The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past

( 13 )

Overview

What if you found out that your grandfather had been a Nazi SS officer?

This is the confession that Martin Davidson received from his mother upon the death of demanding, magnetic grandfather Bruno Langbehn. The Perfect Nazi is Davidson's exploration of his family's darkest secret.

As Davidson dove into his research, drawing on an astonishing cache of personal documents as well as eyewitness accounts of this historical period, he learned that ...

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The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past

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Overview

What if you found out that your grandfather had been a Nazi SS officer?

This is the confession that Martin Davidson received from his mother upon the death of demanding, magnetic grandfather Bruno Langbehn. The Perfect Nazi is Davidson's exploration of his family's darkest secret.

As Davidson 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: from his upbringing in a fiercely military environment amid the aftermath of World War I, to his joining the Nazi party in 1926 at the age of nineteen, more than six years before Hitler came to power, to his postwar involvement with the Werewolves, the gang of SS stalwarts who vowed to keep on after the defeat of Nazism.

Davidson 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. But he also realized that every fact he uncovered was a terrible truth he himself would have to come to terms with...

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Editorial Reviews

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
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425245446
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 430,729
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Davidson is the commissioning editor for history and business programs at the BBC. He has two degrees from Oxford University. As a filmmaker specializing in historical and cultural subjects, he has produced and directed many documentaries for the BBC, A&E, and the History Channel. He lives in Oxford, England, with his family.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Preface 1

One Funeral in Berlin 7

Two SS Curriculum Vitae 32

Three Fathers and Sons 1906-1922 50

Four Fulfillment! 1922-1926 81

Five Street-Fighting Man 1926-1933 107

Six Triumph of the Will 1933-1937 140

Seven Men in Black 1937-1939 177

Eight War! 1939-1944 218

Nine Endgame 1944 -1946 260

Ten Aftermath 1946-1992 301

Postscript 321

Notes 329

Bibliography 351

Index 359

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An Important Book

    "The Perfect Nazi:Uncovering My Grandfather's Secret Past" by Martin Davidson, a non-fiction book which follows the authors research about his grandfather, an SS officer. Mr. Davidson hit it on the nose when he wrote that this book "is a cautionary tale, a living example of the harm even little men can achieve in times of historical madness".f

    Growing up in Scotland, Martin Davidson knew his grandfather is a man who likes to tell jokes and stories. After his grandfather died Mr. Davidson discovered that his grandfather had many skeletons in his closet, not the least are a membership in the Nazi party (one of the first to join) and wore with pride his SS uniform.

    Mr. Davidson goes on to investigate his grandfather's role in the Third Reich and the atrocities committed under that banner. The story is written about Bruno Langbehn, but is paralleled to the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

    I have been working on the genealogy of my family for many years now. I boast about 2,500 in my family tree going back to around 1,550. I have discovered lost cousins, opera singers, concert musicians but never, to my knowledge, anyone as notorious as Martin Davidson discovered in "The Perfect Nazi".

    Mr. Davidson is a television producer for the BBC but as a child growing up in Scotland he thought his grandfather was simply a retired German dentist. However, Bruno Langbehn was no mere dentist, but a proud member of the Nazi party wearing his Gold Party Badge (given to those who joined early and hence can claim low party ID numbers) with pride till his last day.

    In the book, Davidson is forced to confront reality. His grandfather wasn't a German jumping on the bandwagon, but a thug committed to the ideals of the National Socialist Party. While Davidson didn't find out if his grandfather committed any atrocities, he was certainly one of the enables which helped Hitler's rise.

    As a young man Bruno Langbehn devoured literature which glorifies war and truly believed the anti-Semitic propaganda which inspired many to join the National Socialism movement.
    The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

    Bruno later joined Ernst Röhm's SA, the street thugs known for their brown shirts and brutality. Suffering an injured arm which happened during a riding accident, Langbehn later ran teams of SS agents and proudly wore the SS uniform.

    Bruno Langbehn is of no-note to history, which is why this book is so compelling. Mr. Davidson tries to give an insight into the mindset of a thug, one of thousands on which the rise to power of the Third Reich was based upon. This insight is unsettling but makes a forceful tale.

    For me, the most disturbing part of the book was the last chapter - Bruno's after war years. Never been brought up on war crimes (due to his law rank), Langbehn was allowed to continue practice dentistry and, amazingly, kept his own name while reaping the fruits of the economic boom West Germany was privileged to enjoy. All the while keeping to his ideological roots, never wavering from his lifelong beliefs of the National Socialist Party.

    Having several family members whose life were made miserable by thugs like Langbehn, I found that aspect extremely disturbing.

    This is an important book which shows the harm each and every one of us can create when the world goes nuts!

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2012

    Exalent?????

    Referal from friend but so
    Uposed to ne good !!!!!

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2011

    Excellent

    A unique inside view into WwII and the Nazis.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2012

    ?Hola?

    Comaoasta soy lorel

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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