An early Brownshirt gets involved with Hitler’s niece and alters the course of history.
National Socialism’s lean days in the 1920s, when the party wasn’t yet just Hitler, provide the background for this debut from Newsweek International senior editor Nagorski, whose nonfiction The Birth of Freedom (1993) dealt with eastern Europe’s reemergence. Here, young Berliner Karl Naumann drifts away from the wreck of a household haunted by the death of his older brother in the Great War and by an abusive father. In the chaos wreaked by that war, the handsome and uneducated but intelligent youth is just confused enough to drift to the National Socialists, attracted by the party’s patriotism and dedication to the little man. Influenced by real-life party activists Otto and Gregor Strasser, Karl finds family feeling and a mission in the Free Corps, a paramilitary organization run by Otto that, as the S.A., would become part of Hitler’s organized thug troops. Karl is happy to leave Berlin and the scene of his young sexual frustrations in order to be closer to the heart of the party in Munich. There, in a city much more attractively German than polyglot Berlin, Karl becomes involved with Sabine, a pretty, nonpolitical nurse, and works his way from the fringes of the party to real activism as a Youth Corps leader. Hitler is very present, and Karl sees much of him, observing and sometimes falling victim to the future Führer’s magnetic oratory. But the oratory is less compelling than the attractions of Geli, the daughter of Hitler’s half-sister and a permanent attachment of the household. There are camping trips with the jugend and communist-bashing sessions with the S.A., but even though Karl marries Sabine, his heart is less and less in the party and more and more obsessed with the luscious Geli—as, it becomes obvious, is her creepy half-uncle.
The history and thoroughly believable up-and-down career of an early Nazi fall victim to a strange ”what if?” anticlimax. (For another fictional rendering of Hitler’s “love” affair with the gorgeous Geli, see Ron Hansen’s Hitler’s Niece, 1999.)