by Robert Conot ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 25, 1983
Conot, the author of popular non-fictions--most recently, a lively biography of Edison--has set himself to, in effect, re-try the Nazis: within a popular account of the Nuremberg trial, he has enfolded a popular history of Nazi Germany, Nazi aggressions and depredations. For a serious understanding of the enormously complex and controversial ten-month trial of 21 top Nazi leaders, the book is valueless: in his opening pages, Conot gives the impression that the peculiarities of a few key Americans--""idealistic"" planner Murray Bernays, ""bulldozing"" chief prosecutor Robert Jackson--largely determined its inception and conduct; in conclusion, he regrets the judges' emasculation of the collective-guilt charge (implicating members of criminal organizations), without airing the issues, and redundantly pronounces the individual defenses ""specious and flimsy."" The tenor of the book, and what its review of what-they-did will perhaps accomplish for the uninformed, uncritical reader, is well summed up by Conot's strictures on Albert Speer: ""The first twenty-six years of his life he had been a patrician; the next fourteen he had spent in the service of Mephistopheles; twenty-one years of atonement had followed. In his last fifteen years he sought to explain the earlier sixty-one, carving out a highly successful career as an author. . . and to a large extent rehabilitating himself in the eyes of the world."" Early and late Conot also stresses, even more strongly, that the Holocaust happened. In the course of the narrative--along with hearing about Goering's dope addiction, the Reichstag fire, squabbles among the prosecution (and, still more peripherally, a prosecution aide's weakness for ""a stunning Russian interpreter named Tania"")--we are presented with a recap of Nazi persecution of the Jews from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Kristellnacht to the actual testimony of Auschwitz survivors. There is indeed a great deal of testimony incorporated into the lengthy text (pages of interrogation of Reichsbank president Walter Funk, for instance, on charges of stashing away Jewish gold dentures and such for the SS); but little courtroom drama. It has long been known, certainly, that aspects of the trial were botched. Still, the combination of Nazi and Holocaust curiosity is sure to attract some readers to what is essentially a massive trivialization. (See instead Bradley Smith & Airey Neave.)
Pub Date: May 25, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983
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