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Ostland    by David Thomas Amazon.com order for
Ostland
by David Thomas
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Quercus, 2015 (2013)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Why didnít the German military speak up about the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against the Jews? Author David Thomas explores the question using a true case.

Georg Heuser, an idealistic young police detective, becomes part of a team hunting down a serial killer in wartime Berlin. The victims have not only been killed but badly battered. (This story is not for the faint-of-heart.) Heuser's work on the team is recognized, and he becomes an SS officer in Minsk, Russia, the Ostland. There, the officers have orders to kill, first the Russian Jews, then trainloads of Jews that keep on arriving. Until it becomes clear that the Germans are losing the war and need to retreat, the killings continue.

Heuser's journal vividly describes all of this and tells what the officers did when they weren't shooting innocent people. It is a picture of complete degradation. Years later, a female investigator at Heuser's trial, struck by his early exemplary work, asks: 'How could a human soul be corrupted so totally, so fast?' She wonders whether she or anyone 'might have within them the same capacity for evil and the same ability to numb themselves to its consequences.'

There are no satisfactory answers to these questions, though the novel explores them pretty well. We are left with the lead investigator's assertion that no matter what the perpetrators' legal punishment is, their minds will never let them off easily. This novel is a grim but eloquent exploration of a tragic subject and is very well researched and depicted.

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