“Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened.”
Dr. Max Aue, the man at the heart of Jonathan Littell’s stunning and controversial novel The Kindly Ones, personifies the evils of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Highly educated and cultured, he was an ambitious SS officer, a Nazi and mass murderer who was in the upper echelons of the Third Reich. He tells us of his experience during the war. He was present at Auschwitz and Babi Yar, witnessed the battle of Stalingrad, and survived the fall of Berlin — receiving a medal from Hitler personally in the last days of Nazi Germany.
Long after the war, he is living a comfortable bourgeois life in France, married with two children, managing a lace factory. And now, having evaded justice, he speaks out, giving a precise and accurate record of his life. The tone of his account is detached, lapidary, and for the most part unrepentant, whether he is describing his participation in mass murder on the Eastern Front, his bureaucratic investigations of labour productivity in the death camps, his casual murder of civilians as he tries to break through Russian lines towards the end of the war, or his fervid and convoluted relationship with his twin sister.
Over its course, by entwining Aue’s life with those of historical figures such as Eichmann and Speer, Himmler and indeed Hitler, The Kindly Onescomes to depict the entire architecture of Nazism — from its grandest intellectual pretensions to its most minute, most chilling managerial details and executions. The Kindly Onespresents — with unprecedented realism, meticulous research that is both fascinating and compelling, and brilliant literary accomplishment — the greatest horrors imaginable.
“War and murder are a question, a question without an answer, for when you cry out in the night, no one answers,” Aue says. In the same way, this powerfully affecting, powerfully challenging book confronts the reader with the most profound questions about history, morality, and art without offering any easy resolution. Written originally in French, and published now in English for the first time, The Kindly Ones has already sold to date well over a million copies in Europe. In France it won two prestigious prizes, including the Goncourt, and has been compared to War and Peace and other great classics of literature.