I’m no stranger to the Killing series. Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have written eight books detailing the final days and events surrounding the deaths of famous characters in history. So far, I’ve read about Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Jesus and George Patton. In the last few publications, the books in the series have focused on larger groups of people, namely the Imperial Japanese government in World War II, the Royal English government in the Revolutionary War, and with this title, prominent members of the SS.
O’Reilly and Dugard are journalists by trade, and they’ve blended their professional skills with their love of history to bring the story to their readers. I think, in many respects, that’s why the series has been so successful. The stories are written through vignettes that all tie together at the conclusion. The books read like thrillers or, when taken as a whole, like a long-form feature story in a newspaper or magazine.
Killing the SS follows the lives of many of the most notorious, and highest ranking, members of the SS and Nazi Party at the end of the Second World War and the collapse of the German government. It details their escapes, or at least attempted escapes, out of Allied-occupied territory and along smuggling routes to South America.
O’Reilly, in promoting the book, says it’s a book about evil. He’s exactly right. The authors detail the atrocities carried out by these individuals in grim detail. In many respects, the righteous anger of the reader follows along with the storyline, yearning for justice as much as the Nazi hunters who have a leading role in the manuscript.
Many books and articles have been written about Adolf Eichmann and his capture by agents of the Israeli Mossad. Indeed, just last year, Operation Finale depicted the story on the silver screen. O’Reilly chose to write this book based, in part, on new information which has been recently declassified by the Israeli government.
The book quotes extensively from the people who decided their lives to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice and survivors of the Holocaust. Even more chillingly, long passages from the transcript of Eichmann’s trial are published, giving a primary source insight into the brutality of Nazi reign.
In many respects, with World War II now nearly 75 years in the past, our collective memories of the Holocaust and actions of the Nazis has started to soften. They are words in a history book, or characters in a movie. We trivialize them, calling political opponents “Nazis,” on a whim. Reading this book, or engaging in any meaningful reflection on the Holocaust and its very grim human toll, reveals that minimizing the true heinousness of the Nazi regime is an affront to truth and justice itself.
Regrettably, the evil of Nazism didn’t die with the surrender of the Third Reich. The book clearly shares the concrete steps that loyal Nazis took to lay the groundwork for a Fourth Reich. The book shares many incidents of violence committed by neo-Nazis in the post-war era, highlighting that Nazism is an evil still very much among us. The Wall Street Journal notes in a recent article that since 1970, when acts of violence by far-right extremists have been tracked, the levels of violence has remained unchanged. What has changed is the level of press coverage these acts receive.
The message of this book to its readers is very clear. Without equivocation, evil is very real and it is still among us. It is up to us to confront it when we see it. There is zero room in any society for the kind of hate and violence that is fomented by the people who subscribe to the tenants of Nazism.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★