Hidden History.

            Robert Harris is the author of a series of historical-fiction thrillers. 

            Munich (2017).  The 1938 conference between German dictator Adolf Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, French prime minister Edouard Daladier, and British prime minister Neville Chamberlain marked the high point of Appeasement.  While both Hitler and Chamberlain believed in what they were doing, other people on both sides had their doubts.  Some of these people, British anti-appeasers and German anti-Nazis, tried to undermine their own leaders.  Could knowledge of German plots to topple Hitler be communicated to the British?  Could British anti-appeasers use this knowledge to shift Chamberlain toward a harder line?  Would a harder line by the British provide an excuse to overthrow Hitler before he could set fire to the whole world? 

            Enigma (1995).  One secret of the Second World War was British victory in breaking the code system, called “Enigma,” used by the German military for all radio communications.  This allowed the British to read all enemy radio traffic, but with occasional, nerve-racking interruptions.  A second, less well-preserved, secret of the Second World War was the Russian massacre in 1940 of thousands of captured Polish army officers.  The mass graves were discovered by the German invaders in 1943.[1]  Harris supposes that an Anglo-Polish cryptographer discovers the truth.  Revealing it could wreck the Russo-British alliance. 

            V2 (2020).  As the Second World War turned decisively against Germany, Hitler unleashed “vengeance weapons” created by advanced science.  First, the V-1 “flying bombs,” then the V-2 ballistic missiles began to rain down on allied cities.  Is there any way—technological or human—to halt the attacks?  The question racks both an Allied intelligence officer and a German scientist tormented by his own deal with the Devil. 

            Fatherland (1992).  Long after Nazi victory in the “last European war,” a German homicide detective discovers the Holocaust.  Here Harris is thinking-through the implications of a German victory: a “united” Europe is dominated by Germany; the Soviet Union has been thrust back away from Europe; American “appeasers” (Joseph P. Kennedy, Charles Lindbergh) now head the government of the United States; and the Holocaust has been kept so completely secret that thought about the Jews never enter anyone’s noggin.  Now, on the eve of a Hitler-Kennedy summit meeting, the truth starts to leak.   

            Harris is fascinated by the hidden parts of historical events.  Knowledge of the German resistance to Hitler only came out after the war and then in dribbles; the Nazis meant for the Holocaust to remain hidden from history and all but one copy of the minutes from the Wannsee Conference were destroyed; at Nuremberg, the Katyn Wood massacre was blamed on the Germans; and the Enigma story remained secret until 1974.[2]  In dramatizing these events, Harris restates a basic lesson of history. It didn’t have to be this way.  People create History by the decisions they make and the actions they take. 

            He also leaves the reader wondering “What else is still hidden?” 


[1] For another fictional take on the Katyn Wood discovery, see Philip Kerr, A Man without Breath (2013). 

[2] See Peter Hoffmann, The German Resistance to Hitler, 1933-1945 (1977); F.W. Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret (1974); Allen Paul, Katyn: The Untold Story of Stalin’s Polish Massacre  (1991)..   

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