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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice » User review

Moral outrage fatigue

  • Mar 28, 2011
As the hot World War against fascism segued into the long Cold War against communism with barely a breath between, the effort to catch and punish the cowardly criminals who survived the Third Reich was a well-publicized but underwhelming effort.  In truth, after most wars in human history there is usually little will, energy, or resources left to devote to bring retribution and justice to war criminals of the recent past.  Even the definition of "war crimes" is a shaky foundation to start from.

But in the case of the evil of Nazism during World War II, with its concerted and too close to successful effort to exterminate a specific race of people, the war crimes were too big to ignore--and almost too big to comprehend.  Governments were shaken, economies shattered, two generations of the youngest and strongest were literally broken in death and disabling injury.  Chasing down escaped Nazisms was good and necessary, but moral outrage fatigue set in, and the effort was left started, but incomplete.

Guy Walters brings a novelist's writing style to his account of the effort, and does a reasonably good job telling the story.  Because there were so many Nazi war criminals after the war, and so many government and quasi-government agencies gathering data and assembling lists, Walters focuses on just a few of the most notorious--Klaus Barbie, Martin Bormann, Adolf Eichman,  Josef Mengele.  

While this decision makes for a good story, it has two downsides
  1. These most notorious Nazis have already had their stories written (see, for example, Hunting Eichman)--although Walters claims those existing accounts have many fabrications and half-truths that he corrects here.
  2. Focusing on a few doesn't enable Walters the scope to pull back and survey the entire landscape of the post-war justice effort.  For example, the Nuremberg trials are barely mentioned in passing, and it would have been nice if Walters had included a survey chapter or even appendices to provide overall statistics, a list of government agencies, their size and funding, and their success and failures.   

Two more small nits:  Walters is not very friendly toward Simon Wiesenthal (with documented justification, certainly), but more importantly, makes too many judgments on the quality and veracity of the sources.  While as a lay reader I appreciate his expertise, it would be more helpful, more engaging, and more believable if he would just lay the sources out in front of the reader and let us decide for ourselves on their quality and veracity.

That said, the book is readable, interesting, and sobering,  if you are looking for a starting-point summary of the capture efforts for those major war criminals who survived.

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March 29, 2011
Interesting review, TS. I'm beginning to experience moral outrage fatigue myself, and have become more selective about my WWII reading.
March 29, 2011
Sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review and your candid remarks about it's downsides.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Starred Review. Walters, a former Times of London journalist, flaunts his WWII expertise in a stunning account that trails some of the most elusive Nazi war criminals of the twentieth century. Following the war, many Nazis evaded capture and went into hiding, seemingly "without a trace." Walters debunks this myth through interviews, meticulous research, and a vast historical knowledge that exposes an array of people who aided these criminals in their flight from justice. In many cases, such as that of Franz Stangl, the former head of Treblinka extermination camp, war criminals, and the families waiting to join them in exile, hardly bothered to hide their whereabouts. Walters recreates the getaway techniques of their helpers and unearths some of the best-kept secrets of our time: it wasn't merely Nazi intelligence that aided the escape of these infamous criminals, he suggests, but a range of people, from Catholic hierarchy to U.S. and British intelligence operatives. Walters argues that greed, laziness, and the sheer number of war criminals may have overwhelmed the already-overworked intelligence services, allowing many former high-ranking Nazis to live in comfort all over the world, sometimes for decades. This well-researched and exquisitely executed volume is also an exhilarating read. Photos.
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ISBN-10: 0767928733
ISBN-13: 978-0767928731
Author: Guy Walters
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Broadway
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