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Book Review: The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather’s Secret Past by Martin Davidson

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The Perfect Nazi by Martin Davidson, is a non-fiction book which follows the author’s research about his grandfather, an SS officer. Mr. Davidson hit it on the nose when he wrote that this book “is a cautionary tale, a living example of the harm even little men can achieve in times of historical madness.”

Growing up in Scotland, Martin Davidson knew his grandfather as a man who likes to tell jokes and stories. After his grandfather died Mr. Davidson discovered that his grandfather had many skeletons in his closet, not the least a membership in the Nazi party (he was one of the first to join) who wore with pride his SS uniform.

Mr. Davidson goes on to investigate his grandfather’s role in the Third Reich and the atrocities committed under that banner. The story is written about Bruno Langbehn, but is paralleled to the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

I have been working on the genealogy of my family for many years now. I boast about 2,500 in my family tree going back to around 1,550. I have discovered lost cousins, opera singers, concert musicians but never, to my knowledge, anyone as notorious as Martin Davidson discovered in The Perfect Nazi.

Mr. Davidson is a television producer for the BBC but as a child growing up in Scotland he thought his grandfather was simply a retired German dentist. However, Bruno Langbehn was no mere dentist, but a proud member of the Nazi party wearing his Gold Party Badge (given to those who joined early and hence can claim low party ID numbers) with pride till his last day.

In the book, Davidson is forced to confront reality. His grandfather wasn’t a German jumping on the bandwagon, but a thug committed to the ideals of the National Socialist Party. While Davidson didn’t find out if his grandfather committed any atrocities, he was certainly one of the enablers who helped Hitler’s rise.

As a young man Bruno Langbehn devoured literature which glorified war and truly believed the anti-Semitic propaganda which inspired many to join the National Socialism movement.

The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Bruno later joined Ernst Röhm’s SA, the street thugs known for their brown shirts and brutality. Suffering an injured arm which happened during a riding accident, Langbehn later ran teams of SS agents and proudly wore the SS uniform.

Bruno Langbehn is of no-note to history, which is why this book is so compelling. Mr. Davidson tries to give an insight into the mindset of a thug, one of thousands upon which the rise to power of the Third Reich was based. This insight is unsettling but makes a forceful tale.

For me, the most disturbing part of the book was the last chapter – Bruno’s after-war years. Never having been brought up on war crimes (due to his low rank), Langbehn was allowed to continue practicing dentistry and, amazingly, keep his own name while reaping the fruits of the economic boom West Germany was privileged to enjoy. While keeping to his ideological roots, he never wavered from lifelong beliefs in the National Socialist Party.

Having several family members whose lives were made miserable by thugs like Langbehn, I found that aspect extremely disturbing.

The Perfect Nazi is an important book which shows the harm each and every one of us can create and follow during times of mass malevolence.

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  • Thanks for pointing us to an important book. I teach a seminar on this period of history for schoolteachers, and the book will go on my list of resources.

  • Kathy,
    thanks for the comment.

    Take a look at Gated Grief by Leila Levinson also a very powerful book.