The End of Law: A novel of Hitler’s Germany
Lion Fiction £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20
THÉRÈSE DOWN’s gripping and well-written novel focuses on the inhabitants living and working in Berlin as Hitler rises to power and they begin to find it increasingly difficult to detach themselves from what is happening within their professions.
The SS officer Walter Gunther, an ambitious, good-looking young soldier whose father had been a field marshal and grandfather a general, marries the well-connected and beautiful Hedda, daughter of Ernst Shroeder, an eminent research chemist working with IG Farben, suppliers of carbon dioxide in the correct strength for the planned concentration camp ovens. (Hedda knows nothing about this.)
All seems set for a happy marriage but Gunther's irrational jealousy and violence soon show themselves when he encounters the SS officer Dr Karl Muller, a past acquaintance of Hedda’s, a trainee doctor and chemical engineer working with Hedda’s father.
Ordinary (if one can call it that) life for the rich middle and upper classes is disrupted by the first Allied bombing raid on central Berlin in 1940, destroying the Shroeder family mansion and severely injuring Hedda’s young daughter Agnete. She will be a lifelong cripple, the sort described as “unworthy of life”, along with Jews, the mentally ill, and homosexuals destined for euthanasia in the T4 Euthanasia programme led by Gunther, and which Dr Muller now finds he’s part of.
Gunther has no compunction about signing his own daughter’s death warrant, to Dr Muller’s distress. Dr Muller is, in fact, a secret Christian, and his faith finally gives him the courage to countermand not only the death sentence on Agnete, but also the use of many other drugs needed for the Child Euthanasia Programme.
A subplot underpinning all these horrors is Hitler’s vow made in 1939 that he would “crush Christianity beneath his boot like the poisonous toad it was”. God had already been judged surplus to requirements and systematically deleted from the Old Testament because he was a Jew, but Jesus, Hitler said, was an anti-Semite, so could still be believed in by the “Reich Church” of the future, which would replace Christian Churches of all denominations once the war was won.
Peggy Woodford is a novelist.