Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Book review: "The Witness House" by Christiane Kohl

The first time I read the synopsis of this book I honestly thought I had misunderstood what it was trying to say. And then I read it again and was like "nope, that's what they mean". And ordered it from the library.

The time immediately following World War II in Germany was rough (#understatement). Food and basic services were still not readily available, there was still smoldering ruins of cities, and the world was beginning to learn the terrors of the Holocaust. But there was one thing that the Allies wanted to pursue immediately - putting those in charge of the horrible things that happened during the war on trial and holding them accountable. So, the Nuremberg Trials were organized and Nazi monsters were brought to Nuremberg to be held accountable (the ones that hadn't escaped. Ugh.)

So where do they stay? Some of them stayed at the Witness House, a little villa not far from the courthouse. Some of the guests were Nazis. Some were concentation camp survivors. Some were something else entirely.  Here are a couple of the folks who occupied the same house at these turbulent and unsure times.
Rudolf Diels 

First of all, look at this guys face. Dude has the face of a gangster with those dueling scars, (proooooobably because he was a drunk philanderer so duels are not far behind with those characteristics.)

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-K0108-0501-003, Rudolf Diels.jpg
Photo from Wikipedia

 Anyway, Diels is a complicated guy. He was on the ground floor with the Nazis, early like in 1933. He was the director of the Gestapo for a short time (you know who replaced him Reinhard Heydrich. That fucker). But then he refused to deport Jews in 1940. And then was involved in the 20 July plot to kill Hitler but was somehow the only person to survive. But then he died in a hunting accident in 1957 that may have involved his dog accidentally tripping the trigger on a rifle(???). I need to find a book about this guy because I have questions.

 Albert Speer

For a long time I only knew that Albert Speer was Hitler's chief architect who was in charge of rebuilding German into a place that exalted Hitler. What I didn't realize is that he was also the Minister of Armaments and War Production (which is far less innocent sounding then architect). For a long time he said that his relationship with Hitler was completely apolitical. He was different then most others at Nuremberg because he accepted responsibility for his part in the Nazi crimes. (Everyone else was basically a variant of "Who, me?" or "I was just following orders" or something else ridiculous).

Erwin Lahousen

Erwin served in the Abwehr, which was an intelligence agency. In the Abwehr there was a lot of anti-Nazi sentiment and he was one of many who successfully sabotaged Nazi operations and helped resistance groups. He was the first witness for the prosecution and testified against Goring specifically.

In the talk about Lahousen there was a few mentions of Wilhelm Canaris who is just...I have a lot of feelings about him. I'm going to get weepy at work if I think about it so here's his wikipedia page. He was held prisoner and executed with Dietrich  Bonhoeffer who I ALSO have lots of feelings about.

The book details their interactions with each other, their reactions to the new world around them (So, that thousand year Reich thing isn't happening, now what?) and more. It's really an incredible story and I highly suggest it to fans of history and psychology - psychologically it is fertile grounds for analyisis!


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