The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past

The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past

4.4 13
by Martin Davidson
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Part personal quest, part family memoir, part World War II history- and one horrifying family secret.

What if you found out that your grandfather-the man who had been a demanding, magnetic presence throughout your childhood-was a Nazi SS officer? This is the confession that Martin Davidson, already into middle age, received from his mother upon his

See more details below

Overview

Part personal quest, part family memoir, part World War II history- and one horrifying family secret.

What if you found out that your grandfather-the man who had been a demanding, magnetic presence throughout your childhood-was a Nazi SS officer? This is the confession that Martin Davidson, already into middle age, received from his mother upon his grandfather Bruno Langbehn's death, and The Perfect Nazi is Davidson's exploration, using the skills he honed as a documentary producer for the BBC, of the truth behind this dark family secret.

As Martin dove into his research, drawing on an astonishing cache of personal documents as well as eyewitness accounts of this historical period, he learned that Bruno's story moved lock-step in time with the rise and fall of the Nazi party. He realized that his grandfather was in many ways the "perfect Nazi," his individual experiences emblematic of the generation of Germans who would plunge the world into such darkness-and he discovered all that he would have to come to terms with.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Library Journal
How would you confront the idea that your grandfather may have been one of the most despised people of the 20th century? Davidson (commissioning editor, BBC; A Visitor's Guide to a History of Britain) here writes of his maternal grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, a member of the SS in Nazi Germany. The mystery surrounding Langbehn's World War II service was compounded by his unrepentant attitude and noticeable pride in his past. After his grandfather's death in 1992, Davidson began exploring this past and found a story "typical" of the millions of German men who became Nazis—why they were attracted to Nazism, how their career paths evolved, and what was expected of them. Some of the strongest parts of the book are Davidson's observations and questions about whether Langbehn deserves to be considered equal to the Eichmanns and Himmlers of the regime. VERDICT Academic and public libraries will find this work a good addition to the Nazi genre, particularly as it explores the motives of the perpetrator rather than the plight of the victims. Davidson not only tells the tale of his grandfather's experience, but also provides insight into how and why young Germans could choose the Nazi way of life.—Maria Bagshaw, Ecolab, St. Paul
Kirkus Reviews

BBC historian and filmmaker Davidson learns that his grandfather was a committed Nazi.

The author grew up knowing that his German grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, had fought in World War II, but the family never spoke of the details. Hints dropped by the old man himself were enough to tantalize, but Davidson was afraid to probe further. Visits to the family's Berlin home did little to shed light. But when Bruno died in 1992, the author began to look deeper, discovering that Bruno had been not just a Nazi, but a committed, career SS officer. The son of a Prussian soldier, Bruno experienced both the nationalist fervor and the crushing letdown of Germany's experience in World War I. Postwar society left him disoriented and looking for answers, which he found in the paramilitary right-wing groups that proliferated in 1920s Berlin. The charisma of Hitler and the lure of violence drew him into the SA, the brutal storm troopers, where he thrived in group that took "Murderers" as its nickname. Davidson doesn't blink at the ugly truth of Bruno's actions. Instead, he continues to dig, drawing on the little documentary evidence of Bruno's activities and contemporaneous accounts by other German youths who followed the same path. With Hitler's rise to power, internal Nazi politics made the SA less central to the party—at which point Bruno, who had a comfortable career as a dentist, switched in 1937 to the SS, where he served in a division that spied on the regime's internal opposition. He was largely responsible for expelling Jews from the dental profession in Berlin. As the war heated up, he was sent to battle, injured and then redeployed as an SS spy. At every step, he acted as a true believer in Hitler and the Nazi doctrine, a loyalty that probably saved his life when he was briefly suspected of being part of a plot against the Führer. At the end of the war, he barely escaped execution, making his way back to Berlin where he successfully evaded the Allied denazification efforts. Davidson shows it all in telling detail, making little attempt to hide his horror at Bruno's true nature.

A chilling exposé of a dark family secret.

Jonathan Yardley
[Davidson's grandfather] may not have had his hand on the gas valves at Auschwitz, but his heart was with those who did. His story cannot have been easy for his grandson to tell, but he has done so honestly and utterly without self-congratulation. The Perfect Nazi is a fine piece of work.
—The Washington Post

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399157011
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
03/31/2011
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
9.06(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.24(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >