Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Nazi Hunters by Andrew Nagorski

Here is a beautiful Fandanguillo by Joaquin Turina Perez, performed by Julian Bream.  There should be accents on the "i's" but I have no idea how to do that on my computer.

She insisted that only good had any depth. Good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension yet — and this is its horror! — it can spread like a fungus over the surface of the earth and lay waste the entire world. Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.
-Hannah Arendt

The Nazi HuntersThe Nazi Hunters by Andrew Nagorski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a truly fascinating account of a segment of history that gets less attention each year. I think a wonderful movie could be made of this book.

Nagorski starts with the end of WWII and begins with the rounding up of Nazi War criminals. He describes the lawyers, tribunes, and the victims. Last but not least, he describes the defendants and their atrocious acts of cruelty (not for the faint of heart) and their fate. He even gives a brief history of the hangman who served out justice to the defendants who were sentenced to death. Not all of them were.

Still, many Nazis got away. Some of this was because they tribunal judge decided that being a guard, or in some way serving in a concentration camp was not evidence of guilt. This was changed, years later, after most Nazis were dead, to guilt by association. If you were a part of the machine, you were still guilty.

It's interesting the excuses almost all of the criminals caught gave: They were merely following orders and in times of war, one cannot think or question. But that does not explain why some got such sadistic pleasure out of their job, not to mention that there are some things that transcend government orders. There is a higher moral order we must all answer to.

After the initial trials, interest waned in bringing war criminals to justice, mostly because the nations, especially Germany, but also the United States, wanted to put the past behind them. In the United States case, they had become embroiled in the Cold War and their focus had shifted.

But there were individuals that refused to give up the past until all perpetrators had been brought to justice. We learn about Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor and others who at first fought singlehandedly to bring former Nazis to justice. Nagorski does a nice job giving background information of the Nazi criminals and their hunters.

Much of the book runs like a high action movie. The hunt by the Israeli group, the Mossad, after Adolph Eichmann and the "Angel of Death", Josef Mengele keeps the reader in primed suspense. There are others too. Former Nazis running for offices in German Parliment, France, and also the United Nations.

Nagorski also recounts the efforts of Germany to create a gap in their history for their citizens who were born after the war. Thanks to some piercing documentaries made by a couple of German film makers in the seventies, German youth received a shock and awareness of, not only what happened in their country, but also that beloved relatives, grandparents, aunts, uncles, were a part of this notorious regime.

Hannah Arendt, while covering the Eichmann trial in Israel coined the term, "the banality of evil." She meant that "people who commit acts of evil are not always monsters, sometimes they are bureaucrats."

She asserted "that only good can be radical. Evil can never be radical; it can only be extreme."

"Evil can be extraordinary acts committed by otherwise unremarkable people."

Her articles for the New Yorker, which were later compiled into a book (that I just bought and will read soon), caused a lot of controversy among the Jews, who felt she was diminishing the evil work of Hitler and his regime. Arendt was herself a German-Jewish exile.

I think the thought that evil could become normal by average everyday citizens, makes people uncomfortable. But look at what is accepted in our own society. First it was abortion. Now in New York and Virginia, it's infanticide. And people stood up and clapped.

There are heartbreaking stories, one in particular of a Jewish man riding on a train in Germany, chatting amiably with his fellow passengers, everyone friendly. And then the train stops and soldiers take this man away and no one says a word.

My question is would that be any of us? Like watching the child in our school being bullied and we just stand and watch? I remember as I was entering a grocery store I saw a man screaming at his elderly mother. Two elderly woman passed me by. One said, "That's not right." And the other immediately said, "Yeah, but you can't do anything about it," and both walked into the store.

Isn't that most of us? Don't get involved? I did nothing to help the woman that day.

The book brings us almost up to date as to the accomplished work of these hunters and their untiring work to remind people of the past and that there is no statute of limitations on atrocities.

View all my reviews


R.T. said...

As for the grocery store, being a Good Samaritan ain’t easy .....however, back to your review, the book sounds great .... I’ll look for it ....

Marian H said...

This sounds like a tough book to read, and your review is really thought provoking.

I have to chew on that quote by Arendt a little more...I think I get what she's saying, but I'm not sure about the way she's phrasing it.

You might be interested in a novel called The Sea and Poison, by Shusaku Endo. It's about the same subject from a Japanese perspective. I reviewed it on my podcast - it was heart-wrenching:

It's so important to stand up for what's right on the "smaller" matters, while there's still a chance. The danger is waiting until it's a life-or-death situation. Easier said than done, of course, but raising discussion about books like these, and current events, is a start.

I thought Northam's statements were sickening...I don't know what he meant by "a discussion would ensue" but if the outcome is anything other than keeping the baby alive, that's murder. Nothing ambiguous about it.

mudpuddle said...

great post, Sharon... there needs to be a lot more thinking about basic morality in this country, imo... decent behavior is at a premium lately and it shouldn't be that way. tolerance and forgiveness should be in everyone's mental equipment locker...
Julian Bream was a guitarist of my youth. i spent many hours listening to him, raptly...

Brian Joseph said...

The book sounds very good. I have read about small bits of the hunt for Nazis over the years. I have also seen a few documentaries. There is a lot to the story.

I really need to read Hannah Arendt soon. Her writing has been on my radar for years.

Anchors To Windward said...

Wow Sharon,
This book sounds like it's right up my alley! And you're so right with the abortion reference. It is indeed a slippery slope from abortion to infanticide to who knows what's next. Excellent review...Thanks

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi R.T. Sometimes I wonder if I should have done something. One does feel helpless. Should I just walk away? Or should I at least call the police?

Sharon Wilfong said...

Thanks, ATW. This is a good book and I would recommend it to anyone.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. There is a lot to this story and I would like to read more historical books on it as well as see any documentaries that are out there.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Mudpuddle. I agree. It seems too many people have an "It's all about me" attitude. I'm glad you liked the music I picked. I'm glad it was an artist you like.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Marion. I completely agree. I think people can easily say "War is wrong". But can they see how our personal selfishness adds up to the greater evil?

Marian H said...

P. S. No rush, just FYI, I emailed you part 1 & 2 of my book. :)

Sharon Wilfong said...

Yes, I'm reading it and enjoying it so far.

Carol said...

I think this is a C.S. Lewis quote - I wrote it down but didn't reference it. I thought of it when I read your thoughts above:
'...The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them; afterwards they hated them much more because they ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become - and so on in a vicious circle forever.'

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Carol. It's a strange psychology, but it's true. I think Dostoevsky talked about the same thing in Brothers Karamazov. The father hated people all the more because he could abuse them.