On May 11, 1960, SS–Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann was captured by the Mossad in Argentina. Eichmann had been one of the principal planners behind the Nazis’s “Final Solution.” Later, in Israel, he was found guilty of war crimes in a widely publicized trial and executed by hanging in 1962. Meanwhile, other notorious Nazi war criminals, including Josef Mengele and Klaus Barbie, were the subjects of intensive searches elsewhere in South America. And thriller author Joseph Kanon writes about a similar effort, hunting for Nazis in Argentina, in a brilliant new novel, The Accomplice.
The Accomplice by Joseph Kanon (2019) 332 pages
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The Accomplice opens in 1962 in Hamburg, Germany. There, an aging and ailing Nazi hunter named Max Weill has induced his nephew to fly in from Washington by convincing him that he’s dying. The nephew, Aaron Wiley, is an intelligence analyst (a “desk man”) with the CIA and is impatient with the old man’s obsession for hunting Nazis. Suddenly, Max goes pale and keels over from a heart attack. He insists he has just seen his nemesis, Otto Schramm, a colleague of Josef Mengele’s at Auschwitz, walking down the street in front of them. Schramm had been located in Argentina and presumably would never have returned to Germany. Aaron is skeptical but, to please Max, who’s in the hospital, he agrees to work with a journalist friend of his uncle’s to search the city for Schramm. And, sure enough, Schramm is in Hamburg. Aaron and the journalist see him at a cemetery following the funeral of his estranged wife.
At Auschwitz, Max had arrived as a prisoner with his young son. Most of those among the thousands arriving that day were shunted off immediately to the gas chambers. But Max’s colleague from medical school, Otto Schramm, recognized him and pulled him into the medical unit after sending the boy off to his death. For the duration, then, Max was forced to assist Schramm and Mengele in their cruel and invariably fatal “experiments” with prisoners.
Max now wonders how much guilt he shares. “He didn’t make me do this,” he recalls. “But I was part of it. Part of the experiments. He made me — complicit. Think what that means. To be part of it. He liked watching me struggle with this. And give in. Always give in.” And that guilt, together with the murder of his son and his sister-in-law, Aaron’s mother, led him to give up the practice of medicine and build a career as a Nazi-hunter like Simon Wiesenthal.
Hunting for Nazis in Argentina
The story resumes in Buenos Aires, where Aaron has followed Schramm’s daughter home from the funeral. And there, in Argentina, he soon finds himself coming in contact with the old Nazis waiting to fill top jobs in the Fourth Reich they fantasize about. He will also become involved with Schramm’s daughter, Hanna, a relationship that will convert a straightforward thriller about hunting for Nazis in Argentina into a serious inquiry into the nature of guilt and evil. Particularly poignant are the passages about the CIA’s own complicity in hiring former Nazi war criminals to assist in the fight against Communism. In The Accomplice, Joseph Kanon has written a valuable addition to the literature of the Holocaust.
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