Book 32: The Nazi Hunters

 

"A big part of the motivation for holding the war crimes trials was exactly that: to provide examples of justice at work for the whole world to see. By presenting the record of the Third Reich, aggression by aggression, mass murder by mass murder, atrocity by atrocity, the trials were critical to establishing exactly what had happened- and establishing the principle that the perpetrators bore direct responsibility for their crimes, whatever they understood their orders to be."

Dates read: March 16-19, 2016

Rating: 6/10

If you'd asked me, after high school, what history looked like from World War Two on, based on what I'd learned in class, I'd have probably said something like this: WW2 started in Europe, but the US stayed out until Pearl Harbor was attacked. There'd be a brief aside about Japanese interment on the home front, but once we got into the war overseas, America kicked ass and took names. We won the battles and liberated the concentration camps. Then there was the Cold War, which meant McCarthyism, the Space Race, and then the glasnost/perestroyka stuff and the Berlin Wall came down. That was usually as far as we got before the end of the year.

If you wanted me to tell you what happened to the Nazi leadership after the war, I wouldn't have had much to offer besides that Hitler and his mistress killed themselves. This isn't to tear down public school curriculum or teachers or insinuate that I was taught poorly or anything like that. World and even US history are such broad topics that you kind of have to focus on the highlights or you'd never get through it. But the fact remains that I (and I imagine many others) are largely clueless about what actually happened to the Nazis. Now that it's 2016 and many of the major players are very old or gone, there is perspective to look back at how it all played out: both with the Nazis and the people who sought to bring them to justice. Hence, Andrew Nagorski's The Nazi Hunters.

If you're like me and you have only a vague understanding of the topic but find it interesting, this book is a good choice. It's very comprehensive. Nagorski begins by discussing the immediate aftermath of liberation of the camps, including military personnel literally looking the other way on some occasions in which survivors assaulted and killed their former tormentors, then the Dachau trials and the Nuremberg trials. This was largely (but not totally) the end of judicial proceedings against former Nazis, and Nagorski covers why that was, with the rising tide of the Cold War cited as a particular distraction for the international community.

It might have been the effective end of the trials, but it was not the end of people seeking justice against senior members of the Nazi party. The most high-profile story is the abduction and Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann, but there's also the stories of former Nazis Klaus Barbie, Latvian pilot Herbert Cukurs, and former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, among many many others, and their hunters, like Simon Wiesenthal, Tuvia Friedman, Isser Harel, and Beate and Serge Klarsfeld.

I'm not sure quite what I was expecting going in, but I think it was more along the lines of a narrative/non-fiction novel style book. This is not that. It's very factual...not quite as dry as true academic writing, but more like newspaper reporting. It's very well-researched and thorough, but if you're looking for a thrilling true life pageburner, this will probably disappoint you.

Tell me, blog friends...what gaps did high school history leave in your knowledge?

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

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