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The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past Hardcover – March 31, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; Reprint edition (March 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399157018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399157011
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If it were not for BBC editor Davidson's grandfather's position as an officer in the Nazis' SD "security police," this would be only one more guilty memoir by the descendant of a mid-level Nazi. Davidson, however, succeeds in creating an overview not only of his maternal grandfather's life and career but of his own search for truth. As family rumors and occasional comments implied, Bruno Langbehn was more than a retired dentist. An early Nazi Party member , and "disdain political anonymity," Langbehn joined the SS in 1937. Selected for Heydrich's elite SD, he specialized in investigating German "reactionaries" who opposed the Nazi regime. Later, Langbehn and his immediate family were transferred to Prague, where he participated in organizing "one of Himmler's most desperate ideas": the "Werewolf" resistance force to wage guerrilla warfare against the victorious Allies after the war's end. Needless to say, "Werewolf" came to nothing. Langbehn escaped Allied justice and returned to Berlin, where he died in 1992. Above all, Langbehn emerges from this compelling account as an unrepentant fanatic whose grandson, Davidson, is understandably saddened by this family connection. While the book could have benefited from more details on some events of the war, this remains a disturbing account of the legacy of Nazism. (Apr.)
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About the Author

Martin Davidson is the commissioning editor for history and business programs at the BBC. He has two degrees from Oxford University. As a filmmaker specializing in historical and cultural subjects, he has produced and directed many documentaries for the BBC, A&E, and the History Channel. He lives in Oxford, England, with his family.

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Customer Reviews

A must read for those interested in WW2.
Susan Bohdan
It is quite readable, but most of the information is widely known for people with an interest in WW2 history (which is the target audience of this book).
Robbert Patrison
A disappointing effort, since there is not very much in the way of rich biographical detail.
Cary B. Barad

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When Martin Davidson's grandfather died in 1992, Davidson knew that the family had lost a colorful character. Davidson grew up in Scotland, and the times he saw his mother's father, Bruno Langbehn, visiting from Germany, the man seemed at least at times a perfect grandfather, full of funny stories and jokes. Sure, he had lived through the Nazi onslaught and defeat, and like a lot of Germans of his generation, he still enjoyed gathering with his soldier buddies. When he died in 1992, that would have closed that family chapter, except that Davidson makes historical documentaries and got curious about the war history his grandfather never talked about. It turns out that Bruno Langbehn was not only a Nazi, but he was one of the first to sign up, before Hitler came to power, and not only had he been in the SS, he had been a loyal wearer of the death's-head ring that was given out in person by Heinrich Himmler. Davidson's curiosity led him (and his sister) to start digging in archives in Germany, America, and the Czech Republic. He also got members of his family to participate as much as they could; you can imagine how difficult this would have been for them. The result is _The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather's Secret Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation_ (Penguin / Viking), a unique look at a more-or-less ordinary guy and his participation in Nazism, the sort of participation that must have happened thousands of times in the furtherance of the Third Reich. Langbehn had successfully kept his Nazi role secret from the world; Davidson rightly has concluded that Langbehn's crimes forfeit any claim to posthumous anonymity, and the resulting book is a fascinating case study.Read more ›
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on April 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A troubling family history can cast a shadow over one's life, no matter how brilliant that life may be. Martin Davidson is a graduate of Oxford, the commissioning editor for history and business programming for the BBC, and a producer of documentaries for A&E and the History Channel. He was well into his career when in 1992 he found he had a ghost to chase --- that of his grandfather, the jovial dentist who, he learned, was a fanatical Nazi, one of the early followers of Hitler and a man well-rewarded for his party loyalty.

THE PERFECT NAZI is Davidson's personal documentary, a disturbing look at the mask of banality and human feeling covering a distorted, sin-ridden countenance.

Born in 1906, Bruno Langbehn was a young man studying for dentistry when he became obsessed with the philosophy of Adolf Hitler. As Davidson remarks, it was a "journey from teenage fanatic to Third Reich perpetrator." During the early days of Bruno's captivation with Nazism, he was spurred by his reading of Mein Kämpf in which the Fuhrer-to-be made it clear that he was chosen to rid the world of the scourge of Judaism. The young man was able to deepen his involvement with Hitler's cause by participating in rallies in which communists and other enemies of the Reich-to-be were called out and savagely beaten. By 1937 he had become a commissioned SS lieutenant proud of his racial classification --- Aryan and "predominately Nordic" --- and his status as alter Kämpfer, someone who had joined the movement in its inception.

As Davidson notes, Bruno's desire to be part of the SS "placed him at the crux of the Third Reich's crucial transformation from authoritarian fascist dictatorship to fully fledged Nazi state, premised on racial exclusion and licensed international aggression.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Man of La Book on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"The Perfect Nazi:Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past" by Martin Davidson, a non-fiction book which follows the authors research about his grandfather, an SS officer. Mr. Davidson hit it on the nose when he wrote that this book "is a cautionary tale, a living example of the harm even little men can achieve in times of historical madness".f

Growing up in Scotland, Martin Davidson knew his grandfather is a man who likes to tell jokes and stories. After his grandfather died Mr. Davidson discovered that his grandfather had many skeletons in his closet, not the least are a membership in the Nazi party (one of the first to join) and wore with pride his SS uniform.

Mr. Davidson goes on to investigate his grandfather's role in the Third Reich and the atrocities committed under that banner. The story is written about Bruno Langbehn, but is paralleled to the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

I have been working on the genealogy of my family for many years now. I boast about 2,500 in my family tree going back to around 1,550. I have discovered lost cousins, opera singers, concert musicians but never, to my knowledge, anyone as notorious as Martin Davidson discovered in "The Perfect Nazi".

Mr. Davidson is a television producer for the BBC but as a child growing up in Scotland he thought his grandfather was simply a retired German dentist. However, Bruno Langbehn was no mere dentist, but a proud member of the Nazi party wearing his Gold Party Badge (given to those who joined early and hence can claim low party ID numbers) with pride till his last day.

In the book, Davidson is forced to confront reality. His grandfather wasn't a German jumping on the bandwagon, but a thug committed to the ideals of the National Socialist Party.
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