To commemorate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, writer and WWII historian Monica Sands, who resides in Santa Monica, has just published a riveting memoir of her late father, Maurits Kiek, an anti-Nazi secret agent. In that capacity Kiek saved the lives of dozens of British and American pilots trapped behind enemy lines. For his unparalleled bravery he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Harry Truman.
In addition to decades of research, Sands’ “expertise” also comes from her mother who survived years in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. But this page-turner is a tribute to her father for whom a city street is deservedly named in his home country of Holland.
In 1909, Maurits Kiek was born in The Hague, Holland (current seat of the U.N. International Court of Justice.) Growing up, Maurits was fascinated with electronics and mechanics and loved taking apart clocks, watches and the family radio. Nicknamed “MK” he also was gifted in languages and became fluent in German, English and French. As a boy he mastered the Morse code and became the youngest radio ham operator in Holland.
As WWII loomed, Kiek wanted to become a pilot in the pre-war Dutch army. But because of his color blindness he was turned down and his military career seemed over before it began. Or so it might have been for someone less determined.
Ever resourceful, Kiek took private flying lessons and obtained his pilot’s license. At the flying club he met an influential British Major who had him regularly pilot his Cessna over the tri-border area of Holland, Belgium, and Germany, while the Major took aerial photographs. Ironically, Maurits’ color blindness made him uniquely skilled at estimating depth of field and differentiating the camouflaged German tank positions.
In 1939, the Major asked Kiek to go across the Dutch-German border to the town of Aachen. His dangerous assignment was to help a Jew being hunted by the Nazis escape into Holland. MK did so successfully but while in Aachen he saw with his own eyes Germany’s horrific treatment of its Jewish citizens.
As MK continued observing and reporting German military and tactical border activities to London it became clear he had extraordinary talents for intelligence work and was a natural born spy. All that would be severely tested when his world changed dramatically on May 10, 1940, as the Nazi’s invaded Holland and Belgium.
In 1942 the Abwehr, German military intelligence, put a large reward on Kiek’s head which necessitated his daring escape. It required a long perilous journey via France, Switzerland, Spain and even South America until MK finally reached London. But when he arrived he was snubbed by the Dutch Intelligence service in-exile (Their thinking was a Jew who volunteered to go back into Nazi occupied territory must be either a madman or a traitor.) However, the British Intelligence Service MI-9 was eager to have him.
Though against all odds, British Intelligence regularly infiltrated their agents into Nazi occupied Europe to help stranded pilots behind enemy lines get back to England. That said, for these pilots it was almost certain imprisonment, torture and death.
After a brief training period, in July 1943 MK was dropped into Nazi occupied territory. He soon found that he couldn’t trust his Mission Chief, and that he was safer on his own. Helped by Belgian resistance contacts, MK set up an escape line that saved the lives of at least twenty-seven British and American pilots. He also taught members of the resistance how to set up illegal short wave radio contact with London. MK’s legendary skills and acclaimed courage allowed him to beat the odds time and again.
However, one disastrous Sunday morning in 1943, days before MK was scheduled to return to England, an Abwehr unit managed to pinpoint the location of his short wave radio broadcast to London. MK was immediately arrested and in May, 1944 he was sentenced to death by the German Luftwaffe War Court in Brussels. He survived a grueling time in prison awaiting his imminent execution until, seemingly at the last moment, he was liberated by U.S. military in April 1945.
Even now MI-9 still classifies Kiek’s files as “Top Secret.” He was sworn to secrecy and like real heroes, he kept his oath and never bragged about his heroic accomplishments.
Maurits Kiek died in 1980 of natural causes but his story lives on the pages of his daughter’s gripping tale.
“The MK Story, Code Name: The Black Cat,” is available in paperback, e-book and audio book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.