Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Nazi Hunters, by Andrew Nagorski

Today, we commonly, almost universally think of Nazis as the worst kind of criminal.  Andrew Nagorski tells the stories of many of those who have hunted and prosecuted those criminals in The Nazi Hunters.  Nagorski follows the history from the time during and immediately after World War 2 up to the present day.  Obviously, the story won't go on much longer, as the Nazis from the WW2 era are nearly extinct.

Some of the names of the Nazi hunters may be familiar, especially Simon Wiesenthal.  Nagorski makes plain that, while the crimes of the Nazis were heinous, the Nazi hunters, despite their virtuous mission, were no strangers to violence and skirting the law.  One of the themes Nagorski visits is the antipathy toward Nazi hunting among the German people.  Many Germans, understandably, just wanted to forget about that period of history.  Despite the efforts of the Allies and of the post-war German government, many Nazi officials and sympathizers retained power in East and West Germany.

Holocaust deniers persisted (and still persist).  Some of the Nazi hunters saw their task not as revenge or even justice, but as a mission to ensure that future generations never forgot the Holocaust.  By recording testimony of camp guards, Nazi commanders, and camp survivors, and by presenting evidence (that is, any they could find that wasn't destroyed by the Nazis), a record was created that should not be subject to dispute.  It's an ugly chapter in human history, but one that should not be ignored or forgotten.

The lives of the Nazi hunters weren't as dramatic as the action heroes in the movies about Nazi hunters, but their task was important.  The excuse of "just following orders" wouldn't wash with them.  As Nagorski recounts, Nazi's attitudes ranged from willful ignorance to malicious animosity.  Whatever the case, only a small number of the guilty were punished.  Were it not for the Nazi hunters, that number would have been even smaller.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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