The S.S. Officer’s Armchair: Uncovering the Hidden Life of a Nazi

Daniel Lee. Hachette, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316509-09-1
Historian Lee (Pétain’s Jewish Children) reconstructs the life of a lower-level SS officer in this richly detailed and eloquent account. Asked by an acquaintance to examine a cache of documents discovered in the cushion of an armchair her mother had taken in to be reupholstered, Lee linked the papers to Robert Griesinger, a Gestapo lawyer in Stuttgart. Lee tracks down Griesinger’s surviving daughters; reviews his SS file; and traces his family roots to America. One of the “countless enablers who kept the government running, filed the paperwork and lived side-by-side with potential victims of the regime,” Griesinger was the grandson of German-American slave owners in Louisiana. Despite an undistinguished academic career, he landed a job with the Ministry of the Interior after passing his law exams in 1933, joined the SS, and went on to serve in an army unit that executed Jews in the Soviet Union (though there is no evidence he directly participated in the murders). Lee compares 20th-century America’s anti-miscegenation laws to Nazi racial classifications, and offers numerous prosaic details drawn from the documents, including Griesinger’s difficulties in getting official approval to marry a divorced woman. Lee’s granular focus reveals the mechanisms by which ordinary Germans were drawn into horrific crimes. Even those well-versed in the history of the Holocaust will learn something new. (June)
Reviewed on : 04/09/2020
Release date: 06/16/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-6019-6
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-316-50910-7
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