I need a break from Nazis, Nazism, SS officers, concentration camps, swastikas, and the crazy guy with the toothbrush mustache. Yeah, this guy.
They’re all powerful symbols, with deep back-story and instant cultural connections that are so useful to writers and movie directors. And, to be fair, the Nazi era represents a moment in human history when the most educated society on the planet managed to come very close to collective insanity. Pretty interesting.
But I can’t take any more right now. A lot of this is self-inflicted. I visited Berlin in late May and took a cold but fascinating bath in 20th-century German history. I just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is a terrific book . . . about Nazis. And March Violets, by Philip Kerr, which is a good detective book . . . about Nazis.
Then there are all of Alan Furst’s books, which explore from different European perspectives the brutal tensions of the rising Nazi movement. They’re great. I eat them like candy. Not to overlook William Styron’s great Sophie’s Choice, or Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate, the best novel I’ve read in decades. Maybe ever.
The nonfiction side is available too. Erik Larson’s recent hit In the Garden of Beasts, . . . you know who the beasts are without cracking the cover. Looking for almost a thousand pages on Hitler henchman and evil PR genius Joseph Goebbels? Peter Longerich’s biography is just out and made for you!
Let’s not overlook the movie industry, which knows how to capitalize on jackbooted villains whose entire identity is disclosed from a glancing view of a Hitler salute, swastika, or black uniform. Just sticking to a few high points, there’s
- “Downfall” (Hitler’s final, hysteria-filled days in the bunker)
- “Schindler’s List” (Spielberg finds a good German)
- “Cabaret” (Liza Minelli sings while Hitler burns)
- “Judgment at Nuremburg” (Spencer Tracy administers American justice to Nazi baddies, while acknowledging that a culture that produced Marlene Dietrich should not be written off forever)
- “Casablanca” (Bogie gives the Krauts what-for)
- Even, for-heaven’s-sake, Indiana Jones, over and over and over (as in the Lost Crusade, below).
So I’m going to try to go cold turkey. I think of it as cleansing the moral palate. No Nazis for a while. Or, I suppose, until I hear about something really good.
Did you know that the premise for Sophie’s choice actually came from a true incident in Roman history during the reign of Theodosius? Recounted by Gibbons.