HHhH – Laurent Binet

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while, never quite shouting “read me” loud enough to be taken down from it so I decided just to pick it up and get on with it.  I’m really pleased I did.

The book is in three parts; the story of Reinhard Heydrich’s assassination by Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, a biography of Heydrich and the story of the author struggling to write the book.

Firstly, the title; it is the acronym for Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich, a phrase current in Nazi Germany, which translates as Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.  I have never heard this before and it fascinates me.

I knew a little about the assassination from reading other books about Nazi Germany and WW2 but not the detail and not the problems Gabcik and Kubis had.  It felt like shades of Gavrilo Princip and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand; almost a disaster, then a farce but somehow succeeding in its aim.  What I didn’t know about was just how dreadful Nazi reprisals were against the Czech people.

Heydrich’s biography was also interesting.  I didn’t know much about him and his background.  Another example of a seemingly ordinary man, determined to make something of himself and disregarding any moral compass he might have had to achieve that success.  Do people who want power at any cost find it easy to do that or is it more a case of never having had a moral compass in the first place?  And are we back at nature versus nurture again?

I would have like to have known what happened to Lena Heydrich and her children after his death and after the war ended.

I found the section about writing the book really interesting.  There is a certain amount of evidence available in various archives attesting to what happened but none of the people are around to explain why things happened as they did or what it felt like.  This must make it difficult to write an account that captures a sense of being there whilst not putting words into people’s mouths or ascribing them motives that we do not know they had.  How do you fill in the blanks that the records don’t cover?

Overall, whether you are interested in this period of history or not, I would recommend it as an interesting book to read.

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