November 1, 2011
The story he’d always heard was how his German grandfather, who’d served in the Wehrmacht, was saved from execution by a Russian officer suddenly sick of all the killing. What he didn’t know, and what he never asked, was why his grandfather had been singled out for execution in the first place. This is the story that BBC television producer and journalist Martin Davidson finally — at the age of thirty-five and after his grandfather’s death — was determined to uncover. To little Martin, Bruno Langbehn was a jovial dentist living in Berlin. But what he eventually learns is that Bruno had not been an average soldier, but a devout, one might say “born-again” Nazi officer who had joined the S.A. (Stormtroopers) so early he was honored with the “old timers” Gold Party Badge. Indeed, he had enlisted in one of the S.A.’s most violent battalions, Sturm 33, in the Charlottenberg section of Berlin, where some of the S.A.’s bloodiest offences occurred. Later, Bruno joined the S.S., signing on to its most dreaded division — the S.D, architects of the Final Solution. All this Davidson reveals in the order of his discoveries as he tries to come to grips with the truth. Alas, there is so little hard information on Bruno that the bulk of the book devolves into a history of the rise of the S.A. and some of the doings of the S.S. and S.D. We rarely get insights into Bruno’s character or the psychology of Nazi believers, or the ethical and personal ramifications of family secrets and the legacy of Nazism. Nevertheless, this is an often fascinating and unsettling journey which many readers will appreciate. Bibliography, index, notes.