The Father of a Murderer takes place in a classroom of the Wittelsbach Gymnasium in 1920s Munich over the course of a single Greek lesson. Head-master Himmler (the father of Heinrich Himmler) enters the classroom, apparently to observe the students' progress. However, he soon takes over the lesson himself. Himmler mercilessly tests the boys, but his real purpose is to teach a political lesson to the German youths, and through them to settle accounts with their fathers. In the venerable tradition of German school ...
The Father of a Murderer takes place in a classroom of the Wittelsbach Gymnasium in 1920s Munich over the course of a single Greek lesson. Head-master Himmler (the father of Heinrich Himmler) enters the classroom, apparently to observe the students' progress. However, he soon takes over the lesson himself. Himmler mercilessly tests the boys, but his real purpose is to teach a political lesson to the German youths, and through them to settle accounts with their fathers. In the venerable tradition of German school novels (Musil's Young Torless and Heinrich Mann's Professor Garbage), this tale can be read as an account of routine academic sadism, but the essence of the story lies in the fine nuances of speech, thought, and behavior that illustrate, in the most sophisticated way, how the rise of Hitler was possible. Never before translated into English, this chilling novel was Andersch's final work. Published posthumously in German in 1980, it is considered by many to be his masterpiece.
The murderer of this novella's title is Nazi butcher Heinrich Himmler, the Gestapo chief who engineered the deaths of millions in WW II concentration camps. His father, identified only as ``old Himmler,'' was headmaster at the Munich school from which Andersch, an eighth-grader in 1928, was expelled after flunking Greek. (Years later, Andersch was sent to Dachau for his activities as a Communist youth leader; afterward, he became a newspaper editor and founder of Group 47, whose members included Heinrich Boll and Gunter Grass.) This fictionalized autobiographical reminiscence takes place over the course of a single Greek lesson, conducted sadistically by the authoritarian elder Himmler, who inspects and takes over the class where schoolboy Franz Kien, Andersch's alter-ego, cringes. Old Himmler is a classicist and a member of the Bavarian People's Party; he scorns his infamous son's Nazi politics, by this account. Illuminating the cultural soil in which Nazism took root and flourished, the deftly translated narrative is most telling in its flashbacks to family scenes, as when Franz's anti-Semitic father, a broken WW I veteran who attends pro-fascist rallies and meetings with the junior Himmler, calls the latter ``a splendid young man'' but warns Franz to beware the ``careerist'' elder Himmler. Andersch died in 1979; the novel was published posthumously in Germany in 1980. (Apr.)
A father's horrors are often eclipsed by his son's, but Andersch here proves that the father of Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler was horrible enough. Andersch's book is set in 1928, during a Greek lesson at the school where the father is headmaster. As Himmler Sr. ruthlessly examines the class, young Franz first watches gleefully as a haughty student is belittled and then destroyed with relish. But when Himmler calls Franz to the board, the boy pays dearly for being a poor student. With a torturer's instinct, the headmaster grills him in a sadistic tour de force, exposing Franz's scholastic shortcomings and his family's tragic plight. Published posthumously, this brief autobiographical novel brilliantly portrays the failures of humanism in pre-Nazi Germany. Andersch ponders environment vs. fate as behavioral determinants and proves the question more important than its answer.-- Paul E. Hutchison, Bellefonte, Pa.
Every lazy student lives in terror of having the principal or headmaster show up in class unannounced. It's worse when the student is then called upon. The worst is to be singled out with malice aforethought for a course of questions that clearly show the student to be unprepared and unqualified to be in school at all. Such a sequence of horrors forms the basic plot of this novella recounting an incident from Andersch's youth in 1920s Munich. The twist to the story is that the headmaster is Herr Himmler, whose son Heinrich is a rising star of the right wing closely associated with the somewhat uncouth Austrian, Herr Hitler. Andersch examines in detail the coincidence in which his student life ended at the hands of the "father of a murderer," catching the period's feel quite well and giving a marvelously caustic accounting of the era's social hierarchies among the lower-middle-class and middle-class Bavarians who were the seedbed for the Nazi movement. Recommended.