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The Clownish Butcher

The Clownish Butcher

How is it that the lives of the senior Nazi criminals are so intriguing? What is it about their sex life – even that – that makes them such a “juicy topic”? I am not even sure about the best way to articulate the question, perhaps it would be better to say it more hesitantly: is it only because we have no real explanation of evil itself regarding these criminals, and this evil defies the understanding of the human race, is it only because of this that we want to know more about Goebbel’s limp, or about his wife’s brutality, about Goering’s morphine and impotence, Hitler’s attacks of blindness, or his long and narcissistic babbling? It is not at all clear. My only answer relates to our inability to perceive evil, but only to glean knowledge that is comprehensible.

In this book too, Goering’s testimonies in Nuremberg play an important role: the most senior person in the Nazi regime who fell into the hands of the victors, was put on trial, sentenced to death, but managed to commit suicide before he was hanged. He negotiated, wanted to stand before a firing squad, but the Americans demanded that he be hanged, mainly due to the fact that his comfortable imprisonment following the American occupation stirred up a scandal in the American press. It is interesting how the American victors, so different in character and manners, had respect for this good-for-nothing, similar to the way the German People believed that he was a hero, not knowing until it was too late the extent to which he was merely a clown.

This book began as a study for a long documentary. It was made possible when an American soldier was given two rolls of film from a tourist guide in the Bavarian mountains in the summer of 1945. A decade later he understood that “he had a small treasure”: cinematic documentation of Goering himself.

The book frequently repeats what has been published in other biographies, how Goering was given more and more authorities in economics, armament, the air force, the concentration camps. For him most important was to ensure that the Führer’s will was carried out, in other words, if the Führer died, he would become the new Führer. In the final days of the Third Reich he asked Hitler to repeat this promise when he realized that Hitler was planning to commit suicide. Hitler decided to execute Goering. The SS men who were sent to carry out orders were unable to kill the man whom Germany had worshipped.

After Hitler’s biography by Ian Kershaw, two volumes on the extermination of the Jews by Saul Friedlander, and a series of complex and documented history books, the other books, i.e. the biography of the heads of the Nazi regime, seem like popular history.

Goering, by Guido Kemp, translated from the German by Ido Hartogzon, Sifriat Maariv, Dvir, 2010.

From an article by Yitzhak Laor, published in Ha’aretz, March 19, 2010.

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