Review: Butchers of Berlin – Chris Petit

The Butchers of Berlin Chris PetitMy version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction WWII, Nazis, Berlin
Simon & Schuster
First published: 2016
Bought, signed

From the cover:

Berlin 1943.

August Schlegel lives in a dark world.

Why has he been placed on a homicide case when he worked in financial crime?

Why did the old Jewish man, with an Iron Cross in his pocket, shoot the block warden, on the morning of the city’s biggest roundup, then put a bullet in his own head?

Why must Schlegel persist with the case when the Jews are being removed from Berlin?

And why would Morgen, wearing the uniform of the dreaded SS, be assigned to work with him?

In the middle of a war, why should one more murder matter?

While you’re reading this, or the book, mainly the book, why not have the Speesh Reads Pinterest board for the book at hand? Pictures and information at your fingertips

The book and the subject matter and some of the scenes, may seem horrible and a (only) a work of fiction – but…it is based on fact and, in the East, instigated by the Nazis, and later revenged by the Russians, and in the years after the war – much, much worse happened.

The story revolves around Schlegel, a fraud officer, getting told to work on the case of a Jewish man who has shot a ‘block warden’ at the apartments he lived at. The main thrust is why would one Jew turn on another? And why would the Nazi’s care about one more murder, when they are committing (literally) millions of them in the East. I’d say, because this one wasn’t authorised. Sure, it might well have saved them from doing the job, but there are rules, you know, for this sort of thing. This absurdity is also a theme that Philip Kerr looked at in his Bernie Gunther books.

The Butchers of Berlin signatureChris Petit notes, there was an SS Internal Affairs, that tried to eradicate corruption and sadism in the camps. He quotes Heinz Höhne in The Order of The Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS’: “It was an absurd spectacle, one or two “unauthorised” murders of Jews were investigated by a whole squad of SS legal experts inside the extermination camps where thousands were being murdered daily.”

The only thing that holds me back from being totally fulsome in my praise, is the Afterword. There’s nothing wrong with it, in fact it is extremely interesting, and long. It’s that length and the depth, that make me wonder…is he admitting that he didn’t get his points across as he wanted? Feeling that it warranted 12 sides of afterword? Almost as if, you only get the book, after you’ve read the Afterword. “Ahh! So that’s what it was all about!” The equivalent of the guilty party, at the end of a book or film, explaining just how and why he/she dunnit, to the victim he/she is going to (also) murder (of course, giving the Police, authorities, sidekick, time to make the dramatic rescue, kill him/her). It’s an admission that you may not have ‘got’ it, it’s an admission that you didn’t do your job well enough (as if you did, there would be no need for it), earlier on.

It’s a good book, an interesting book, an interesting look at a situation I’m pretty sure not many people would have realised happened – Jews turning Jews in to the Gestapo. It’s a good look at the reasons, the whys and the wherefores. It’s also a good look at the afore-mentioned absurdity, of the SS Internal Affairs, that says much about the German psyche – at the time – that you will find gone into much grater detail in other, non-fiction, works. It’s not easy reading at times, but the horrors, are never done simply for effect, to horrify for excitement, I think they’re a way for Chris Petit to deal with the “fascination” he says he has for Berlin and Germany, that might otherwise stand in the way of his love-affair with the country and the city he seems to know so well. Thoroughly recommended.

You can buy The Butchers of Berlin at

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