- Nazis After Hitler: How Perpetrators of the Holocaust Cheated Justice and Truth by Donald M. McKale
Everyone remembers Josef Mengele, the infamous "Angel of Death," who as chief SS physician presided over the murder of hundreds of thousands of inmates at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. But did you ever wonder what happened to Karl Clauberg, another Auschwitz doctor who coordinated the sterilization of Jewish, Roma and Sinti, and other female prisoners? Or Josef Kramer, the "Beast of Belsen," who as the last commandant of Bergen-Belsen oversaw the incarceration of the family of Anne Frank and allowed the camp to deteriorate to the point that cannibalism occurred? Or Franz Stangl, a "euthanasia specialist" who managed Sobibor, built the gas chambers at Treblinka, and then oversaw the latter camp?
Nazis After Hitler answers these questions and poses new ones. The questions Donald McKale answers are the biographical ones; the questions he poses are institutional, legal, and policy-related. Why weren't more of these men prosecuted? What political hurdles kept the Allies from pursuing lower level Nazis? Why was Israel at first disinterested in capturing Adolf Eichmann and bringing him to justice? What role did the onset of the Cold War play as opposed to other factors? Such questions still linger and will provide fodder for further research.
This is Donald McKale's eighth book about Nazi history. His knowledge of the subject clearly runs deep. In his latest work McKale conducts a survey—methodically sketching some of Hitler's most famous henchmen and in particular their postwar lives and how some contributed to the Holocaust denial movement (although most did not themselves deny the Holocaust). [End Page 344]
McKale's approach is narrative, blending chronology and biography. Consequently, the structure of the book mirrors the postwar scattering of former Nazis. The reader alternately learns about capture and trial in Nuremberg or Copenhagen, flight to Damascus, or the establishment of residence in Chile. The swiftness and variety in their changed circumstances led to what McKale attempts to convey here: the near impossibility of any coordinated and sustained approach to the problem in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Some characters appear frequently (like Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler), others only in vignettes (like Franz Schlegelberger, the minister of justice who helped rationalize the Final Solution). McKale's treatment of major and minor characters produces a mosaic of disjointed outcomes: some were tried and executed, some were captured and then inexplicably released, others evaded capture and lived out their lives—sometimes in fear, sometimes in undeserved peace and quiet.
The extensive notes and bibliography reflect McKale's exhaustive research. That said, the work could have benefited from more first-hand accounts collected from survivors and participants; most of the narrative derives from printed or taped source material, admittedly extremely rich. But more could have been collected as original material. For example, Gabriel Bach, the deputy prosecutor of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, is still around, living with his wife in Jerusalem, and still grants interviews about his experience during the Eichmann trial. He might have added color to the treatment here: the construction of the case, selection of the evidence, the pitfalls in a universal jurisdiction prosecution of this magnitude, the impact of victim testimony on the judges and attorneys.
Despite any shortcomings, however, McKale's work comes across as a story chilling in detail and disturbing in perspective. Two themes emerge, as suggested in the subtitle, How Perpetrators of the Holocaust Cheated Justice and Truth. The first theme is that most of the Nazis chronicled here—and many others—evaded punishment altogether, while many who were captured cheated justice via acquittal or short sentences. McKale perhaps invests too much righteous indignation into this strand in his prose, enough to distract from the tale. The author's personal involvement may lead to a somewhat unbalanced approach, although to be fair who could be "balanced" toward such subjects? Still, for instance, some of this energy might have been better invested...