I came across “SS Englander: the amazing true story of Hitler’s British Nazis”, by Eric Meyer while browsing Apple’s Ibook Store. Having an interest in history I downloaded the novel onto my Ipod and began reading.
The story concerns Winston Volfe an Englishman who joins the SS in return for being released from a prison sentence for having killed a man in a bar room fight over a girl. Volfe is tasked with trying to recruit British prisoners of war into the SS (with very limited success it should be said)! Recruits are told that they will not be expected to fight their fellow countrymen, they will be expected to fight the Soviet Union which, they are informed is their real enemy, not Nazi Germany. However the vast majority of the plot deals with Volfe’s exploits, in Russia fighting against the Soviets and the references to the recruiting of POWs for the Nazi cause are fleeting in the extreme.
Accompanied by the psychopathic Albert Muller (who revels in torturing his victims) Volfe fights against the Soviets. During the course of the capture of a Russian general Volfe rescues a beautiful half-Jewish Polish aristocrat who becomes his lover. Later the trio are joined by Vascil, a Ukranian who hates Stalin due to the death of his family at the hands of the Russian Communists and his own experiences in a Soviet labour camp.
As I read on I was struck by the lack of any mention of the Nazi’s extermination of the Jews. It is only close to the end of the novel that the holocaust is touched on. On the way back from Russia, on a train Volfe sees a train pulling cattle wagons and assumes that it contains livestock. However during an air raid the cattle trucks are blown open and Volfe comes face to face with Jews on their way to extermination camps. On asking a member of the SS where the Jews are being taken Volfe learns that they are destined for extermination. The entire party is shocked even the psychopathic Muller. Tatiania, Volfe’s half-Jewish lover is shocked but all Volfe can do is to assure her that the people responsible for the barbarity will be dealt with at the end of the war (Volfe realises that Germany can not win).
Is it possible that a member of the SS would not have known about the extermination of the Jews or (at the very least) have had very strong suspicions that something other than resettlement of Jews, in the East was taking place? It is wholly unbelievable that members of the SS would not have known of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” and the novel falls down in downplaying the brutality of Hitler’s regime. Granted, earlier in the novel Volfe, Muller and Tatiania see an old man being beaten by the Gestapo for putting up anti-Nazi posters, however the book concentrates far more on the undoubted brutality of the Soviets (for example to German prisoners of war) while hardly mentioning the cruelties of Nazi Germany.
Anyone wanting an in-depth book about why a tiny minority of British people joined the SS will be disappointed in this novel, however those in search of a fast-paced war story will find the book a good read.