New & notable book: Andrew Nagorski’s ‘The Nazi Hunters’

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Andrew Nagorski, author of 2012’s Hitlerland, digs into the end of an era in The Nazi Hunters, a historical biography that chronicles the best-known and lesser-known hunters and their hunted more than 70 years after the end of World War II and the closing of Auschwitz and the other concentration camps.

It was a story Nagorski believed was worth telling — especially now that the story is coming to a natural close with “a beginning, middle and almost an end,” the author says in press materials, since few of the hunters or Nazi war criminals are still alive.

“As a foreign correspondent in Germany, Poland and Russia, I often found myself examining the legacy of the war and the Holocaust,” he says. “Again and again, I was startled by the number of untold, incomplete or even erroneous stories that were out there, and how much more there was to discover.

“... I was fascinated that, at a time when much of the world was only too eager to forget about the past, a relatively small group of men and women, those who were known as ‘Nazi hunters,’ dedicated their lives to this endeavor. The hunted, those who participated in mass murder, are always a subject of morbid fascination. But I feel strongly that the hunters also deserve our attention.”

He spotlights more than a dozen hunters and their quests to track down these war criminals and bring them to justice. Among the who’s who of hunters are a German judge, a U.S. Army prosecutor, Mossad agents, Holocaust survivors like Simon Wiesenthal, and Benjamin Ferencz, a 27-year-old American who was the chief prosecutor for the Nuremberg trials in which 22 Nazis were convicted. And, of course, there’s a who’s who of the hunted from Josef Mengele to Martin Bormann.

“... There was nothing inevitable about the exposure and prosecution of many of the Nazi war criminals,” Nagorski says. “Determined individuals, many of them who were very young at the time, were responsible for making such trials happen and often for tracking the Nazis down in the first place.

“Remember the old question: Does history make the man or does the man make history? In the case of the Nazi hunters, the men and women made history, not the other way around.”

Celeste Williams