I was initially drawn to Brandt by his constant presence near Hitler in early Berghof photos. In fact the Hoffman photos contribute significantly to the author's tracking of this enigmatic palladin.
Those surrounding Hitler invariably make as fascinating reading as the Fuhrer himself. Brandt is no exception. Who was this tall, refined, handsome-looking man and how did he get to become one of Hitler's "inner circle"?
The book combines a very balanced description of Brandt with an intriguing analysis of the system of Nazi government. The latter was a perpetual Darwinian struggle for Hitler's favour where the fittest and most ruthless survived. Brandt was as ambitious as the next Nazi.
He was an extremely idealistic "true believer" who converted a desire to end needless suffering into a strong belief in euthanasia. That debate still resonates today.
However, the programme which he started with good intentions ran wild very quickly as the war consumed all before it. Brandt eventually paid the ultimate price for this.
First to go in the "T-4" action was the ethics, then the caution, the logic, finally the dignity.
Life became as cheap as the daily incineration of German civilians by Allied bombers.
Brandt's ambition dragged him to the top of Hitler's Olympus only to cast him into Hades within 5 months. It is a salutary tale of a man sentenced to death by the Third reich only to die at the hands of their vanquishers.
Brandt was a truly tragic figure who might even have escaped detection had his second name not been the same as Himmler's Chief of Personal Staff! Fate was never on his side.
In fact, the suicides of several more culpable colleagues thrust him into the dock as Defendant No. 1 which he (rightly) knew had sealed his fate.
The author's exhaustive research shines through in a book that walks you through Brandt's life, from cradle to scaffold.
The final verdict is of waste. The waste of a good man's life in the doomed eugenics project of the Third Reich. The circumstantial evidence of the "he must have known" type was enough to decide the kangaroo Military Court against him. He finally offered his own life for one final and fatal medical experiment and on being denied, marched bravely to the scaffold. His final words condemning the United States make salutary reading. They are hard to argue against.
Schmidt does not shy away from giving Brandt's side of the story and he is rightly sceptical when dealing with the hypocritical Allied war crimes "tribunals".
Eugenics and sterilization/euthanasia were commonly accepted viewpoints in the 30's and were endorsed by some surprising names, e.g. George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Charles Lindbergh etc. In this regard, it is impossible for Brandt's world to be conjured up in the stridently politically correct zeitgeist of today.
Brandt's blind ambition led him to the abyss and Schmidt's book will undoubtedly leave you troubled. In as much as we are all victims of circumstance, Brandt was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Good men can do terrible things in war-time. That should be Karl Brandt's epitaph.