Erikson’s motivation? “We were raised to resist tyrants and dictators---and against any and all that used brutality and force to gain their goals.” Add to that the personality of an oil wildcatter and the desire to live up to the example of his heroic older brother, and you have the makings on an extraordinary man, the subject of an exceptional biography.
Teamed with a courageous Swedish prince, the charming and talented Erickson eventually wormed his way into the confidence of those at the highest level of the Nazi hierarchy, including Heinrich Himmler, the monstrously evil head of the dreaded Gestapo and arguably the second highest official in the “Thousand-Year Reich.”
Erickson’s goal? Disrupt the oil and gasoline supplies that fueled the German war machine. Eventually, he became trusted enough by the Nazis that he obtained frequent visits to the refineries and processing plants they used to create gasoline and eventually synthetic fuels, as their oil and gas supplies were reduced by Allied bombings and land victories.
During the beginning years of the war, Allied efforts were focused elsewhere, but by the last two years, it was realized that cutting off gasoline and lubricants could halt major elements of the Nazi military, especially its tanks and planes. The deeply hidden chemical processing sites were ravaged by bombing guided by the information supplied by Erickson. The Nazi air force largely shifted from defending the coasts to defending their oil and gas supplies. Logistical needs trumped territory protection.
Erickson was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, predecessor to our Central Intelligence Agency. To carry off his deception, Erickson had to become plausibly pro-Nazi gradually while maintaining industrial, governmental, and social contacts in Sweden, where his own petroleum-based business was centered. This imposture cost him his wife, his lover, his friendships, and nearly his life. The second woman he loved, Anne-Maria, an anti-Nazi German collaborator, was executed by hanging in his presence; neither acknowledged the other during the gruesome procedure, thus sparing Erickson‘s life. After the war, he carried her picture with him for the forty years until his own death.
Biographer Talty has resurrected Erickson’s story with the help of materials he recently uncovered. Decades ago, the spy had been the subject of numerous journalistic interviews and even a somewhat factual Hollywood movie, his heroism an inspiration. The details newly discovered only make him stand even taller. He was principled, patriotic, persistent, and dauntless.
Where does a country get such brave and dedicated men and women? Will we have them again, if needed? Examples such as that of Eric Erickson will help inspire and encourage them.
[This is a “Kindle Single,” from amazon.com for its kindle e-reader and other similar devices. The length is about 20,000 words, roughly 80 pages.]