“Death at Nuremberg” by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV is more than a thriller. These authors have a knack for telling a riveting story that is intertwined with historical facts. It is a reminder of past history and the plot supports how history in many ways is repeating itself. Some of the facts are so incredibly gripping they can make a thriller in and of themselves.
This plot covers the time period when the Nuremberg war trials began, with covert intelligence agent Capt. James Cronley Jr. having to handle many fronts: the Russians, Nazis and a bureaucracy. He has been reassigned from the chief, DCI-Europe to protecting the Nuremberg U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson and the American Judge Francis Biddle from a possible Soviet NKGB kidnapping. In addition to that, he is still hunting down and dismantling Odessa, an organization dedicated to helping Nazi war criminals escape to South America.
In trying to play nice, he decides to work with the CIC, a counter agency to the DCI and enlists the help of Col. Morty Cohen who has another agenda. He asks for Cronley’s help in getting to the bottom of a religious cult organized by S.S. Commander Heinrich Himmler. Griffin’s signature writing style is very evident as he blends humor, espionage, danger and great characters in his latest novel.
Below is an interview with W.E.B. Griffin and his son William JR.
Elise Cooper: This series delves into the beginnings of the Cold War?
William E. Butterworth IV (JR): The Cold War is back. President Trump speaks of not surrendering our sovereignty to foreign bureaucrats and that there should be a new era of competition to protect our national interest. Now, just as then, we have rivals that are tough and tenacious, and we have to make sure we do not trust the Russians or Chinese.
Dad put in the last few books how no one wanted to believe that at the end of WWII the Russians were not our “allies” after they were our “allies.” Behind the scenes, they were working only for the Russians. We hoped to show through our plots that Russia was and still is a “revisionist power” seeking to change the global status quo, rejecting cooperation in favor of competition.
EC: Can you explain what is meant by the 1,000-year reign?
JR: The Nazis used the discontent of the German people who felt emasculated by the Treaty Of Versailles after losing WWI. They promised a 1,000-year Third Reich. They claimed the First Reich began with Charlemagne in 800 AD, ending in 1806 AD. The Second Reich started in the early 1870s and ended with the conclusion of WWI. The Third Reich was supposed to bring back Germanic power and pride. They removed political opponents, so-called criminals, deviants, gypsies, Jews, Slavs and the handicapped — those deemed to be sub-human.
EC: Himmler started a religious cult, the Black Knights of the S.S.?
W.E.B. Griffin: Himmler was obsessed with the Nordic/German past and thought himself as divine. He had the Wewelsburg Castle designated as his fortress that would display Nazi greatness and the ideological center of the S.S. The German people were completely taken in by Hitler who gave them their pride back and convinced them they were superior to everyone else. It also became a collection place for what the Nazis stole from the occupied lands, including famous paintings. I hope readers understand through the story that it was a holy place that justified mass murder. It was very real and very dangerous. They wanted to own the world.
EC: Throughout the book, you show the true identity of the S.S.?
Griffin: I mention Operation Phoenix, where the Germans were willing to ransom Jews out of Concentration Camps. F.D.R. allowed it to continue to save some from the ovens. The S.S. were a bunch of gangsters as well as murderers — crooked to the core. President Truman was a genius for having the Nuremberg Trials, because the Nazis were seen as criminals as well as killers.
EC: A powerful quote in the books seems like it could have come from the German-born iconic actress Marlene Dietrich.
Griffin: Marlene was a good person who supported our side against her own people. The quote, “Now when I think about my German blood, I’m a little ashamed about it. That people ‘of my blood’ could do what the Nazis did.”
My mother’s maiden name is Gladys Schnable, so I have some German blood. This is how I feel. When I was in Germany, in the U.S. Army, shortly after the War, you couldn’t find anyone who was a Nazi, even though about 90 percent of the population supported them. I went to the film vault to look at what happened in the Concentration Camps. My boss, Gen. White, came in and told me I should never forget.
EC: Here in America is a statute of the poster boy for German nationalism. Maybe that is a statue that should be destroyed?
Griffin: The statue is in New York City and is of Hermann der Cheruskerfurst. It was put up around the turn of the century, and is called the Hermann Heights Monument. Many Germans are named after him, including Hermann Goring. I am against taking statues down because they need to stay up for historical value to remind us what did happen.
EC: This series describes the turf wars between agencies of the DIA and CIC?
Griffin: There were turf wars all the time. Everyone wanted to protect their territory. I put in the quote, “You spend as much time in turf warfare as you do in fighting the Red Menace.”
The beginning of the book explains how Truman disbanded the OSS. Everyone fought over wanting to take that agency over and filling in the intelligence vacuum with their own agency. The CIC, the counter-intelligence corps of the Army, the Navy, State Department, FBI, all wanted to take control and in the process tried to make a fool of Truman. Basically, he thought, “screw this,” and started the DCI, appointing Admiral Sidney Souers as its head. It morphed into the CIA.
EC: What about Col. Wallace, the nemesis of Capt. Cronley?
Griffin: Most of the upper military are interested in their careers. My character Wallace represented these types. I wanted to show how ethics play an important role. Are those involved more concerned about themselves, their agency or their country? The regular Army guys are patriots. I would also include all the generals in Trump’s staff as patriots. I think Wallace knew how to work around the bureaucracy, where his actions served him and not the country. The bureaucracy is the cancer on society.
EC: It appears there was fake news even then?
Griffin: The AP reporter was Janice Johansen. She is based on the real-life war correspondent that covered the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, named Maggie Higgins. Instead of reporting that the American was kidnapped by the Russians and exchanged for a Russian we had, she said the exchange took place after both were arrested for being intoxicated. Other times she did not report the information until she received approval.
JR: During the Cold War, at the conclusion of WWII, disinformation was put out. It is wrong information that was sold as true. It is basically subversive and is done on purpose. Misinformation is where mistakes are made. Janice agrees to write disinformation because she understands the security ramifications and knows that Cronley will feed her bigger stories before any other reporter.
EC: Is German Gen. Reinhard Gehlen a good guy or a bad guy?
Griffin: He was a good guy. During the war, he was a lieutenant general, but was anti-Hitler from the beginning and was involved in multiple plots to kill Hitler. After the war, he helped us with espionage against the Russians and became the German head of intelligence. He even had agents in the Kremlin that tipped us that there were spies in the U.S. Atomic Energy Program.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
Griffin: It continues the plotline about Himmler’s religion. It will also continue to show how the Cold War began, and how it is important to get to know the enemy and try to con them.