I have recently read two books that give different insights into the horror of the Second World War, and how it tested people’s values.

“The Son and Heir” by Alexander Munninghof ( published by Amazon Crossing in 2020) tells the story of the author’s own, once wealthy, Dutch family. They were part of the pre war German speaking business elite in Latvia. Initially part of a privileged minority, they had to leave Latvia, when the Hitler/Stalin Pact allocated Latvia to the Soviet sphere of influence in 1939.  

The author’s grandfather was a domineering character, who had retained a strong ancestral affiliation with the Netherlands.  After the family’s ejection from Latvia, he soon re established himself and his business there. 

But the author’s own father, who had been sent to the Netherlands to school against his wishes, felt more German. He rebelled against his father by joining the SS at the beginning of the war . He served on the Eastern Front. On his return to the Netherlands after the War, he was imprisoned.

 The family tensions, upheavals and the  bitter separations described in this book illustrate the cost of war, even for those who survive uninjured.

“The Ratline, love, lies and justice on the trail of a Nazi fugitive” by Philippe Sands (published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson) is the story of Otto Wachter, a lifelong Austrian Nazi .He was involved in an attempted Nazi coup against the Austrian leader Dolfuss, and became influential when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938.

 Wachter later became a senior official in the German occupation, first of Poland, and later of Ukraine.  He was involved in the extermination of thousands of Jews in both places.

 After the defeat of Germany he escaped across the Alps on foot to Italy, leaving his wife and children behind in Vienna. 

 He was sheltered for several years in a convent in Rome. He might have found his way to Latin America, like other Nazi war criminals did, but he died in July 1949 of an infection he contracted by swimming the polluted Tiber river. 

Like Munninghoff’s book, this is the story of a family. 

Wacther’s devoted wife supported him and his ideology completely. She kept letters that enabled Sands to describe the life of a rising figure in the Nazi hierarchy. 

 Sands also describes the different ways in which Wachter’s children try to cope with his legacy.

Both books are worth reading.

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