cover image Wolfsangel: German City on Trial(h

Wolfsangel: German City on Trial(h

August J. Nigro. Potomac Books, $22.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-1-57488-245-2

On the morning of August 26, 1944, eight hours after a punishing RAF air raid on the German city of R sselsheim, members of a captured American bomber crew in transit through that city were spontaneously attacked by a civilian mob. Six airmen were killed. After the city was occupied the following year, in the first of the war crimes trials (before Nuremberg), 11 R sselsheim citizens were tried for murder by an American military tribunal. Expedited procedures were used (the lead prosecutor was Leon Jaworski, who would later come to prominence via Watergate), and 10 defendants were convicted. Five were put to death; the others were sentenced to hard labor and eventually paroled in the 1950s. (Two others were convicted in separate trials later; one was executed while the other gained release on technical grounds.) Forty years later, Nigro (The Diagonal Line), a professor of English at Penn State's Kutztown University, happened upon a contemporary New York Times report about the trial. This book is the result of his attempt to research and detail the actual events, context and aftermath. Collecting first-hand accounts and analyzing archival material, Nigro reveals the manifold layers of moral ambiguity and responsibility associated with the grievous occurrences in R sselsheim. He cogently asks whether civilians, under attack on a home front in circumstances of total warfare, could be obliged or expected to abide by formal rules of war rendered in the Geneva Conventions, and raises many related and knotty issues of warfare and morality. Less interesting are the author's musings on the symbolism of the Wolfsangel, a kind of primitive wolf-trap and the basis for a stylized emblem used by the city of R sselsheim. This is a thoughtful and pointed account of WWII civilians at war. Illus. not seen by PW. (Sept.)