The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb

  • Title: The Nazi Hunters
  • Author: Neal Bascomb
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
  • Year Published: 2013
  • ISBN: 0545430992
  • List Price: $16.99
  • Page Count: 256
  • Age Range: 12+
  • Genre: historical non-fiction
  • Award(s): YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction

Author information: Neal Bascomb has written several non-fiction titles for adults and teens. His website includes a brief biography of the author as well as a list of his titles. There’s also a link to Bascomb’s blog, where he discusses relevant information about his work, such as appearance dates and awards his titles have won. It does not appear to have been updated since 2010. His website also links to his Facebook page, which seems to be updated more frequently and serve a similar function as the defunct blog.

Reviews: This title received positive reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist. Both reviews commented on the thorough nature of Bascomb’s research as well as the finesse with which he blends fast-paced storytelling with significant historical events. SLJ commends how Bascomb rounds out the figures he presents in the narrative, saying that Bascomb “depicts Eichmann as more than just a soulless Nazi monster and target; he is also seen as a father and husband, giving this account some balance”.

Readers annotation: How far is one team willing to go to capture one of the most notorious war criminals of all time?

Summary: After World War II ended, Adolph Eichmann managed to evade the authorities and escape to Argentina, where he began a new life with his family under an assumed name. A blind man and his daughter are the first to believe that Eichmann might be more than he pretends to be, and their belief leads Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor himself, to open Eichmann’s case. Thus a plan to capture Eichmann begins to form. A team is created to take care of every detail of his capture, from forging necessary documents to physically catching him on his walk from the bus to his home after work. The team is successful in capturing Eichmann, but the plan does not go as smoothly as desired. Eichmann’s sons and other Nazi sympathizers try to locate Eichmann during a nerve-wracking few days in which the team must keep Eichmann hidden while also trying to convince him to go to Israel voluntarily. Eventually, Eichmann does agree and he’s smuggled out of Argentina on a special plane. Once in Israel, he stands trial, is convicted of crimes against humanity, and is hanged.

Evaluation: This book excelled at building suspense and keeping the reader’s attention throughout the story. Although this is a non-fiction title, it read like a spy thriller, a fact certain to please younger readers. The importance of Eichmann being brought to justice is highlighted, not only through Bascomb giving personal history of members of the team sent to capture him who lost friends and relatives due to Eichmann’s policies, but also by explaining why it was crucial to try him so that the younger generation would never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust. My one critique is that I wish this title had gone deeper into the events before and after the plot to capture Eichmann, such as a bit more detail about what Eichmann’s role was during the war as well as the testimonials at his trials and the worldwide reactions and ramifications it had. These subjects were discussed in the book, but not at the length it deserved, leaving those unfamiliar with Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust unclear about the details of his atrocities. However, I understand that a thorough look at Eichmann and the larger ramifications of his trial were not the main goal of this work (the title, Nazi Hunters, makes it clear that the emphasis of the book would be the hunting of Eichmann, and, indeed, never even mentions his name in the title) and overall this book was an entertaining and informative read that will appeal to a wide range of teens.

Rating and appeal factors:

  • Quality: 4/5  The pacing of the story is great, the details about and portrayals of the team who worked to capture Eichmann brought them alive, and the importance of Eichmann’s capture is made clear. More backstory on Eichmann and reactions to Israel’s secret plan to capture him would have strengthened this already solid read.
  • Popularity: 4/5 As mentioned in previous posts, this title may suffer in popularity due to the mere fact that it is non-fiction. Readers willing to try a non-fiction title will find much to love in this fast-paced and memorable title.
  • Appeal factors: spy plots, Nazis, narrative non-fiction, World War II, Holocaust.

Read-alikes: 

  1. Readers who would like another title that is narrative non-fiction and focuses on the theme of achieving justice for a wronged group of people would enjoy Steve Sheinkin’s The Port Chicago 50. This book follows the explosion at Port Chicago and the trial of 50 African American sailors, and readers will find this book has much in common with Bascomb’s title.
  2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a good selection for readers who enjoy WWII stories. Although Wein’s narrative is fiction, it too looks at the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the courage of a small team of people in combating them.

Book talk ideas: World War II and Nazis are high interest topics, so start by giving a little bit of background on Eichmann’s role in the war and the fact that he escaped justice and fled to Argentina. Talk about how important it was to Israel and Holocaust survivors that war criminals be brought to justice, and then explain that when Eichmann’s location was discovered, a team was put together to do just that. Mention that the book is fast-paced, reads like a spy thriller, and has the benefit of being something that actually happened.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. Bascomb highlights each team member’s relationship to the Holocaust. How do you think this influenced their approach to catching Eichmann?
  2. Do you have any sympathy for Eichmann? Why or why not?
  3. Do you agree that it was important to bring Eichmann to trial in Israel? For what reasons? Do you think this has had lasting ramifications?

Reason for reading: As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I have a particular interest in World War II books, both fiction and non-fiction. I think this is because that time period showed both the best and worst of humanity–people fighting for their beliefs, sacrificing themselves to save others, showing kindness in moments of despair or crisis, as well as depravity, cruelty, and dehumanization on an unparalleled scale. When this title won a YALSA award this year, I knew it was a book I wanted to read. I was especially intrigued by the story of how WWII criminals were hunted down and brought to justice years after the war had ended.

Additional relevant information: Among other information on his Facebook page, Bascomb posted a New York Times article from September 2013 about a 92 year old Nazi who was being tried for war crimes he committed during WWII. This shows that there is still an attempt today to bring Nazi war criminals to justice while they are still alive, and is a great modern connection that can be made with this title.

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