The Nazi Hunters

Simon & Schuster  2016

 

Andrew Nagorski, a former bureau chief for Newsweek and the author of Hitlerland and Last Stop in Vienna, among other works of nonfiction, delivers a comprehensive and riveting account of the relatively small number of men and women who sought to bring Nazis to justice after the end of the Second World War. The efforts of recognized Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal, Tuvia Friedman, Elizabeth Holtzman, Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, as well as less familiar names— Benjamin Ferencz, Fritz Bauer, William Denson, Michael Musmanno, and Jan Sehn—are told by Nagorski in a book that is never dull and completely absorbing.

Following the end of the war, the Allied governments were engaged in preventing the spread of Soviet Communism. The creation of West Germany became an important barrier as well as a showcase in the ever evolving Cold War. A number of Nazis, however, who normally would have been tried as war criminals now became vital resources for the West in the struggle against Communism—and from the opposing side, as well. Nagorski notes that at the end of the war there were about eight million Germans who were members of the Nazi party, leading the Allies to conclude that it was almost impossible to try all of them, especially since many of them were useful in the struggle against the Soviet Union. The decision was made, therefore, to bring only the top tier of Nazi leaders to trial. Nagorski cites a memo, a secret telegram sent from the British Commonwealth Relations office in London to Commonwealth members, which rationalized the response to pursue a limited number of Nazi war criminals, “In our view punishment of war criminals is a matter of discouraging future generations than of meting out retribution of every guilty individual[…] we are convinced that it is now necessary to dispose of the past as soon as possible.”

Not everyone in or out of government agreed with this policy: Nagorski describes the work of those “Nazi Hunters” who worked to convince their government to pursue second and the third tier of Nazi war criminals—resulting in the Auschwitz trials and the trial of the Einsaztgruppen—as well as the work of the United States Office of Special Investigations (OSI), whose establishment by Congress was made possible by the persistence of Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman. The book also addresses non-governmental Nazi-hunting organizations—such as the World Jewish Congress, which exposed the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim—and individual efforts, like those of the Klarsfeld’s pursuit of Klaus Barbie. Nagorski also describes the controversial work of Simon Wiesenthal in providing Israel with information that led to the capture of Adolf Eichmann, and much more.

Some seven decades after the end of the war against Nazi Germany, there remains only a handful of those war criminals who escaped justice. The full history of how the Nazi hunters tracked those who perpetrated the crimes of the Third Reich is told in full in this indispensable book.

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