martin- davidson (2010)

What happens when someone discovers that his German grandfather had been an officer in the SS?

This is an important investigation, painting a very small-scale and personal portrait of National Socialism through the career of a man who had been one of its earliest converts. Bruno Langbehn never achieved any kind of status within the Third Reich, but still managed to be associated with some of its great events through his membership of the Berlin SA and later the SS security service, the Sicherheitsdienst or SD — and through the SD, with the Holocaust, the Stauffenberg attempt on Hitler’s life, and the end of the war in the east.

It would take a brave person to write a book like this so close to their own family, and the author makes an altogether workmanlike and accessible attempt at it. Sometimes it verges a little away from history and towards dramatic reconstruction — we can’t be sure how Bruno felt at key moments, absent any documents or testimony — but in the main the conclusions drawn are rigourously supported and closely argued. The man who emerges is an ambitious, rather incompetent, petty follower of Nazism, who manages to rationalise his experiences in later life. It’s a great addition to the literature.

4/5. Finished Sunday 31 August, 2014.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)