The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather's Secret Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation by Martin Davidson
|The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather's Secret Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation by Martin Davidson|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A great combination of Nazi history with the autobiography of the author's grandfather's time in the SS - although certainly geared more towards the former.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: August 2010|
Meet Martin Davidson. Now, when I start my reviews like that, normally it means he's the main character, but he's not here. He's big in the world of BBC History documentaries, and grew up in the UK, half Scottish and half German, knowing that many of his older relatives lived through the Second World War. Foremost among them was his German grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, who would have been of fighting age - in his 30s - during the Third Reich. Nothing much was ever said about Bruno's own history during the war, except for many inflammatory, rising comments by Bruno himself. It took the old man to die for the truth to be admitted by Martin's mother - their forefather was in the SS.
And I shall use the very words our author uses at least twice here - worse was to come. Using some exceptional research skills, the family found out a lot more about Bruno. He was an early member of the Nazi Party - volunteering to join while Berlin was suffering heady and heavy-handed 'politics' during the Weimar Republic. He joined not to further himself, not because he saw it a wise thing to do concerning his career in dentistry, but because his own philosophy was exactly right for the Nazis. They were a perfect match. Bruno quickly became a member of the SA - the Brownshirts, and the nastiest bunch of them, what's more - the most violent group of street thugs - one of the first to murder a Communist, one of the most violent come Kristallnacht.
Langbehn went further - becoming a member of the SS with his persuasive mix of Nazi ideology and career in the Party. There he joined the SD - the top group of the top group, as some had it - the same SD involved with death squads on the Eastern Front, and the Final Solution. Langbehn's career ended with him a sort of SS Captain - the same rank as the nastiest camp commandants.
Langbehn's biography contains a lot more, and the nature of the times is that Martin Davidson could only find some of it out. But this book has three aspects - the life of Langbehn is only one. There's something of the nature of our guide's discoveries and what it meant to the family to find out how pro-Nazi Bruno was. But first and foremost is the history of those times, from the very factors of German life and history that generated the whole Nazi ethos post World War One, through the works of the SA, SS and SD, to the climactic days of the War.
And this is a history that's very well told. There are a couple of times we seem to have had minor details edited out (Bruno seems to easily join section 6 of something we were only told had 3), but the history is very readable. If you think you might not get your head round SA, SS and SD and which is which, fear no more. You might seek for more biography and less dense history, but the latter is embellished by the research into Bruno's life, and the consummate detail provides us with opportunity to put ourselves in his shoes, and see just what he might have gone through.
This then is not so much a dead Nazi resurrected - although it's got enough for all the author's family to learn a lot from, for better or worse. It's the single most momentous political system of all time, writ large as regards the life of one of its adherents. From the young lad growing up in a military atmosphere to his own military career (which is not exactly as nasty as you might have guessed), all the cause and effect are here in telling facts. There's an approach that makes this more than readable, however many histories of the Nazis you might have read before, and this is a solid, excellently-researched and well-presented addition to the shelves of WWII factual writing.
I must thank the kind Penguin/Viking people for my copy.
A very different life of those times is to be read in Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend by Catrine Clay, which you might possibly prefer for its balance being more towards the biography side.
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