BBC historian and filmmaker Davidson learns that his grandfather was a committed Nazi.
The author grew up knowing that his German grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, had fought in World War II, but the family never spoke of the details. Hints dropped by the old man himself were enough to tantalize, but Davidson was afraid to probe further. Visits to the family’s Berlin home did little to shed light. But when Bruno died in 1992, the author began to look deeper, discovering that Bruno had been not just a Nazi, but a committed, career SS officer. The son of a Prussian soldier, Bruno experienced both the nationalist fervor and the crushing letdown of Germany’s experience in World War I. Postwar society left him disoriented and looking for answers, which he found in the paramilitary right-wing groups that proliferated in 1920s Berlin. The charisma of Hitler and the lure of violence drew him into the SA, the brutal storm troopers, where he thrived in group that took “Murderers” as its nickname. Davidson doesn’t blink at the ugly truth of Bruno’s actions. Instead, he continues to dig, drawing on the little documentary evidence of Bruno’s activities and contemporaneous accounts by other German youths who followed the same path. With Hitler’s rise to power, internal Nazi politics made the SA less central to the party—at which point Bruno, who had a comfortable career as a dentist, switched in 1937 to the SS, where he served in a division that spied on the regime’s internal opposition. He was largely responsible for expelling Jews from the dental profession in Berlin. As the war heated up, he was sent to battle, injured and then redeployed as an SS spy. At every step, he acted as a true believer in Hitler and the Nazi doctrine, a loyalty that probably saved his life when he was briefly suspected of being part of a plot against the Führer. At the end of the war, he barely escaped execution, making his way back to Berlin where he successfully evaded the Allied denazification efforts. Davidson shows it all in telling detail, making little attempt to hide his horror at Bruno’s true nature.
A chilling exposé of a dark family secret.