Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars His Grandfather was "Part of the Machinery of Genocide", May 30, 2012
This review is from: The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past (Hardcover)
In spite of a sparse paper trail, Martin Davidson has written an important book. His courage in sharing the painful revelations about his unrepentant Nazi grandfather allows us a look at the life of a mid-level SS officer. Davidson's German grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Hitler. He was not especially intelligent, nor was he a stereotypical psychopathic SS loon -- he was of the educated middle-class (a dentist) -- like thousands of other SS members who nonetheless were not above indulging in violence when they felt it necessary.

The historical context at times overwhelms Bruno's story, but this may be forgiven in light of the unique picture we are shown. Most readers are aware of the Nuremburg Trials of major Nazi war criminals, who were tried by the Allies after Germany's defeat in WWII. And millions of Germans were simply "bystanders", not actively involved in the violence and persecutions by Hitler and his supporters.

Davidson's grandfather Bruno represents a type of German we are less familiar with: an SS officer just like tens of thousands of other SS officers who were able to thrive and profit from their positions as "part of the machinery of genocide". While searching archival records, Davidson discovered that his great-grandmother Ida's home and dental practice were previously owned by a Jewish dentist who committed suicide in 1942. As head of Berlin's dentist guild, Bruno was likely responsible for the deportation of Jewish dentists in 1942 and the expropriation of the property for his mother-in-law.

SS Captain Bruno's fate after Germany's defeat is no different than many thousands of others: he is able to melt back into the general population and live out his years as a citizen of the prosperous reconstructed country of West Germany. The fact that so many former Nazis ended up in government positions and the corporate world is the most disturbing part of this story. It can't have been easy for Davidson to unearth the unsavory career of his grandfather, and it is a shame that his mother did not have the curiosity to ask any questions of her father. Questioning of other relatives might have provided interesting details on how the generation of children born to Nazis coped with their family history.
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