Hitler’s First Victims: The Quest for Justice


103114_mishmash_bookStranger than fiction: In 1933, a Bavarian prosecutor won indictments against SS members for the murders of four prisoners at Dachau.

“Hitler’s First Victims” is a short, fascinating, disturbing story of an honest man’s courage and of the treatment of Nazi Germany’s first concentration camp victims ó political prisoners shot or beaten to death for no apparent reason but the sadistic enjoyment of their tormentors.

The hero is Josef Hartinger, then 39, deputy prosecutor for a large area near Munich in which the Nazis created their first concentration camp in an abandoned World War I ammunition plant.

Hartinger’s notes and files are “some of the earliest forensic evidence of the systematic execution of Jews by the Nazis,” says Ryback, author previously of “Hitler’s Private Library: The Books that Shaped his Life” and “The Last Survivor: Legacies of Dachau.”

“Hitler’s First Victims” reminds us of things now little known. One is that President Hindenburg opposed Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies and more than once admonished him, even getting Jewish veterans restored to their civil-service positions. Another is the extent of the turmoil in Germany after its 1918 defeat. For a time, Bavarian Communists proclaimed a state, setting off a civil war with atrocities that Hartinger was
determined to prevent recurring.

He couldn’t, but unlike many Germans, who remained passive or frightened, he tried. Ryback’s book is a decades-overdue recognition.

— Neal Gendler

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