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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Berlin Police and the Holocaust in the Benie Gunther Series (Part II)

Albert Battel
In my previous post I delved into the decisions of German policeman becoming active participants in the Holocaust. I discussed fictional police officers from the Berlin Noir trio of books by Philip Kerr and real life officers. With Arthur Nebe he was a real life officer who appeared in the fiction of Kerr.

While some of those officers claimed after the war they had no choice but to take part in the Holocaust each man had a choice. Bernie refused to take part and asked for a transfer to a front line unit. Instead, he was transferred to an intelligence unit investigating war crimes.

Bernie’s actions are supported by real life. At the Berlin exhibition referred to in the last post it was stated:

"There was certainly no such thing as an obligation to obey orders," said police historian and project manager Detlef Graf von Schwerin. No evidence has been found that suggests refusal to take part in a mass execution would have had negative consequences for policemen, but very few dared to defy orders, he said.

One of the most powerful examples of direct action involved Dr. Albert Battel. As set out on his page at The Righteous Among the Nations page at the Yad Vasham website:

When the SS prepared to launch their first large-scale “resettlement” (liquidation) action against the Jews of Przemysl on July 26, 1942, Battel, in consort with his superior, ordered the bridge over the River San, the only access into the Jewish ghetto, to be blocked.  As the SS commando attempted to cross to the other side, the sergeant-major in charge of the bridge threatened to open fire unless they withdrew.  All this happened in broad daylight, to the amazement of the local inhabitants.  Still later that same afternoon, an army detachment under the command of Oberleutenant Battel broke into the cordoned-off area of the ghetto and used army trucks to whisk off up to 100 Jews and their families to the barracks of the local military command.  These Jews were placed under the protection of the Wehrmacht and were thus sheltered from deportation to the Belzec extermination camp. The remaining ghetto inmates, including the head of the Judenrat, Dr. Duldig, underwent “resettlement” in the following days.

His actions were reported up the SS command and reached Heinrich Himmler but Battel was only reprimanded. He was subsequently promoted. Himmler vowed to have him prosecuted after the war.

I do not know if it made a difference but Battel was a lawyer.

Stangl tried to say he would likely have been shot if he had not built and commanded Sobibór. His assertion of what happened to someone who said “no” was not supported by the example of an Auschwitz doctor, Dr. Hans Münch who refused to take part in the selection process of prisoners arriving at Auschwitz on who would go immediately to the gas chambers.

While working as a research pathologist at a medical institute near Auschwitz. Directed to work on mass immunization techniques because of typhoid and typhus epidemics he did immunization experiments but subverted the intent by ensuring they were harmless and getting extra rations for those participating.

Gitta Sereny interviewed Dr. Münch:

It was in mid-1944 that he finally felt forced to take a stand. A new camp commandant decided that as all the SS doctors were being overworked the two Rajsko research physicians had been sufficiently coddled, and would now have to take part in the selection. ‘I traveled to Berlin and told my department chief that doing that was against all my medical ethical principles and that I refused. He asked who had ordered me to do it, and said that certainly I didn’t have to'.

There was no punishment.

His assistant, Dr. Delmod, initially refused but, after being worn down by triple shifts and visited by his wife, was talked into taking part in the selections. Dr. Delmod committed suicide at the end of the war.

After the war forty SS doctors from Auschwitz were tried in Poland. Dr. Münch was the only one acquitted.

What it took to resist being drawn into the killing was strong character.
Bernie is a stubborn believer in police solving crime not committing crime. He is not interested in career advancement. Financial reward is not his goal in life. In my review of March Violets I asked if Bernie could remain a man of integrity during the Nazi regime.

By the time I completed German Requiem I say he did not sacrifice his honour. He did not conspire against the Nazi state but focused on surviving the war. (Nebe, after returning from his command in Russia, was a member of the 1944 conspiracy to kill Hitler and was executed for his actions.)

Bernie was never an angel but he refused to join in mass murder.
Kerr, Philip – (2004) - Dark Matter; (2016) - March Violets; (2016) - The Pale Criminal; (2016) - A German Requiem; (2016) - Berlin Police and the Holocaust - Part I and Part II


  1. You put that very well, Bill. Bernie is no angel, but he does have character and he does have strength. And so did the people who, in real life, refused to participate in the Holocaust. There is always a choice people can make, and your examples show that clearly.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I hope we are more ready to confront fanaticism earlier in politics as a result of the examples of the 20th Century.

  3. Interesting topic. I can't read about WWII, but as we discussed earlier, there were many resisters in all ways throughout Europe, including children and teenagers. Read about an 18-year-old woman in Malta who used a machine gun in the resistance; unfortunately, she was caught.

    So was an uncle of an artist I've met. He was in the Dutch resistance but was caught so the artist never met him.

    In Germany, the New York Times a few years ago reported that 800,000 people were in jail for opposing the Third Reich. Many did not survive, but they protested in one way or another, including Sophie Stoll and her compatriots in the White Rose.

    Aside from the political murders, there are sociopaths around the world, including in the States. The gun violence is unfathomable, mostly carried out by young white men. What are the reasons? Alienation, depression, etc.

    Yet in Canada where I think the gun ownership rate is about the same, there is barely any gun violence compared to the States. I wonder what the differences are, maybe jobs, education, health care are available. Also, I think the racism here is much worse due to the history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

  4. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Canada's homicide rate is about one-third of America. While many Canadians have long guns it is difficult to get assault weapons and very difficult to get a handgun. We have our own issues with racism.

  5. I'm sure you do, especially with racism towards First Nations. That exists here, too, given the conditions of life, discrimination against and impoverishment of Native peoples.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I live in a province with 10% of our population being indigenous we have many issues to resolve in the future.