The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: If anyone is looking for a “literary nonfiction” book for Common Core Standards, look no further than The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi (Scholastic 2013). Here is a stellar example of outstanding nonfiction writing and one that reads with all the breathless suspense of a best-seller spy thriller. Bascomb chronicles the amazing story of how Adolph Eichmann was finally brought to justice. Eichmann had been a key figure in Hitler’s Final Solution, responsible for locating, capturing and transporting Jews from all over Europe to their deaths in concentration camps during WWII. At the close of the war in 1945, Eichmann slipped away and eventually began a new life in Argentina, even arranging for his wife and sons to join him. Simon Wiesenthal had some initial tantalizing clues but the trail had gone cold. Then, in 1953, Wiesenthal met with an old friend about stamp collecting. To his astonishment, the friend showed him a letter from Argentina with a passing comment about the writer having run into, “that awful swine, Eichmann.” The story that follows is a riveting mix of chance encounters, sheer determination, intense detailed planning, clandestine field work and sheer luck. Bascomb, author of an adult book about this investigation, Hunting Eichmann (Houghton 2009), does an exemplary job of keeping the focus on the riveting aspects of the search and capture while also providing ample historical background for young readers. Basscomb did extensive research and he uses that wonderfully, inserting primary source interviews, family backgrounds of the investigators (most of whom lost loved ones in the camps), information on the intricate political situation, and more, all without slowing the pace or lessening the tension. This is a story filled with heart-stopping moments where the whole plan could have gone wrong and there is a cinematic quality to the reading experience. I felt as if I was there watching it unfold. There is SO much to think about here too and discuss: Eichmann’s assertion that he was only following orders, what is the world’s responsibility to prevent genocide, how far can people go to bring perpetrators of murder to justice? Should we ever forget and have we already? As an aside, I suggested Bascomb’s adult book to my adult book club and I was very surprised at the number of people there who didn’t know who Eichmann was. I think this is a story that still needs to be told and Bascomb has given us a terrific way to bring that story to a new generation.
Cindy: When you have read about the atrocities committed by Eichmann it is easy to understand the dedication that surrounded the manhunt for him. Once the capture plans started to become reality one of the repeated orders was for Eichmann to be captured alive:
“We will bring Adolf Eichmann to Jerusalem,” Harel said, “and perhaps the world will be reminded of its responsibilities. IT will be recognized that, as a people, we never forgot. Our memory reaches back through recorded history. The memory book lies open, and the hand still writes.”
In his epilogue Bascomb reinforces this notion about how important it was to have the trial for Eichmann. He explains its impact on educating the Israeli people, especially their young members, about “the true nature of the Holocaust.” Equally important was its impact on encouraging survivors to share their stories. We have a wealth of stories full of pain and courage as a result. Stories that are still being written and shared.
As a side bar to the discussion of content, it’s interesting to note what Scholastic does with some of its teen nonfiction book trim sizes. Last year Deborah Hopkinson’s book Titanic: Voices from the Disaster confused my students at first because it looked like a novel in size and shape; they are accustomed to the more common larger format for nonfiction. This year’s Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin, The Nazi Hunters by Bascomb, and the forthcoming The President Has Been Shot: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Oct. 2013) by James L. Swanson are the latest Scholastic nonfiction to use this format. I asked John Mason, Scholastic’s Director of Library and Educational Marketing, Trade Books for comment about this design decision. He responded:
“When we have compelling narrative nonfiction for young adults, we generally feel that it should have the same trim size as a novel and not be set apart, unless there are compelling reasons (usually regarding illustration or design) to do so.” He hopes that books like these will be recognized as, “excellent storytelling as well as valuable reference material.”
Common Core Connection:
Any of Lynn’s suggestions above could be worked into a writing assignment, but it might be interesting to have older students compare the sections of the writing in The Nazi Hunters with the adult text Hunting Eichmann by the same author and to report what they observe about the details and emphasis included for adults compared with those for teens.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.