HITLER: ASCENT 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich

Image result for photos of hitler

The public’s fascination with Adolf Hitler remains strong even sixty years after his suicide in the Fuhrer bunker in April, 1945.  To date over 120,000 books have been written about Hitler and Volker Ullrich’s new biography, HITLER: ASCENT 1889-1939 is a welcome addition to this ever increasing bibliography.  Up until now Ian Kershaw’s two volume work was the recognized standard in this genre replacing earlier volumes by Alan Bullock, and Joachim Fest as the most comprehensive works on Hitler.  Kershaw argued that Hitler was motivated by two obsessions as he pushed Germany toward war; the removal of the Jews, and German expansion to the east.  Overall, Ullrich agrees with Kershaw’s thesis, but what makes his book so important is his ability to synthesize the vast material that has already exists, his access to a great deal of new primary materials, and it has been almost twenty years since Kershaw’s work was published.  Ullrich should be commended for his voluminous research supported by his extensive endnotes.  These endnotes contain a treasure-trove of information for scholars of the Nazi regime, their leaders, and their rise to power.

Image result for photo of Kristallnacht

(A burned out synagogue during Krystallnacht, November, 1938)

Many wonder what the keys were to Hitler’s success.  Ullrich correctly depicts a man who was able to conceal his real intentions from friends and foes alike as one of the keys to his success.  He had the ability to instantly analyze political situations and exploit them, including his political opposition.  His success rests on his improvisational style of leadership where he created numerous internal conflicts from which he emerged as the indispensable man.  Ullrich breaks the myth that Hitler lacked personal relationships arguing that he was able to separate his political and private spheres which impacted his pursuit of power greatly.  Another key that Ullrich stresses in understanding Hitler is examining the reciprocal nature of his relationship with the German people that contributed to his enormous popularity.  It was not a forgone conclusion that Hitler would come to power, but domestic opposition leaders underestimated his abilities, as would foreign leaders after he consolidated power in 1934.  Ullrich’s aim “is to deconstruct the myth of Hitler, the ‘fascination with monstrosity’ that has greatly influenced historical literature and public discussion of the Fuhrer after 1945.  In a sense, Hitler will he ‘normalised’—although this will not make him seem more ‘normal.’  If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific.”

Ullrich’s study is extremely comprehensive.  He does not spend a great deal of time concerning Hitler’s childhood and upbringing, just enough to explore a few myths associated with Hitler’s childhood which he debunks, i.e.; he did not grow up in poverty as his father Alois had a good pension; he did not blame the Jews for the death of his mother from cancer; and he did not blame the Jews for his inability to be admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts  The biography becomes detailed as the Ullrich explores the effect  Fin-de-Siècle Austria on Hitler and the author does an excellent job reviewing the historiography pertaining to Hitler’s intellectual development.  Hitler is presented as an autodidact who was self-educated which explains how he acquired his anti-Semitic prejudices and German nationalist ideas.  But it is Hitler’s experience in World War I that shaped the man, without which he would have remained “a nobody” with pretensions of being an artist.

Image result for photos of hitler

(Adolf Hitler with his second in command, Hermann Goering)

Ullrich’s work successfully shifts the focus of his study on to Hitler the person as is evidenced by an excellent chapter, “Hitler the Human Being.”  It is here that Ullrich delves into Hitler’s behavior and personality and tries to lift the mask that makes it difficult to penetrate Hitler’s shifting persona.  Hitler’s personality is a compilation of dichotomies.* He was a dictator who kept people at a distance, but sought company to avoid being alone with himself.  He could be caring and empathetic at times, but at the same time he could commit or order brutal acts.  Ullrich is correct in pointing out that Hitler was an actor and chameleon who was able to manipulate others who did not see through him as he overcame his personal insecurities and was able to shift many of them on to the German people in order to seize power.

Other important chapters include “Month of Destiny: January 1933,” where Ullrich details Hitler’s path to the Chancellorship by taking the reader through the numerous elections, the strategies pursued by Hitler and his cohorts, the approach taken by the opposition, and the political infighting on all sides of the political spectrum.  January 30, 1933 became the turning point in the history of the twentieth century, but at the time Ullrich correctly points out leaders and the German public were not totally aware of its significance because most power brokers believed that the Franz von Papen-Paul von Hindenburg-Alfred Hugenberg alliance would be able to control Hitler.  As is repeatedly pointed out in the narrative it was just another example of people underestimating the new German Chancellor.  When examining if there were opportunities to stop Hitler’s ascent, Ullrich recapitulates the ideas of Karl Dietrich Bracher’s THE GERMAN DICTATORSHIP published in 1972.  Further, no one should have been surprised by Hitler’s actions after he rose to power, because his speeches, other public utterances, and his book MEIN KAMPF carefully delineated what he proposed to do.

Image result for photo of joseph goebbels

(Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbles)

In the realm of what he did do it is carefully reconstructed in the chapters, “Totalitarian Revolution,” and “Eviscerating Versailles.”  After achieving power on January 30, 1933 over the next year we witness the Nazi consolidation of power through the creation of the first concentration camp at Dachau; the passage of the Enabling Act, or “The Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich,” which was used to create a dictatorship in the hands of the Chancellor as Hitler could now formulate laws without the approval of the Reichstag; and lastly, The Night of the Long Knives which destroyed the SA and the last vestige of political opposition.   As far as Hitler’s foreign policy was concerned the enemy was the Bolshevik-Jewish conspiracy and the key to its destruction was the step by step dismantling of the Treaty of Versailles.  Ullrich takes us through this process and the tactic Hitler employed throughout the period was to simultaneously appear as conciliatory and presenting his adversaries with a fait accompli, i.e., German military rearmament and the occupation of the Rhineland in March, 1936.   The response of the west was one of appeasement and Hitler recreated a strategy that worked so effectively domestically – implementing policy that fostered foreign diplomats to underestimate him.   Overall, there is little that is new in this part of the narrative, but Ullrich’s clear analysis and Jefferson Chase’s excellent translation make events and policies easy to understand, particularly the historical implications that would result in World War II.

After reading Ullrich’s narrative I am not certain he has met his goal of “humanizing” Hitler because no matter how the material is presented he remains the historical monster that his actions and belief system support.  To Ullrich’s credit he has written a carefully constructed biography that should be seen as the most comprehensive biography of Hitler to date, and I look forward to the second volume that will carry us through the end of World War II.

*To explore Hitler from a psychological perspective you might consult:

Binion, Rudolph. HITLER AMONG THE GERMANS

Langer, Walter. THE MIND OF ADOLF HITLER

Waite, Robert. HITLER THE PSYCHOPATHIC GOD

Image result for photos of hitler

MISCHLING by Affinity Konar

Mischling
Most of us are aware of the horrific policies implemented by the Nazis during the Holocaust, but one area that seems further and further beyond the pale in terms of their barbarity and horror is in the realm of medical experiments.  The name that comes to the fore when thinking of such perverse behavior is that of Dr. Josef Mengele who conducted experiments on about 1500 pairs of twins in his laboratories at Auschwitz, of which maybe 200 survived the war.  Mengele was obsessed with the behavior and genetic makeup of twins which forms the infrastructure of Affinity Konar’s new novel, MISCHLING.  Mischling in German means “mixed blood” or “half breed,” and was the legal term employed by the Nazis to denote people with Jewish or Aryan ancestry.  There were different categories as delineated by the 1935 Nuremberg Blood Laws that the Nazis developed to determine whether a person was a Jew or of mixed blood.  This determination affected Jews on many levels and for far too many led to their ultimate extinction.

Konor develops her story through the eyes of Pearl and Stasha Zagorski, twin girls who at the age of twelve are seized and transported to Auschwitz in the fall of 1944.  Konor alternates her narration between the twins and begins with Stasha as she describes a white coated man walking over to the girls and their mother and grandfather as classical music plays in the background.  The man known as “Uncle” throughout the novel is Dr. Josef Mengele and after examining the girls separates them from their mother and grandfather and sends them to the Zoo, the name for the facility for Mengele to conduct his research.

Konor’s novel draws heavily on CHILDREN OF FLAMES by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel, and THE NAZI DOCTORS by psychiatrist, Robert Jay Lifton.  Despite her reliance on these works Konor is able to create two personalities that are hauntingly real as it is expressed by the continual dialogue between Pearl and Stasha, and their narration upon their separation from each other.  At the outset it appears that the twins are special and have a certain status, but once the experiments begin they are tossed aside just like any other Holocaust victim.  They may live longer, but if one of the twins happens to die, the other will follow almost immediately.  It was uncanny how Pearl and Stasha shared each other’s pain.  Pearl could be undergoing a certain experiment on one part of her body, and unbeknownst to Stasha she would feel pain in the same part of her anatomy.  Pearl would curse herself because her veins stood out and it made it easier for Mengele to inject what germs, viruses or poison he desired.  As awareness of what was occurring to them became evident the twins developed a new maturity and in Pearl’s case she went from being the more outgoing of the sisters before their incarceration, to becoming more methodical, and focused on her memories to survive each day; while Stasha grew feistier and more cunning in trying to cope with the evil that surrounded her.

The girls had been inseparable in their previous life, now found that as they grew apart they were no longer as devoted to each other.  It is heart breaking to visualize Pearl, who believed she was dying from the medical experiments that were conducted, tried to push Stasha away so she would not be so dependent; so when Pearl would eventually die, Stasha could move on.  The pain and anguish is palatable on each page as each of the twins feels less than whole, as each believes in their own way that their better half has been stolen from them, and they are surviving in a vacuum.  The experiments that were conducted were bizarre and the concoction of a demented mind; sewing twins together so they could not see each other, placing one twin in a cage and allowing the other to survive in the laboratory, and on and on.  Konar’s research allows her to reconstruct an alternate reality that was Mengele’s world and can only bring tears to the reader.

The second half of the book is not as focused as the first half and at times comes across as a bit disjointed.  The story revolves around the approach and the final arrival of Russian troops to liberate Auschwitz.  From there we follow the twins on their journey with a number of projections into the future.  Konar drills down into actual events and how the Russians treated the newly freed victims and follows Pearl and Stasha’s different paths.  We witness the Nazi attempt to destroy all evidence of what they had perpetrated.  The emotions and feelings of the newly released seem straight out of Robert Jay Lifton’s work as they suffer from “without self,” “survival guilt,” and other diagnostic terms.  The Soviets make a propaganda film of what they find in the camps and Pearl wonders what is actually taking place.  Stasha and Feliks, another survivor are committed to seeking revenge and travel toward Warsaw in the hope of killing Dr. Mengele.  We also experience the story of Dr. Miri, a Jewish doctor forced to assist Mengele’s work and how she seeks redemption and tries to deal with her guilt.

Overall, MISCHLING is a difficult read.  It is the type of novel that must be taken in small doses.  Though it reveals nothing new in terms of what we know of Mengele’s tortuous work, imagining what has occurred through the eyes of twin sisters and their perceptions separates Konor’s effort from much of the material that has appeared before.  If you choose to tackle Konor’s novel be prepared for the world you about to enter.

 

THE RIGHT WRONG MAN: JOHN DEMJANJUK AND THE LAST GREAT NAZI WAR CRIMES TRIAL

(Sobibor Death Camp)

As Lawrence Douglas, an Amherst College law professor describes in his new book, THE RIGHT WRONG MAN: JOHN DEMJANJUK AND THE LAST GREAT NAZI WAR CRIMES TRIAL, the former Ford Motor employee was “little more than a peon at the bottom of the Nazis exterminatory hierarchy.”  However, what makes him important is the legal odyssey he navigated from 1975 to his death in 2012.  Demjanjuk survived a number of major trials; denaturalization hearings in the United States, prosecution in Israel, and his final legal confrontation in Germany.  Throughout the process Demjanjuk lied, acted, obfuscated, as he tried to avoid conviction.  The end result was finally being found guilty of “crimes against humanity” in 2011, after having previous convictions overturned because of prosecution errors and the failure of memory on the part of Holocaust survivors.

Demjanjuk’s biography is quite amazing.  During the outset of the war Demjanjuk was a soldier in the Red Army.  After being captured by the Germans he volunteered to be a guard at the Sobibor death camp.  Once the war ended, he was able to immigrate to the United States by lying on his application associated with the Truman administrations 1948 Displaced Persons Act.  He settled in Cleveland and became a machinist at a Ford Motor plant, and was able to hide his Holocaust related activities for years, until 1975 when American officials first learned of his possible wartime activities.

(Demjanjuk’s wartime pass placing him in Nazi occupied Poland; discovered in 2002 by the United States)

Douglas provides intricate detail and analysis of Demjanjuk’s legal journey.  He dissects the strategies pursued by defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges as they try to convict Demjanjuk of being Ivan Grozny, “Ivan the Terrible” for his sadistic acts at Treblinka.  Further, Douglas explores the gaps in the legal systems that tried to bring him to justice and how previous trials, Nuremberg, and Eichmann in particular impacted legal strategies.  The problem that emerges is that Demjanjuk was misidentified and was not Ivan Grozny, but a man who served at Sobibor and contributed to the death of thousands of Jews for which he was finally convicted.  Demjanjuk’s legal battles began in 1975 and continued until later in the decade when he would be identified as the former Treblinka guard, “Ivan the Terrible.”  Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship and extradited to Israel.  In 1988 he was convicted and sentenced to death by an Israeli court.  After numerous appeals and the emergence of new evidence, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the government had the wrong Ivan.  He was returned to the United States and his citizenship was restored.

Demjanjuk may not have been at Treblinka, but earlier testimony seemed to place him at Sobibor, another Nazi death camp.  In 2001 he lost his US citizenship for a second time and in 2009 he was dispatched to Germany for trial.  On May 12, 2011 he was found guilty by a German court for assisting in the murder of 28,060 Jews.  Before his death sentence could be carried out he died, ending one of the last prosecutions of perpetrators of the Holocaust.  Douglas’ book is an important contribution to the legal issues that have surrounded the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.  Douglas raises many important subjects including; the justice of trying old men for superannuated crimes, the nature of individual responsibility in the orchestration of state-sponsored crimes, the nature and causes, and possible justifications of collaboration in the perpetuation of atrocities, and how three different legal systems went about creating legal alloys to master the challenges posed by the Nazi genocide.

(Demjanjuk stated he was too ill to sit up at his trial in Munich)

Douglas points out that Nazi crimes were so great that retributive justice based on didactic exercises organized around survivor testimony was not enough.  What was needed was to use trials as a means of historical education, present history through the eyes of survivor memory as what done at the Eichmann trial.  However, even this noble ideal was fraught with holes as was seen in the prosecution of Demjanjuk.  What was needed according to Douglas was to develop the role of historians to assist in the preparation and prosecution of Nazi crimes.  One of the major drawbacks in the prosecutorial process was the lack of historical context that only historians could provide.  This gap was overcome in Demjanjuk’s Munich case as historians came into play in every aspect of the case from drafting of the indictment to the core of the court’s judgement.  For the first time a new type of Holocaust trial emerged: the Holocaust as History.

These developments overcame many of the obstacles that were evident in earlier prosecutions. In the United States turf battles between the Justice Department and other agencies, difficulties handling atrocity cases with routine prosecutory tools, the lack of linguistic skills on the part of lawyers, and little or no training in historical research all hindered the development of sound cases against war criminals.  Douglas traces the evolution of new techniques and approaches to these types of cases beginning with the Nuremberg Trials, the Eichmann Trial, and the prosecution of the real Ivan Grozny, Fedor Fedorenko that culminated in the final conviction of Demjanjuk.

(At his trial in Munich, Demjanjuk claimed that file #1627 in the Russian archives would prove his innocence)

Douglas asks the important question as to the benefits to mankind that emerged from the Demjanjuk case.  “First, it yielded a modified theory of culpability, directly ‘connected to the exterminatory process.’  This disposed once and for all of the defense ‘I was no more than a cog in the machine…I was obeying orders.’  A machine cannot run without its small constituent parts.”  As a result it was now enough to prove that a defendant worked in a death factory to obtain a conviction because without the numbers of these types of defendants the Holocaust could not have reached the magnitude that it did.  Further, this allowed for the further prosecution of lower-level war criminals and permitted three separate judicial systems to learn from past errors and instill confidence in this type of judicial process.  (New York Times, February 26, 2016)

Douglas astute dissection of the Demjanjuk case and the application of his analysis to the overall problem of culpability for war crimes is a major contribution to this type of literature.  Though at times it is written in legalese, overall it should be easily understood by the layman resulting a satisfying reading experience.

(October 14, 1943, Sobibor Death Camp following a failed revolt)

DISCIPLES: THE WORLD WAR II MISSIONS OF THE CIA DIRECTORS WHO FOUGHT FOR WILD BILL DONOVAN by Douglas Waller

(William Donovan, the man who headed the Office of Strategic Services  during World War II)

At a time when people are concerned with government spying on its citizens, it is useful to examine how two world wars and the Cold War led to the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Douglas Waller, a former correspondent for Time and Newsweek, and the author of WILD BILL DONOVAN: THE SPYMASTER WHO CREATED THE OSS AND MODERN AMERICAN ESPIONAGE has revisited the origins of the CIA by examining the men that William Donovan trained as intelligence operatives who went on to head America’s foremost spy agency.  In his new book, DISCIPLES: THE WORLD WAR II MISSIONS OF THE CIA DIRECTORS WHO FOUGHT FOR BILL DONOVAN, Waller follows the careers of Allen W. Dulles, William Casey, Richard Helms, and William Colby, and their interactions with Donovan as their careers  culminated in Langley, Va.  When I first picked up the book I was concerned that Waller would rehash a great deal of the same material he covered in his biography of Donovan.  To my satisfaction this is not the case.  There is some repetition, but the book can stand on its own merits as Waller has written a wonderful adventure story that weaves together the experiences of the “disciples.”  Based on archival material, the most prominent secondary sources, and pertinent memoirs the book is an excellent read for spy buffs and the general public.

Waller begins the book with short biographical sketches of each individual and the similarities in their backgrounds.  Waller points out that there was a common thread that ran through Dulles, Casey, Helms, and Colby.  Each was smart, intellectual, and “voracious readers, thoughtful, and creatures of reason….these were strong, decisive, supremely confident men of action, doers who believed they could shape history rather than let it control them.”  When one follows their careers Waller’s description appears extremely accurate.  Though their personalities differed; Dulles comes across with a much larger ego who rubbed many in power the wrong way; Casey, more of an introvert who worked behind the scenes and new how to navigate the bureaucratic morass of government; Helms and Colby, more adventurous and hands on, the result of which was they all would ascend the intelligence ladder at different rates to finally emerge as leaders in their own right.  All had important relationships with Donovan; some more testy, particularly Dulles who wanted Donovan’s job as head of the Organization of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, but in the end they worked together and laid the foundation for America’s post war intelligence operations.

(Allen W. Dulles, headed American intelligence operations against Germany during WWII and as CIA Director under Eisenhower launched numerous covert operations)

Waller traces the career of each of the disciples and what stands out is their roles during World War II.  Donovan was charged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create an espionage operation during the war by choosing him as the Coordinator of Information, a position that would morph into the head of the OSS.  Waller examines the rise of Allen Dulles first, tracing his career from World War I, his experiences as a diplomat at Versailles, and his relationship with his brother, John Foster, and their law firm Sullivan and Cromwell.  Dulles emerges as a self-confident individual who sought total control of all operations. Posted to Berne, Switzerland during the war, Dulles developed important sources though he was at times over the top with his predictions.  On a number of occasions he resented Donovan, but in the end went along with his boss.  William Casey’s education as a spy began as a lawyer in the 1930s where he became an expert on the tax code dealing with War Department contracts.  This attracted Donovan interest and he would recruit Casey for the OSS in 1943.  Casey, an organizational expert was sent to London where he worked under David Bruce, and implemented a management style that would lead him to oversee intelligence assets and commando operations in France and Germany.  Richard Helms joined the navy after Pearl Harbor and worked on strategies to deal with German submarine warfare.  By 1943 he was forced into OSS Psyops and by the end of the war he was sent to London to organize operations in Germany for the post war period.  William Colby, the most liberal of the four and a supporter of FDR, studied in France in the late 1930s, witnessed the Spanish Civil War, and developed a hatred for communism.  He would become a commando during the war and showed tremendous physical courage behind enemy lines in France and Norway.

(Richard Helms after a career in intelligence dating back to WWII became CIA Director in the 1960s and was eventually fired by President Nixon)

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how Waller introduces individuals who interacted with the OSS, and in particular the “disciples” during the war.  FBI Head, J. Edgar Hoover despised Donovan seeing him as a threat and unleashed his own agents to spy on the OSS.  We meet Julia Child, later known as “the cooking guru” for woman in the 1950s.  Along the way Arthur Goldberg emerges as a link to European labor movements, who would later serve on the Supreme Court.  British spymasters come and go throughout the book, particularly William Stephenson who at one time had an office next to Dulles in Rockefeller Center.  Fritz Kolbe, the OSS’ most important agent who allowed Dulles to penetrate the German Foreign Office in Berlin and whose work saved the lives of many allied soldiers takes a prominent role.  These and many other individuals and their own stories lend a great deal to Waller’s narrative.

(William Colby was a trained commando during World War II and parachuted into France and Norway who later became CIA Director under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford)

Waller does a nice job showing how the careers of the “disciples” intersected with Donovan during the war.  For example, Donovan’s visitations to commando training, witnessing Colby’s preparation for parachuting into France.  Dulles and Casey intersected as both were smuggling agents into France to link up with and supply the French resistance.  Casey was in charge of monitoring commando drops like Colby’s into France.  Casey also funneled Dulles’ intelligence reports to Washington, and in a number of cases felt that they were highly exaggerated. Helms finally left for London in early 1945 and was supposed to organize Dulles’ mission for Germany, but because of Hitler’s last ditch effort in France in the Ardennes, he never carried out the assignment and wound up with Casey overseeing agents in Germany.  In fact Casey and Helms shared an apartment in London at the time!   Colby and Casey would meet at General George S. Patton’s headquarters in September, 1944 as Casey became Donovan’s eyes in Europe and eventually would replace David Bruce as head of London operations, an appointment that Dulles greatly resented.  Donovan felt that Dulles was a poor administrator and lacked the leadership skills that Casey possessed.

Waller spends a great deal of time on the actions of American commandos behind German lines.  He describes Colby’s training in detail and takes the reader along with these men as they parachute into France and Germany, exhibiting courage and discipline as they try to reinforce the French resistance, and later gather intelligence in Germany to try and bring the conflict to a faster conclusion.  Waller also spends a great deal of time discussing the infighting among the “disciples” and their private lives.  By doing so the reader gains insights into each of these men and it helps explains how their post-World War II careers would evolve into directorships of the CIA.

The final section of Waller’s narrative focuses on American intelligence policies and actions during the Cold War as the OSS evolves into the CIA and focuses its attention on the communist threat.  Once President Truman forces Donovan into retirement Dulles takes over the newly created CIA and his reputation for mismanagement will result in what Blanch Wiesen Cook, in her book DECCLASSIFIED EISENHOWER, refers to as the “coup presidency.”  Dulles would launch covert operations in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, and the disastrous U-2 Incident, all resulting in his eventual downfall.  Dulles was succeeded by Helms, who unlike his predecessor believed in tight organizational control.  His mantra was “that there should be no surprises on his watch” and he was very popular within the agency.  Helms would be fired by Richard Nixon in part because he refused to cooperate with break-ins and cover ups associated with Watergate.  Colby’s tenure as director is most remembered for his testimony before the Church Committee in 1974 as leaked CIA documents called for congressional action.  Colby was the most politically liberal of all the “disciples” and this played a role in his cooperation with Congress which he was vilified for by Helms and Casey.  But, as Waller correctly points out his testimony probably saved the CIA from a wholesale reorganization that would have ruined its effectiveness.  The last of the “disciples,” William Casey took over the agency under Ronald Reagan and he tried to create the atmosphere that existed under his hero, William Donovan, who like his mentor “kept the door open to all ideas for operations, even the wacky ones.”  Casey wanted to recreate the can do culture of the OSS from WWII for the 1980s, focusing on the communist menace instead of the Nazis.  This would result in repeated machinations in dealing with Afghanistan, Central America, and the Iran-Contra scandal in particular.

(William Casey was a successful “spy master” during World War II who became CIA Director under Ronald Reagan)

Waller has written a fascinating account of the men who followed Donovan as leaders in American intelligence, and current implications for some of the policies they pursued.   Today we are faced with the ramifications of Edward Snowden’s leaks and issues over NSA and other surveillance.  It would be interesting to speculate how these gentlemen would respond to these issues.

(Major General William J. Donovan who led America’s intelligence operations during World War II)

 

The Lady from Zagreb (Bernie Gunther Series #10)

THE LADY FROM ZAGREB is the tenth book in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series.  Gunther a former homicide detective before the rise of Nazism, an ideology that he finds abhorrent, is a character in absorbing historical thrillers that are set in Germany in the 1930s, World War II, and the Cold War.  Gunther is a very self-effacing and likeable individual who is one-quarter Jewish and has a propensity to offer humorous wisecracks that cut to the core of a German history between 1933 and 1945, a time frame that has destroyed the lives of millions of people.  In Kerr’s current effort we find Gunther in the French Riviera circa, 1956 reminiscing about World War II, and his relationship with a beautiful German actress, Dalia Dresner.  The novel binds together a number of plot lines.  We find Dr. Joseph Goebbles, the head of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda and National Enlightenment with his own policy and sexual agenda; a series of murders, one happening to have been a client of Gunther; the intrigue of wartime Switzerland with spies ranging from the head of the Office of Strategic Services, Allen W. Dulles to SS Brigadefuhrer Walter Schellenberg who would become the head of Nazi foreign intelligence; a Hitlerite plan to invade Switzerland, and a plot to prevent such an invasion in the name of bringing about negotiations to end the war; the barbarity and cruelty of the Balkans that fifty years later would explode in Yugoslavia; and of course the machinations of Detective Gunther with his constant cynicism and sarcasm.

Kerr is a talented writer who weaves important historical characters and events throughout his story.  The narrative involves numerous historical figures that include Dr. Goebbles; Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, in charge of the Nazi genocide of the Jews; SS Obergruppenfuhrer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office; SS Brigadefuhrer Schellenberg; SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust and Chief of the Reich Main Security Office before his assassination; SS Gruppenfuhrer Arthur Nebbe, Gunther’s boss and a mass murderer in Bialystok during the war; Allen W. Dulles; Anten Pavelic, Croatian leader of the murderous Ustase; Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Nazi ally; and many other important figures.  Historical events are also not neglected as the Russian genocide of Polish officers at the Katyn Forest; the destruction of the Czech village of Lidice as punishment for the assassination of Heydrich; the allied bombings of Dresden and Hamburg; the slaughter in the Balkans; and Nazi war plans are all integrated into the novel.

(Joseph Goebbles Nazi Propaganda Minister)

Gunther’s personality, wit, cynicism and charm remain the same in Kerr’s latest effort.  His pointed historical commentary are as irreverent as always.  Finding himself in Croatia and a witness to the slaughter between Croats, Serbs and Muslims as he searches for Dalia Dresner’s father, who supposedly is living in a monastery, brings about the question as to “how does a Franciscan monk get to be an Ustase Colonel?” The answer offered is “by being an efficient killer of Serbs.” In describing Goebbles, Gunther said that while he was wearing a white summer suit, he looked “exactly like a male nurse in an insane asylum, which was perhaps not so very far from the truth.”    In addition, upon meeting the Grand Mufti’s guards, Gunther wondered why Hitler hated Jews and not Arabs.  “After all, some Jews are just Muslims with better tailors.”  In thinking about his own experiences on the eastern front and now facing the realities of the Holocaust, Gunther explores the competition inside the Nazi bureaucracy between the SS and SD, the Gestapo and the SD, Goebbles and Goering, Kalternbrunner and Himmler, the SS and the Nazi Party, the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht, and the role of German businesses.  In particular, Gunther is confronted by the use of slave labor by Siemens and Daimler-Benz during the war and he hopes that in the future historians will research what they have done and inform the public.  Recently in the case of Siemens his request was answered by Sarah Helm’s new book RAVENSBRUK, and in the case of Daimler-Benz, Neil Gregor and Bernard Bellon have exposed their crimes, though neither corporation has ever admitted their guilt or paid the appropriate compensation to their victims.  Further, as he is confronted by death seemingly at every turn, Gunther ponders whether German crimes are the worst in history.  Referencing the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, the British in India, Belgians in the Congo, Spain in the New World, and Russia under Stalin in the 1930s, the detective surmises that Germany is in good company when it comes to historical atrocities.

(Swiss-German border)

Gunther is an excellent detective that seems to find trouble no matter the situation.  At the outset Gunther, who has been transferred to the Third Reich War Crimes Department (Kerr really has a sense of the absurd), is forced to make a speech at a police convention.  From that point on the story begins to evolve.  Gunther begins to investigate the murder of a former client at the same time as Goebbles assigns him to find Dalia’s father.  On this mission Gunther becomes entangled with the Swiss police and other spies.  In addition, Gunther learns that there is an effort to try and bring about negotiations to end the war and that certain SS officials are buying barracks from the Swiss to use in concentration camps.  All of these situations come together, while at the same time Gunther tries to follow his conscience and accomplish his goals while working within the Nazi system.  As Kerr has written he does not like heroes who behave heroically, and in Bernie Gunther he has created just such a protagonist. The dialogue between the characters is very entertaining and Kerr manages to repeatedly raise the issue of morality in the context of Gunther’s actions, a very difficult task.

Without going into any further detail of the story, Kerr has once again created a successful mystery that will keep the reader fascinated and entertained as they are taken to another time and place.  If you enjoyed the previous offerings in the Bernie Gunther novels, THE LADY FROM ZAGREB will not disappoint.  As far as Bernie Gunther’s future is concerned in a recent interview Kerr said he was already planning for the eleventh book in the series.

RAVENSBRUCK: LIFE AND DEATH IN HITLER’S CONCENTRATION CAMP FOR WOMEN by Sarah Helm

(The barracks at Ravensbruck)

It has been seventy years since the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II. One would think that there would be very little to learn about what occurred during the Nazi genocide of European Jews and persecution of other minorities and groups during the war, but that is not the case. In Sarah Helm’s new work, RAVENSBRUCK: LIFE AND DEATH IN HITLER’S CONCENTRATION CAMP FOR WOMEN, the author reconstructs the history of the camp whose documentation was mostly hidden from the west during the Cold War. Once the “iron curtain” was lifted in 1989 more and more documents and other materials have been released from East German and Soviet archives. This allowed the author to provide the inmates of long ago a voice from “the special camp” created by Heinrich Himmler for women, a place ethnologist and survivor Germaine Tillion describes as “a place of slow extermination.” The camp, located fifty miles north of Berlin opened in May, 1939 and was liberated by the Russians six years later. The camp was not designated exclusively for Jews who made up about 10% of its inmates, but Jewish prisoners represented roughly 20% of those who perished. According to Helm’s, at its peak the site housed 45,000 prisoners and by the end of the war roughly 130,000 women passed through its gates to “be beaten, starved, worked to death, poisoned, executed, and gassed.” Because of the paucity of records the final death toll is estimated at between 30,000 and 90,000, but we will never be sure. Wholesale destruction of records has kept the story somewhat obscure, but due to Helm’s relentless and assiduous research we have the most accurate and complete history of what took place there.

Ravensbruck, as most concentration camps was not built at the start as an extermination center, it evolved. It began as a place to house women arrested for various crimes, including statements that were deemed as offensive to Adolf Hitler, working for the resistance of foreign countries, espionage, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the outset prisoners were categorized as political, asocial, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses and the camp was broken down into blocks to separate these groups. Himmler’s plan was to make the camp self-sufficient and have the prisoners police themselves as much as possible. The Nazi SS chose individuals to be Kapos to supervise slave labor and carry out administrative tasks to minimize the cost of running the camps and freeing up SS personnel. The Kapos were appointed as barracks heads and many were worse than the SS guards themselves. The narrative parallels the course of World War II and as it does we can see how the mission of the camp changes from a prison, to a sterilization and medical experiment facility, a training ground for female guards and personnel to administer other camps that came on line like Auschwitz, a source for slave labor in munitions factories that created sub camps for German corporations like Siemens, Heinkel, and Daimler-Benz, and finally an extermination camp.

(Work team at Ravensbruck)

As Helms weaves the war narrative she explores the daily lives of those imprisoned at Ravensbruck. She provides a detailed description of the day to day struggle that inmates had to endure. By including the life story of many individuals, whether communists, resistance fighters, prostitutes, physicians, nurses, or average people the reader gains insights into how individuals were treated and the coping mechanisms they developed as they confronted slave labor, deportations, beatings, medical experiments, and torture that resulted in so many deaths. One of the most interesting chapters describes the plight of women seized in Lublin, a Polish city which was overrun by the Germans during the summer of 1941. Helms follows the lives of these women as they traveled by train to Germany, and at each stop more prisoners are seized. Women named Wanda, Krysia, Grazyna, Pola and Maria are followed as they finally arrive at Ravensbruck were they first encounter the Chief female guard, described as “the Giantess and her hounds.” One of their most poignant observations was that the people they saw “don’t seem to have faces,” and years later all they could remember was the “din of the constant screaming of the giantess.” (165) As they adapted to their surroundings they became part of the camp social hierarchy and they developed ingenious ways to create normalcy in order to survive. Another group that Helms describes in detail were Red Army doctors and nurses that were captured. Under the leadership of one of the nurses, Yevgenia Lazarevna Klemm, whose survival strategy was to stress that her group were POWS, not typical inmates, and had rights under the Geneva Convention. She constantly reinforced the concept to the woman that loyalty to each other was paramount, and that they should not “break the [their] circle” in their dealings with the SS and Kapos. This was successful to a point, and when they were forced to engage in slave labor at a sub-camp for Siemens she instructed her people to sabotage the munitions they were forced to work on. This approach allowed a number of these women to survive, and to this day they praise the leadership of Yevgenia Klemm.

Sadist: Dorothea Binz, who became chief of Ravensbruck, enjoyed handing out beatings and torturing the inmates

Throughout the book we meet the likes of Dr. Walter Sonntag, a brutal individual who was charged by Himmler to conduct sterilization experiments and research on inmates to determine how to wipe out the sub-humans who were deemed a threat to the Aryan race as purported by Hitler and his henchman. Dr. Friedrich Mennecke a Nazi psychiatrist was brought in to determine how to choose candidates for euthanasia as these people were not worthy of life in the Nazi world view. Himmler was obsessed with “useless mouths” who did not carry their own weight and they were to be given “special treatment” as designed by Nazi doctors like Herta Oberheuser, an expert in “lethal injections.” Other doctors conducted experiments on “rabbits,” specially chosen women, to determine the best way to counter bacteria by injecting it into the bodies of inmates or removing body parts to see how people would respond. The narrative does not focus totally on Nazi medical practices and hygiene, but it is important that Helms presents this material to offset any belief that Ravensbruck was just for the incarceration of its women.

Helms describes in detail how the camp administrative hierarchy carried out Himmler’s orders and its impact on the daily lives of the inmates. The inmates are the key to the narrative as Helms was able to track down numerous survivors of the camps and interview them. Many in their late eighties and nineties remember amazing details of their experiences that enhances our understanding of what they went through. Helm’s “combed through the transcripts of postwar trials of camp officials and guards and found archival material that were opened after the fall of Communism…… During the past 15 years a few other books about Ravensbruck have been published, but none as focused on as many prisoner groups as Helm’s.” (New York Times, April 7, 2015, ‘’RAVENSBRUCK” by Walter Reich) Helms’ is to be commended for her tenacity in uncovering documents that previous historians have been unaware existed. In so doing she includes excerpts of letters inmates were able to smuggle out and even mail home. In addition there are transcripts from underground radio broadcasts that provided evidence for the inmates that there messages were reaching beyond the barbed wire and watch towers that controlled their lives.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the book were the chapters dealing with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Berlin and Geneva (ICRC). Headed by art historian, Jacob Burkhardt, they were fully aware of what went on in the concentration, labor, and extermination camps. Many letters and other documents were provided to them by resistance groups and governments, but they always had excuses not to take action. They refused to give out Red Cross parcels, make broadcasts, help with visas and transportation for individuals to escape, work behind the scenes, and try and influence certain Nazis that were wavering as the war went against Germany. The lack of action of the ICRC was appalling and their ever present excuse that the camps were “not subject to the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929,” and they had to maintain their neutrality to be effective was not acceptable. In addition the perpetrator of the atrocities at Ravensbruck, Karl Gebhardt, “was a close associate of Ernst Grawitz, president of the German Red Cross, the most powerful medical figure in the Third Reich.” (333) When inquiries were made to the ICRC in Geneva they “gave the same stock answer: the Committee had no access to the camps and couldn’t intervene.” (436) We all recognize that the Red Cross was in a compromising position, but any effort on their part would have been appreciated by the inmates. Finally in April, 1945 with Sweden taking the lead in rescue measures, Burkhardt, concerned with his legacy arranged a prisoner swap of 299 French women held at Ravensbruck for 450 Germans held in France.

Evil: Ravensbruck concentration camp guards Helene Massar, Marga Löwenberg and one other out rowing on the Schwedtsee lake

(Ravensbruck concentration camp guards Helene Massar, Marga Löwenberg and one other out rowing on the Schwedtsee lake)

As the war turned against the Nazis more and more prisoners were seized and sent to Ravensbruck. By fall, 1944 as the Russians advanced across Poland, Hitler was forced to shut down Auschwitz, Majdanek, and other camps moving camp inmates westward. Further, with the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto more and more people arrived from the east at Ravensbruck. With the allied landing at Normandy, the fall of Paris saw prisoners sent eastward furthering the health and logistical nightmare at Ravensbruck. To make matters even worse Hitler’s decree to empty Hungary of its Jews and exterminate them furthered the spread of typhus throughout the camp. If squalor and disease was not bad enough, late 1944 saw the arrival of Rudolph Hoss, the former Commandant of Auschwitz, Otto Moll, Auschwitz’s “gassing expert,” Carl Clauberg, the mastermind of Himmler’s sterilization program, and other unemployed Nazi murderers at Ravensbruck. Helms states further that “it is no coincidence that just before these men arrived, Himmler issued a new directive requiring an immediate, massive increase in the rate of killing and construction of a gas chamber to carry it out.” Himmler’s order read: “In your camp, with retrospective effect for six months, 2000 people monthly have to die…” (469) Himmler’s reasons for issuing the order are clear, Ravensbruck was out of control with typhus and other diseases spreading and an influx of women from Auschwitz and other areas increasing. For the first time, Ravensbruck would have its own extermination facility, “becoming the scene of the last major extermination by gas carried out in the Nazi camps before the end of the war.”(654) By winter, 1945 it was decided that the camp was to be liquidated and all evidence of its existence to be destroyed. Since the building of crematorium and its components could not keep up with the demands of eradicating all inmates thousands of prisoners were sent to Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Dachau and Flossenburg to be gassed, while others were force marched to their deaths as Hitler ordered that no prisoners were to be left alive when the Russians arrived. The evidence exists that killings at Ravensbruck would continue until late, April, 1945.

Women's concentration camp victims, rescued.
(Liberated prisoners at Ravensbruck)

Helm’s has prepared the definitive biography of Ravensbruck and has done a remarkable job in compiling the stories of the women who perished and those who survived. There are a few things the author could have addressed more, i.e.; providing better documentation for the quotations that she cites, improved referencing of her sources and interviews, and trying to create a tighter narrative so the story of the camp is easier to follow. To read Helm’s book is to find oneself in a place that cannot be imagined or understood, but thanks to the author the evidence of its existence is there for all to witness. What is most important is that Helm’s narrative has allowed the victims of the Nazi horrors a means to communicate from the grave.

NAZIS, ISLAMISTS AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz

(Hajj Amin al-Husaini and Adolf Hitler)

As we witness the increasing level of anti-Semitism in Europe exemplified by recent attacks against Jews in Paris the role of Islamist ideology appears ever present.  The perpetrators of the attacks were of Mideast origin and claimed to be associated with the Islamic State or ISIS.  With renewed interest in the role of anti-Semitism and Islamist radicalism in Europe it is important to seek out the origins of these movements.  Some political commentators point to the actions of Israel against the Palestinians, particularly its war against Hamas last summer resulting in the carnage caused by repeated missile launches to and from the Gaza Strip.  Others, like historians, the late Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, acknowledge the role of Israel, but point out in their new book, NAZIS, ISLAMISTS AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST that the historical and ideological roots of the latest conflict between Israelis and Arabs goes much deeper.  Citing the recent release of Nazi and Arab documents dealing with World War II from American and Russian archives, a more complete account of the interactions between Arabs, Muslims and Germans can now be presented.

To support their views the authors bring together a number of key elements.  First, they explore the German role in the Middle East dating back to the late 19th century.  Beginning with the beliefs of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the ideological, political, and strategic goals of Germany are presented by analyzing the intellectual and practical development of employing Islam and jihad as a vehicle for German expansion in the region which would continue through the reign of Adolf Hitler.  Secondly, after the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945 the alliance forged with these Middle East groups during the war would have long term ramifications.  These groups would experience political victories over their European masters and over more moderate Arab and Muslim rivals.  “Their success was so thorough that liberal democratic forces-not uncommon in the Arab speaking world before the 1930s-do not emerge again as contenders for power” until the Arab spring in 2011.  Today, we are in the midst of another round in the conflict between revolutionary Islamism, one of the movements that cooperated with Imperial Germany through the end of World War I.  Its cooperation would continue with Nazi Germany up until 1945, then reemerge to challenge its former partner Arab nationalism, that had crushed it in the 1950s.  I agree with the authors that an “Islamist spring” has emerged today that spews its anti-Semitism and hatred of the west and it can only be understood by examining the role of the Nazi-Islamist alliance that culminated during World War II.

The narrative begins in June, 1942 as SS Chief Heinrich Himmler prepares for visitors at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  Earlier in 1941 the facility had tested new camouflaged gas chambers with four new crematoria which proved very successful.  At that time, the Arab visitors witnessed the results and they planned to build their own facilities near Tunis, Baghdad, and Jericho.  The authors then present a letter from Amin al-Husaini, the Palestinian political and religious leader, to Adolf Hitler in January 1941 that asked the Nazi leader to “assist the Arabs in solving their Jewish problem the way it was carried out in Germany.”  The introduction of al-Husaini, who was also the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is critical to the author’s arguments.  During the First World War, the Kaiser tried to foment a jihad to encourage Muslim support during the war.  His plan was doomed to failure as relying the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as his spokesperson was not sound, as most Muslims did recognize him as the religious leader of the Middle East (or caliph).  By 1933, with Hitler’s ascension to power al-Husaini offered his services to the German Chancellor to carry out his plan against the Jews laid out in MEIN KAMPF.  Thus, the relationship and alliance between the Fuhrer and the Grand Mufti began.  Throughout the 1930s the Nazis supplied weapons and money to be employed in the 1936 Intifada against the Jews in Palestine, a people that al-Husaini referred to as “scum and germs.”  al-Husaini saw himself as the leader of the Arab world and in return for Germany’s assistance in eradicating the Middle East of its Jewish population, and supporting his goal for the creation of a unified Arab state in the Middle East under his leadership, he would work to bring Muslims and Arabs into an alliance with Germany, spread Nazi ideology and wage terror against England and France.  As a result of al-Husaini’s cooperation Germany was able to establish a special relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ba’ath Party and other radical groups in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, which still exist today.  The author’s provide a detailed history of al-Husaini’s activities throughout his career as the self-styled political and religious leader of the Arab world.  The evidence presented affirms the similarities between al-Husaini’s beliefs and those of the Nazis.  To further their critique the authors offer a list created by al-Husaini that offers “parallels between the Islamic world view and National Socialism.”  The list highlights eight parallels, with al-Husaini “backing each assertion with quotes from al-Qur’an and Muhammad’s sayings.”  Views presented deal with the hatred of Jews, belief in a single powerful leader, the role of woman, and holy war. (182-183)

(Hajj Amin al-Husaini and Heinrich Himmler in Berlin, 1942)

The documentation that the authors present is extensive in dealing with al-Husaini’s paramount role in Hitler’s vision for the Middle East.  One aspect that they discuss even places some level of the blame for the Holocaust on the Grand Mufti.  Up until 1941 the Nazis had not decided on the Final Solution and the Hitlerite regime concentrated on expelling Jews from Germany.  The problem for al-Husaini was that most of those Jews would wind up in Palestine.  Since part of the agreement with the Nazis was to close Palestine’s doors to Jewish immigration, that process was stopped.  With one of the last places Jews could be sent now closed the Nazi regime moved on to plan the Final Solution.  The timing of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 and al-Husaini’s activities including a conversation with Adolf Eichmann, “who had prepared the background briefing for the genocide discussion at Wannsee, was ordered to be give[n] to al Husaini….before any high-ranking Germans.” (163)  As the war progressed and the German hierarchy realized the conflict was lost, they began to try to soften their role in the Holocaust and began trying to arrange the exchange of Jews for prisoners of war and low level war material.  When al-Husaini learned of these activities in Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary and Turkey he immediately interfered to put an end to them.  As a result, even more Jews perished in the ovens, all because of his hatred of Jews.

The critique of al-Husaini continues after the war and the evidence offered reflects al-Husaini’s role in the 1947-8 war that saw the creation of the state of Israel.  After W.W.II, al-Husaini and his cohorts, many of which were Nazi collaborators worked to prepare for the next war, i.e.; uncovering Nazi weapons hidden since 1942, using Nazi funds to purchase new weapons, and employing escaped Nazis to train and lead Arabs.  “Without al-Husaini’s presence as the Palestinian Arabs’ and transnationalist Islamist leader there might have been other options.” (200) The author’s conjecture that had moderate Arab leaders not bowed down to al-Husaini’s radical Arabism, and perhaps had the allies treated him as a war criminal as they should have the course of Middle Eastern history might have been different.  Whether things would have progressed in another fashion is fine to speculate about but American, British and French fears of losing Arab support, the need for oil, and the emergence of the Cold War was more important and al-Husaini was allowed to proceed with his machinations for the rest of his life.

Another fascinating aspect that the authors address is the relationship between former Nazis and the Arab world following W.W.II.  A detailed chapter is put forth that explores the role of ex-Nazis in Arab governments, particularly that of Nasser’s Egypt.  Cairo became a haven for escaped Nazis and many were employed in Egyptian industries, intelligence operations, and military training to enhance Nasser’s national security apparatus.  Another home for these men was Syria, under the Ba’athist regime, an Arab version of National Socialism, that mimicked Egypt to a lesser scale, but did hid the likes of Alois Brunner, who Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal labeled as “Eichmann’s right-hand man with brains.”  In addition, he accompanied al-Husaini on his tour of Auschwitz around June, 1943. (225)  Another important individual was Francois Genoud, al-Husaini’s personal banker since 1933, who worked with German military intelligence during the war.  Later, he would finance the ODESSA network and bankroll the Ayatollah Komeini when he was in Paris until he came to power in 1979, and later helped fund al-Qaida and Hamas, until his operations were shut down after 9/11.

What is especially relevant about the author’s narrative is how they link the actions of al-Husaini and his radical Islamist allies to today’s political situation in the Middle East.  As the authors explain, Nazi ideology may have died in defeat in 1945, but its basic concepts changed surprisingly little as practiced by radical Islamists today.  Just substitute the word “Israel” for “Jew” and the similarities are clear.  It is the belief in many Nazi principles by Islamists and Pan Arabs today that contribute to the inability to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.  A case in point are the comments made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on March 8, 2015 that “Israel should be annihilated.”  These sentiments were offered earlier in November,, 2014 by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khameini that the fate of Jewish state should be “elimination and annihilation.”  If one examines the beliefs of Osama bin-Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Assad rulers, spokespersons for Hamas and Hezbollah, and of course ISIS, their comments have a certain familiar tone.  But if we return to the earlier period, the speeches of Gamal Abdul Nasser and Yasir Arafat, who was a distant relative of al-Husaini and a disciple, we hear the same ring of Nazi ideology.  It is fascinating to me that al-Husaini would only accept the leadership of an Arab state because of violence, in 2000, Arafat refused what many consider a reasonable deal with Israel because he too could not accept a Palestinian state unless it germinated from violent revolution.  They are many more examples offered, the most important of which is the Muslim Brotherhood, that supposedly moderate organization that came to power in Egypt in 2011 during the “Arab spring.”  I agree with the author’s assessment that “any effort to persuade the West that it should tolerate the Muslim Brotherhood requires erasing its legacy of cooperation with the Nazis, and of equal importance, the ideological parallels between the Nazis and the Brotherhood, as well as Islamists generally.” (250)  However, what   cannot be denied is that currently Europe and the Middle East are witnessing an increase in violent anti-Semitism, and Islamist anti-western hatred, that had its origins in the calls for jihad dating back to World War I.

There is much more to Rubin’s and Schwanitz’s effort including the intellectual development of many individuals and groups throughout the period under discussion.  The range from Wilhelm I to Adolf Hitler to radical Islamist proponents today, for many will be startling.  However, if one examines this scholarly and well researched monograph any doubts of their linkage will disappear.  I would recommend this book to all who have an interest in the Middle East, and in general, the peace that seems so elusive.

Other books you might wish to consult:

Achar, Gilbert. THE ARABS AND THE HOLOCAUST (New York: Picador, 2010).

Dalin, David G.; Rothmann, John F. ICON OF EVIL (New York: Random House, 2008).

Motadel, David. ISLAM AND NAZI GERMANY’S WAR (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).

When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning

(The most popular book read by American GIs during WWII)

As a professed bibliophile I was intrigued when I learned of the publication of When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning.  The concept of the book was fascinating and it seemed to me that the topic, the impact of reading on American military personnel during World War II has never been given much attention.  Now, with Manning’s monograph we have a short history of the role of books during the Second World War ranging from Nazi book burnings, the ideological war between Nazism and Democracy, the diversion provided to American soldiers that allowed them to endure, and the impact on the publishing industry that led to the production of the mass market paperback.   Manning has written a wonderful book as she integrates her theme in relation to the important events that took place during the war.

(Nazi book burning, May 10, 1933)

According to Manning there was no escape from the fear of dying during World War II.  Whether on land, sea, or in the air American GIs faced the likelihood that they or someone very close to them would not survive.  Any diversion from the anxiety that soldiers faced on an everyday basis was welcomed.  As Manning describes it, “the days were grinding, the stress was suffocating, and the dreams of home were often fleeting.  Any distraction from the horrors of war was cherished.  The men treasured mementos from home.  Letters from loved ones were rare prizes.  Card games, puzzles, music, and the occasional sports game helped pass the hours waiting for action or sleep to come.  Yet mail could be frustratingly irregular—sometimes taking as long as four or five months to arrive—and games and the energy to play them could not always be mustered after a long day of training or fighting.  To keep morale from sinking, there needed to be readily available entertainment to provide some relief from war.” (xiii-xiv)  The answer that evolved was the creation of book editions designed for soldiers; portable and accessible for those in combat, rehabilitation, or other wartime situations.

Manning begins her narrative with a Nazi book burning rally on May 10, 1933.  The purpose of the rally organized by Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Public Enlightenment, Joseph Goebbles was “to ensure the purity of German literature” and rid Germany of ideas “antagonistic to German progress.” (2)  The works of Sigmund Freud, Emile Ludwig, Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, among many others were tossed into the fire, no longer available to German students.  Thousands of book burnings took place nationwide including major universities.  It is estimated that the Nazis burned over 100 million books during their reign of terror.  This set the stage for an aspect of the war that was apart from the battlefield as Hitler fought to eliminate democracy and free thought.  The American Library Association (ALA) described Nazi actions against intellectual freedom as a “bibliocaust,” their weapon of choice was to encourage Americans to read, and once the United States became an active belligerent supply books to American soldiers.

(An American GI relaxing with a book in Guadalcanal)

Manning reviews the history of how America organized the distribution of books to American soldiers.  Beginning with conscription and the military training that followed the ALA and other organizations were created to gather and distribute books to American GIs.  At first, the effort was based on collecting donations from the public at large, but when that was deemed inadequate; because of the increasing number of men in the military, the fact that hardcover books which had been the staple of the American publishing industry before the war were much too heavy to be taken into combat, also, the supply of books was being exhausted, and finally many books that were donated did not meet the needs of the troops.  The Victory Book Campaign (VBC) which had been in charge of book donations turned to the American publishing industry to solve the problem as one company, Pocket Books had already begun publishing paperbacks.  The magazine industry had developed miniature editions for servicemen and they were very successful, so why not the book industry.

The key for infantry soldiers and those near the front was to travel as light as possible, and at the same time meet the needs of soldiers who craved reading to make the non-combat time go quickly.  Manning provides details how the paperback volume evolved and how it caused a revolution in American publishing.  Publishers joined together to create the “Armed Services Edition” (ASEs) of hundreds of titles under the auspices of the Council of Books in Wartime.  Problems did develop in the production and distribution of these volumes but once these problems were solved millions of books came off the presses and were distributed overseas and to military facilities at home.  One of the more interesting insights that Manning provides centers on unpopular books before the war that would emerge as best sellers later on.  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are cases in point.  The impact of these books on soldiers was profound.  Manning includes numerous letters written by GIs during the war extolling the virtues of the books they read, and the need they filled.  GIs were interviewed after the war and expressed similar feelings.

As men waited on Landing Craft in the English Channel for the D Day landing, many turned to books.  A.J. Liebling, a war correspondent for New Yorker magazine wrote that one infantry man told him “these little books are a great thing.  They take you away.” (99) Many soldiers developed a relationship with the authors they read.  Katherine Anne Porter’s Short Stories touched the hearts of many soldiers and she received over 600 letters.  Betty Smith, the author of A Tree grows in Brooklyn received 1500 letters a year and answered each one.  As one private wrote, “Books are often the sole means of escape for GIs….I haven’t seen many a man who never before had the patience or inclination to read a book, pick up one of the Council’s and become absorbed and ask for more.” (111)  In fact many soldiers would become lifelong readers because of their experiences during the war.  Manning deftly captures the emotions that soldiers felt as they identified with the literature they read.  It brought them home and gave them hope for the future, and helped them deal with the present.  Manning must have scoured many sources to come up with the letters she integrates into the narrative and it provides tremendous insight for the reader into the minds of the soldiers who fought. The program to supply books did provoke some controversy, particularly as the 1944 Presidential election approached.  Senator Robert Taft amended the Soldier Voting Act which created a partisan battle over the ballots that soldiers would use.  Taft’s amendment, titled Article V stated no book could be sent to soldiers funded by government funds that “…contained[ed] political argument or political propaganda of any kind designed or calculated to affect the result of any election.” (136-7) The Council responsible for choosing titles and the War Department afraid to run afoul of the legislation trimmed the approved list and books such as Charles Beard’s The Republic, Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Yankee from Olympus, and E.B. White’s One Man’s Meat, along textbooks for military education courses were no longer available.  The Council led the opposition arguing that books available in the United States now were not available overseas for American soldiers.  Manning characterizes the conflict as nothing more than a Republican attempt to hold down Roosevelt’s vote since 69% of GIs polled said they would vote for a fourth term.  Whether accurate or not Manning presents both sides of the argument, as Republicans were forced to amend the legislation, ostensibly overturning Article V.

Once the war ended there was an obvious correlation between the success of the Council on Books in Wartime and postwar developments.  Under the GI Bill of Rights veterans were allowed a free college education.  Eventually 7.8 million veterans took advantage of this opportunity and many did so because of the reading habits they developed during the war.  For those who were not avid readers before the war, the Victory Book Campaign was responsible for showing men they could thrive at book learning and studying after the war.  “After all, if they could read and learn burrowed in a foxhole between shell bursts, surely they could handle a course of study in the classroom.”  Further the American publishing industry continued publishing paperbacks revolutionizing the industry.  Numerous publishers began producing paperbacks and sales went from 40 million in 1942 to 270 million in 1952, and by 1959 hardback sales were overtaken by those of paperbacks, changes directly related to the ASE’s of the war. (191)

Molly Manning has examined a different aspect of World War II and its influence on post war America.  Her thoughtful approach and reasoned analysis has produced a wonderful story that needed to be told.  It is a reflection of American values and deserves to be read by a wide audience.

EICHMANN BEFORE JERUSALEM: THE UNEXAMINED LIFE OF A MASS MURDERER by Bettina Stangneth

(Adolf Eichmann in the witness box during his trial in Jerusalem, April, 1961)

Bettina Strangneth new book, EICHMANN BEFORE JERUSALEM: THE UNEXAMINED LIFE OF A MASS MURDERER offers a major reassessment of how we should interpret the life of the man whose work was integral to the extermination of six million Jews during World War II.  After his capture by the Israeli Mossad in 1960, Adolf Eichmann tried to convince people that he was a small cog in the Nazi bureaucracy and that he was not a mass murderer.  He tried to present himself as a man who was always in the background during his Nazi career and was not involved in any major decision making.  In 1963 following the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt published her work, EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM: A REPORT ON THE BANALITY OF EVIL where she argued that her subject was nothing more than a bureaucrat who performed his tasks as best as he could, like a good civil servant who wanted to further his career.  He went to work each day and tried to meet the goals that his job demanded.  If his work involved “evil,” that doesn’t take away from the fact that he was just carrying out what his superiors expected of him.  Arendt’s line of thinking was very controversial at the time and it went against the generally accepted idea that, in fact, Eichmann was guilty, and was not an ordinary man who was turned into a thoughtless murderer by a totalitarian regime.  Following his escape after the war Eichmann claims to have been “an empty shell,” an apolitical person who tried to enjoy a normal life with his family while before his capture by the Israelis and his trial in Jerusalem.   In the last few years documents have surfaced in several archives that contain “Eichmann’s own notes made in exile and [they] can be examined in conjunction with the taped and transcribed conversations known as the Sassen interviews.”  These materials (about 1300 pages) reflect that “not once during his escape and exile did Eichmann seek the shadows or try to act in secrecy.  He wanted to be visible in Argentina and he wanted to be viewed as he once had been:  as the symbol of a new age.” (xx)  Employing this perspective, and making excellent use of the Sassen interviews, also referred to as the Argentina papers, Bettina Strangneth has written a fascinating book that disproves Arendt’s line of thinking and shows without a doubt that Eichmann was a major cog in the Nazi extermination apparatus and the persona he presented in Israel during his trial was nothing more than an act to gain sympathy from his captors and as lenient a sentence as possible.

Strangneth states from the outset that her goal is to uncover what was the “Eichmann phenomenon,” how and why did it develop, what people thought of him and when, and how he reacted to what people thought and said about him.  Strangneth succeeds in unmasking Eichmann who throughout his career assumed different roles; as a subordinate, a superior officer, perpetrator, fugitive, exile, and finally a defendant.  The only one of his roles that has become well known is that of a defendant at his trial in Jerusalem.  His intention was obvious, to remain alive and justify his actions.  For Strangneth, we must return to the period before Eichmann’s arrival in Jerusalem to see the real Eichmann.  The author effectively accomplishes her mission by examining a myriad of primary and secondary sources in a number of languages, and she uses Eichmann’s own words that were taped and written as part of interviews conducted by Willem Sassen, a Dutch Nazi collaborator and member of the SS journalist corps during the war and was the organizer and host for the interviews and discussions with Eichmann in 1957.   Once the Argentina papers surfaced and Eichmann was brought to trial it created a number of problems for a West German state that sought a smooth transition to becoming a new nation free of its past.  In addition to officials in Bonn, other Nazi officials who escaped after W.W.II, former Nazis who were free and serving in the West German government, and the Vatican prelates all feared what Eichmann might say.

(Reinhardt Heydrich, Chief of Reich Main Security Office and Eichmann’s superior in 1942)

The first section of the book, “My Name Became a Symbol,” focuses on Eichmann’s argument in Jerusalem that he was not an important figure in the Nazi regime and had little to do with the Holocaust.  Strangneth methodically refutes Eichmann’s arguments by examining his career from 1934, when he joined the Nazi Party through his successful escape from Europe by boarding the Giovanni C in Genoa’s harbor in June, 1948.  The author delineates Eichmann’s attempt to accumulate power as he worked his way up through the Nazi hierarchy and his success in making his name known, and establishing relationships with key Nazi figures.  For example, Reinhard Heydrich,  chief of Reich Main Security Office that included the Gestapo and SD, and making himself an expert on the Jewish people and their religion.  The author traces Eichmann’s movements during the prewar period as he set up emigration offices in Berlin, Vienna, and Prague, and the war itself as he employed his emigration, transportation, and organizational skills to implement the Final Solution.  Eichmann’s creation of excessive publicity around his own name is in sharp contrast to the “shadow” figure he presents in his jail cell in Israel.  The author ends the first section by determining the accuracy of the myths surrounding Eichmann’s escape from Europe and details how he arranged his travel and settlement in Buenos Aires.

(while in exile in Argentina, Eichmann managed a rabbit farm)

In 1953 he was able to bring his family to Buenos Aires and it was clear there was very little interest in pursuing Eichmann and bringing him to justice. At the time, Konrad Adenauer, the West German Chancellor announced to the Bundestag: “In my opinion, we should call a halt to trying to sniff out Nazis.”(146)  While in Buenos Aires Eichmann grew angry that many of his accomplices and colleagues used their relationship with him to obtain lighter sentences.  He wanted to defend his honor.  On his arrival in Argentina, Eichmann had been taken in by the Durer group, led by Willem Sasser and Eberhard Fritsch, who published right wing magazines.  As Eichmann’s anger at former cohorts increased he wanted to set down his ideas in a book with the assistance of Sassen and Fritsch.

(Willem Sassen, a member of the Durer group who interviewed Eichmann for the Sassen/Argentina Papers)

1955 became a watershed year for Eichmann.  His personal circumstances changed as his wife Vera gave birth to their fourth son and he turned fifty years old.  In addition, the Peron government that had assisted Nazi exiles since the end of the war was overthrown in a coup resulting in an unstable political situation that placed Nazi escapees in the dark as to their futures.  Other events became public during the course of the year that concerned those who sought a resurgence of National Socialism when Austria signed the Independence Treaty; military occupation of West Germany ended and it was allowed to join NATO and form its own military, and represent its own interests abroad.  With Nazi exiles failing to influence West German elections, and with Moscow releasing German POWs, any hopes of a Nazi resurgence appeared dim at best.  Along with these events during 1955 the first major historical works and documentaries began appearing that described in intricate detail the role of “the Grand Inquisitor without magic, Adolf Eichmann.” (176)  The wealth of information and documentation that included Nazi letterhead, signatures, and other evidence could not be dismissed as Jewish propaganda.  It began to dawn on many of the doubters in the German community in Argentina, that Nazi denials about the Holocaust were lies.  This community led by Sasser, Fritsch and others needed someone with knowledge of what really happened to refute the books, articles and other media.  For them, Eichmann was the answer, and this project gave birth to the Sassen interviews.

(Eichmann reading in an Israeli prison)

Stangneth effectively argues that when Eichmann was in Argentina he did not live a solitary life and he talked about his career incessantly.  Sassen began to record Eichmann sometime around April, 1957 as Eichmann wanted to correct the historical record that was being presented in the burgeoning Holocaust literature.  Eichmann’s writing in Argentina was prodigious and the Sassen transcripts would reach 1000 pages, plus another 100 pages that Eichmann had written before the interviews began.  Strangneth spends a great deal of time analyzing Eichmann’s writing and convoluted logic, as he saw himself as a victim of malicious defamation, and misrepresentation.  For Eichmann, he was the irrefutable witness as all the other leading Nazis were dead.  The Durer group obtained all the leading books and articles pertaining to the Final Solution and examined each book with a fine tooth comb.  This process allowed Eichmann to see what the rest of the world believed and he would use that knowledge to prepare his arguments to refute it.  This approach was very helpful when he was imprisoned in Israel as he had practiced the major arguments against his position for years.  Strangneth points out that he “presents us with his irrefutable truth in an accusatory tone, with the self-assurance of a demagogue.” (215)

The author provides descriptions of the tapes that recorded Eichmann’s views and she speculates about dates and who was in attendance.  The author provides numerous verbatim comments by Eichmann; i.e., “The only good enemy of the Reich was a dead one….when I received an order, I always carried out this order with the executioner, and I am proud of that to this day.  If I had not done this, they would not have gone to the butcher.” (267)  Stangneth’s thoroughness is exceptional and through her analysis of the Sassen transcripts she provides insights into Eichmann’s thought process that culminates with his closing remarks where he confesses as to what was his real role in the Final Solution.  This is a far cry from the Eichmann in Jerusalem who presented himself as the “cautious bureaucrat.”

The Sassen papers developed a life of their own and Strangneth recounts in detail the road the papers take once Sassen learns of Eichmann’s abduction.  They seem to travel from Buenos Aires to Eichmann’s half brother Robert in Austria, then to be stolen from his office.  Sassen sells part of the material to ­Life and Stern magazines who publish excerpts from the material.  The most complete transcript fell into the hands of Polityka, a Polish magazine, but when published it did not create much interest.  The Israeli prosecution team in Jerusalem acquired a great deal of information, but most of it was ruled as inadmissible in court because their copies were of such poor quality, and the tapes that could have been used to show how disingenuous Eichmann’s testimony was, were not in their possession.

Strangneth brings her monograph to a close by examining the accuracy of books that were published after the trial that purported to use the Sassen documents and admonishes some for not living up to high academic standards, something that she has done throughout her work.  EICHMANN BEFORE JERUSALEM, can be somewhat dry in spots but overall it is an amazing study of a subject that needed clarification and it brings to the fore primary documents that will assist future historians.  One can only hope that documents that have not been released pertaining to the Sassen papers, as well as documents held by the German government will soon be made available for historical research so we can obtain an even more accurate picture of what the Nazis perpetrated throughout Europe during W.W.II.

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown

(1936 University of Washington rowers who won gold at the Berlin Olympics)

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown is nothing short of a labor of love.  In describing the journey of the University of Washington rowing team from their blue collar origins, facing numerous financial obstacles, and confronting well funded opponents as they sought to represent the United States in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, the author has presented a riveting narrative that will touch the reader on many levels.  In addition to the personal stories that are described, Brown writes of the poetry that is a necessity for a rowing team to be successful.  The story is told through the eyes of many of the participants in their quest for rowing perfection, but a number of characters stand out.  The coaches;  Al Ulbrickson, a quiet taskmaster who keeps his emotions inside, his freshman coach, Tom Bolles, who develops many of the rowers; to Joe Rantz, who must overcome poverty and abandonment by his family, to George Pocock, the British craftsman who lovingly constructed the shells that the rowers would use on their way to Berlin and after.   The story begins in the Seattle area in the midst of the Great Depression and its impact on the region in general and the young men whose futures depend on making the University of Washington’s rowing team.

The story focuses on the life of Joe Rantz whose mother died of throat cancer when he was a nine and was sent to Pennsylvania to live with an aunt.  Later, his father remarries and when Joe returns to his family he does not get along with his knew step mother.  Eventually Joe’s father must make a choice between his son and his second wife and the family they were building.  After the family home burns down Joe is exiled to live in a school house away from the family for a period of time, when finally Joe’s father informs him that the family was moving away and that he had to remain and fend for himself at the age of fifteen.  For the next few years Joe employs the survival skills his father has taught him, and skills he developed on his own like poaching salmon and stealing alcohol for resale to overcome the obstacles he faces.  Finally, he is taken in by his married older brother and is able to graduate from high school and gain admittance to the University of Washington.  After being recruited by the freshman rowing coach, Joe realizes the ticket to his future was to make the rowing team.  Joe had little money and few clothes and lived in a room at the YMCA.  He took a number of menial jobs and fit them in around his studies and the torturous grind that was college rowing.  Brown follows the trials that Joe must overcome as he draws the reader into the narrative to the point that you do not want to put the book down.

I have read a number of books of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  David Clay Large’s, THE NAZI GAMES: THE OLYMPICS OF 1936, and BERLIN GAMES: HOW THE NAZIS STOLE THE OLYMPIC DREAM by Guy Walters stand out, but Brown’s effort surpasses anything I have read for its detail, understanding the human emotion of sport, and how world events, particularly the rise of Nazi Germany impinged on the athletic stage.  Brown does a wonderful job of integrating the history of the time period into his narrative.  The reader is exposed to the devastation caused by the depression in the mid 1930s.  The unemployment and resulting poverty and their effect on families as fathers are forced to leave their children in order to seek a job elsewhere.  The Dust Bowl that blankets the Midwest at first and then destroys top soil throughout the United States resulting in the destruction of a major part of American agricultural production is reviewed in detail.  Overseas, the rise of Adolf Hitler to power is explained and the resulting violence against Gypsies, Jews, and Catholics is presented.  On a more personal level, Brown discusses the hatred between Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, and Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s chosen film maker as they fight over how the message of the Nazi ideal should be presented to the world.  The reader witnesses the laying of the foundation of what will grow into the Holocaust after the Olympic Games are completed.  The reader is made aware of the political infighting in the United States as President Roosevelt tries to deal with the problem of Nazi expansion.  In exploring these avenues, Brown places the Olympic Games in their proper historical context, and the importance of a Jesse Owens and the many athletes who sought to show Nazi racial theory for what it really was.

Apart from the personal stories of the nine men who will emerge from the rowing competitions from 1933 to 1936 in regattas such those on the Pacific coast, Poughkeepsie, New York, and the Olympic trials in Princeton, New Jersey what truly surprised me was the training that the rowers were exposed to.  I confess my knowledge of rowing is nil, but after reading Brown’s narrative I at least have some understanding of what the athletes went through.  The author’s description of “pain” cuts to the core of what these men accomplished.  For Brown the common denominator for the rower is that pain is “part and parcel” of the learning experience.  “It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.” (40) Brown’s discussion of the mechanics of rowing is important for the novice reader to understand what it means to have a successful “boat.”  In the case of the University of Washington’s first boat, “every one of them had come from humble origins or had been humbled by the ravages of the hard times in which they had grown up.  Each in his own way had learned that nothing could be taken for granted in life…..The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility—the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole—humility was the common gateway through which they were able to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before.” (241)

(US rowers win gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games)

The unbelievable demands of training, the fear of not having enough money for tuition each semester, feeling of anxiety, were among the many things that each rower had to overcome.  They knew the odds were stacked against them as their chief western competitor; the University of California had better facilities and financial support as did the eastern Ivy League schools.  Brown raises the important issue of social class in explaining the opponents the rowers had to contend with.  The ivy rowers mostly came from prep schools, had parents who were bankers and lawyers, and did not have to worry about their futures.  On the other hand, as Brown eloquently describes Joe Rantz and his team mates were blue collar in origin, and poverty was their life’s norm.  Brown’s rendition of the important characters in his narrative is sensitive and honest and as the story progresses the reader is rooting for “U Wash,” and as the author explains strategy, motivation, and the details of each race you feel as if you are sitting in the shell with the rowers, or you are inside the head of Bobby Moch, the coxswain, planning his next move as the rowing process has a very important cerebral component.

The author presents the pageantry and ostentation that was the 1936 Nazi Olympics in great detail.  He describes the hiding of any evidence of what Nazism was in reality; from removing the Gypsies, to taking down all evidence of anti-Semitism, and the vicious articles in the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer, magically disappearing.  Brown describes the first six rowing competitions in which the Germans won five gold medals.  He reserves his best for the final race involving the nine on nine competition that all looked forward to.  It is interesting how the US boat was placed in the worst lane, when having won the preliminary race they should have had the best one.  Needless to say, the US rowers were at a disadvantage from the outset.  Brown’s overall description of the race is amazing as the reader can hear his voice as if he were rendering the race’s description vocally as a play by play on the radio that millions across America were listening to.  The US would win the race by six-tenths of a second over Italy and one second over Germany as Hitler stood up and immediately walked out.  After reading Brown’s rendition of the race I immediately found a You Tube film on my lap top and watched the emotion of the rowers at the race’s conclusion over and over.  THE BOYS IN THE BOAT is a wonderful story, and what makes it better is that it is shows the triumph of the human spirit and though it is a “sports” book, it is one that can be enjoyed by all.