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Book Review of: The Eternal Nazi
From Mauthausen to Cairo, the Relentless Pursuit of SS Doctor Aribert Heim
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The Eternal Nazi, by Author (Hardcover, 2014)|
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A well-researched, adroitly told story of the decades-long pursuit of an alleged Nazi war criminal, Dr. Aribert Heim.
This story is one that just hooks you and keeps you going to see how the anticipated outcome will emerge. It reads like good fiction, in terms of how the authors pace the story and lead the reader through various clues. As with good fiction, the reader hits to cul-de-sacs, dead ends, and detours. And as with really good fiction, the suspense fluctuates its intensity and ends in a way you had not anticipated.
So much for the fiction part. The sheer volume of the sources tapped (plus the consistency with other works) is substantial evidence that the authors went to great lengths to present a factual account rather than pursue an agenda.
They even bring us much of the human side of Aribert Heim, something that, given the subject, must have taken great resolve. It's clear from the text that the authors share the nearly universal revulsion over the despicable acts of the Nazis (especially the attempted extermination of European Jews). So I'm not saying that they, in any way, minimize what happened and try to paint a sympathetic picture of those who committed these atrocities. This is the story of the pursuit of one alleged war criminal, one who was never brought to trial. He was probably guilty, but we don't have a proven case.
I felt the authors tried to present a balanced account, and we did get to see into the mind of Heim. Was he merely engaged in denial and justification? By the end of the book, we aren't sure. But the point of the book is to tell about the search to bring Heim to trial, not take the place of a trial that never happened.
Though many of the sources were books, some were periodicals. Unfortunately, the disinformation source "The New York Times" was used as a source, somewhat diminishing the credibility of the authors' research. However, sometimes the NYT is not totally "alternate universe" in its coverage and maybe that was the case with whatever the authors used from it. Greatly adding to their credibility are direct interviews conducted by the authors themselves.
While the authors don't prove Heim's guilt (again, there was no trial), the circumstantial evidence they provide makes it hard t conclude he was actually innocent. And we do know for a fact that he worked at the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941. The accusations against him came from prisoners who were there. The question, "If he was innocent, why did he run?" would seem to indict him, but that doesn't prove his guilt. In the USA today, people are routinely put on death row even thought they are innocent and running from the authorities when you fear you can't get a fair trial makes a whole lot of sense.
The search for him actually outlasted him, and even after his death was reported the investigation did not stop. That might seem crazy, but the authors explain why this was the case. Nazi hunters had, many times before, been thrown off the trail by faked deaths.
It also might seem crazy that so much effort was devoted to finding a person who was really a small fry. But again, the authors explain why this was the case. As old Nazis died off, the list of Nazis to chase down got smaller. The leaders, being among the oldest, had mostly died off by the 1960s. Heim (who was relatively young during WWII), rose to the top of the list by process of elimination.
There were several other such oddities and questions that the authors explained. This book brought not just new facts about the Nazis, but new nuances about why certain things happened. Gaining a deeper level of understanding is never a bad idea.
This book drills down into a part of world history that is worth exploring. I put it on my "recommended reading" list.
Note: I reviewed the softcover bound galley, not the actual hardbound book. There may be minor differences, but the copyediting quality of the softcover version was extremely high. The version I reviewed ran 250 pages (including the Prologue) and was divided into a large number of small chapters (typically a few pages at most).