A painstakingly researched work regards the brief period early in Hitler’s chancellorship when the murderous events at Dachau might have been stopped by law and order.
Paris-based author Ryback (Hitler’s Private Library: The Books that Shaped His Life, 2008, etc.) tracks the crescendo of events in early 1933, after Hitler blamed the mysterious Reichstag fire on a communist conspiracy and a wave of arrests began filling the first concentration camp outside Munich—accompanied by suspicious deaths. Deputy prosecutor Josef Hartinger of the Dachau jurisdiction, where the detention center for political prisoners had been erected on the site of a former munitions factory, was informed on April 13 that four prisoners had been shot and killed while trying to escape. Investigating the murders, Hartinger and a few loyal colleagues discovered that the prison was not under the command of Bavarian state police, but under the Nazi SS: vicious and unrestrained officers who had unleashed a string of atrocities against the victims (all of whom, it turned out, were Jews). More deaths followed, and Hartinger, a middling civil servant and devout Roman Catholic who showed astounding courage at this dangerous juncture, proceeded with indictments against the murderous guards, despite a warning from the chief prosecutor, in cahoots with chief of Bavarian police Heinrich Himmler, that he would not sign them. Nonetheless, before May 30, when Dachau was officially transferred to SS authority, there was an attempt to regulate it by the rule of law. Ryback ties Hartinger’s report (which eventually surfaced at the postwar Nuremberg trials) to an earlier landmark study, Emil Gumbel’s Four Years of Political Murder (1922), in which the University of Heidelberg professor attempted to explain the upsurge in violence sweeping the land of “poets and thinkers” in the immediate postwar years.
A chilling, lawyerly study with laserlike focus.