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To young Jean-Paul Varin, football (soccer) is a passion, and Feldwebel Hans, German star before the war and occupation, is his god. During the four years Hans has been stationed at Nogent-Plage, a bond has developed between him and the villagers; he understands them, they trust him. Suddenly a sniper picks off the German captain, and Hans, temporarily in charge, is ordered to take six hostages and shoot them at the end of an hour if the culprit is not found. He knows each--one is the schoolmaster father of Jean-Paul--and when the hour is up he cannot bring himself to carry out the order (""I cannot escuse myself by depositing my conscience with my superiors""). But his superiors prevail and Hans--""how did I get here?""--is accessory if not executioner. Cut to Rouen, 1948: Hans, dubbed the Butcher of Nogent-Plage, is sentenced to ten years at hard labor; despite his protestation of innocence, he is ready... ""nous etions tous les assassins."" Cut to Rouen, 1964, the football championship of Europe: pitted against each other are a German team captained by its veteran goalie (Hans) and a French team sparked by its star forward (Jean-Paul). Experience and cohesiveness triumph over brilliant individuality (?), but on their flight (from French resentment) toward the frontier, part of the German team, including Hans, is halted in a French village by a faulty engine. It is Nogent-Plage; the villagers, recognizing Hans, seize him and are about to burn him to death when Jean-Paul arrives. Dispelling their mad fury, he rescues and embraces Hans--who is shot down a moment later to die in the arms of ""his enemy, his friend."" Only as parable is the contrived plot acceptable, despite the palpable tension in town and stadium, despite the effective moral disputation. This prelude and postscript to Nuremberg is neither literature nor documentary, but there's no denying its intermittent power to move emotions, its possible power to move minds.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1967
Publisher: Morrow