Calling the hive mind! Looking for crime novels that feature Nazi war-crimes trials

***If you have a spare minute, I’d be really grateful for your help***

I’m currently writing up a journal article on war crimes trials in Nazi-themed crime fiction. I’m interested in how crime novels since 1945 represent war crimes trials in relation to larger debates about their judicial, social and moral value, and to what extent they show legal justice as succeeding or failing.

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I’ve identified around 50 Nazi-themed novels that focus extensively on the theme of post-war justice, but only a much smaller number that depict or discuss war crimes trials. So the question is, can you help me find more? Here’s what I’ve got at the moment:

Crime novels (and films) containing depictions of Nazi war crimes trials:

  • William Brodrick, The Sixth Lamentation. London: Time Warner, 2004 [2003].
  • Gordon Ferris, Pilgrim Soul. London: Atlantic 2013.
  • David Thomas, Ostland. London: Quercus, 2013.
  • Joseph Kanon, The Good German. London: Time Warner, 2003 [2001].
  • Judgement at Nuremberg, dir. Stanley Kramer, 1961.
  • Music Box, dir. Constantin Costa-Gavras, 1989.
AAA ostland

This novel explores the case of Georg Heuser and his 1963 trial in West Germany

Others that feature discussion of Nazi war crimes trials include:

  • Frederick Forsyth, The Odessa File. London: Arrow, 2003 [1972].
  • Gerhard Harkenthal, Rendezvous mit dem Tod [A Date with Death]. Berlin: Buchverlag der Morgen, 1962.
  • Edgar Hilsenrath, Der Nazi & der Friseur [The Nazi and the Barber]. Munich: Piper, 2000 [1977].
  • Ira Levin. The Boys from Brazil. New York: Dell Publishing, 1976.
  • Brian Moore, The Statement. London: Flamingo, 1996 [1995].
  • Ian Rankin, The Hanging Garden. London: Orion, 1998.
  • Ferdinand von Schirach, Der Fall Collini [The Collini Case]. Munich: Piper, 2011.

Can you think of any others? They can be from anywhere in the world and don’t necessarily need to be in translation. Thanks in advance for your help 🙂

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39 thoughts on “Calling the hive mind! Looking for crime novels that feature Nazi war-crimes trials

    • Thanks very much, Mary. You’re quite right, and I should definitely bring this novel in, although I’m never quite sure to what extent it can be classified as a crime novel. I’ll be looking at one of Schlink’s detective novels (Self’s Punishment) as well, which features a former Nazi prosecutor turned private investigator.

  1. Nuremberg: The Reckoning by William F Buckley Jnr ( more thriller/historical than crime focus…and not very good)

  2. On Twitter, @LyleD4D has suggested John Katzenbach’s The Shadow Man and possibly Hart’s War, as well as John Connolly’s Song of Shadows and Tim Weaver Never Coming Back (Nazi-themed, no trial).

    @Nuts4R2 thinks that Adam Hall’s The Quiller Memoradum may make mention of trials (set during Cold War).

  3. Mrs P it’s not a novel but might be interesting. The film I saw yesterday, Labyrinth of Lies, all about the first German investigation and trial of Nazi’s in 1958/9.

    • Thanks, Jose Ignacio. Do you think of The Reader as a crime novel? I guess one could include it in the category of courtroom drama…? Its depiction of the trial is definitely an interesting one and there are similarities to depictions in a couple of other crime novels (regarding the limits of the law).

  4. Hmm… In the Labyrinth of Silence seems a more apt title. It touched me very much. Maybe it was the technique of having this young lawyer, who ‘knew’ nothing of what happened in the Camps, investigate and showed the ‘reveal’ to the younger generation and the everyday people who ‘knew’ nothing of this. Hate to criticize but the one thing that stood out for me is that if the young attorney was born, as he says in 1930, he would have grown up with the Nazi socialism and there would, I’d think, have been a push for him to be in Jugend. Or he’d know about it. But it explored very well that the younger generation had been told nothing by their parents of the past.

    • Thanks, Cara. I’ve ordered a copy now (available on DVD here albeit without English subtitles) and will be very interested to see how the West German ‘amnesia’ in relation to the Nazi past is handled. As you say, though, slightly odd to have the lawyer born in 1930…

  5. Off the top of my head, one that I read fairly recently ‘Cemetery of Swallows’ by Mallock – French writer, although perhaps it’s a bit too tangential for your purpose.

    • Thanks, MarinaSofia – I read this one a little while ago, and have it on my broader list of ‘justice’ novels. What I can’t remember right now is whether or not it has any mention of war-crimes trials. Thanks for the reminder – will go and check.

  6. Hello Mrs P

    When I read your post I thought I would be able to think of many obvious examples and am surprised at how few actually come to mind. I would have expected it to be a subject frequently tackled by the post-war crime/thriller writers.

    Anyway, a few not quite on target suggestions –

    Leon Uris’ QB VII covers nazi crimes and a (London) libel trial, rather than a war crime trial – does not precisely meet your criteria but might be of interest. Bernard Schlink’s The Reader is presumably ‘literary’ rather than crime fiction? Durrenmatt’s The Quarry explores judicial themes in relation to a Nazi war criminal but not a war crimes trial. Len Deighton’s Winter is perhaps not crime fiction either although it covers the post war trials. Alan Massie’s The Sins of the Father is a fictional retelling of the Eichmann kidnap and subsequent trial in Israel.

    I very much enjoy your blog.

    Best,

    Jamie

    >

    • Hello Jamie – I absolutely agree. I’d have expected to find more crime novels featuring war crimes trials as well. It’s quite curious that there aren’t and I wonder why that is. Perhaps in part because crime subgenres have certain conventions e.g. police procedurals usually end with the apprehension of the perpetrator and noir sees ‘rough justice’ being dispensed more that legal justice?

      Thanks so much for your suggestions. The Uris, Deighton and Massie are new to me and I’ll definitely check them out. I’ve been writing on the Duerrenmatt today: Old Testament justice with no mention of the Nuremberg war-crimes trials at all (quite extraordinary as the narrative is set in 1948).

      Lovely to hear that you enjoy the blog 🙂

  7. This list will be nice for me to use. I like to read about this subject. Some of the books in your list I already have but haven’t read. I thought of Winter by Deighton, and Jamie above has already mentioned that. I don’t know if it is crime fiction but it is sort of a part of the Bernard Samson series by Deighton which is Espionage Fiction.

    • Thanks, Tracy. I’m glad you can use the list to find some new reading on the subject.

      I will check out Winter – it sounds to me like a hybrid text, and so may not be quite as firmly in the crime category as it needs to be for this article. But a worthwhile read either way!

  8. I’m wondering whether John Le Carre’s A Small Town in Germany would fit the bill – at its heart lies a race against the statute of limitations around war crimes. I feel sure there are others and will post as they come to mind. – Oh and I know you are looking at books, but one of the best depictions I have come across recently was the first episode in the last series of Foyle’s War.

    • Thanks, murmursofmole – a very good thought. I have A Small Town in Germany on my shelf, so will take a look. I’d completely forgotten the statute of limitations angle, and will be interested to say what it has to say on the subject. Could be a nice one to link with Schirach’s The Collini Case as well….

      Thanks for the Foyle’s War recommendation too!

    • Thanks very much, Liora – I have that one on my wider list of crime novels dealing with post-war justice for Nazi crimes. I saw the film a while back and thought it a good adaptation.

  9. Also a grain of truth by miloszewski. It is a crime novel about nowadays Poland when Jews are blamed for ritualistic killing. It is not about the Nazis but it is about the holocaust, persecution, jews and justice.

    best,

    liora

    • Thank you, Liora! This one was on my radar a while back, but I realise that I let it slip through the net, so thanks very much for the reminder. I don’t have much Polish crime fiction in my database at the moment, so it’s a welcome addition.

    • Thank you, Liora. Fatherland – yes, absolutely: one of the most accomplished novels on the subject and it does a brilliant job of bringing the facts of the Holocaust to a mass readership.

      Although I’m not working directly on film at the moment, I’m very interested in any cultural representation of the legacy of the Holocaust, so thank you for the links to both of these films. I’m able to get hold of the first one relatively easily, but the second may be a little more difficult. It does look fascinating – I found an extra link with further info here: http://csf.sapir.ac.il/en/films/the-customer-of-the-off-season/

      Many thanks again for all of your suggestions. If any others occur to you, do let me know 🙂

  10. Not sure if this quite fits your theme, but worth a look, I think: Julius Lester’s The Autobiography of God. That, and of course, the other books in the two series by Gordon Ferris, each of which deals with the Holocaust/Nazis in its own way. I will be waiting for your article and bibliography as I teach a course in Jewish Detectives in Fiction.

    • Hello Jane and many thanks. I’d not heard of Lester’s book – it looks quite extraordinary and I’ll definitely take a look. I do need to look into Ferris’s series in further detail – I have one novel of his on the way, but from what you say there are others that could be relevant as well.

      Your course sounds fascinating. Where do you teach?

      I’m guessing Laurence Roth’s Inspecting Jews: American Jewish Detective Stories (Rutgers University Press, 2004) is on your bibliography. That’s the only study I’ve read on the Jewish detective figure and would be interested to know how much more research is out there. Would love a link to your course schedule if it’s online…

  11. Hans Helmut Kirst The Night of the Generals (book and film) has no trial but shows the pursuit of justice by someone within the Nazi system and could be used as a contrast to the lengthy and perhaps ineffectual efforts to bring war criminals to trial post-war .Won’t go into detail as I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t discovered it but I have watched the film a few times over the years and would do so again and eventually read the book.

    • Thanks, MRo – I have the novel and film in my wider database and agree that these are very important texts. The novel really stood out at its time of publication in 1962, both for its content and its darkly humorous satirical tone. Definitely one I’ll be looking at in further detail when I write up my book.

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