Hot Nazi beach reads

By PETER KEOUGH  |  August 18, 2009

Boris is an exception in that regard, according to Fabrice d'Almeida's HIGH SOCIETY IN THE THIRD REICH (Polity; 304 pages; $24.95). In this damning, detailed indictment of the rich, famous, and privileged who hobnobbed with Hitler, d'Almeida states that "while National Socialism was indeed a product of a powerful machine for mobilizing the masses," its success "was due above all to the elites. Without the latter's cynicism, history would not have been so tragic."

More in keeping with Cantrell's idea is Dan Fesperman's thoughtful and engrossing THE ARMS MAKER OF BERLIN (Knopf; 384 pages; $24.95). Nat Turnbull, a history professor specializing in the Third Reich and a kind of Indiana Jones of the archives, gets a boozy call from Gordon Wolfe, his estranged mentor, at 1 am. In short order, someone is dead and a 60-year-old box of documents goes missing, and Turnbull is on the case. Meanwhile, in Germany, Kurt Bauer, the wealthy arms maker of the title, is having dreams about his teenage love, Liesl. She was a spitfire, that one, never shy about her anti-Hitler views even at Reich society fêtes where Kurt's parents were trying to schmooze. His love for her draws him into the secret White Rose resistance circle. Seven decades later, Turnbull's need to solve his murder mystery threatens to uncover the truth.

Hans Fallada's republished 1947 novel EVERY MAN DIES ALONE (Melville House; 546 pages; $27) also follows the detective-story template — except that in this case, which is based on a true story, the "criminals" are the honorable Germans and the investigator is with the Gestapo. Otto Quangel keeps his mouth shut and works hard as a foreman at his Berlin factory. His wife, Anna, is a model German hausfrau. Then comes news of the death of their only son in the invasion of France. They cannot remain mute any longer, so they write subversive statements on postcards that they leave in random spots about the city. A feeble gesture? The Nazis don't think so, and they make apprehending "the Hobgoblin" a priority. Fallada's prose is rough and ready, but it grabs you by the throat when he describes Gestapo interrogations, or details the treachery of the Quangels' feckless fellow Berliners, who are like characters out of Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz.

The resistance of Fallada's humble heroes serves as a reproach to all those with power and influence who did nothing. But some of Germany's elite did maintain their nobility and fight against the evil, sometimes at the cost of their lives. Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager was one of the last survivors of the 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler, and he describes it in VALKYRIE: THE STORY OF THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER BY ITS LAST MEMBER (Knopf; 222 pages; $24.95). A scion of an aristocratic Pomeranian family, Boeselager and his brother Georg served in perhaps the only chivalric unit on the Eastern Front, a cavalry outfit straight out of the 19th century. When the brothers' revulsion overcame loyalty, they joined the conspiracy.

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