The Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War II

Penguin Pr. Mar. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9780593296646. $30. MILITARY HISTORY
Former editor of the New York Times Review of Books, Buruma (The Churchill Complex) writes history like drama, and this book is no exception. The work is a character study of three collaborators with Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan, whose jumbled identities and solipsistic, yet strangely convincing, fantasies resonate in the present era of alternative facts and mythomania. Felix Kersten, a Finnish Jew, worked as personal masseur to Heinrich Himmler, an architect of the Holocaust. Friedrich Weinreb swindled thousands of other Dutch Jews, taking their money in exchange for protecting them from deportation to the concentration camps—protection that he was in no position to offer. Weinreb and Kersten both claimed to have saved many Jews from the Nazis, but their stories are riddled with exaggerations and fabrications. The third collaborator is Kawashima Yoshiko (Chinese name: Aisin Gyoro Xianyu), a Manchu princess who aided and spied for the Japanese and whom the Chinese shot for treason after World War II. Meticulously, relentlessly, Buruma dissects these collaborators’ contradictory and self-serving accounts and cross-references with other sources to get closer to the truth.
VERDICT A powerful exploration of complicity, ambivalence, and the human capacity for deception and self-rationalization.
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