Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > The Axmann Conspiracy: The Nazi Plan for a Fourth Reich and How the U.S. Army Defeated It

The Axmann Conspiracy by Scott Andrew Selby
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Scott Andrew Selby's The Axmann Conspiracy: The Nazi Plan for a Fourth Reich and How the U.S. Army Defeated It covers a fascinating and potentially crucial period of history, when die-hard Nazi fanatics still roamed the bombed-out rubble and impoverished hamlets of postwar Germany, hoping somehow to bring back the supremacy of the now-dead Hitler's ideals. As other reviewers occasionally have commented, though, both structure and style limit this book somewhat--I would consider it as being in the 3.5- to 4-star range, rounding up on general principle.

On the one hand, the existence of Operation Werewolf, the plan for ex-military personnel and members of the Hitler Youth to retreat to some hidden redoubt in Bavaria and use assassination and other sneak attacks to harass the occupiers and those Germans cooperating with them, indeed makes for a thrilling beginning. With the highest-ranking officials of the Third Reich dead or captured, a prime leader in this resistance movement is Artur Axmann, former head of the Hitler Youth, who also was a devoted companion of Hitler during the last days in the bunker. After Hitler's suicide, Axmann makes a harrowing escape from Berlin, dodging both fighting and capture, in the hopes of linking up with the Werewolf holdouts in Bavaria.

After an initial foray against one Allied-appointed mayor, however, the conspirators realize that this type of resistance cannot dislodge the Allies, whose military hold on Germany now is complete.
This leads to a rather less glamorous phase of resistance, but one of perhaps more long-term danger: the setting up of a network of businesses secretly run by former Nazis--and with the firms sometimes even disguised by the hiring of former concentration camp inmates as low-level workers--for the hidden purpose of using economic influence and subtle propaganda to steer Germany eventually back to National Socialism.

This latter is less splashy than what the reader might presume from after the initial description of late-war plans for underground weapons factories, secret armories, huge caches of food for guerrilla armies, and whatnot, but it is understandable. Still, despite pulling together the threads of Axmann and other powerful Nazis, along with those of the American intelligence agents who are hunting them, Selby's narrative does not always highlight the true dangers as much as perhaps it should. There are mentions, for example, that the conspirators are drawing up a list of German enemies who now are "traitors" because of their cooperation with the Allied occupiers, but the discussion is not fleshed out as much as I would prefer; we are told that this is, essentially, a "hit list," but I definitely would like more detail on just how far along these plans for revenge killing were.

Strangely, though, by the time Axmann is captured in December 1945, suddenly we are told that hundreds actually were rounded up in near-simultaneous raids, and that there even occurred firefights between Allied troops and these Nazis. Yet, narration-wise, where did this come from? And where does it go? The widespread nature of these raids should have informed the entire book, and certainly would have heightened tension and intrigue, but Selby, oddly, does not hint at the breadth of the danger until the very end. Nor does he clarify even then whether he is talking about, say, a few desperadoes with handguns shooting it out with arresting officers or about protracted battles with large groups of well-armed and -organized insurgents. We learn that many of those first arrested will be released because they did not really realize that they were working for Nazi insurgents--but how many? What percent? Selby never says.

Writing also is a bit weak throughout this book. Some of it is mechanical, as in the failure to use commas when "though" is used like "however," as in "The injury to his arm though was relatively minor" (p. 19). This simply does require the punctuation, though--as demonstrated here--and repeated failure strikes me strongly...especially when once or twice it instead has been done correctly. Such punctuational weakness does not speak well of a writer, or of an editor either.

Further, sometimes the narrative is written with great simplicity, explaining rather obvious facts about, say, the Second World War or the hierarchical structure of the military as if the book were made for readers who know almost nothing; perhaps that indeed is the intended audience, but it still occasionally seems overdone. To write, for example, "In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, which set off World War II" (p. 18), simply grates, at least to me. Some slightly more urbane construction that makes the point seem matter-of-fact and already known rather than a great revelation to a completely clueless reader would be preferable. Even simply beginning a sentence with something like "When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, setting off World War II,..." would go a long way toward making things seems less painfully elementary.

And speaking of matters of balance and emphasis, the text also is plagued by an occasional yet very inelegant tendency to repetition. Selby might tell us, for example, that such-and-such a German ostensibly working with the Nazi plotters in fact secretly was spying on them for the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps. Excellent. However, Selby later simply might tell us this again, as if we have not heard it before, and then add some detail about what information the operative was passing to the U.S. Still, while it indeed can be a bit difficult to remember which semi-nefarious character is who, the flat repetition is amateurish at best; again, a construction harking back to the earlier presentation would be defter, such as "When So-and-So worked at X on behalf of the Americans, he was able to..." or "So-and-So, secretly working for the Americans, provided information on..."

And finally, to repeat or perhaps summarize an issue I mentioned earlier, sometimes as we move from the particular to the general--this Nazi conspirator or that, and then the shape of the overall movement--we seem not to receive the crucial general overview we actually need. How many people were involved in these schemes, really, how closely tied, and at what levels of understanding? This is something that we never really get a handle on, I believe, but it should be central to our understanding of exactly how grave the threat truly was.

For those who want to know more about the period at the very end of the Second World War and the possibility of Nazi revanchism, is The Axmann Conspiracy worth the read? Yes, but it nevertheless could have been more deftly written and more carefully explanatory in many places.

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Reading Progress

July 16, 2017 – Started Reading
August 3, 2017 – Shelved
August 3, 2017 – Finished Reading

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