Memo To Romance Authors: Nazis Are NOT “Leading Men”

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[WARNING: This post contains an upsetting photograph.]

Our imaginations and personal interests will invariably take us down our own writing paths. It’s any author’s right to invent what he/she wishes to invent. Our creativity means everything.

So I’m not one usually to hit out at other authors’ chosen fictional subject matter. Yet there are times you feel you have to make clear where you stand as a matter of fundamental moral principle. Thankfully only very occasionally are there those tales that make you, frankly, gasp and shudder:

A story of an SS officer, his Jewish wife and their fight against the Reich

After gasping and shuddering at that cover blurb, I could only shake my head in disbelief. I’m sure if you want to, you can find that indie novel; but I won’t name it here. (I think it’s a 2015 publication.) I had never heard of it before, nor of its author, until I first saw its full cover pop up on my Google+ the other day.

And I’m still stunned. Nazi Germany was not my specialty, but I do have a master’s degree in Modern European History. As I recall, SD and SS officers were “Aryan” supremacist, sadistic thugs. (They were often especially “highly-educated” in the SD, in which advanced degrees were not uncommon.) Their wives (and potential wives) backgrounds were investigated for their “racial purity,” too. No such man would ever have had a Jewish wife.

Fortunately when I clicked and read more, I noticed in the more complete description that this Nazi is a “double agent” working for the Americans. Learning that was something of a relief; that seems the bare minimum required to keep the story from being totally asinine. So it may not be as historically far-fetched as that poorly composed and/or dangerously misleading blurb indicates, but the fictional Nazi apparently also isn’t a “U.S. agent” from the outset. I didn’t spot in the description when he becomes one, and I don’t really care. For based on what we know of the SD/SS, I would need to see the real-life Nazi(s) who inspired this character before I could even begin to buy into possibly accepting such a “Nazi with a conscience” anyway.

Assuming, of course, that there is a living example he was indeed based upon? Regardless, the Nazi as “leading man” has disturbingly appeared recently elsewhere in “romance.” Is this some sort of new, weird “fetish?”

Relatedly important is it’s also largely a fantasy that the U.S. had a pre-war intelligence service sophisticated enough to identify and handle turncoat, secretly anti-Nazi, prominent Nazi officers. While the U.S. did have something of a navy, it barely had an army between 1920-1941. It most definitely had no CIA. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – modeled on Britain’s intel services – was formed only in mid-1942 and only became the CIA after the war.

Considering Hitler’s Germany to be Britain’s and France’s problem, prior to 1940 Washington devoted few of its minuscule intel and military resources to seeking to understand the Nazis. Most of what Washington “knew” came from U.S. diplomats in Berlin passing on gossip in cables (“HITLER SAYS JEWS FAIRLY TREATED UNDER LAW STOP”), British and French officials, and newspapers; the U.S. was mostly nervously watching the other side of the world and an increasingly aggressive Japan. (And, as we know, in the end the U.S. couldn’t even keep track of six Japanese aircraft carriers and their supporting ships.) We must never confuse present day America’s super-sophisticated, hyper-lavishly funded, global military and intelligence community with the tiny, ill-equipped, over-stretched one of the 1930s. An SD “infiltration” was eventually accomplished by the OSS in 1944, the last year of the war – but even at that late date it wasn’t by a turncoat German, but by a long-Berlin resident anti-communist Russian employed there.

Excerpt from "Passports," on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.
Excerpt from “Passports,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

Finally, a word for writers. Just about any other fictional romance invented between those of “different worlds” is probably at least vaguely plausible. However, if for some incomprehensible and – to be blunt – stupid reason you are in front of your PC feeling the urge to author a novel featuring a “dashing” SS officer and his “adoring” Jewish “heroine,” please immediately stand up, step away from the computer, walk outside, find a brick….and smash yourself over your head with it repeatedly until you are unconscious.

After you’ve come to, returned inside, and stopped bleeding, sit and watch Schindler’s List. (Hopefully not for the first time.) That film contains all you need to know about how “romantic” and “gallant” SD/SS officers were.

Then write a different book. If you do, looking back years from now you’ll feel much better about yourself and your literary legacy. A foolish novel cannot be unwritten, and trying to justify one perhaps by claiming it revolves around your Nazi-Jewish “lovers” partnering to save Jews, or being caught up in remarkable feats of derring do that are vital to Allied troops helping liberate a death camp sooner than they could have otherwise, or whatever other heroic nonsense you make up, misses the point entirely.

Screen capture of fcit.usf.edu.
Screen capture of fcit.usf.edu.

Don’t even inadvertently trivialize the genocidal hell that was the Holocaust, particularly the sufferings of women. Don’t dishonor the memory of millions who were slaughtered just for being what they were. Don’t strain to concoct some utterly improbable and historically idiotic “romance” set amidst a backdrop of black-uniformed butchers, two thousand mile deportations in over-packed, airless cattle trains, barbed wire, forced labor to the death, disease, starvation, gruesome “medical experiments,” roving machine-gun murder units, gas chambers, mass graves and crematoria.

Just don’t do it.

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