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A Castle in Wartime: One Family, Their Missing Sons, and the Fight to Defeat the Nazis

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An enthralling story of one family's extraordinary courage and resistance amidst the horrors of war from the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Rooms. As war swept across Europe in 1940, the idyllic life of Fey von Hassell seemed a world away from the conflict. The daughter of Ulrich von Hassell, Hitler's Ambassador to Italy, her marriage to Italian aristocrat An enthralling story of one family's extraordinary courage and resistance amidst the horrors of war from the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Rooms. As war swept across Europe in 1940, the idyllic life of Fey von Hassell seemed a world away from the conflict. The daughter of Ulrich von Hassell, Hitler's Ambassador to Italy, her marriage to Italian aristocrat Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli brought with it a castle and an estate in the north of Italy. Beautiful and privileged, Fey and her two young sons lead a tranquil life undisturbed by the trauma and privations of war. But with Fascism approaching its zenith, Fey's peaceful existence is threatened when Ulrich and Detalmo take the brave and difficult decision to resist the Nazis. When German soldiers pour over the Italian border, Fey is suddenly marooned in the Nazi-occupied north and unable to communicate with her husband, who has joined the underground anti-Fascist movement in Rome. Before long, SS soldiers have taken up occupancy in the castle. As Fey struggles to maintain an air of warm welcome to her unwanted guests, the clandestine activities of both her father and husband become increasingly brazen and openly rebellious. Darkness descends when Ulrich's foiled plot to kill the Fuhrer brings the Gestapo to Fey's doorstep. It would be months before Detalmo learns that his wife had been arrested and his two young boys seized by the SS. Suffused with Catherine Bailey's signature atmospheric prose, A Castle in Wartime tells the unforgettable story of the extraordinary bravery and fortitude of one family who collectively and individually sacrificed everything to resist the Nazis from within. Bailey's unprecedented access to stunning first-hand family accounts, along with records from concentration camps and surviving SS files, make this a dazzling and compulsively readable book, opening a view on the cost and consequences of resistance.


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An enthralling story of one family's extraordinary courage and resistance amidst the horrors of war from the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Rooms. As war swept across Europe in 1940, the idyllic life of Fey von Hassell seemed a world away from the conflict. The daughter of Ulrich von Hassell, Hitler's Ambassador to Italy, her marriage to Italian aristocrat An enthralling story of one family's extraordinary courage and resistance amidst the horrors of war from the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Rooms. As war swept across Europe in 1940, the idyllic life of Fey von Hassell seemed a world away from the conflict. The daughter of Ulrich von Hassell, Hitler's Ambassador to Italy, her marriage to Italian aristocrat Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli brought with it a castle and an estate in the north of Italy. Beautiful and privileged, Fey and her two young sons lead a tranquil life undisturbed by the trauma and privations of war. But with Fascism approaching its zenith, Fey's peaceful existence is threatened when Ulrich and Detalmo take the brave and difficult decision to resist the Nazis. When German soldiers pour over the Italian border, Fey is suddenly marooned in the Nazi-occupied north and unable to communicate with her husband, who has joined the underground anti-Fascist movement in Rome. Before long, SS soldiers have taken up occupancy in the castle. As Fey struggles to maintain an air of warm welcome to her unwanted guests, the clandestine activities of both her father and husband become increasingly brazen and openly rebellious. Darkness descends when Ulrich's foiled plot to kill the Fuhrer brings the Gestapo to Fey's doorstep. It would be months before Detalmo learns that his wife had been arrested and his two young boys seized by the SS. Suffused with Catherine Bailey's signature atmospheric prose, A Castle in Wartime tells the unforgettable story of the extraordinary bravery and fortitude of one family who collectively and individually sacrificed everything to resist the Nazis from within. Bailey's unprecedented access to stunning first-hand family accounts, along with records from concentration camps and surviving SS files, make this a dazzling and compulsively readable book, opening a view on the cost and consequences of resistance.

30 review for A Castle in Wartime: One Family, Their Missing Sons, and the Fight to Defeat the Nazis

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    This is how highly I think of Catherine Bailey's work: she has a new book, I place an order, I receive it, I start reading it. Why no, I hadn't even noticed the subtitle until I pulled the book up here to mark it Currently Reading. Doesn't matter. It's going to be fascinating. *** And it was. I hate the title though. Not that I have a better suggestion. The topic is right in my wheelhouse: women in wartime. In this case, a young woman, daughter of the German ambassador to Italy during WWII. She met This is how highly I think of Catherine Bailey's work: she has a new book, I place an order, I receive it, I start reading it. Why no, I hadn't even noticed the subtitle until I pulled the book up here to mark it Currently Reading. Doesn't matter. It's going to be fascinating. *** And it was. I hate the title though. Not that I have a better suggestion. The topic is right in my wheelhouse: women in wartime. In this case, a young woman, daughter of the German ambassador to Italy during WWII. She met and married an Italian nobleman, bore two sons, and tried to hold the estate, its farm, and the surrounding community safe against the Germans. Meanwhile her father and her husband are both off, fighting against their respective country's fascist leaders. The Gestapo come for her, taking her and the boys to Austria, where they are taken from her and she is sent through a succession of concentration camps. Italy isn't a country whose history I know very well, and although I've read a fair amount about WWII none of it was ever about the resistance within Germany to the Nazis and their atrocities. You know how in time travel stories everyone's first thought seems to be "Let's kill Hitler?" There couldn't have been many more attempts on his life if all those stories were true. I had no idea. It is heartening to know that so many within these countries were resisting, often at enormous personal and familial cost. There are those who think blaming some poorly-treated minority for the ills of their society, rather than, say, the actual people who are running the government and controlling the capital. But there are also the others who despise aggression and are appalled by violence. I need to hear more of those stories. Side bar: it is not a "brothel" full of "prostitutes" in the concentration camps. Rape as an act of war isn't any less horrific for being indoors and controlled by military authorities. Library copy

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katedurie50

    This is illuminating - in a sense the narratives of Nazi oppression and viciousness, rigged trials and executions, concentration camps and death marches are well established, and this touches on all of these. But it does something more, drawing attention to the imprisonment of family members of those who had opposed Hitler (irregularly, illogically - there was no saying who would be rounded up and who wouldn't) and the removal of their small children under new identities to orphanages This is This is illuminating - in a sense the narratives of Nazi oppression and viciousness, rigged trials and executions, concentration camps and death marches are well established, and this touches on all of these. But it does something more, drawing attention to the imprisonment of family members of those who had opposed Hitler (irregularly, illogically - there was no saying who would be rounded up and who wouldn't) and the removal of their small children under new identities to orphanages This is centrally the true story of Fey, whose father was executed, and who with her two small boys was arrested by the SS. They were taken away and only recovered in an exciting story after the end of the war. Fey, with a group of similar prisoners recieved both very good treatment and very bad (concentration camps with all their horrors still gave these protected and separate status). Himmler was keeping the group as hostages until he realised he had nothing left to gain so ordered their deaths. So this is history that reads like a novel. In fact I read the UK hardback entitled The Lost Boys (not currently showing up on Goodreads).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    This is WWII Nonfiction. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator , Cassandra Campbell, did an excellent job. For being a piece of world history, I liked the research that went into this book. I also liked that this book presented a different angle on the all the suffering that occurred during this tragic time that I haven't read before. I even got a little choked up at the end. The title states exactly what the beginning and the ending of this book are about. The middle, however, felt a This is WWII Nonfiction. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator , Cassandra Campbell, did an excellent job. For being a piece of world history, I liked the research that went into this book. I also liked that this book presented a different angle on the all the suffering that occurred during this tragic time that I haven't read before. I even got a little choked up at the end. The title states exactly what the beginning and the ending of this book are about. The middle, however, felt a little like a 'bait and switch'. It left the original story and covered all the horror of camp life during WWII, like every other book focused on WWII. Then it eventually picked back up with the family and the missing boys and finished the story I have never heard before. So 4 stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Connie Marston

    This is Fey and her families story. It’s very informative of the atrocities people had to go through. Fey and her two kids were taken, arrested and separated. They were resisters to the Nazi regime. They sacrificed everything to resist. This historical look back in a horrific time in our world is a eye opener. It has maps in it showing the occupied and un-occupied areas among some that show the front lines and neutral areas. The things this family including Fey’s father, Hitlers ambassador to This is Fey and her families story. It’s very informative of the atrocities people had to go through. Fey and her two kids were taken, arrested and separated. They were resisters to the Nazi regime. They sacrificed everything to resist. This historical look back in a horrific time in our world is a eye opener. It has maps in it showing the occupied and un-occupied areas among some that show the front lines and neutral areas. The things this family including Fey’s father, Hitlers ambassador to Italy as well as her husband an Italian aristocrat. If you love historical books, I recommend you getting this one! It’s due out 10/29/19

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa of Hopewell

    My Interest If you’ve seen Tom Cruise’s film The Valkryie you know that not everyone fully supported Hitler. There was a German resistance movement even within the Wehrmacht. One of the Valkryie conspirators was Ulrich Von Hassell. He was later executed for his part in the plot to kill Hitler. His daughter, Fey, had an interesting war as well. This book tells her story from after the time of Valkryie until the end of the war. Fey_von_Hassel_mit_Roberto Source Fey and her sons The Story Fey Von My Interest If you’ve seen Tom Cruise’s film The Valkryie you know that not everyone fully supported Hitler. There was a German resistance movement even within the Wehrmacht. One of the Valkryie conspirators was Ulrich Von Hassell. He was later executed for his part in the plot to kill Hitler. His daughter, Fey, had an interesting war as well. This book tells her story from after the time of Valkryie until the end of the war. Fey_von_Hassel_mit_Roberto Source Fey and her sons The Story Fey Von Hassell was a very privileged young woman who married an equally privilege Italian aristocrat. Not only was Fey the daughter of a Valkryie conspirator, but her maternal grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. She grew up on a fine estate and her family’s friends had all been in the Kaiser’s own circle. Her husband’s family had similar connections, only in Italy. After Valkrie, with her husband in Rome in the new Italian government as a cover for his resistance work, Fey is taken into custody and separated from her sons. As the war grinds to its end, Fey and other “Sippenhäfltlinge” (kin of prisoners) are moved from location to location–sometimes to concentration camps, but never in the same circumstances as the Jewish prisoners awaiting death. They were all Germans, Aryans, but the relatives of “traitors.” As happens in wartime, miscommunication hampers Fey’s ability to make sense of it all. Arriving at one destination, some of the little party of “Prominenten” prisoners, who by now included prominent POWs such as two men providentially named “Churchill,” but who were, in fact, no relation to Winston, are reunited with their seized children, but Fey is not. As Himmler uses the group as a bargaining chip, Fey becomes determined to make a change in her life that seems impossible, but that gives her comfort to survive the moment. Finally, at war’s end, she realizes the intended change in her life cannot take place and that she must try to find her children again, all the time fearing that they have been given new names and perhaps even been adopted by a new family. Bureaucracies of several nations now stand in her way, yet she and husband Detalmo, are determined to find their boys. My Thoughts I do not seek to minimize Fey’s very real trauma, but I was somewhat relieved to read her words of angst at having been in the camps, however briefly, and not had to suffer as the Jewish prisoners did. At no time did she go hungry. Occasionally in travel, there were uncomfortable conditions and yes, her life was in danger from bombing and later from execution–an extremely traumatic idea to live under. Unlike those in the concentration camp awaiting their deaths, Fey’s suffering was confined to about a year at the end of the war. Did she suffer trauma? Of course many times over. But nothing compared to the Jews. She was right to be proud of her father, whose personal moral code could not stomach Hitler. No one could resign a commission under Hitler, so he did what he could and helped plot to kill the man. Her husband, too, worked with the resistance in Italy to end the war. Those are proud accomplishments speaking of the best morals and true courage. I have read other books on German aristocrats in the war and most leave me wondering “why are you complaining?” [See the bottom of this post for reading suggestions]. Fey, though, had a mother’s greatest nightmare come true and lived through it. That, too, is a proud accomplishment. That the search for her sons was not that arduous compared to that of many displaced persons, does not lessen the trauma the events inflicted on her.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liz Winhover

    I received an ARC through Goodreads Giveaway and I handed the book straight off to my history loving father. He really enjoyed the story this book told. When he was describing it to me, I could tell that the love and the drive of those whose children had been taken really came through. My dad gave it a solid thumbs up and his recommendation!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Once again Catherine Bailey writes an amazing work of nonfiction that reads like fiction. I couldn't wait to read more every day so that I could find out what happens to this family. I do wish we had a little more info about after the war but I understand that's not the main objective in this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Frances Johnson

    This is the story of Fey von Hassell and her family during World War II. Her father, Ulrich von Hassell, is executed by the Nazis for being part of the plot to kill Hitler. Her husband, the Italian aristocrat Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli, is part of the underground in Rome. At first she and her two young boys live undisturbed in their castle in northern Italy. Then the Nazis come and arrest Fey and take her two boys to a German orphanage where they are given new names to ultimately be adopted by This is the story of Fey von Hassell and her family during World War II. Her father, Ulrich von Hassell, is executed by the Nazis for being part of the plot to kill Hitler. Her husband, the Italian aristocrat Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli, is part of the underground in Rome. At first she and her two young boys live undisturbed in their castle in northern Italy. Then the Nazis come and arrest Fey and take her two boys to a German orphanage where they are given new names to ultimately be adopted by Germans. Fey is jailed in horrible conditions but later is held captive with other relatives of people involved in the plot to kill Hitler. They are to be kept barely alive to be used as hostages if needed by Hitler. This is the true story of this family's ordeal, based on first-hand family accounts, concentration camp records, and files from the SS.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Therese

    At a time when when aristocrats in WW11 Europe were siding with the Nazis, Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli from a noble family in the Udine region of northern Italy, and his wife Fey, the daughter of Ulrich von Hassel, Hitler's Ambassador to Italy, made the difficult and dangerous decision to resist the Nazis. Detalmo joined the underground anti-Fascist movement in Rome. Fey is left at the Pirzio-Piroli castle near Udine, eventually being ccompletely cut off from the rest to Italy. She is eventually At a time when when aristocrats in WW11 Europe were siding with the Nazis, Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli from a noble family in the Udine region of northern Italy, and his wife Fey, the daughter of Ulrich von Hassel, Hitler's Ambassador to Italy, made the difficult and dangerous decision to resist the Nazis. Detalmo joined the underground anti-Fascist movement in Rome. Fey is left at the Pirzio-Piroli castle near Udine, eventually being ccompletely cut off from the rest to Italy. She is eventually arrested and sent to a prison in Austria. There was no way for husband and wife to communicate.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Annabannabobanna

    By intertwining one family’s history with the historical events of WWII, it is impossible not to become absorbed by the heightening pathos of this complex story. The reader is drawn in by the idea that such a terrible trauma could be experienced by a privileged and elite German, non-Jewish family. The author describes the harrowing circumstances with empathic understanding, making four hundred pages read like a thriller.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nissa

    “A Castle in Wartime” is a fabulous piece of biographical-nonfiction that I'm glad I came across. I enjoyed the book immensely and was gripped the entire time. I would recommend this to those interested in WWII European history.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tom Maddox

    Gripping A great read from beginning to end. The author takes you to and behind the front line. One families ordeal, you come to realize was sadly normal for so many. If you love history, especially World War 2 this book is a must read

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    What a fantastic story about people going through a terrible ordeal. The writing is superb and the story enthralling. I loved the way the author mixed hard facts about the war and the people involved in it with the true account of one families struggle to survive. EXCELLENT READ!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Amazing review of the end of WWII and the frenzy ... you could not make a story like this up...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mackenzie

    An incredible, gripping read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellenh

    Very interesting, well written combination of history and family saga!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Peg Albrets

    compelling story

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    A very interesting story of a German/Italian family whose father conspired to kill Hitler survived and found her son's taken from her.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Linda Bell

    One of the best books I've ever read about the Nazi's.

  20. 5 out of 5

    North Landesman

    Amazing book about one family's journey through WW2 and the search to find their kids. Rare to see WW2 from a woman's perspective. Highly reccomend this to everyone that can read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christy McGee

    It was a fascinating story. Full of facts but told in such a compelling way. Horrifying to think about what many families went through in that time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I really enjoyed this book. There was just enough history to go with the personal journey this family was on. It's hard to believe any of them survived their ordeal. Or after!!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Steph Fulton

  24. 4 out of 5

    Steena

  25. 5 out of 5

    Linda Wenger

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gail

  28. 4 out of 5

    Suzie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dara

  30. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

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