This short story is set in World War 2 between a SS private and a Jewish fugitive who were formerly childhood friends in 1943. Our main protagonist is Franz an overzealous member of the SS. In the Third Reich, he has found what he mistakenly feels is home- a foreign concept due to his violently abusive upbringing. His only childhood friend and protector was Amos, a Jewish boy of the same age, their bond is strong and simple, religion rarely comes into it. In his teens, Franz runs away to join the Third Reich to make something of himself and to flee his oppressive life. As the book begins Franz is now an SS soldier and runs into Amos in unlikely circumstances. Nationalism, racism, fascism, and homophobia are strong themes in this novel.
Hoffman’s work is incredibly timely in 2023, with the marked rise in Nazi ideology from a small but worrying amount of fascist groups reported in the media as of late. Her story follows the slow erosion of the Nazi philosophy that Franz has held dear during his time as an officer, things aren’t adding up as they once were. The internal conflict that both Franz and Amos go through is very well plotted throughout the story and I found myself invested in their journey.
Also well-documented in Hoffman’s short story, and an important facet within the book, is the immense struggle that queer people suffered during this time. A typically underrepresented faction in Holocaust history. Prior to the Nazi Party rising to power, in the Weimar Republic, there were many prominent groups that were campaigning for Paragraph 175 (a paragraph criminalising sexual relations between men) to be decriminalised. This movement meant that sex and sexuality in Germany became important political and social issues and queer people were more accepted as a result. Unfortunately, the Nazi Party was against decriminalisation as a policy and the more power they gained, the more homophobic their policies became ultimately adding homosexual men to concentration camps. It’s estimated that during the Holocaust between 5,000-15,000 men were imprisoned in concentration camps. They were required to wear a pink triangle on their uniform, thereby outing them. According to many accounts, men required to wear the pink triangle, were among the most abused (physically, mentally, and sexually) and given the most labour-intensive jobs as a minimum punishment. Both Franz and Amos understand the social and political environment that they are in and know that they have much to lose if they are caught but their bond is stronger than any ideology of hate.
Franz’s self-justification of his role in the SS is a very important theme in this story. Jewish people were considered monsters or not human by Nazi propaganda and thereby Nazi policies and actions against them were ‘warranted’. The dehumanisation of Jewish people served as an important piece of ideology that fueled horrific actions by many people including SS officers. It’s a stark reminder to us today that dehumanisation of people can fuel horrific actions that lead to xenophobia at best and genocide at its worst.
A timely story, that had me invested in the characters, and the plot and reminded me how important empathy is in every facet of life. I look forward to the next installment.