The Nazi Hunters, by Andrew Nagorski*****

thenazihuntersI had promised myself not to read any more Holocaust memoirs. What is to be gained? But when I saw this title available as a review copy on Net Galley, I thought that there is actually something to cheer the spirit in recounting how some of these monsters were tracked down and brought to justice. To date this is the most comprehensive telling of that achievement that I have read. Thanks go to Simon and Schuster and also to Net Galley for the DRC. This book is available for purchase May 17.

Were it not for the efforts of Jewish survivors and the state of Israel, very few of the top-ranking Nazi officers would ever have gone to trial. Following World War II, Allied forces divided small, relatively helpless nations of Europe like a pack of robbers piecing out the spoils after a bank job. Once that was done, there was little energy or funding put into hunting down Nazis. To be sure, there was no logistical way to try and punish everyone in Germany or its neighboring states that had belonged to the Nazi party or its offshoots. There were millions. Some of them joined because it was easier to join than to not join; some did it for job security; and a surprising number did it because they loved Hitler and the Third Reich. No matter how terribly they have behaved, you can’t jail millions of people that did the wrong thing, even when their participation and complicity have resulted in the deaths of innocent millions. And so an agreement was reached that just the top guys would be hunted down and tried in an international court.

By the time the war ended, however, the USA had begun the Cold War with Russia and its satellite states, incorporated at the time as the USSR. Congress was much more interested in funding ways to combat Stalin’s version of Communism than it was in locating war criminals. And this is where Israel became such an important player.

There are passages within this meaty tome that necessarily detail the kinds of horrors visited by one or another Nazi officer in order to illustrate the level of evil the individual in question represented. It is not good bedtime material. But there is far more of the courage, cleverness, and above all teamwork involved in finding these people, documenting their crimes, and bringing them to justice, and that’s what I wanted to see.

Philosophical questions that were examined when I was a kid in school are raised once more. At what point can a person no longer defend himself by saying he was just following orders? At what point does trying to follow the law of the land—even Fascist law—no longer let a person off the hook? Many of those that stood trial were people that had initiated one or another terrible innovation in the torture or murder of other human beings. Others went to trial for their monstrous brutality. Concentration camp survivors bore witness against them. I loved reading about those that had been stripped of everything, horribly tortured and humiliated right down to the nubs of their souls in a position of some power against their oppressors. It felt right.

Addressed here also is the tremendously controversial kidnapping of the butcher Adolph Eichmann. Eichmann lived in a Latin American nation that did not extradite war criminals; Israeli forces ferreted him out, forced him onto an airplane and took him to stand trial in Israel. Those that objected to this illegal behavior ultimately had little recourse. I felt like it was one of those times when a rule is rightfully broken. (See Six Million Accusers: Catching Adolph Eichmann, also reviewed on this blog.)

For researchers and students of history, as well as those with a strong interest in this area, this book is highly recommended.

Six Million Accusers: Catching Adolph Eichmann, by D. Lawrence-Young *****

sixmillionaccusersPlease lower the safety bar in front of you, and make certain your belt is securely fastened. We will be traveling at an astonishing rate of speed; keep your hands firmly on your book or digital reader. As you finish Six Million Accusers: Catching Adolph Eichmann, you may be disoriented and need to remind yourself where you are and what day it is. It’s that gripping.

My deep gratitude goes to Mr. Lawrence-Young, his publishers, and NetGalley for letting me read and review this amazing novel.

David Lawrence-Young packs a powerful story into a well plotted, brilliantly paced narrative in order to tell the story of the capture of Adolph Eichmann, one of the nastiest and most powerful Nazis responsible for the deaths of six million Jews in eight nations, not to mention millions more who were Gypsies, political opponents, disabled, gay, or who were mistaken for somebody else. And of course, these numbers don’t include those who died in the battlefields, seas and skies of the European theater of World War II. Only Hitler and Himmler were above Eichmann in the fascist pecking order.

Because story is such a potent vehicle for the truth, the author has chosen historical fiction over a more expository nonfiction format. I think he chose well. He has a long list of previously published books that precede this one, from Shakespeare to an English textbook to other works of historical fiction, but he says this one was the most difficult, and I believe it. As is true of the finest writers of this genre, he has a bibliography at tne end of his work to let us know that the story is absolutely true; he has filled in the cracks by inventing the dialogue instead of paraphrasing as he would have to do with a work of nonfiction, but this is the real deal nevertheless. This is what happened.

Once this was made plain (I always read the introduction, and I also read the author page before I begin), I dug myself into my favorite reading corner and prepared to concentrate, convinced that while compelling, the historical journey would require full focus and strong literacy skills. I was surprised to find that he wrote in a manner that will be accessible to just about anyone who wants to read it, and the need to focus is moot, because from the get-go, he has our eyes and full attention automatically. The pace builds in a glorious arc, reaching breakneck speed as we close in on Eichmann along with the team of spies and undercover representatives of Israel’s government.

The questions that arose in my mind were answered. Given that these agents slip into Argentina with the assumption that they will need to act outside that nation’s unfriendly rules of law, and are essentially going to kidnap Eichmann, I wondered why the fuss. If they were willing to go that far (not that they shouldn’t), why not just sail in under a black flag and cap him behind the ear? Why all the fuss and bother to smuggle him back to Israel to be tried?

And it became clear. Many other SS officers were dealt with in the manner I had been thinking of, but this man was so utterly symbolic of the Holocaust that the world had to see him tried, and Israel and her people had to lay out the facts, document them irrefutably, and wisely so, because half a century later would come the Holocaust deniers who would want to pretend the whole thing was a hoax, sham, or exaggeration, and the Nuremberg Trials make it much harder for anyone to do so.

A thing that gave me great pleasure was reading about the agents, including our nominally fictitious protagonist, Haim, who DID get out of Germany or other parts of Europe in time to avoid arrest, torture, and maybe death.

I was surprised, and surprised to be surprised, about the news that Israel had had to fight for its independence. As a history teacher, how is it that I did not know this? I think it’s simple. It was too recent to be in the curriculum, but since I had barely been born when it took place, I was too young to remember. And independence from Britain was important. On the surface, it looks as if they bit the hand that fed them; hey, they put up a Jewish homeland to help people escape Hitler, and now you’re going to shoot at them?

But it turns out this was very necessary. Part of Britain’s game plan was to limit how many could come out. They were more generous in their immigration policy than the USA, but that’s not saying much. Israel needed independence in order to have a nation where all Jews could safely exist. (I won’t even go into the Palestinian question which is worth many other books, a huge issue unto itself.)

Like a lot of academics, I have many Jewish friends, and though all are too young to have experienced the horror first hand, they have family stories, even legends. (“My grandmother personally rescued one of the last remaining Torahs from a burning synagogue”, a colleague told me.)

But even if I had not had their friendship, simple justice would have permitted me to sigh with satisfaction, once when Eichmann was in custody, and again when he was convicted.

Don’t just read this book; keep it. Share it with your children. The world must never, ever permit such a thing to happen again. It is by educating the next generation, and they the one after them, that we keep the neo-Nazis firmly on the fringes, which is the best place for them to enjoy the First Amendment rights they would gladly grind beneath their hobnailed boots for the rest of us if permitted to do so.