought on D‑Day. At the time, the British military needed German-speakers to interrogate prisoners and undertake reconnaissance missions, such as observing a region to locate the enemy or ascertain strategic features of the battlefield. As commandos, they were specifically trained to carry out raids, and the quotes from members’ war diaries and interviews with surviving X Troopers that pepper this gripping narrative display in deep relief the heroism that underpinned this special-forces unit and the way in which it operated as a potent weapon against the deadly Nazi threat.
This is Leah Garrett’s fifth book. She is a professor at Hunter College in New York City and director of the Jewish Studies Center there. Previously, she was a Fulbright Fellow in Tel Aviv. In X Troop, she successfully intermingles her diligent detective work with her stunning ability to bring us an original account of Jewish revenge, one that will resonate deeply with scholars, history buffs, and students of World War II and the Holocaust, as well as lay people worldwide who are interested in the challenges and achievements of the Jewish people.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.