This is a provocative book that deals with a hugely controversial subject and will become absorbing reading for those who agree with the author and those who find exception with his conclusions.
NAME: The Last Nazis, The Hunt for Hitler’s Henchmen
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
AUTHOR: Mark Felton
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: Hard back
SUBJECT: WWII, National Socialists, German war criminals, extermination camps, guards, doctors, administrators, the Final Solution
DESCRIPTION: There will be many who are revolted by the actions of German Nazis, but feel that there is now little point in spending energy tracking down the last old men and women who evaded capture and trial for their crimes. In 1945, the USSR, in particular, needed show trials of Germans. Those swept up in the final days of conflict and placed in camps for interrogation and trial were a complete cross section of those who had served Nazi Germany. From Field Marshal Goering to the youngest SS trooper, they received the hostile attentions of a victorious alliance. Some of those tried and hanged were guilty of minor crime in comparison with those who had evaded capture, but they were there and vengeance was visited on them. Some who should have received severe penalties were able to fool their captors and were soon free. Many who should have been placed on trial lived in plain sight and many of these avoided sanction because they were useful to the Allies. The US employed a number of Nazis in their early space program and in the development of chemical and biological weapons. Data gathered by Nazis doctors in experiments on concentration camp inmates was used by the Allies in military medicine. It was an imperfect system to deal with the ending of World War Two. There is information that has been kept secret and may not be revealed for decades to come and some of these secrets may have been destroyed. All of these factors combine with the utter confusion of 1945 as millions of people tried to migrate back to the homes war had torn them from. Many people had lost all of their papers and possessions. It was very easy for a Nazi to take on a new identity, or to simply take flight. The SS had established a support service to aid the escape of SS personnel and had moved money out of Germany before the end of the war. After 1945, a number of Nazis managed to slip back into normal peacetime life and establish business enterprises or return to family businesses and politics. They used some of their new wealth to help former comrades to continue to evade capture. Many senior Nazis simply disappeared and no one is certain whether they were killed or escaped. Conspiracy theories continue to circulate, claiming that figures like Hitler and his close associates escaped. However, time inevitably reduces the numbers. The youngest surviving Nazis are now in their late seventies and any Nazi of middle or senior rank will be in his or her 80s or 90s or older. For more than six decades, the Israeli Government and the Simon Weisenthal Centre have maintained special records and searched for Nazis who evaded capture and trial. This book considers the processes of hunting Nazis and the successes and failures. The author seems to have been determined to shock. The crimes committed by the Nazis against their victims were terrible. At best, in the early Nazi years, casual brutality was visited on anyone who complained, or was part of a racial, religious or political group disliked by the Nazis. The chilling fact is that most Nazis were perfectly ordinary Germans. They demonstrated how easily someone can turn to horrific crimes when accountability fades and circumstances provide flimsy justifications. Very few Nazis were mad or evil. Most were soldiers and bureaucrats and lawyers who were able to detach themselves from normal human restraint. In the beginning, Nazis used sections of society as hate focus points to assist in gaining political power. Once in power, Nazis systematically robbed and expelled those they disliked. Once war closed borders, they expanded concentration camps as places to hold those they could no longer easily expel. Starvation and casual brutality gave way to deliberate extermination programs. In the final stages of war, the Nazis speeded up their extermination program and tried to remove evidence of the camps and the crimes. The author provides an account and examples of Nazi evaders. He also covers the saga of John Demjanjuk who was accused of being a notorious camp guard. The saga demonstrates the difficulties in obtaining reliable witness evidence so many years after the events. The efforts expended against this individual were out of proportion to his real history. He was pursued after it had been established that he was not the person accusers had claimed him to be. There will be some who still claim that he was not even the minor camp guard at another camp who might or might not have been responsible for war crimes. When history looks back on the hunting and trial of Nazis, it may conclude that this was an understandable but seriously flawed process, where the most guilty escaped in one way or another, whilst great effort was expended on a small number of lesser players and an army, similarly guilty, escaped all attention. One fact of this unforgivable historical event is that many of those most actively engaged in the murder and mistreatment of their victims were not German and a number of them continued on after 1945 in positions of authority. This is a provocative book that deals with a hugely controversial subject and will become absorbing reading for those who agree with the author and those who find exception with his conclusions.