A detailed look at the grim work of tracking Nazis over the decades since World War II.
Formerly the Hong Kong bureau chief for Newsweek, Nagorski (Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, 2012, etc.) has interviewed some of the protagonists in this long journey to bring to justice Nazis still at large—e.g., former Austrian secretary general of the U.N., Kurt Waldheim, evidence of whose former work for the Wehrmacht in the Balkans emerged during his run for Austrian president in 1986. Nagorski tracks how the initial quest for vengeance on the captured Nazis by the victors gave way to the Allied (specifically American) insistence that establishing a historical record in a public trial was as important as punishing the guilty. The author emphasizes the little-known military trial held at Dachau on Nov. 13, 1945, just prior to the International Military Tribunal held at Nuremberg, featuring the effectively low-key chief prosecutor William Denson, who established that the SS officers of the camp were part of a “common design” to commit criminal acts in a “machinery of extermination,” and thus it was not necessary to prove specific crimes committed by each. Subsequent trials, such as at Nuremberg, relied on the incriminating documents of the Germans themselves rather than eyewitness accounts such as those used by Denson. While the apprehension, trial, and execution of actual Nazis only skimmed the surface, the whole process, as Nagorski notes, functioned as a symbolic act of reckoning. It forced the German public to assimilate the chilling, technical details of those running the camps when interest in the trials began to flag in the 1950s. Simon Wiesenthal, Mossad chief Isser Harel, Jan Sehn, and Elizabeth Holtzman, among others, were instrumental in tracking notorious criminals like Adolf Eichmann and Klaus Barbie to the finish. At the beginning of the book, the author provides a helpful list of the “hunters” and the “hunted.”
Packed with the tangled, riveting detail of the many cases, this is more sensational reading than astute legal analysis—but absorbing nonetheless.