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The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My SS Grandfather's Secret Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation Hardcover – 26 Aug 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st Edition edition (26 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670916161
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670916160
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 358,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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One of the most unsettling books to have been written about the Third Reich ... It is two stories in one- both riveting - that of the dentist's transformation into unswerving SS officer and of the grandson's appalled discovery. Woven together they make for unforgettable, haunting reading. (Simon Schama )

A fascinating and extraordinary journey into the heart of Nazism (Ben Macintyre, Author Of Agent Zigzag And Operation Mincemeat )

Martin Davidson has done a brave thing: he has confronted and revealed his own family's Nazi past. The result is absorbing, highly readable and painstakingly researched (Niall Ferguson )

The utterly compelling account of what it's like to discover that your grandfather was a ruthless officer in Hitler's SS (Philip Kerr )

The Perfect Nazi is a terrific piece of writing, shedding light on how ordinary Germans abetted the Nazi terror and how in later years all was conveniently "forgotten" (David Cesarani, Author Of Eichmann: His Life And Crimes )

A fascinating and compelling account. This is an important book for anyone interested in the moral climate which led to the Holocaust and the other crimes of the Third Reich. (Adrian Weale Evening Standard )

A riveting narrative that brings a fresh vividness to a familiar episode (Valerie Grove The Times )

Davidson's journey into his grandfather's past makes for a compelling and unsettling tale ... A thoughtful and affecting book. (Telegraph )

Shocking and compelling ... Hollywood fiction turns out to be not so far from the truth as revealed in Martin Davidson's fascinating account of his maternal grandfather (Sunday Times )

Chillingly addictive ... Davidson was right to decide that, whatever the cost, Bruno had "forfeited the right" to post-humous anonymity (Roger Hutchinson Scotsman )

This highly readable, thought-provoking book highlights the challenges that German families have faced as they seek to put the past behind them ... It offers a window on how the different generations grappled with the Nazi past (Hester Vaizey Independent )

The Perfect Nazi is an important and engrossing story ... at the same time a brave and repulsive work. It also provides a thorough and morbidly fascinating insight into the circumstances that led ordinary people to descend into Hitlerian madness and become monsters (Herald Scotland )

An engaging book, which is part popular history and part Who Do You Think You Are?, and should appeal to fans of both genres. An illuminating story well told (Roger Moorhouse BBC History Magazine )

It's a remarkable book for a whole host of reasons, but mainly because the author has managed to write that most difficult of non-fiction books - a personal history that is also a general history ... What Martin Davidson has achieved here is the ideal balance between his own shock at discovering his grandfather was a member of the feared SD - the intelligence division of the SS - and the general atmosphere of the times. He treads this path with great skill. And in the process reveals that he is a very fine writer indeed (Laurence Rees, Ww2history.Com, And Author Of The Nazis: A Warning From History )

A compelling and disturbing account of the legacy of Nazism ... Davidson succeeds in creating an overview not only of his maternal Grandfather's life and career but of his own search for truth (Publishers Weekly )

A chilling exposé of a dark family secret ... Davidson doesn't blink at the ugly truth of Bruno's actions (Kirkus )

A good edition to the Nazi genre ... Davidson not only tells the tale of his grandfather's experience, but also provides insight into how and why young Germans could choose the Nazi way of life (Library Journal )

About the Author

Martin Davidson, who has two degrees from Oxford University, is an award-winning filmmaker and author specializing in historical and cultural subjects. His many director credits include: Simon Schama's A History of Britain, Albert Speer: The Nazi Who Said Sorry (A&E); Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Lie (BBC); and The Nazis and 'Degenerate Art' (BBC). He is the author of five previous non-fiction books. At present he is the commissioning editor for history and business at the BBC.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Joanne K. Pilsworth VINE VOICE on 25 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I studied A level French, one of the books I read was on the lines of how a 'good' man was persuaded by the Nazi war machine that they had other people's best interest at heart. This book is not just another book about how someone was hoodwinked or bulldozed into toeing the party line. Martin Davidson's grandfather would have been quite happy to boast of his role as an SS officer, had it not been politically expedient to not do so.

This book is about a man who saw nothing wrong with the Nazi ideology. It makes one realise that it is not just the well known names that played a role. Behind all those names were ordinary people who believed in Nazism and who thought it a good thing. They were the ones who kept the Party machine working and without their efforts, the Nazi party may have just disappeared into the Munich beer cellars as the author suggests in the Preface.

In this book, the author traces his grandfather's past: what was the effect of Mein Kampf on his grandfather, a man whose Party membership number demonstrated that he was an early recruit to Nazism, to records detailing the man's role in Prague in 1944-45 as the Eastern Front was collapsing. A contrast is made between the memories of his daughters walking around the streets of Prague, with what was actually happening. In military terms his grandfather was out of his depth, but his unwavering devotion to the Nazi ideology meant that he volunteered for one of Himmler's most desperate ideas aimed at hampering the Soviet advance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Toby le Rhone on 24 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is the kind of book which shows how real life is almost always more gripping than fiction. In the Perfect Nazi, the demanding and unanswered question of how could perfectly normal Germans enthusiastically involved themselves in the Nazi party is delved into. As is obvious from the title, the book is an exploration of the authors Nazi grandfather. With any such work subjectivity is always an inexcapable problem but Davidson does an exemplorary job in researching the facts as can be ascertained after such a long time and produces a few shocks. For me it was a revelation reading this, I just never considered how huge numbers of active and willing career Nazis must have just been allowed to fade into normal life after defeat in 1945. And how normal people will happily throw themselves into acts which now seem astonishingly evil but if portrayed as a means to an end, and they deserve it anyway, it will benefit our kind, and someone else will do it if I dont, and these acts provide social, economic and career rewards. Evil acts that will be recognised by superiors and peers as good will be happily acted out by the majority and its a lesson of how we must learn from history so that such mistakes are not repeated.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. E. Parry VINE VOICE on 13 Sept. 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
How would you feel if you discovered that your grandfather was not just a member of the SS but had also joined the Nazi Party as a 20 year old? Martin Davidson faced this dilemma after the death of his grandfather.

Bruno Langbehn was a product of his time and upbringing. He was raised at an army barracks and came of age following the "betrayal" of November 1918. The new era of Weimar Germany was seen as a failure and betrayal of the Old Germany. A democracy was something that many Germans did not understand, or want. He saw the red revolution that followed the defeat and knew that this was not something that he wanted.

So he was prime material for the right wing parties that grew up to combat this threat. He was like many man who grew up at this time, born 10 years either side of the new century. Like many others he grew disillusioned with the lack of progress with the Frontbann and other right wing groups he joined the Nazi Party in 1926, as a member of the Sturmabtielung (SA).

He was a very well regarded member of Sturm 33, the SA most effective and radical battalion. His non working life revolved around SA activities and fights with Communists. He rose higher and sided with Hitler during several SA rebellions and the Night of the Long Knives. After the Nazi ascension to power he also became a controlling influence in the Nazi Dental Association.

Then in 1937 he joined the SS. He passed his probation and joined the SD, the SS's Security Service. He began by investigating right wing opposition to the new Nazi government. He then progressed onto the foreign intelligence section.

What comes across is that, even after the war, he remained an unrepentant Nazi. His right wing beliefs stayed with him throughout his life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ghostgrey51 TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Martin Davidson is to be applauded for this work at differing levels.
In the first instance for writing about a near relative's unpleasant past as a unrepentant surviving member of one of the 20Th century's violent and repulsive regimes. It could not have been easy to delve into a past which you felt would show the darker side of human nature at a personal level.
Secondly for the meticulous historical research which uncovers the ugly day to day side of the rise to power of Hitler's Nazi party, bringing to light some usually overlooked aspects such as the tensions between Hitler and his close circle and the SA, particularly its northern units, culminating in the bloody purge, The Night of The Long Knives.
Thirdly for weaving these into a narrative which is at one informative, salutary and forceful, while managing to portray the disagreeable character of his maternal grandfather in the context of the times.
And finally for not injecting outraged innocence nor mawkish self-pity for having such an unlikebale person in the family. For make no mistake the central character Bruno Langbehn was a willing and enthusiastic member of the extreme right wing of the german political movement, almost waiting around for Hitler to appear, and one who having survived the war was adroit enough to hide his past and be spared to end his days in comfort.
Of course the rise and the fall of Hitler's Germany is a familiar tale, but told from the perspective of one man makes the accounting chilling and at times depressing, but shake off that feeling for read this you should, if only to honour the heroes within the tale. Such as Davidson's mother who at a tender age has to look after her younger siblings at the end of the war and for the dignity and care in which she raised her own children.
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