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  • The "Nazi Detective" as Provider of Justice in Post-1990 British and German Crime Fiction:Philip Kerr's The Pale Criminal, Robert Harris's Fatherland, and Richard Birkefeld and Göran Hachmeister's Wer übrig bleibt, hat recht
  • Katharina Hall (bio)

Within the wide-ranging field of crime fiction, a substantial subgenre containing over 150 transnational crime novels engages with the National Socialist past and its legacy in the postwar era.1 While a third of these Nazi-themed texts are set during National Socialist rule (1933-45), only a small minority of twelve novels or series feature a "Nazi detective": an investigative figure who works in an official capacity within the structures of the Nazi regime, as part of its police force, army, or paramilitary organizations.2 To date, there has been little examination of the problems and opportunities this detective figure generates for crime writers or of the wider moral implications of his presence within the crime narrative.3 This article explores these questions through an examination of the rise of the Nazi detective in 1990s crime fiction and an analysis of his representation as a provider of justice in three crime novels by "second-generation" authors from Britain and Germany: Philip Kerr's The Pale Criminal (1990), Robert Harris's Fatherland (1992), and Richard Birkefeld and Göran Hachmeister's Wer übrig bleibt, hat recht (2002) (To the Victor the Spoils).

All but two of the Nazi detective novels identified during the research for this article were published after 1990. A number of factors, either singly or in combination, may account for the timing of this miniature boom among authors whose national backgrounds are British (three), German (three), Czech (one), Polish (one), Italian American (one) and Canadian (one). The fortieth and fiftieth anniversary commemorations of D-Day, [End Page 288] in 1985 and 1995, focused renewed attention on the legacy of the Second World War in former Axis and Allied nations and in those that experienced occupation. Midway between these two points, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent end of the Cold War led to a reevaluation of Germany's and Europe's "double past" of fascism and communism and to public discussion of issues such as guilt, victimhood, and memorialization.4 Debates on such subjects were often extremely lengthy and fraught: for example, the building of a Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was first suggested in 1988, formally approved in 1999, and only completed seventeen years later, in 2005.5

In addition, the 1980s and 1990s saw an increased focus on the wartime role of the policeman-perpetrator, via a succession of highly publicized war-crimes trials and an emerging strand of perpetrator-centered historiography that received extensive international attention. In 1981, revelations surfaced of Maurice Papon's involvement in deporting Jews while he was a senior police official in Bordeaux; he was finally brought to trial in 1997.6 Similarly, 1989 saw the arrest of Paul Touvier, a former head of intelligence in the Milice who worked closely with the Gestapo in Vichy France and was tried in 1994.7 During the 1990s, Anglo-American historians, influenced by the German Alltagsgeschichte (the history of everyday life) movement of the 1970s, also began to research the behavior of "ordinary" perpetrators, including policemen. Christopher Browning's study Ordinary Men (1992) scrutinizes the roles of 125 German Ordnungspolizei (regular uniformed police) serving in Reserve Police Battalion 101, a mobile execution squad that killed thirty-eight thousand Jewish civilians in Poland between 1942 and 1943.8 Daniel J. Goldhagen examines the same case in his controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), which brought discussions about perpetrator motivation into the public realm, particularly in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States.9 While Goldhagen asserts a monocausal theory of "eliminationist anti-Semitism" to explain how the reserve policemen were capable of mass murder, Browning advocates a multicausal explanation of their behavior, which includes additional factors such as peer pressure, deference to authority, and careerism.10 His stated aim is not to excuse but to understand more fully the complex range of motivating factors that led the men to behave as they did.11

The emergence of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 288-313
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-31
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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