Shortly after the death in 1992 at age 85of his mother’s father, Martin Davidson began to probe deeply into the question that for years had haunted him and his sister, Vanessa: “What had Bruno Langbehn, our German grandfather, done during the war?” They knew that Bruno had been active in some way, and hints he had dropped over the years suggested that this was putting it mildly, but how and to what end were questions their mother and her two sisters had declined to answer.
Then, freed at last from her father’s rather ominous presence, their mother spoke. She “made the fateful admission” that “he was in the SS.” With that, Davidson, a producer and director for the BBC, was off and digging, often accompanied by Vanessa. What they found stunned them: “Neither a camp Kommandant nor an architect of the Holocaust, he was nevertheless an enabler of evil, one of its indispensable, and very active minions. . . . Bruno and his fellow early joiners [of the Nazi Party] provided the energy, the determination — and the violence — that overcame all obstacles to power. They formed the backbone of the apparatus of terror that ensured compliance in the new Third Reich and they were in the front line, fighting the war that erupted . . . later, regarding it as the final, great expression of Nazi values and its most important project.”