The Accomplice

Joseph Kanon

Atria Books

Nov 5th, 2019

The Accomplice by Joseph Kanon shows why he is one of today’s best espionage writers.  Not only is the story thrilling but it also explores some very moral questions. 

The plot opens in 1962, seventeen years after the defeat of the Nazis. As Nazi hunter Max Weill is in a café with his nephew Aaron, he spots the notorious concentration camp doctor Otto Schramm, who worked with Mengele, “The Angel of Death.” Max spots Schramm walking down the street, but many question his observation since Schramm is supposedly dead.  It was reported and confirmed he died in a car accident two years ago. Knowing he is about to die Max convinces Aaron to pursue Schramm and seek justice for his war crimes. The search leads Aaron to Buenos Aires where many Nazis were protected by the Juan Perón regime. Even though Peron had been overthrown, the current regime does nothing to out the Nazis living in their country. Wanting to keep a promise to his dying uncle, Aaron pursues Schramm back to Argentina and the chase begins. 

In the vastness of Argentina, Aaron knows he can only find Schramm if he pursues his daughter Hanna. This is where the moral questions begin.  Should she be blamed for the sins of her father? How could she have any affection for such a monster; yet, he was her loving and doting father. Should she confide in Aaron with information? After meeting Hanna, the two have a love affair so how can Aaron reconcile wanting to capture her father and bring him to justice? Eliciting the help of the Mossad, Aaron is confronted by their desire to kill Schramm instead of going through a trial. Should Schramm be killed or put on trial? The Mossad argues by killing him, other Nazis will always look behind their backs with the fear they might be next.

This story will grab readers’ attention from the very first page and never let up.  It reminds people how complicit the world can be and why it is so important to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.

Elise Cooper:  Why this story?

Joseph Kanon:  With all my books I like to put myself in the time period.  During this period, 1962, one of the hot topics was the Eichmann trial.  I started reading more about it and realized now fifty years later what a pivotal moment it was. It changed how we talk about the Holocaust.  What struck me was that Eichmann was on the loose for about fifteen years.  I started asking myself: what was it like for him, how did he get to Latin America, what was he and the other Nazis life like, did their families know and if so how did they live with what happened?

EC: You have tidbits about Eichmann and the trial in this book?

JK: Ever since I wrote The Good German I thought how is justice rendered for an unthinkable crime? Who becomes the judges?  The Eichmann trial ushered in a new wave of how people searched for the Nazis.  It would not be so easy for them to get away.   I wondered how the other Nazis felt when he was caught.  I think many of them changed their lives and became running scared.  In this story the Nazi, Schramm, fakes his death to be out from the running fear caused by Eichmann’s capture. Before the capture, many of the Nazis did not even change their names because they felt so secure. 

EC: You point out how the Church helped many Nazis escape?

JK: They feared their mortal enemy, Communism, more than the wrong of helping the Nazis.  After all, the Nazis were called anti-Communists.  Just as the US hid some Nazis because they provided anti-Russian intelligence, the Church helped them extensively to escape Europe.  These people were considered valuable in the next war, which will be with Russia.

EC:  Many of those Jews who stayed were criticized for not leaving?

JK:  My attitude is that the victim should not be blamed.  This is why I put in this quote, “She didn’t die because she stayed.  She died because they killed her.” Many German Jews did get out because they were richer, more educated, and more sophisticated.  They were likely to have contacts or the means to leave.  Don’t forget, this was a time when the gates were closing all over the world.  The Baltic and East European Jews did not have the means.  I feel very strongly that people should blame the murderers, not the victims. 

EC:  Was Schramm based on Mengele?

JK: Somewhat.  What intrigued me was the role doctors had in the Holocaust.  They were used by the Nazis to justify the policies. At Auschwitz, these people said who was medically fit to work and who was not medically fit.  They were the ones doing the killing. They talk about the experiments as scientific research.  This is beyond reasoning.  None of them felt guilty, but felt what they were doing was for the good of science.  What I wanted to do with Schramm is to make him a complex evil person who had a deep-seated anti-Semitism.  He never regretted what he did.

EC:  How would describe Hanna Schramm?

JK: Troubled, damaged, haunted, and wounded. Being the daughter of such a father gave her extraordinary emotional conflict.  He was her father, someone she loved, but he was also morally bankrupt.  Someone who actually participated in the atrocities. I hope the reader likes and sympathizes with her.

EC:  How would you describe the Schramm hunter, Aaron?

JK:  He feels a moral sense of duty and obligation, and is a stand-up guy.  He was devoted to his uncle and wanted to get justice for him.  He was determined to put Schramm on trial to get justice rendered. He never lost sight of what Schramm really did and wanted him to have to take responsibility.

EC:  Can you give a shout out about your next book?

JK:  Most probably the setting is back in Berlin during the Cold War.  The first Berlin book took place in 1945, the second during the airlift, and this one will take place at the Berlin Wall.