In a powerful first novel, German writer Berkewicz explores the paradox that has haunted the 20th century: how a nation that prided itself on its civilized culture could have been seduced into supporting Hitler. Reinhold Fischer is a poet, an ardent devotee of Rilke and an eager sergeant in the Hitler Youth. At 18, he is sent to the Russian front, where his idealistic naivete evaporates as he watches his comrades gleefully massacre Russian civilians. Horrified, Reinhold deserts and hides in the Russian forests, where he's haunted by the atrocities he has seen and by all the signs he has ignored. He remembers his growing conflict as Jewish classmates and neighbors were arrested, murdered, tortured. Huddled in the icy Russian forest, he now realizes that he has been caught up in a monstrous lie. Encountering a group of Jewish refugees, he plunges into an intense love affair with one of them. At war's end, as the Fuhrer directs nonexistent armies from his bunker, Reinhold comes home to confront the rubble of his life, his vision darkened by the collective guilt of all Germans. This stark, unflinching narrative, which generated controversy upon its German publication in 1992, dramatizes how the language of heroic struggle, sacrifice and spiritual renewal found in Nietzsche, Rilke and Holderlin was adopted and perverted by Nazi propagandists, encouraging young idealists like Reinhold to entangle these masterworks with the hate-mongering myths of Aryan racial supremacy. (Dec.) FYI: Berkewicz is well known in Germany as an actress and writer of short stories, plays and novels.