german trauma by Gitta Sereny (Penguin), 371 pages, $20.99 paper. Rating: NNNN
much of gitta sereny's journalistic career has been devoted to coaxing the evil out of lapsed and still-devoted Nazis and dissecting it, peering into the souls of cruel men. In her fascinating book The German Trauma, Sereny recounts her meetings with those who made war on weaker nations, murdered whole populations or made careers out of peddling hate.
She begins with a childhood memory of seeing Hitler. She describes the seductiveness of the pomp and ceremony around a Nazi rally. From that day, exploring Nazism and understanding its impact on the human psyche became her cause.
Thirty years ago she sat down with Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka death camp, who oversaw the murder of 900,000.
He told her he'd never hated Jews, really, and that the Holocaust was basically a money grab by the Nazis.
When she asked Stangl if God was in Treblinka, he told her, "Yes. Otherwise how could it have happened?" These comments reveal an absolute absence of decency and kindness in the mental acrobatics of a self-pitying old man.
There are several new nuggets here. Hitler's chief architect, Albert Speer, the "good Nazi" because he was the most repentant of the Nuremburg war criminals, always denied that he knew about the death camps. Yet here Sereny writes that near the end of his life he did confess to knowing about them.
And in the book's strangest chapter, the author admits that she was a friend of François Genoud, the Hitler-loving Swiss businessman and Nazi spy best known as the copyright owner of the works of Martin Bormann and Josef Goebbels.
German Trauma works both as an odyssey into the minds of Nazis old and new and as important analysis by a very smart journalist.
Holocaust Education Week continues with lectures and remembrances. See Seven Days, page 31.
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